Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Novogratz' Blue Sweater

I'm partially outsourcing this one. It's a good book for finding what you want to look for. It's a biography, but it's a good deal more, particularly once she gets to trying to understand the Rwandan genocide.

It's similarly a history of the social entrepreneurial approach to aid - that we help people more by giving them responsibility than handouts. There's some microfinance, but this is more a macro version of microfinance: patient capital that uses markets and is willing to wait for the returns so that products can get to the poor successfully.

Philanthropy 2173 sees it as a story of human-ness. Novogratz does a lot of work to show not only her thought process and character development, but spends time introducing the people she works with and for. The theme is on listening to other people and trying to approach problems from their perspective. The failing is that she doesn't present us many of recipients, but mostly the workers.

Easterly sees it as a story of entrepeneurial spirit that turns many failures into eventual success.

Marginal Revolution sees it as Aid Realism for the Idealist. She came with idealism, discovered things were not as she imagined, and managed to gradually become more and more realistic without becoming cynical - a needed perspective.

As one of those unfortunates who write about African food statistics and food policies that affect Africa without having so much as drunk the water, I appreciated the day to day living experiences and portraits of people rather than journalist caricatures. The blogs I read are pretty quick to point out what people should not be writing, but don't provide many examples of how to do it right. I think she's got at least one workable model. So I recommend it as a reality check.

Less important points: Novogratz is addicted to color and describing the colors of what everyone wears. She falls in love with (nearly) everyone she meets and every city she visits on first appearances. (I recognize that with people at least, there is selection bias involved. Who wants to write a book about passing acquaintances who were just part of the scenery?)

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