Givology Staff's Blog

A Review of 'A Path Appears' by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WudDunn's, 'A Path Appears' is an empowering book. It tears through the cynicism and doubt of the power of an individual to make a difference, in a series of vignettes. Each vignette demonstrates how ordinary people, have had a tremendous impact on less fortunate people's lives, by giving. The key, the book notes, is to give wisely.

How does one give wisely? Kristof and WuDunn notes that one can get maximum bang for every buck donated, by supporting causes such as early childhood care. Young kids are "too young to fail" the book notes. An intervention at this stage in people's lives, will lead to a reduction in the number of dysfunctional adults, thus reducing social costs in the long run. Counselling pregnant teens is another ridiculously cost effective way of making a difference; so is spreading education about contraception. Kristoff and WuDunn note that it is possible to keep a child in school in Kenya for an extra year for $3.5 by investing in deworming programs.
What about other worthy causes? How does one assess the impact of an organization's approach? The book talks about the pioneering work of Esther Duflo, on evidence based social intervention, using a randomized trials method to verify the impact an organization is having. 'A Path Appears' justly brings to light the difficulty of using metrics such as the 'overheads' of an organization in judging the validity of its work. For example, empirically, organizations which spend money on a professional marketing and advertising campaign are able to raise more money than organizations which do not use funds for this purpose. In addition, organizations which have well paid highly skilled employees are able to accomplish more, and have a lower turn over rate than charities which do not invest in their staff.
It is perhaps because of reasons such as the above, that the NGO world is highly fragmented, with relatively few sustainable models. The book thus also stresses on the role the private sector has to pay in scaling up change. The private sector has the right skills, network and money to made a dent in the problems society is facing. Kristof and WuDunn provide several examples of how corporations, through corporate social responsibility initiatives, or through partnering with an NGO have developed sustainable change models.
Kristof and WuDunn note that such CSR initiatives has been criticized of having a hidden agenda- perhaps to cover ill deeds of a company in another space. This may well be true. However it is impossible to deny that the private sector will have a huge role to play in effecting social change.
The book goes on to note that the act of giving does a selfish aspect to it. Giving makes you feel good by increasing the amount of oxytocin in your body. It also raises one's 'prestige' in society In fact, the book goes on to say, giving could be one of the most selfish acts possible. Kristof and WuDunn end on an uplifting note however, when it acknowledges that compassion is integral to our humanity, and evolution has hardwired us to be kind through natural selection, the same wiring which also accounts for selfish behaviour.
It concludes by providing 6 steps a person can take, right now, immediately, to start giving. It provides a list of verified organizations which are doing great work- [url=]Givology[/url] is one of them!
It is impossible to read this book without feeling uncomfortable and uplifted at the same time. It is a call to arms which is loud, clear and compelling. I strongly encourage you to read this book. It is truly life changing

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