“No one wants to be a beggar for life” – “Poverty, Inc.”

consequences facing facts and accept consequence of acts take and face responsibilities
photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Poverty, Inc. is a documentary from a group by the same name. You can see the trailer at those links.

The way we, that is, the developed world, are doing international development is broken. One comment in the movie from an economist in Africa tells the story:  emergency relief is the standard model used for decades to end poverty and suffering.

That isn’t working.

As another speaker says:

“No one wants to be a beggar for life”

I read two reviews of the movie, one from a center-left perspective and one from a center-right perspective. Both praise the movie and share in the criticism of big aid.

The documentary won several awards at a libertarian film festival and then won best documentary at a progressive film festival. Imagine that!

Guess which of the following two columnists made this comment?

It’s almost like anybody with a populist outlook and, you know, a brain between their ears and a heart between their shoulders, has got to look at our current system of international development and aid and say there’s something deeply wrong.


Trying to make the world less miserable is complicated and messy

One of the big reasons I blog is to help me sort out this big, complicated, messy world.

“J”, an anonymous blogger and novelist at AidSpeak, helps in general and especially with his recent post It’s a Crappy World.

He points out 5 of the tensions and paradoxes of the aid and development world. Lots to ponder.


The world is complicated – the ‘you-can’t-even-just-hand-out-a-wad-of-cash’ chapter

I don’t understand why, but there has been a lot of tweeting in the twitter world about the wonders of addressing poverty by just giving everyone a handful of cash. That would make a number of aid issues a lot easier to deal with.


The world is complicated. Everything has unexpected side issues.

An experienced worker in the aid field who maintain anonymity by self-identifying as “J” writes at AidSpeak.

He explains why even giving cash away is difficult in his post, Cash.


“Your help is hurting” – More unintended consequences

“The world is complicated.”

In a video from PovertyCure, Peter Greer tells the story I mentioned earlier of how in just one summer help from a U.S. church destroyed the egg market in a small Rwandan village.

Second hand clothes sent to Kenya destroyed the textile manufacturing industry and the cotton farms. Sad unintended consequences.




Superb quote from the video: (more…)

Unintended consequences – “Your help is hurting,” government to government version

Previous post described how development aid can sometimes cause hurt.

Part 2 of that discussion describes how government-to-government aid can sometimes make things worse and prevent development.

Jerry Bowyer interviews Peter Greer in Your Help Is Hurting, Part II: The Unintended Consequences Of Giving Dictators Foreign Aid.

Mr. Greer uses the example of the president of Zimbabwe distributing food received as a part of international aid only in the areas that vote for him.

Want to eat? Vote for him. Want to oust the dictator? Your family and community starve.

Not quite what was intended when governments approved the grant.


Unintended consequences – generous gift to local church undermines their giving

Mark Williams tells of a giving a generous offering when he was blessed to be the guest preacher at a church in India – Do You Destroy Through Dependency?

What he did not expect was his graciousness hurting the congregation.

How did that happen?

He gave two $20 bills.

Seems like a reasonable amount, doesn’t it? Yet he explains: (more…)

Improved self-governance is key to development in Africa

That is the core point made by Dr. Mo Ibrahim on how to develop the economies of all 57 African countries. He explains his ideas at: Mo Ibrahim On How (And Why) Africa Should Solve Its Own Problems.

He wonders why African people are so poor. He thinks of where Ghana, Egypt, China, India, and Singapore were 50 years ago. Then, Ghana and Egypt were the richest countries of those five. Look how far the other three have advanced.

The problem is bad governance in both the public and private sectors.


Unintended consequences – “Your help is hurting”

How would you like this to be your legacy on the missions committee?

After the genocide in Rwanda, your church decides to help the village by providing eggs to everyone. Great idea, right?


You help for a while and then you sense God is leading you to help in another area now that things are settling down in Rwanda.

Cool, right?


Unfortunately, what you didn’t realize is there was an entrepreneur who had bought some hens and sold eggs in the community. He was growing his business and providing food to more and more people.

No business can compete with free, so when you started helping with your ministry of giving away eggs, his business went under. He moved on to another business so he could feed his family.

When you pulled out of the town, there were no eggs. That protein was unavailable.

Not so great.

Not so cool.

You drove out of business the guy who was previously meeting local needs and then you disrupted the food supply.

You left the community in more distress than when you first arrived.


Unintended consequences: After watching all the damage caused by development aid, Kenyan economist says “please just stop.”

James Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network. He is an economist from Kenya.

In 2005, he gave an interview to Spiegel, which was titled “For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!”

A bit of research revealed this long list of articles he has written.  There is far more detail in those articles than in the one interview. I will summarize a few of the ideas in the interview. Over time, I’ll try to read more of the articles he has written and comment on them.

Development aid damages the local economy


6 better questions to ask an NPO than “what’s your overhead?”

Looking at the ‘overhead ratio’ is a lousy way to evaluate the effectiveness of a charity.

Once you understand that concept, you are left wondering what else to look at when considering whether to donate.

Dóchas Network offers six great questions to ask instead of looking at overhead. (more…)

A short explanation of why feel good aid might make things worse

In The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways to Save Toms Shoes author Cheryl Davenport provides a concise description of the underlying problem with the TOMS model.

There’s a huge number of articles out there describing the conceptual issues.  Ms. Davenport has a great recap:

First, the Toms buy-one-give-one model does not actually solve a social problem. Rather, the charitable act of donating a free pair of shoes serves as little more than a short-term fix in a system in need of long-term, multi-faceted economic development, health, sanitation, and education solutions.


Lots of things in life are really, really complicated. Sort of like a rain forest.

Some things are exquisitely complicated.  Making changes, fixing problems, or making improvements to such things is really difficult.

Unintended consequences result when you do something simple in a complex system.

Came across a superb illustration of the challenge of dealing with complexity. In his post The Health Care Disaster and the Miseries of Blue, Walter Russell Mead compares the US healthcare system to a jungle ecosystem.