Five big and controversial ideas that can transform Africa

A big idea can be rejected. It might be illegal. It might mean political suicide. In the words of Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of economic policy and poverty deduction programmes for Africa, challenging conventional wisdom isn’t always easy. But in the realm of big ideas, the risk is part of the reward.

Speaking at the recent Africa Big Ideas 2014 conference, where experts from the World Bank gathered to discuss some big ideas that may change the way we think about Africa, Giugale was referring to the mother of all big ideas: conditional cash transfers.

First implemented in Mexico almost 20 years ago, the idea of giving cash to the poor was considered heresy by most development experts, the World Bank included. Today, conditional cash transfers are implemented in more than 70 countries in the developing world, and evidence shows them to be effective at reducing poverty.

Among all the big and smaller ideas that were presented at the Africa Big Ideas 2014 conference, here are my five favourites:

1. The boldest: Gambling for safe sex

The big idea is to use lottery tickets to incentivise safe sex. How? People who remain STD-free for four months are entered in a drawing for cash awards. The tactic has proven effective: In Lesotho, the study Safe Sex for a Chance to Win found that the number of new HIV infections dropped by 22% among participants. The lottery is clearly a better gamble than risky sex.

2. The simplest: Stop worrying that the poor will misuse the cash

An innovative study, Do the Poor Waste Transfer Income?: Evidence from Tanzania and Beyond, found – using evidence from around the world – that money given to poor people doesn’t get wasted on “temptation goods”. Concerns that cash transfers will be used on booze and tobacco are unfounded.

3. The most controversial: Exploiting the power of the mine

Two out of every three people in Africa have no access to electricity. Government and private funds are inadequate to commission the large-scale power projects needed to achieve universal access. The controversial idea is that mining can help. The Power of the Mine: A Transactional Opportunity for Sub-Saharan Africa, a recent study from the World Bank, suggests that mining will ensure an ample, steady flow of revenue to utility companies in Africa, which will deploy the funds to increase access to electricity.

4. The fairest: Breaking the metal ceiling

The big idea is that women should work in sectors dominated by men. Why? The answer is simple. As a recent study shows, in Uganda, women working in male-dominated sectors make three times as much as those with jobs in sectors traditionally defined as “women’s work”.

5. The most urgent: Let’s worry more about drought and conflict

Africa is singing the Africa-is-rising song. But what can derail Africa’s rise? Is it slow growth in BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? Is it another worldwide financial crisis? The study Stress-testing Africa’s Recent Growth and Poverty Performance found that in Africa, the greatest risks to growth and poverty-reduction arise from internal shocks such as drought and civil conflict, rather than from external shocks. The big idea? To focus more on climate adaptation and conflict reduction.

Steven Kapoloma is a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow. He is a corporate communication expert with over 12 years of professional experience in governmental and nonprofit organiastions in Malawi. He is currently the deputy director of corporate affairs for the Malawi Revenue Authority, a tax administration agency for the Government of Malawi.

This article was first published on the World Bank blog network.