Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel

book cover

More Than Good Intentions
by Dean Karlan
and Jacob Appel

ISBN-13: 9780525951896
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Released: April 14, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher provided as an eBook through NetGalley.

Book Description from Goodreads:
A leading economist and researcher report from the front lines of a revolution in solving the world's most persistent problem.

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We've thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last fifty years and accomplished almost nothing.

Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel present an entirely new approach that blazes an optimistic and realistic trail between these two extremes.

In this pioneering book Karlan and Appel combine behavioral economics with worldwide field research. They take readers with them into villages across Africa, India, South America, and the Philippines, where economic theory collides with real life. They show how small changes in banking, insurance, health care, and other development initiatives that take into account human irrationality can drastically improve the well-being of poor people everywhere.

We in the developed world have found ways to make our own lives profoundly better. We use new tools to spend smarter, save more, eat better, and lead lives more like the ones we imagine. These tools can do the same for the impoverished. Karlan and Appel's research, and those of some close colleagues, show exactly how.

In America alone, individual donors contribute over two hundred billion to charity annually, three times as much as corporations, foundations, and bequests combined. This book provides a new way to understand what really works to reduce poverty; in so doing, it reveals how to better invest those billions and begin transforming the well-being of the world.

My Review:
More Than Good Intentions focused on what programs (or parts of programs) actually achieved their objective of helping the poor. The authors talked about the studies they've done on this and explain their findings about what works, what doesn't, and how various programs might be improved. The authors acknowledge that people don't always act in their long-term best interest, so we need to understand why the poor act in certain ways (including overlooked problems they face), modify programs to take that into account, and test those programs to see if they're working.

The book was easy to read and very engaging. It contained interesting stories of real people that were impacted by these programs. I'd highly recommend this book to those who donate money to organizations that help the poor and to the people who run these programs.

The topics the authors covered were their studies on how to "sell" a program to poor people (as in, get them to use it), various types of microfinance programs (individual, group, along with basic business training, along with specific business advice, etc.), microsavings programs, agricultural programs, educational programs, and health programs (including reproductive health). The last chapter listed the 7 programs that they discussed that they're the most excited about.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One, from pages 3-4, 5
... Sometimes, even when we have all the good intentions in the world, we don't find the most effective or most efficient way to act on them. This is true whether we want to save fish, make microloans, distribute antimalarial bed-nets, or deliver deworming pills. The question is: How can we get beyond our good intentions and to the best solutions?

The only real consensus view on the issue is about the gravity of the problem. Three billion people, about half the world, live on $2.50 per day. (To be clear, that's $2.50 adjusted for the cost of living--so think of it as living on the amount of actual goods that you could buy for $2.50 per day in the United States.) In the public dialogue about aid and development--that vast complex of people, organizations, and programs that seek to alleviate poverty around the world--there are two main competing explainations for why poverty persists on such a massive scale. One camp maintains that we simply haven't spent enough on aid programs and need to massively ramp up our level of engagement. They point out that the world's wealthist nations dedicate on average less than one percent of their money to poverty reduction. In their view, it just doesn't add up. We could get serious about ending poverty, they say, but we haven't even given our existing programs a fair chance. The first thing we have to do is give more. A lot more.

The other camp tells a starkly different story: Aid as it exists today doesn't work, and simply throwing money at the problem is futile. They point out that $2.3 trillion has been spent by the world's wealthiest nations on poverty reduction over the past fifty years and ask: What have we accomplished with all that money? With poverty and privations still afflicting half the globe, can we really claim to be on the right track? No, they say, we need a fresh start. The aid and development community as it exists today is flabby, uncoordinated, and accountable to nobody in particular. It's bound to fail. They argue that we need to pull away resources from overgrown, cumbersome international organizations like the United Nations, wipe the slate clean, and focus instead on small, agile, homegrown programs.

....Jake and I propose that there actually is a way forward....Sometimes aid works, and sometimes it does not....The critical question, then, is which aid works. The debate has been in the sky, but the answers are on the ground. Instead of getting hung up in the extremes, let's zero in on the details. Let's look at a specific challenge or problem that poor people face, try to understand what they're up against, propose a potential solution, and then test to find out whether it works. If that solution works--and if we can demonstrate that it works consistantly--then let's scale it up so it can work for more people. If it doesn't work, let's make changes or try something new.

1 comment:

Jennifer Lentfer said...

Please see my review of "More Than Good Intentions" on my blog on aid effectiveness at: