“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.


It’s complicated. Evaluating charities and doing business in China version. Part 1

Several posts on this site have looked at the issue of how complicated life is. Some may look at my pondering and think ‘bout time you caught on. For the rest of us, journey with me as I ponder some more.

In the next post, I’ll come back to what got me thinking about this. Wednesday evening I read two articles from ChinaSource Blog that pointed out yet one more time how incredibly complex China is, especially coming from my background as an American.  Full disclosure: I am currently providing professional services to ChinaSource.

The first article, Some Common Mistakes, points to a longer article.

Consider just one common mistake made by people trying to do business in China:

Do not underestimate China’s up-front time commitment.

You cannot just make one or two trips to China and think you are ready to go. No. The attorneys say you will need to send several high level staff to the country for years before you can really get started.


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.


Why aid and development are difficult

Life is complicated.

My reading over the last two years has opened my eyes to why successful aid and development is so difficult. Unintended consequences and complexity in general are a few reasons why it is hard to make things better in poor countries and why improvements are so slow.

Many of my readers processed through the ideas I’ll mention in this post a long time ago. This is old news for many.

For me, and for some readers of this blog, this is new territory. One of many reasons I blog is to work through what is new for me.

Here are two more articles that illustrate the complexities of facilitating change:

Systemic lack of justice

Why We’re Losing the War on Poverty is an interview in Christianity Today with Gary Haugen discussing his book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty requires the End of Violence.

The lack of functioning law enforcement allows violence to prey on the poor and plunder them. The corrosive effect of violence undermines everything else in a society. The one sentence summary: (more…)

Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 4

Previous posts introduced the simple/complicated/complex/chaotic quadrants of the Cynefin Framework and discussed how that can be used to analyze development issues.

Implications for economics

This framework has huge implications for discussions of economic issues. So many areas come to mind that are actually complex but we treat them as if they are complicated.


Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 3

Previous posts introduced the Cynefin framework and described a bit of how it helps make sense.

Where it gets messy

Distinguishing between the complicated and complex quadrants is the biggest challenge.

As I ponder the Cynefin framework, I realize that distinction is the cause of many heated differences of opinion.

It is also the cause of many unintended consequences. I’ve talked about that a lot on my blogs.

Applying the solutions from the complicated quadrant to issues in the complex quadrant is the conceptual cause of most of the harm from those unintended consequences.


Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 2

Previous post introduced the four quadrants of the Cynefin Framework: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic.

One of the major implications of the framework is to highlight that the world is not neatly ordered. 

In addition, leadership styles need to change based on the nature of the situation.



Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 1

For the last week I’ve been pondering a new tool to help understand the world around me. It’s called a sense-making model by its inventor.

The Cynefin Framework was developed by David Snowden. It’s pronounced cunevin or ku-nev’-in.

This series of posts will give an overview, provide two links to videos, and apply the model to several areas.

The model has four quadrants. The primary driver is how the relationship between cause and effect changes based on the nature of the situation.



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.


It’s complicated, Africa version

Our perceptions of what’s taking place in Africa fluctuate between wild optimism and hopeless despair, cycling back and forth depending on this year’s headlines. Things are actually far more complicated, showing lots of reasons for some optimism simultaneous with indications of hard days now and in the future.

That’s what I learned from Walter Russell Mead’s post, Agony in The Congo.

(Why this post on that essay?  We need to understand the complexities of the world around us if we want to actually change the world.)


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.


We live in an age of overwhelming complexity. Will you choose to adapt?

We live in an age of overwhelming complexity.  Things will not get simpler, the change will only accelerate.

Do I really need to explain that the complexity of everything is overwhelming?  Consider merely the new 990, increasing regulation of every area of running a ministry or business, and the exponential growth of fantastic technology tools.

We need to decide whether we are going to adapt or not.  It is actually possible to opt out of the growing complexity.  Consider the cost though.  If our ministries do not adapt they may die.  More likely they will shrivel, then shrink into irrelevance.  At a personal level, we need to adapt or get left behind.

I choose to adapt.  I may be struggling and bumbling in my efforts, but I will move forward.  How about you?

Cross-Cultural Partnerships

Cross-Cultural Partnerships – Mary T. Lederleitner – ISBN  978-0-8308-3747-2

From the back cover:  “Nothing derails global partnerships more quickly than cultural misunderstandings about finances.  North Americans don’t understand culture expectations of patronage, and Western money often comes with subtle strings attached.  So local mission work is hampered by perceived paternalism, and donors are frustrated with lack of results or accountability.  How do we build financial partnerships for effective mission without fostering neo-colonialism?  (more…)