Michael A. Clemens in the Boston Review:
The Millennium Villages project (MVP) is an ambitious program to break targeted African communities free from extreme poverty and thereby demonstrate how poverty in general can be eradicated. Run by the United Nations Development Programme and Columbia University’s Earth Institute—headed by renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs—the MVP began its pilot phase in a Kenyan village in 2004 and has grown to include numerous rural village clusters in nine other countries. It hopes to scale up its approach across much of Africa, and has plans on other continents as well.
The MVP’s strategy employs an intense, multi-pronged aid package for agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure—with a total cost of about $1.5 million per village cluster spread out over five years. It seeks to disrupt, all at once, the factors that together create the conditions for destitution. The MVP treatment simultaneously deploys a variety of aid-financed interventions, including fertilizer, anti-malaria bed nets, and school meals, among many others. Where a single intervention might leave villagers trapped in poverty by other problems, the MVP asserts that its simultaneous execution of several interventions can break villages out of poverty traps for good.
Although its aims are noble and its leaders well-intentioned, the MVP suffers from a glaring omission: it is not conducting an objective and independent evaluation of its impacts.