A new benchmark for development

Pictures of men changing diapers in Koala Kares are notoriously hard to find. Deep sigh.

I’ve been traveling through Chile with my family for most of the past week. As is typical when Venezuelans come to Chile, they have been amazed at the cleanliness, the order, and the general quality of life here.

Ho-hum, is my general reaction. Chile still has a lot of poverty, and once you live here you realize it’s not all milk and honey. There are lingering development issues, ones that most developed countries have tackled already.

Still … Chile is darn close to a developed country, at least closer than Venezuela is. It just … feels that way.

But the academic question pops up: when has a country crossed that threshold? When can it be considered “developed”?

There are all sorts of indicators, but no clear consensus on the right one. But while economists argue it out with the numbers, I propose a simpler benchmark.

The other day I was using the men’s room at Puerto Montt’s airport (bear with me here). As I was washing my hands, I saw in the reflection on the mirror a Koala Kare changing table, one of those units where you can change your baby’s diapers.

This was, mind you, the men’s room … in an airport for a city of less than 200,000 people.

I recalled similar experiences in Venezuela, where it was (is) practically impossible to find adequate changing tables in public facilities. A Koala Kare changing table in an airport serving Venezuela’s interior? In the men’s room? What am I, nuts?

It’s the little things that matter, the realization that public facilities should cater to higher standards. The realization that, yes, some of your male customers will, once in a while, need to change their baby’s diapers, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could have a clean, ample, private space to do so?

That … is development.

Next time you find yourself visiting a strange country and you go into their men’s rooms in far-out places, and find a changing table, think of me and my benchmark. Maybe this will confirm to you that this country is doing something right.