Future Positive: International co-operation in the 21st century by Michael Edwards

Future Positive’s book-ends are utopian. The preface talks about ‘my original journey’, ‘helping each other lead more fulfilling lives’ and ‘abolishing global poverty’. The conclusion talks of ‘a global compact for the future supported by a world development fund independent of great power domination’.

I last read of such a personal odyssey to create such a new world in the books of Mitrinovic, a Serb who had a following in Richmond, London, in the 1930s and 1940s. It all hung together given one accepted his hypothesis rather than a similar one somewhere else. His library is now gathering mould in a garden shed in Sussex! I decided to ask the Editor of Alliance to be excused from this particular book review!

Then I thought of Michael Edward’s position in the World Bank and his chance to influence it and decided ‘Oh God!’ I need to read further into the book.

The 200 pages between the book-ends are excellent! He writes about the self-aggrandisement of donors; he is intolerant, indeed sarcastic, about the project culture; he names names in this incestuous world – all of this from an experienced development person is iconoclastic and refreshing.

So is the common sense of it all. Michael writes of women in the fields in the early morning in Africa, preparing for another 14-hour day, not waiting open-mouthed for aid like birds in a nest but rather determined to get on unaided. However, along comes the aid worker, questionnaire in hand, at the very end of a chain which has consumed much, if not most, of the money provided by some aid agency intent on its own agenda (in some cases this could be up to 90 per cent of the original funds). In all too many cases this kind of aid has meant the end of local self-reliance. (The Council on Foundations should conduct research on the proportion of grants for overseas aid that is spent on the beneficiaries – the answers could be horrific!)

Each chapter is interesting, observant and sometimes violent in its opinions. What a joy!

Whether much will happen as a result of this book in terms of the conclusion I rather doubt, but nevertheless I urge you to read it because you need to take a position yourself, whether you are donor or recipient, from a rich or poor world. I suspect Michael would agree it is only when a critical mass of us is willing to argue about the need for radical change that a positive future will come about.

Future Positive: International co-operation in the 21st century
Michael Edwards Earthscan £20

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Michael Brophy is Chief Executive at CAF.


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