“Shut up & Give?”: a book review

Chad Jordan, founder and chief consultant of Cornerstone International has written a book on eradicating poverty called "Shut Up & Give?" In it, Jordan asks the reader to question the way aid to developing countries has been given, distributed, perceived and managed. His answer: not well.

Jordan makes it clear that the developed world has created a horrible cycle of dependency that - while it begins with charitable ideas and giving - ends with dependency, lop-sided relationships, misunderstood needs and corruption. We have managed to build a culture of dependence, and not a culture of ownership in many places around the world. In order to gain any kind of ground on alleviating poverty (he believs extreme poverty can be eradicated), Jordan asks us to completely rethink how we "do aid" to the developing (or as he calls it, the underserved) world. HIs answer: "The end of poverty will be found at the intersection of business opportunity and social responsibility."

In clear language, with warm anecdotes, Jordan passes on his personal experiences and relates them to the issues facing the aid industry on one end and compassionate, well-meaning people on the other. He outlines every aspect of development, from private donations to churches to the corporate role.  He offers insights into solutions, including  collateral-free lending and sustainable businesses, and asks us to "go back to the basics" when thinking about ways to solve issues surrounding poverty.

Underlying Jordan's entire book is the premise that "we" (those in the developed world) are NOT going to solve the problems of poverty in the developing world. We can't: it's not our problem, it's not our culture, it's not our world, and to assume we can step in and do that is paternalistic hubris. We can and should partner with those in the developing world, sharing resources, expertise, and compassion. We haven't done this yet. As Jordan says,

We haven't empowered people to look internally for the answers to their problems; we haven't taught people to trust in their own skills and to rely on one another for support. We've continually taught them to looks to us as their answer; their solution.

Jordan's major focus: business. As he says, " Business is a life-changer":

The potential business holds to transform lives in the underserved world should not be underestimated; it has worked around the globe...Whether entrepreneurship, trade, investment, or basic business ideas, the power to make underserved nations responsible for their futures lies within.

Jordan's book is worthy of a read for several reasons. First, he clearly, succinctly and dispassionately lays out a very real problem that most of us recognize, but are not sure how to fix. He offers up basic language (there's even a glossary) that will appeal to those who are not familiar with this topic. But this is not simply a primer for those new to the world of development and aid. Jordan offers his personal experiences, and "puts a face on" many nations around the world and the issues they want to fix. "Shut Up and Give?" is a worthy addition to the conversation about development, aid and poverty.

Aug 072012
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