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1 Introduction & Overview Helping People Help Themselves The World Bank, the leading multilateral development agency, begins its mission statement with a dedication to helping people help themselves , and Oxfam, a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) working on development, states that its “main aim is to help people to help themselves.”1 Perhaps the most successful example of development assistance in modern history was the Marshall Plan, which “did what it set out to do—help people help themselves” (Stern 1997). American of‹cial assistance to developing countries began with Harry Truman’s “Point Four” program in 1949, which was conceived as a worldwide “program of helping underdeveloped nations to help themselves .”2 John Dewey gave perhaps the best statement of the theme: The best kind of help to others, whenever possible, is indirect, and consists in such modi‹cations of the conditions of life, of the general level of subsistence, as enables them independently to help themselves. (Dewey and Tufts 1908, 390)3 The idea and the rhetoric of “helping people help themselves” has been with us throughout the postwar period of of‹cial development assistance . For instance, we are all familiar with the ancient Chinese saying that if you give people ‹sh, you feed them for a day, but if you teach them how to ‹sh—or rather, if you enable them to learn how to ‹sh— then they can feed themselves for a lifetime.4 There is broad agreement —at least as a statement of high purpose—that helping people help themselves is the best methodology for development assistance in the developing countries as well as for other types of helping relationships . Yet, in the course of this book, I argue that the notion of helping people help themselves is in fact a deep conundrum far more subtle than is realized by the many development agencies that routinely use the slogan. Indeed, most of the “helping people help themselves” rhetoric from the development agencies simply takes the idea as being the same as helping people. There is little or no suspicion that most “help” is in fact unhelpful in the sense of overriding or undercutting self-help and is thus quite antithetical to helping people help themselves . Thus much of our discourse must be negative—showing how most help is actually unhelpful in fostering “people helping themselves .” On the positive side, genuine help is not something that can be done in a direct frontal way or mounted like an engineering project. You cannot force a person to act spontaneously. You cannot externally supply motivation to a person to act on his or her own motivation. This is often indicated with metaphors like “pushing on a string” or “you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink.” But the failure of direct frontal help does not mean that external help is impossible. Genuine help is a far more humble and subtle activity that enables selfhelp in an indirect manner. Our task is to lay the intellectual foundation for the alternative methodology of development assistance that genuinely helps self-help. The continuing inability of the major development agencies to understand the subtlety of helping people help themselves is evident in the repeated and increasingly frenetic calls for “massively increased aid” and “redoubled efforts” to push through more programs “to help” reach the periodically announced development goals.5 In a historical perspective, international development assistance has only been a major of‹cial organized effort since the end of World War II. It has not been an outstanding success.6 To some extent this is not surprising since the development of whole societies must surely be one of the most complex tasks facing humanity. It far outstrips the complexity and dif‹culty of building developmental infrastructure such as high2 HELPING PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES ways, power plants, and airports. Dreams that economic development could be engineered in the way that smallpox was conquered or someone was put on the moon have remained dreams. Indeed, I argue that it is not even the same type of task; it is not a task of engineering written large at the level of a society (“social engineering”). The failure is not for lack of money. While one can easily argue that many rich countries have been less than generous in their development aid, I argue that the failure has not been one of insuf‹cient benevolence . The current calls for pouring more money into the conventional channels of development assistance are, unfortunately, not a solution...


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