Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

Paul Polak (founder, International Development Enterprises) exposes and rejects the "Three great poverty eradication myths," namely, that donations alone, national economic growth, or Big Business (as it currently operates) will end poverty. 

He instead espouses a model that identifies market opportunities in high-value, labor-intensive cash crops for poor rural farmers and provides them with access to the tools they need. 

The first section of the book explores his own interest in eradicating poverty and describes the process he learned for finding creative solutions to major social problems. The second section describes the grass-roots approach to ending poverty in rural areas; a brief third section applies the principles to the poor in urban areas. The final section addresses the role poverty plays in environmental problems, and describes what donors, institutions, and governments can do to end poverty. As much time is devoted to one family throughout this book, the closing chapter addresses how one man in Nepal brought his family from poverty to the upper-middle class by the principles described in this book. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Based on his 25 years of experience, Polak explodes what he calls the Three Great Poverty Eradication Myths: that we can donate people out of poverty, that national economic growth will end poverty, and that Big Business, operating as it does now, will end poverty. Polak shows that programs based on these ideas have utterly failed--in fact, in sub-Saharan Africa poverty rates have actually gone up.

These failed top-down efforts contrast sharply with the grassroots approach Polak and IDE have championed: helping the dollar-a-day poor earn more money through their own efforts. Amazingly enough, unexploited market opportunities do exist for the desperately poor. Polak describes how he and others have identified these opportunities and have developed innovative, low-cost tools that have helped in lifting 17 million people out of poverty.

Paul Polak’s approach is beautifully revolutionary because it recognizes that the poor MUST be part of the solution to end poverty and are not the causes of it.

2008 has been a great year in terms of attention to BoP and market-based solutions to poverty. Out of Poverty, a new book by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), just hit the shelves this month and will certainly add to this momentum. IDE's recent receipt of a $27 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation only makes Polak's book timelier, as widespread recognition grows for his leadership role in the BoP space and his innovative design solutions (including the treadle pump and micro-drip irrigation) that have increased the incomes of over 2.5 million dollar-a-day families living in rural areas and subsisting from small farms.

The book truly reflects the down to earth style and substance of Polak and his work. In fact, what's most striking about Polak's approach to attacking poverty is its straightforward, flexible, and results-based orientation.

The book covers a lot of ground quickly, challenging leading development theorists (
Jeff Sachs, Bill Easterly, and even C.K. Prahalad), explaining why markets are not serving the poor, and demonstrating, piece by piece, why for-profit mechanisms have and will continue to trump charity in terms of lifting people out of poverty.
Polak's ability to connect these arguments, on the level of tomatoes and cucumbers, with the nuts and bolts of his years spent, literally, in the field. Out of Poverty strikes a good balance between economic calculations and human anecdotes, staying true to the author's principal beliefs that one must "go to where the action is" and "talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they say," while also pursuing only approaches that "can reach at least a million people and make their lives measurably better."

extract of review by Abigail Keene-Babcock

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Are Your Sins of Omission?

By Alexander Green,

Full article here at Spiritual Wealth

I recently viewed the History Channel's series on the Seven Deadly Sins – that 1,600-year-old inventory of our universal shortcomings: pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, and lust.

I was surprised to learn that most philosophers and theologians consider sloth the single most insidious vice.

I've always thought sloth was one of the more amiable weaknesses. Does sitting in front of ESPN with a bag of Doritos really constitute a great moral failure?

But the spiritual meaning of sloth is not laziness. It's apathy, hardness of heart, moral indifference, blindness, complacency, and "smallness of soul." Poverty, injustice and suffering exist, in part, because we don't act. Sloth is the category that encompasses everything we should do but don't.

That's a big one.

Few of us spend time reflecting on the ethics of inaction. We are interested in all sorts of things – friends, family, work, Angelina Jolie. But our personal moral failings? Not so much.

We already know it's wrong to lie, cheat, kill, or conk a woman on the head and run off with her purse. Sins of commission are easy to identify. But sins of omission? That's trickier.

For example, it's clearly wrong to drown someone. But our legal system will not prosecute you for letting someone drown. Killing a child elicits universal condemnation. But permitting thousands of children to die each day from starvation is different.

Or is it?

As Dennis Ford writes in Sins of Omission, "Every three days, more people die from malnutrition and disease than from the bombing of Hiroshima. Every year, more people die from preventable hunger than died in the Holocaust. Somewhere along the line, moral reflection and outrage have lost their audience."

I'm one of those missing in action. Most days I go about my business, do my work, chip away at my problems and hardly give a thought about the rest of the world's.

But does our failure to act make us morally culpable? Is the misery of others ever the product of our own indifference? Is doing "too little" morally reprehensible? And why is it uncomfortable to even consider these questions?

No doubt it's partly because the world is so full of problems that we're wary of letting them drag us down. Ayn Rand once received a letter from a reader who was inspired by her writings but found the world such a mess he said he didn't know where to begin to change it. Rand responded that if a doctor showed up at a battlefield and hundreds of soldiers lay wounded and dying, he wouldn't despair that he couldn't save them all and drive off. He'd identify the most urgent situation and get to work.

Yet whether the issue is feeding the poor, protecting the environment or caring for the elderly, few of us are committed enough to inconvenience ourselves for change.

Why are we unmoved? How do we sustain and legitimize our apathy?

I recently put these questions to Dr. Craig Shealy...

Full article here at Spiritual Wealth

Friday, August 20, 2010

ODI - Praise for ‘the cowboys’ on World Humanitarian Day

See original article at Overseas Development Institute

Today is the second annual World Humanitarian Day. The day aims to increase public awareness about humanitarian work and the importance of international cooperation, to honour humanitarian workers in the field , and commemorate all of those who have lost their lives in the line course of duty. This year, the day has three key messages that focus on the purpose of humanitarian aid to save lives and alleviate suffering: the diversity or humanitarian aid workers (most of whom come from the countries in which they work), the rising number of violent attacks on aid workers and the need to respect the principles by which they operate. 

Despite, or even because of, its noble ambitions, attention to humanitarian action often focuses on its risks and failures. Two of the four key messages for today concern threats to humanitarian work – namely the insecurity faced by aid workers as their actions become associated increasingly with a Western political agenda. Even the origins of World Humanitarian Day reflect the spectre of tragedy and loss; 19 August marks the anniversary of the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq, and 20 of his staff in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad. 

Given the gravity of the work carried out by the humanitarian sector, and the appalling cost of failure, it is all too easy to focus on its weaknesses and lose sight of its positive achievements. Yet it is precisely our strengths as a sector that enable aid personnel to overcome the obstacles inherent in the complex environments in which they work. In recognition of all those have worked to promote the humanitarian cause, the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI would therefore like to add our own messages that speak to the resilience of humanitarianism and our capacity for innovation and change. 

The first is that the very challenges faced by humanitarian aid workers have served as an impetus for learning and improving the way assistance is provided. While humanitarian and development workers are painted respectively as ‘cowboys' and ‘cardigans', let's not underestimate the thinking that takes place among the cowboys (and cowgirls). Evaluating practice has been key to improving performance, by asking if aid agencies provided the right assistance in the right way and how they can do better. Self reflection on values and standards has resulted in minimum standards of assistance and numerous codes of conduct. Initiatives like the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership have made agencies more accountable to the people they serve. Evidence of learning ranges from blogs by aid workers to professional courses on humanitarian action, with countless cases in between. 

The second is that innovations in humanitarian assistance are making it a far more sophisticated sector than it once was. Examples abound, from tackling malnutrition through new and commercially available food products to incorporating technologies like mobile phones, satellite imaging and GPS for more effective information management and communication. Distributing cash rather than in-kind goods is an innovation that enables people to choose the assistance they need – whether in response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or the earthquake in Haiti. Once considered risky, cash transfers are now seen as a common approach that can empower people affected by a crisis and even support local economies. 

Finally, the variety of humanitarian actors means that the opportunities for learning and innovation are equally diverse. Media images of foreign workers arriving en masse after a crisis are misleading: local actors are the frontline of humanitarian action, be they individuals or organisations, first-time responders or established aid workers. Nor is government support for international humanitarian response the sole domain of the Western countries. Diversity amongst donors is now the norm, with humanitarian responses often supported by more than 50 governments. For 2010, Saudi Arabia ranks as the fourth-largest government donor to the Haiti earthquake relief. 

As we recognize the achievement of humanitarian workers and the diversity of the humanitarian enterprise, so too must we acknowledge that much remains to be done. Humanitarian access and the protection of aid workers must remain a top priority, including efforts to promote understanding of humanitarian principles and compliance with international humanitarian law. There are still problems, not least in targeting aid to the most needy and keeping aid workers safe, but for one day at least let's celebrate the lives that humanitarian aid has saved

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Framework for fixing failed states

Below is a recent keynote speech that Clare Lockhart gave at the Naval War College's Current Strategy Forum in which she articulates the framework for fixing failed states in places like Afghanistan. In the speech she mentions as one example the success of distributing aid by providing local tribal leaders bank accounts to allow them to determine what to do with the aid as well as other approaches proven by research.

All the CSF 2010 keynotes and panels here