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December 18 , 2007

Helping People Help Themselves

From the World Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance


David Ellerman relates a deep theoretical groundwork for a philosophy of development, while offering a descriptive, practical suggestion of how goals of development can be better set and met. Beginning with the assertion that development assistance agencies are inherently structured to provide help that is ultimately unhelpful by overriding or undercutting the capacity of people to help themselves, David Ellerman argues that the best strategy for development is a drastic reduction in development assistance. The locus of initiative can then shift from the would-be helpers to the doers (recipients) of development. Ellerman presents various methods for shifting initiative that are indirect, enabling and autonomy-respecting. Eight representative figures in the fields of education, community organization, economic development, psychotherapy and management theory including: Albert Hirschman, Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Søren Kierkegaard demonstrate how the major themes of assisting autonomy among people are essentially the same.

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David Ellerman is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Economics Department at the University of California at Riverside.

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