rewarding the winners

So, is it a better idea to reward winners rather than censuring or giving encouragement to the losers?

Two things have got me pondering.

The first is the news today that Botswana's ex-president Festus Mogae has been awarded a US$5-million prize, designed to encourage good governance, because he stepped down after two terms in office. (Ag shame, Thabo... if the JZ-erites had just left you alone for a few more months, you could have been in line for the prize next year). He also gets $200 000 a year for the rest of his life.

You can read about it here

The second was a meeting I attended on Friday where Clem Sunter was teaching a group of health executives about scenario planning. Fascinating stuff, and I'll write about it here later, but more pertinant to this discussion was his recounting of how the Anglo American Chairman's fund rewards pockets of excellence in our education system.

"We give money to the winners," he said. "Those schools that are achieving good results get funding. That creates and incentive for the losers to improve."

"Does that mean that the poor get poorer?" he was asked.

"No, its often the poorest schools that get the money because they have a good principal," he said. "I've seen schools that have no proper classrooms leading the way academically because of the dedication of a good principal."

Maybe that's the problem with aid to Africa. The cash tends to keep pouring in, even if its not being properly managed or distributed. So the idea of rewarding the winners seems like a good one.

But I'm still worried about the prize Festus got. (Admit it... you can't read that name without thinking of the Addams Family...)I understand it is a great incentive, but what does it say about leaders in Africa that it has to be there at all?


Skoorby said…
This reminds me of the curse of the Sports Illustrated cover. Briefly, athletes featured on Sports Illustrated’s cover often seem to perform poorly in the weeks and months following. In the terms you’ve used here, the prize of being on the cover seems to have a negative effect on the recipient (it’s probably not intended by SI as a reward designed to shape behaviour, but the effect is the same, I think.) The statistician’s take on this would be that we’re seeing an effect called “reversion to the mean”. Athletes who make it to the cover have performed extraordinarily well – probably above their mean level – and of course, over time their performance will tend to revert to the mean.

In the context of African leaders, we might think of the athlete being the population of leaders, and the mean being the normal level of their inclination to willingly give up power. The SI curse analogy would suggest that, while there will frequently be winners, we’ll be disappointed in the prize’s impact – unless the prize actually shifts the mean somehow.

I doubt that $5million and $200K p.a. would do it. Anybody who would consider giving up power for personal financial reward will probably already have figured out that the machinery of state that they control offers vastly greater potential than the prize. Anybody who wouldn’t dream of using their control of the people’s coffers to enrich themselves would probably be willing to relinquish power on cue, and while they might enjoy the windfall, they wouldn’t be doing it for the money.
Lynne said…
I really appreciate your comments... they often get me thinking more than my original post did.
I think I'll end up getting people who read my blog for your comments!

I was researching the prize, and I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that some people in Africa see it as an insult, with the biggest objection seeming to be that it is Africa specific and therefore degrading. Why aren't Norwegian's awarded for good governance? one commentator asked.

Maybe because they'd have to give the prize to so many leaders?

And of course, others pointed out that Africa's bad leaders were products of the West. Mugabe got his education in Britain as did Idi Amin, so there you are... time for some more west-bashing.
Skoorby said…
Thanks! It's your interesting posts that inspire the comments.

I can see that the prize would be viewed as demeaning. An interesting possibility is that it's only demeaning to its likely recipients.

40+ years after most colonial African countries gained independence, complaining that the leaders are products of the West doesn't quite add up.
Anonymous said…

Eskies !!!

Come to work, have tea, lunch and afternoon tea.
Hopefully a person does what they need to do to earn the remuneration at the end of the month, or week. A trend I have noticed in SA is that if you come to work you get a bonus for just coming to work.
An incentive to come to work. In some cases an incentive when people actually did what they get paid to do.

What has happenend to ethics, honesty and integrity?

Hello people come to work, do the job and get paid, you do not need to have a bonus because you came to work, you are already getting paid.

Popular posts from this blog

inspiration in a coffee shop

9 things

standing room only