I write about technology, media and societies.

Book Review  “More than good intention”

At the harbor of the Marina del Rey in Los Angeles, the author was amazed at what he saw as some group of Buddhist monks paid for the day’s catching of the fishermen and set the fish free after some rituals. He was wondering why would they do such but then, his girlfriend told him that to the Buddhist, that is their ways of setting right what they think was wrong – by setting the already caught fish free.

The story of the fish, the fishermen, and the monks started the conversation around the book “More than good intention,” as the writer puts it – more than good intention is required of us all to solve the poverty issues in the world. And the idea came to be after the writer started thinking of what the intention of the monks might have been to have saved the fish.

According to the author, why don’t the monks pay the fishermen not to fish so that the minnows can be saved in the first place – maybe they won’t have to pass through the stress of getting caught by the fishermen’s net in the first place. And as such, that might also save the fishermen some times as they won’t have to run the risks of going to the river in the first place and that will also save them the cost of gas to run their fishing engine.

But then, the intention of the Buddhist matters in the first instance as, if they should pay the fishermen for fishing beforehand, this might not mean satisfaction to both the fishermen, the fish and the monk altogether.

The story of the monk, the fish, and the fishermen sends a strong signal throughout the text as the author and his team tries to go further than just saving the fish (development aid use) by measuring the intention and impact of the aid by the monk (the aid donor organization and their intervention) and in the author’s adventure, they were able to find what works, through many trials and error.

With the use of Randomized Control Trial to measure the intervention of the development aid agencies to find what works and what doesn’t and also by amplifying the evidence based result of what works with people who are constantly helping out the poor to escape poverty.

The author message is clear, “test development interventions to find what works and share the result widely so it can be replicated elsewhere.” And as such, the book is filled with what works in every multifaceted area of poverty eradication/alleviation from how the poor buy to how they mate.

To crown it all, the author was able to not disprove the two voices in international development which are the voices of Jeffrey Sachs which demands that the world poor need more money for them to be alleviated from poverty and the voice of Will Easterly who believes that the aid community is flabby, uncoordinated and accountable to nobody in particular but rather, the author gave us more reason why more than good intention is required of us all by doing the poor a favor of finding what works and promoting it on a large scale to reach more poor people.

Marketing was also made mentioned of as he argued that development aid work is not well marketed even when the developed countries know the impact of marketing on selling the products that people do not need.

Having read the book and with my SCDI class knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, I believe that to some extent, the text was able to justify some of my doubt about sustainable development, and as such, I can in no way expect more from the book than this. But even at then, my biggest fear still ceases to leave me alone as I realized the majority of the intervention was done for and not with the poor people.

As an advocate of sustainable development, though some of the intervention of the author pass a strong message as to how behavioral economics and science can do a lot to help change the behavior of the poor, but then, my fear is – do we need to go out of the way to do this for the poor always?

A part of the examples by the author made mentioned of how the Village school committee doesn’t know what their role is and how this has impacted negatively on how they are supposed to help the school grow and as such, the project hit the rock but then, the author failed to tell us why.

The author was able to tell many stories of how their intervention has been able to help to measure the success of some programs which are arguably undeniable, but then – my reservation is, because something works in somewhere in Kenya doesn’t mean it will work in Malawi as different zone have different factor distinction.

This brought me back the memory lane as I witnessed almost this same unfounded argument when I was working for a mobile money company in Nigeria, and my boss was so optimistic that since mobile money worked in Kenya and he has an evidence-based research of why and how it works and then, he is ready to replicate the same in Nigeria only for the business to fail later on. The take-home point right here is, yes – it worked in Kenya, but then, the users in Kenya is entirely different from that of Nigeria despite being from the same continent.

Humans are an irrational animal, they are very distinct and different, and most importantly, according to Sun Tzu, location is a critical factor in every war, as that determines if the warriors will win the battle or not. Knowing the area of battle not only help the warrior but knowing the people is also very important and as such, I believe the author can do well in building the capacity of the people so they won’t have to keep flying around for intervention like this.

In one of the examples from the book, the author was able to document the reasoning behind the decrease in STI transmission and early pregnancy in girl child in Kenya and what amazes me most was that, despite having the knowledge about HIV and STIs, that does not stop the girls from having sex, but this time around, they are more aware of the risks just like the prostitutes in South Africa who charge extra for every unprotected sex. Who knows the intervention on sex education could have such an impact?

My major takeaway from the text is how the poor save. I find it difficult somehow to think of how not to think about this as the author was way more than convincing on how saving could boost the financial prowess of the poor.

I have never think about this until now and it made my reasoning to be more broaden in some ways, having watched my grandma keeping her monies under the mattress for sometimes, it never occurred to me that it was a challenge until when she realized that somehow, the money started missing and at a point, she changed the way she saves by keeping the money under her pillow.

This text gave me more insight into saving and how it can help the poor, and as such – I wish we can all start thinking of how we can get the poor to save more, maybe this might also help them to be a part of the financial system which will eventually provide them a credit report that can be eventually helpful in securing loan to grow out of poverty.

Regarding savings, the author made it clear how the developing and the developed countries are not different.

On education, the author gave a clearer insight into monitoring of teachers’ attendance by letting the teachers to monitor themselves through the use of a simple camera and also, he further gave the analysis of how another intervention where volunteer teachers contributed immensely to the quality of education. This gives me more understanding of how more than good intention is really of importance, who knows such a simple mechanism would improve education?

On the pursuit of happiness, I was amazed as to how the poor people pursue happiness which might not have occurred to us as a development student but then, I learnt that knowing peoples’ intention matters, and sometimes – just as the cash transfer studies in our SCDI class suggested, giving people conditions on how interventions should be spent does no good as we need to give poor people the chance to pursue happiness sometimes.

In conclusion, the author gave an anecdote that we should give more and also gives some analysis of how Americans are giving more individually than how corporations are giving but sadly, I do not buy into the argument, and I will be providing a counter-argument by Fast Company which reported that; “what people are worried about is that it’s easy for a national group with a brand name to attract donations,”. “It’s not so easy for groups that may be doing tremendous and important work in communities to get the resources they need.”[1]

And this is further reported that the people in the middle social circle are way less giving these days, and the new tax reform is doing no good to giving with support from the proposed cut by Trump administration to the social program and as such, the poor needs a working and sustainable homegrown solution as seen in the case of Haiti when the people said they do not need aid, instead they want tools to rebuild their homes.

SCDI has taught me a lot about sustainability and development, I have seen enough failures in interventions from Development agencies in technology for development, but sadly – they are all making the same mistake the author is making by not giving the poor a choice. Assuming Jake gave Philip a choice on how to spend the money he borrowed him for his house rent bill, maybe he would have known right from the beginning that he will likely be using a part of the money to build a rice cooker.

Also, my major concern is – how are we even sure that the result the author got was flawed? In some of my readings, I realized that people tends to give foreign researcher a different response to what they gave someone from amongst themselves and this is well documented in one of the papers we read, the Kerala case studies that the author made mentioned of, was later said to be faulted in a counter research paper. Also, the Digital green paper made mentioned of how poor people trusted the intervention from people like themselves and I have seen enough of these trends in my ICT case studies class and some of SCDI classes.

Maybe I am too reactive or I tends to look out for trends, but nonetheless – the author floats the narrative of sustainable development by giving poor people a choice on what impacts their lives, though not in its entirety


[1] https://www.fastcompany.com/40481380/average-americans-are-giving-away-less-money-and-its-a-big-problem

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