Attacking Poverty In The Developing World: Christian Practitioners And Academics In Collaboration, edited by Judith M. Dean, Julie Schaffner, and Stephen L.S. Smith
It is unclear exactly to which audience this book is aimed. In reading this book I found it rather bereft of biblical language, and instead very full of the wonky language that is used to discuss issues of policy, or the technical language of seeking statistical verification of the efficacy of various methods of providing aid to the developing world. I found the book intriguing and certainly worthwhile, but part of that is because I’m a fairly wonkish and technical person myself and part of that is because I have been a Christian practitioner involved in providing education to people in the developing world . Not everyone has that sort of background and therefore I hesitate to recommend this book unless one has a high degree of interest in technical discussion about aid and how it may be best delivered or one is a Christian practitioner of such aid in one’s own vocational work. This book is not an easy one get through and deals with questions of politics and public policy in the developing world in language that will likely be unfamiliar to a reader who is not informed about such matters.
That said, the contents of this book are a series of eighteen papers totaling close to 300 pages on the subject of providing aid to people in developing nations from a wide variety of academic and institutional authors. The first four essays look at the role of Christian institutions in collaborating with other institutions in poverty reduction efforts. After this the next nine essays look at the design of Christian poverty reduction efforts, including such issues as sustainability in microfinance, dealing with the threat/opportunity of supermarkets to rural development, meeting local education needs, understanding health economics and practice, and partnering with local organizations. The next two essays look at the evaluation of Christian development efforts through formal statistical assessment. The final three essays of the book examine Christian engagement in poverty reduction policy making, including the Millennium Development Goals, the importance of trade for the poor, and the vital role of macroeconomic stability in aiding poverty reduction. As might be readily imagined, each paper is written very technically in a high academic style and is full of endnotes that show the author’s research and provide additional commentary on what is said.
In reading this book I was interested, as I often am, in the context in which this book was written. The authors, in varied ways, dealt with the divide that often exists between the humanitarian goals of Christian donors and aid organizations and the problem of anti-Christian bias in donor nations (which may support ungodly policies), recipient nations (which may be hostile to Christianity and the perceived threat of missionary activity), and academic or other institutions with little understanding of or sympathy for Christianity. It was also interesting as well to see several of the authors wrestle with the question of ensuring that aid helps and not hurts recipients, although they did not put it quite like that, in part through genuine partnerships with local institutions as well as the use of rigorous data collection and assessment. This was a book that certainly presents a challenge to its readers to make sure that good intentions are paved with sound practice and a willingness to change based on an understanding of the facts on the ground. Delivering aid in a thoughtful manner is by no means an easy or straightforward task in our present world, and this book does a good job in presenting those challenges in a nuanced manner and letting the readers work out those issues in their own practice.
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