The Bottom Billion


I don’t work for a charity, don’t do anything related to developing countries, but I do have an interest in their plight and even I can see what we’ve been doing isn’t working. At least as far as I can see (the appeals are still as prevalent as ever).

I’ve read a number of articles, stories, opinion pieces and some books on why the world’s poorest countries are where they are and what can be done about it. Our current system of aid donations obviously isn’t the answer. I was hoping this book would provide some of those answers, or at least some ideas.

It’s a relatively short work, a mere 195 pages, but it’s filled with tightly packed text in a tiny font. As the author himself confesses, it would be a lot longer, especially if he went into the work behind the research he mentions in his reasoning.

The book backs up my own growing belief that we need to help turn the countries that make up the ‘bottom billion’ into functioning economies that can support themselves. The reasons for their continued inability to make that step and the actions to do so are laid out in the book, backed up by research.

As with any academic research, especially for such large subjects, I’m a little skeptical. It’s easy to put two and two together to make five. It’s also easy to collate data and make guesses. Examples of practical application would have been far more powerful.

The book was published in 2007. Has anything changed since? Certainly not in a big way, although I’m unsure about individual countries. Is this because the strategies have not worked, or because they have not been implemented? I don’t know.

What I do know is that the leader of every development agency, government, NGO and charity should read this, or a book like it, and take heed. What we’re doing for the poorest people of this planet clearly isn’t working, simply throwing money at the problem is no longer enough. The concise ideas laid out here should provide some signposts, perhaps even a framework, for changing the way we help.

A good, easy to understand, not too academic read that will make you think, but it feels a bit toothless unless we can change the minds of the relevant people and get them to act on it.

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This was a copy of the book

Reviewed: 28th May 2015