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More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World's Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy Paperback – March 27, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Karlan, a behavioral economist, and Appel, an aid worker, use psychological insights and empirical studies to assess and trouble-shoot development initiatives (especially the ballyhooed microcredit movement, to which they devote several sympathetic but critical chapters). They focus on small fixes with outsized payoffs: "commitment" savings accounts that make depositors accumulate a fixed amount before they can withdraw; well-side chlorine dispensers to purify water; paying parents to take kids for checkups; increasing the application rate to a microloan program by, yes, putting photos of hot chicks on the brochure. The authors write in an engaging prose tinged with Freakonomics-style cutesiness—"It hadn't dawned on me that hookers' prices could be a topic for serious economic research"—and illustrated with Appel's vivid reportage on underdevelopment in Ghana. Their program of tweaking spending and saving behavior (sending text messages reminding individuals to save money each month, for example) can seem faddish and insufficient, given the vast needs of poor countries; still, theirs is an enlightening and optimistic take on smartening up development aid. (Apr.)
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Review

"The first half of the twenty-first century will be remembered by historians as the time when the world eliminated much of its poverty. A few geniuses like Dean Karlan will be seen as responsible. Here is a triumph of careful analysis and creative invention over deep problems that have been seen as endemic and hopeless."
-Robert Shiller, Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics, Yale University, and author of Animal Spirits, The Suprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance

"A page-turner that guides donors to strategies that improve the lives of the world's poorest people. Karlan and Appel lucidly describe the research supporting their findings while demonstrating how psychological "nudges" combine with economic incentives to make the strategies succeed."
-Paul Brest, President, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

"Karlan is one of the most creative and prolific young economists in the world. His research lies at the intersection of two of the hottest areas in the field: behavioral economics and development-microfinance . . . . A good follow-up to Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational, and Nudge with a development and poverty spin."
-Richard H. Thaler, coauthor of Nudge

"Dean Karlan is one of the most energetic and enterprising members of a new breed of economists who are trying to fight poverty and change the world, one randomized trial at a time. This book with Jacob Appel conveys not only new and exciting findings from these studies, but also, with its brisk and engaging tone, the sheer joy of search and discovery. An uplifting and stimulating read!"
-Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, Department of Economics, MIT, 2010 John Bates Clark Award winner

"A terrific book for anyone interested in what can really be done about global poverty. Karlan and Appel strike a balance between irrational exuberance for donating money to anything that sounds noble and stern pessimism about any attempt to do good in the world. Here is a clear, workable way forward- described with a compelling, human touch."
-Michael Kremer, Gates Professor of Developing Societies, Harvard University

"Stimulating, breezy, Intellectual; this book has it all. Once I picked up this masterpiece, I found myself opening up a birthday present every time I turned the page. A must read for anyone serious about the most important problems facing humanity today."
-John A. List, Homer J Livingstone Professor of Economics, University of Chicago

"This book wraps a world-changing idea in an immensely readable narrative. If we are going to overcome global poverty, we need more than good intentions, and Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel show us exactly what we need and how to get there."
-Peter Singer, Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

"An accessible account of 'the new development economics' based on field experiments and randomized control trials... Valuable, insightful... Anyone interested in a readable discussion of this truly new approach to poverty should pick up this book."
-Tyler Cowen, professor of economics, George Mason University, author of The Age of the Infovore and co-author of the blog marginalrevolution.com

"The most urgent challenge in the world is economic development, and Karlan is right at its cutting edge...An important book-and a captivating one."
-Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and the Dear Economist column at Financial Times

"The types of research that Dean Karlan and his colleagues at Innovations for Poverty Action conduct are critical for helping foundations like the Ford Foundation."
-Frank deGiovanni, Director of Economic Development, Ford Foundation, former Chair of the Executive Committee, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor

"Karlan is one of the world's leading experts on microfinance in developing countries, and he's done pioneering research around the globe. His work smashes old boundaries within economics to answer some of the most pressing issues facing poor countries today. Most of what we know today about how to make microfinance work for the poor flows from Dean's research."
-Edward Miguel, Professor of Economics, U.C. Berkeley

"More Than Good Intentions offers a new way forward in the battle against poverty. It's a data-driven path, but one populated with real-life stories and full of the human spirit. Karlan and Appel call us to be rigorous in our decisions-and we need to listen to them, for the stakes couldn't be higher."
-Jacob Harold, Program Officer, Philanthropy, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation A

"This wonderful book, by one of the leading combatants, brings us directly to front--lines of the battle for a more reasoned approach to fighting poverty."
-Abhijit Banerjee, the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at MIT

"This book invites you to a conversation. The topic could not be more compelling: global poverty. Your partner could not be more fascinating: one of the leading scholars in the world working on it. The result is everything you would hope for."
-Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

"Be prepared to have your preconceptions about international development sharply challenged, as Karlan and Appel break down what really works to alleviate poverty."
-Justin Oliver, Executive Director, Center for Microfinance, Chennai, India

"Karlan offers that all-too-rare combination of academic research excellence and its application to international development practice. Karlan is creating a breakthrough."
-Chris Dunford, President of Freedom from Hunger

"Karlan and Appel write that their goal is 'to speak directly to readers, to lead them into some corners of the world they might not otherwise encounter, and bring them face-to-face with the people who populate those places.' They have succeeded admirably, as both advocates and analysts."
-Kirkus
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452297567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452297562
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph Grenny on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Karlan and Appel challenge those of us who like to think we're making a difference in the world to think more about our work. Whether you're writing a check, leading a nonprofit, or advocating for change, this book should be required reading before you leave the house Monday morning. The authors are at once both terrific storytellers and careful social scientists. This is a fascinating read, filled with surprises, and practical tools you can use to inform all of your efforts to make a difference in the world. I highly recommend it!
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"More Than Good Intentions" focused on what programs (or parts of programs) actually achieved their objective of helping the poor. The authors talked about the studies they've done on this and explain their findings about what works, what doesn't, and how various programs might be improved. The authors acknowledge that people don't always act in their long-term best interest, so we need to understand why the poor act in certain ways, modify programs to take that into account, and test those programs to see if they're working.

The book was easy to read and very engaging. It contained interesting stories of real people that were impacted by these programs. I'd highly recommend this book to those who donate money to organizations that help the poor and to the people who run these programs.

The topics the authors covered were their studies on how to "sell" a program to poor people (as in, get them to use it), various types of microfinance programs (individual, group, along with basic business training, along with specific business advice, etc.), microsavings programs, agricultural programs, educational programs, and health programs (including reproductive health). The last chapter listed the 7 programs that they discussed that they're the most excited about.

This book was a review copy provided by the publisher as an eBook through NetGalley.
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The book had some wonderful descriptions of various people who participated in studies to ascertain the effect of microloans on small businesses. It showed the human side of what people need, rather than just cut and dried results of what the studies showed. As a layman with little knowledge of economics, I found this book well- written, informative, and entertaining. My horizons about how a great portion of people in the rest of the world live have certainly been broadened.
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I remember the first time I came across the results of a randomized evaluation of a development project. I was enthusiastic about what I read, and so I went to the head of the evaluation unit in the aid agency that was employing me. "Randomized evaluations? We do that all the time," was how she reacted to my pitch. "Our evaluation surveys pick up projects beneficiaries at random." Despite my efforts, she wasn't interested in learning more about randomized control trials, or RCTs. My failure to convince her was also explained by the lack of user-friendly texts about what these new research projects were all about. Now there is a wealth of survey papers, blog entries, and books that explain the matter in non-technical terms. More Than Good Intentions provides such an introduction to this fascinating new area of development economics, where academic rigor meets with philanthropic generosity to generate maximum impact in poor people's lives. The book has been described as the perfect tool for workers in this field to give to their friends and relatives in order to explain what they do. It certainly would have answered all the questions by aid bureaucrats about what randomized evaluations were all about and why we should do more of them.

Talking about RCTs will put off a lot of people otherwise interested in development issues. The semantic should not frighten them. The key word in RCT is "control", as in "control group": in drug testing, as in other RCTs, the control group is a set of people who don't get the treatment or policy measure being tested. "Randomized" means these people are picked at random within the target population, simply by flipping a coin.
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By cc on October 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Being in the helping profession my whole life this is a book I read in the midst of a bad 'volunteering' experience.

A must read for anyone who is wanting to 'change the world' as it gives a nice list of things to consider before you just jump in.

There are lots of books on this topic now - I'd say this is one that is an easy read and accessible to everyone.
Give it to whatever idealistic young person you know . NOT to dissuade them or puncture their idealism / big heartedness; more to direct their zeal in a truly helpful direction. :)
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This is the best book about global development and aid that I have ever read. It's very easy to read, relatively short, and contains so many good examples to get your head around taking an approach to aid where you care about EFFECTIVENESS, not just dollars spent, number of people reached, or low administrative costs.

If you ever donate money for overseas aid, or care in any way about making the world a better place for the less fortunate, then this is a must read to get the right perspective on how to deal with the problem.

I worked for a microfinance institute in a developing country for 1 year and learnt more from this book than I did from my time in that position.
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