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“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra, Baseball player and commentator

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” – Niels Bohr, Quantum physicist and Nobel Laureate

When Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr agree on something, it’s hard not to take it seriously.

2020 was a good warning against making bold predictions. In November 2019, nobody would have predicted that governments across Europe would be regulating how many people you’re allowed to meet in person; nor that the US would be grappling with 1,000+deaths a day from a single cause—and that many people would appear to be quite ok with that. Even what seemed obvious in retrospect—that the Lakers would be NBA champions and LeBron James be named Finals MVP yet again— wasn’t so clear without the benefit of hindsight, with many betting books giving the *other* LA team better odds. And if you had “Premiership footballer to become the most successful political advocate in England” and “Dolly Parton helps save humanity” on your 2020 Bingo card, you’d have torn it up and walked out of the hall before the numbers were called.

Nevertheless, CGD and Georgetown University’s Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation (gui2de) are collaborating on a new seminar series called The Future of Development. In this series, Shanta will be interviewing leading figures in development research, plus a discussant picked to provide a complementary or contrasting view, to help set the agenda for development action over the next 20 years and beyond.

Why now, and why do we feel so emboldened to disregard both Yogi and Niels? As both Dolly and Marcus Rashford have shown, there’s a difference between betting on what’s to come and actively shaping the future with ideas, innovation, and bold challenge. And when we talk about the Future of Development with people like Michael Kremer and Maggie McMillan, our first speakers on December 1, we have our sights firmly set on the latter. We think this time of uncertainty is exactly the right moment to have these conversations, for a number of reasons:

  • The historic speed with which the public and private sectors have collaborated to produce effective vaccines—using multiple different technologies, no less—tells us that we are capable of much greater ambition in our fight to make a better world.
  • Covid-19 has raised the stakes, being likely to bring the first rise in global extreme poverty in decades, while simultaneously putting pressure on the budgets of almost all countries.
  • Taking these two points together, now is the time to be truly bold and visionary in setting out an approach to development that does more, more radically, with less. If we’ve learnt ways to do things better, or which things just don’t work, now is the time to act on them.

The series is designed to bring these ideas out. Each edition will feature a foundational thinker on a major topic in development. Through conversation between this speaker and a discussant with a contrasting approach, Shanta will draw out the implications of the research for policy, for how we conceptualize progress in development, and for what our priorities as development professionals should be. Across the series we will seek to feature a diverse line-up of speakers, to get the most out of the different perspectives they bring, and to feature audience questions.

So join us on December 1 when Michael and Maggie help us think through the future of agriculture in developing countries. Future talks will include Pascaline Dupas and Jishnu Das talking about healthcare, and Atif Mian and Jing Cai discussing the role of finance in development.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.