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Alms Bazaar: Altruism Under Fire—Non Profit Organizations and International Development by Ian Smillie


Many arguments excoriate AID. AID increases dependency and moral hazards, harmfully interfering in economies, encouraging corruption and incompetence. AID benefits bad interest groups. Many NGOs know little about development.


Ian Smillie writes that we had the year of the woman and decade of the woman, yet life gets worse for women in poor countries. Illiteracy increased 10 percent for women and one percent for men during the 15 years leading up to 1985. (Maybe we need a century of the woman.)


Other problems include abortion of female fetuses and restrictions on female property rights. Writing in a brisk, readable style, but with little evidence, Smillie argues for increasing locally available credit to poor women.


Smillie considers many items important for development: Moral education, vocational education, health policy, family policy, high rates of saving and investment, vigorous private sectors, solidarity, sustainable development, strong local institutions, public-spiritedness, open and vigorous evaluation, and actual reciprocal relationships rather than merely a rhetoric of reciprocation.


Smillie asserts that complacency is worse than misplaced alarmism; that even the best performers create mistakes; that governments, communities, families and individuals all have important roles; that communities must be more than providers of services. Communities must integrate citizens, citizenship organizations, and self-help societies.


A history of associational life should build trust networks for civic engagement and enlightened self-interest. “Being as a consequence of doing” matters. Not letting defeat, fatigue or depression harden into cynicism, despair or lazy self-righteousness matters. Eliminating unwieldy bureaucracies and limiting misplaced technologies should be high priorities, not to mention altering deeply ingrained attitudes.


One lesson: citizens should thoroughly research any organization before giving them money. Mere “It’s for charity,” is wrong. We should make a priority of finding and replicating beneficial practices--emphasizing standards, monitoring, and enforcement.

286p (H) 1996            

Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 23, 2009


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