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Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World Has Failed
In this book, Thomas Dichter, an insider with more than 35 years' experience, offers a critique of what he terms the "international poverty alleviation industry." He argues that efforts to reduce world poverty have been well-intentioned but largely ineffective. And that, on the whole, the development industry has failed to serve the needs of the people it has sought to help. To make his case, Dichter reviews the major trends in development assistance from the 1960s through the 1990s, illustrating his analysis with eighteen short stories based on his own experiences in the field.
Much of the book is grounded in the daily life of development workers as described in the stories. Dichter shows how development organizations have often become caught up in their own self-perpetuation and in public relations efforts designed to create an illusion of effectiveness. Tracing the evolution of the role of money (as opposed to ideas) in development assistance, he suggests how financial imperatives have reinforced the tendency to sponsor time-bound projects, creating a dependency among aid recipients. He also examines the rise of careerism and increased bureaucratization in the industry, arguing that assistance efforts have become disconnected from important lessons learned on the ground, and often lessons of world history. In the end, Dichter calls for a more light-handed and artful approach to development assistance, with fewer agencies and experts involved. His stance is pragmatic, rather than ideological or political. What matters, he says, is what works, and the current practices of the development industry are simply not effective.
Thomas W. Dichter has worked in the field of international development for more than 35 years, managing and evaluating projects for non-governmental organizations, directing a Peace Corps country program, and serving as a consultant for such agencies as USAID, UNDP, and the World Bank.