Split or Steal

Jet lag can be tough. The first few nights in Blantyre I had to resort to additional sleeping resources other than my nightly browsing of Reddit. For this particular problem, I've looked to RadioLab podcasts to sweetly lull me to sleep. I typically listen for the first 5 minutes or so then dose off but one particular podcast had me up for the entire thing. "What's Left When You're Right" had one particular segment that resonated with me. Golden Balls.

For those who don't know, Golden Balls was a British TV show that aired for a couple seasons. Two competitors would participate in a variety of games together to earn money. The big twist is that this sum of money would be firmly placed between both participants as they would have to choose to "Split" or "Steal". Three scenarios were possible: 

Both choose "Split" - they split the sum of money.

Both choose "Steal" - no one wins any money.

One chooses "Split" and one chooses "Steal" - the participants who chose "Steal" wins it all.

The podcast featured participants who had varying strategies. One young, "innocent" girl played the cute card and was able to "Steal" from an older man. The main focus was on another man who blatantly told his counterpart that he was going to "Steal" no matter what but that he would split the money with him when the show was over. This lead to an argument that lasted well over 45 minutes that eventually culminated in both participants "Splitting". The rationale was that this strategy would be the best way to switch someone from a "Steal" to a "Split" which indeed did happen. 

The following morning I sat in the Hutchinson living room doing my normal morning routine - staring ahead emotionless. Micah and Liam were on school break and happened to be in the living room as well. As they passed through my field of vision it occurred to me that I had the perfect guinea pigs (I mean Pioneers, inside joke) for my own "Golden Balls" experiment. 

Micah: Age 6 - Erratic, loving, and utterly unpredictable. Cyborg combination of Tazmanian devil and a teddy bear.

Liam: Age 10 - Thoughtful, mature, and older brother to the utterly unpredictable one above. The Gandalf of 10 year olds.

With both participants eager to earn some free Kwacha, my experiment was under way. We played 3 games. The first was throwing cards into a hat with each successful card being K50. The second was pictionary with each correct answer being K100. Finally, we set up an obstacle course in the house and had each boy blindfolded and leading the other from the start to finish by only using verbal instruction. Each successful completion within 2 minutes earned K200. By the end of the 3 rounds they had earned a total of K700. Then came the fun.

As I hypothesized in my head, Liam went rationale.

He tried to convince the unpredictable Micah that by both splitting they could each earn K350 and walk away happy. Micah's response can only be done justice by video (yes, this was filmed vertical):


Micah took the traditional thinking of the game and threw it on its head. He did the genius method without any prompting and then he put in his own twist. You want to split the money? Heck no. The most fair options are I take it all or we both get nothing. To his credit, stealing is actually the best option. You have a 50% chance of getting 100% of the money while splitting gives you a 50% chance at 50% of the money. Bold.

This debate went on for a good 10 minutes. Logic vs. Counter logic. Brothers til the end but would a fist full of Kwacha break this eternal bond? It was tense. You can see from the picture that Beth was aghast with the raw emotion in the room. It came down to this...

They both chose "steal". 

In the end, Micah stuck to his guns and Liam knew his brother well enough that he would pick "steal" no matter what. And what good would a big brother be if he allowed his younger brother to win? 

Afterwards, Liam continued to try and reason with Micah that they should have both split. After much persuasion Micah caved and agreed they both should have split. K350 can buy you a couple packs of Maynards at the local ShopRite. Too bad.

Or was it?

Not being able to resist a potential "SLO" (the Hutchinson parent's code name for Significant Learning Opportunity), I offered them a chance at redemption. We went through the three games again but this time they only racked up K200 or so. Still, Kwacha is Kwacha. 

They sat at their respective ends of the table. Micah double checked several times with Liam if he was sure he was going to "split". Liam kept repeating "split split split". This culminated with a much quicker verdict.

Micah picked "split".

Liam picked "steal". 

As I had both of their paper submissions in my hand, I knew that WWIII was about to erupt once I announced their choices. I looked at Elizabeth in a failed attempt at having her read my mind and predict the chaos that was about to ensue. Then I announced it.

photo 2.JPG

No surprise, Micah instantly burst into a fury of anger and began chasing Liam around the house which ended in Liam running into the door frame and crumpling into a heap of humanity you see to the right. A heap of humanity that was ~K200 richer but was in pain on the floor with Micah jumping on him in a Tazmanian rage. 

It was the one combination that I didn't predict. 

Of course, this required much remedying by Hutchinson mom and dad. As I basked in the unexpected results of my fiendish experiment I began to think about "Split or Steal" and the work we're doing in Blantyre.

Global health efforts can really be boiled down to varying combinations of "steal or split". I don't pretend to be an expert or know which combination is the correct one but my rudimentary thought process breaks it down to the following:

Steal & Steal: Improving Global Health takes money, lots of it. Unfortunately, the reality is that the countries that desperately need improved health care are the ones that don't have the money to provide it. In this scenario, a country has to allocate money for health care from an already small pot. Advocates for infrastructure, agriculture, education, and others fight to get their piece of the pie. I think we can agree this is sub-optimal. 

Split & Steal: Much of the time the money can't or won't come organically and requires involvement from the outside. In this scenario, underdeveloped countries receive 100% of the benefit from outsiders. This will typically be something such as pure monetary donations, certain grants, and short term mission trips. These efforts all do help but to me they tend to lack what I find to be a more and more crucial element to successful, long-term Global Health endeavors - relationships. 

Split & Split: In this final combination, both parties receive some benefit. To me, examples of Split & Split combinations are endeavors that involve education that flows both ways and building infrastructure that have uses that benefit everyone involved. When we share the benefit, we're more inclined to continue whatever endeavor it was to begin with. It may be smaller gains as the money may not flow purely in one direction but it's something that will be sustainable.

The work we (aka Elizabeth and Martha) are doing here is most certainly Split & Split. There are too many connections and balls in the air to make sense of it in one blog post (Dec 17th Morning Report!) but I know in my gut that the direction we're going will be one that creates lasting change. 

In just over two weeks, we have already seen great changes at Ndirande. From no semblance of unity to morning reports and a lunch time Continual Professional Development that the staff are truly excited about. From Bactrim (which has 80%+ resistance rates in Malawi) for every child with URI symptoms to the seedlings being planted for judicious antibiotic use. From mass referrals to Queens to...

Well, we're still referring a lot of people to Queens.

But that will change too in due time as well.

I can't say how this will all work or what the end result will be. But what I do know is that anything of substance in this world involves relationships and the ones that are being made here will only continue to grow and strengthen as we move forward, together.

Ben Davis, SFH R3