Why ladder-climbers might make the best do-gooders.
"Ask not what your country can do for you," U.S. President John F. Kennedy exhorted in his 1961 inaugural address. "Ask what you can do for your country." But what if JFK was wrong? New research by London School of Economics professor Oriana Bandiera, Harvard Business School associate professor Nava Ashraf, and Harvard Ph.D. candidate Scott Lee points to the possibility that maybe those drawn into government through selfish motives — those very people asking just what their country can do for them — may well make the better public servants.
Bandiera tracked the performance of two groups of community health workers in rural Zambia over the past year. The first group was composed of people recruited for the characteristics we traditionally think of as ideal in civil servants — devotion to the community, a desire to serve — while the second group was recruited via a campaign designed to appeal to ambitious candidates, lured by promises of training and career opportunities.
The ladder-climbers, it turned out, were more skilled and outperformed the do-gooders in areas ranging from household visits to community mobilization.
A lot of research on how to motivate civil servants tends to treat career ambition and community spirit as two drives that operate at cross-purposes, says Bandiera. But having conducted surveys of both groups, she found that the ladder-climbers were still driven by a desire to improve community well-being — they just wanted a career boost in the process.
Bandiera is still waiting to see how the two groups vary when it comes to job retention, but for now, the Zambian Ministry of Health has been so convinced by the research that it has changed its strategy on recruitment for community health work. If you want the job done right, it seems, take the Type A striver.
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.| The List |
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |