At 3rd Creek Foundation, we have a recommended reading list for our board members. The three key books on it are Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Ester Duflo, More than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World's Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel, and Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail by Paul Polak.
The first two books have a common theme: only through rigorous, controlled evaluations can you determine what works. Sending off grants may make us feel good, but it might not be helping our beneficiaries get out of poverty. The research presented in these two books gives us comfort in knowing that there are small changes that can be made in micro-enterprise and education, which have a big impact on the lives of the poor. The research in both books also highlights why so many foreign aid projects have failed: the donors did not understand poverty, did not have a strong, comparative method to measure their impact, and lacking a measurement system, did not have a way to adjust or refine projects as they progressed.
The third book, by Paul Polak, takes you through Paul’s experience and projects in development. His first involved designing, manufacturing and selling an affordable pump that allowed small landholders in Bangladesh to irrigate their fields and increase their crop yields.
Paul Polak was a keynote speaker at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs annual meeting, which I attended a few years ago. I was immediately attracted to his business approach to addressing poverty. One of his first experiences was particularly enlightening. He asked a poor farmer what he could do to help him address his poverty. The response: help me make more money.
Pretty simple, yet few donor organizations have built their own institutional capacity around making money other than by selling good feelings as part of their fund-raising efforts. Paul’s book follows the upwardly mobile lives of several of the families that he helped “make more money” from increased agricultural production. They used the “more money” to improve their health and education. Paul’s business approach has helped millions, as we at 3CF say, become economically independent.
These are good thought-challenging reads that I recommend to anyone interested in understanding and solving problems in international poverty.
Dave Straley is the Founder and General Manager of 3rd Creek Investments, 3rd Creek Ventures, and 3rd Creek Foundation. He is a registered investment advisor and certified public accountant. Prior to founding 3rd Creek, Dave worked in the public sector at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Foreign Service Officer. While at USAID, he developed programs in land reform, infrastructure, HIV/AIDS prevention, small business development, community based land resource development, democracy, and governance. Dave also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua from 1972 to 1974, working on post earthquake reconstruction of Managua as an urban planner. Dave’s domestic experience includes 20 years in tax planning and preparation, small business consulting, and specialty work in health care accounting and reimbursement consulting. Dave completed his BA and MA in Economics at California State University at Long Beach.