Books to campaign by (not Bono's how-tos)


Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa - by Dambisa Moyo

Probably no more compelling economic treatise has been written of late in less than 150 pages. Moyo traces the history of aid to Africa and illustrates its destructive power. A native of Zambia, she creates the Republic of Dongo as a fictitious archetype of an impoverished African country. Dongo's story brings from macro- to micro-level how a continent that in length is three times the distance from New York to Los Angeles could be so top-to-bottom devastated by the benevolence of other nations. Moyo believes the alternatives to aid are obvious, but she puts too much stock in China as an exemplary business partner, overlooking China's willingness to make under-the-table deals with corrupt, militant governments like Sudan at the expense of African laborers and human rights.

The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty - by R. Glenn Hubbard & William Duggan

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Columbia University business professors R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan sketch what makes countries friendly to business, the historical reasons Africa isn't friendly to business, how aid has choked business even more closely, and how the United States government should switch its aid dollars from NGOs to businesses.

Using the Marshall Plan as a model, the authors argue that governments should require poor countries to make business-friendly reforms before giving business loans-not grants-to local businesses in impoverished countries. Those countries would then use the repaid loans to invest in infrastructure.

The Aid Trap is all dry number-crunching and academic theory, but the numbers are compelling: To increase the income of the world's 1.4 billion poor to just $2,000 per year would require a budget 14 times the size of the current world aid budget-and that's without corruption and inefficiency. "You can never deliver enough charity to give poor people a decent life," say Hubbard and Duggan. "Business is the only sustainable answer to poverty: It gives people a way to earn money to pay for a decent life themselves."

In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty- by Michael Fairbanks, Malik Fal, Marcela Escobari-Rose, & Elizabeth Hooper

There are different ways to know a river, begins Fairbanks, but to know it intimately you have to take your clothes off, dive in, and swim. This compilation is the work of 20 swimmers, relief and development experts from around the world with emphasis on poverty-fighting in Africa. They include Rwandan President Paul Kagame, recent Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, Ivy League academics, development bankers, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and Purpose-Driven Life author and pastor Rick Warren, who writes the foreword. What binds them together is a passion best captured by a copper miner from Zambia: "The poor can't sleep/Because their stomachs are empty. The rich have full stomachs,/But they can't sleep/Because the poor are awake."

Far from systematic in its arrangement or tidy on solutions, this book appears intended to give postcards from the poverty wars, good, bad, and ugly, but told with energy and enthusiasm enough to make readers just want to get wet.

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World - by Jacqueline Novogratz

Novogratz's book is a memoir of an ardent activist who sets out to change the world and then discovers the world-changers sometimes do more harm than good.

As a young idealist who dumps a career in finance to work at the African Development Bank, she encounters West African women who poison her to get rid of the help they don't want. Resolving only to help people who want her, she goes to Rwanda to found a microfinance organization for women.

She helps Rwandan women turn a baked-goods charity into a self-­sustaining business and learns the strength of the market and the weakness of traditional charity. She describes donated maize mills that lie in the fields because no one knows how to use them; schools that sit empty because donors built them without getting teachers; destitute people who have learned to speak aid jargon to get what they need and yet still stay destitute; charities that lose $650 a month helping 20 women earn 50 cents a day and move on when the donations run dry.

All the bungled charity, corruption, and even violence Novogratz has seen has not diminished her passion to create change that begins with the community and lasts when donors leave, and therein lies the book's power. Her nonprofit global venture fund, Acumen Fund, has invested $40 million in businesses that use entrepreneurial approaches to provide water, energy, and housing to the world's poor.


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