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Big thinking fails the poor, says Burman professor in new book

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

Adam Kis, assistant professor of anthropology at Burman University, reads a few passages from his new book “The Development Trap: How Thinking Big Fails the Poor” during a book launch party at the SocialEyez student lounge on campus Tuesday night.  (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

Adam Kis, assistant professor of anthropology at Burman University, reads a few passages from his new book “The Development Trap: How Thinking Big Fails the Poor” during a book launch party at the SocialEyez student lounge on campus Tuesday night. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

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In a world where development industry leaders are saying poverty is close to being eradicated, a Burman University professor argues that it’s an entrenched problem that won’t be solved.

In his book, “The Development Trap: How Thinking Big Fails the Poor,” which was launched Tuesday night at SocialEyez student lounge on campus, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Adam Kis says NGOs and non-profits are severely underestimating poverty, and setting unrealistic goals to solve it.

“Underestimating your opponent is a dangerous thing and the same holds true in international development. Poverty is your opponent and if you underestimate it, you’re going to get slammed to the mat,” he said.

“For 70-75 years people have been saying we’re on the cusp of eradicating poverty...fundraising campaigns based on saying ‘we’re almost there, give us more money and we can eradicate poverty’ are starting to have diminishing returns.”

He says people are starting to tune out fundraising campaigns for eliminating poverty as background noise, and is challenging people to rethink development and aid for that very reason.

Using medicine as an analogy, he says doctors aren’t going around saying all diseases are about to be eradicated, nor are they backing down from a fight to find cures to solve diseases that may always be around. It’s this approach, treating poverty like a disease and tackling it on a micro, rather than macro, level that he believes will affect the biggest change.

“We’ve tried a lot of different strategies over the years, and each has its merits, but none of them are a panacea and none of them will definitely eradicate poverty,” he said. “Development is a worthwhile enterprise. Helping people who are suffering is a good thing to do, but we need to do it smartly.”

Making an effort to work towards a reduction of poverty on individual, household and community levels is often where the impact is felt, rather than through large-scale fundraisers.

The idea for Kis’ book came during time spent working in sub-Saharan Africa for Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). During that time, he read a lot of books where experts were contradicting how poverty needed to be solved, but no one shared his thoughts that it couldn’t be solved completely and that the focus needed to be on a smaller scale.

It took him a decade to compile his thoughts and observations, but it was finally published by Routledge last month.

Book launches for Burman University professors could become the newest tradition on campus, with several others working on books of their own. As for Kis, he’s got a few ideas for future books, but he’ll be focusing on a few papers in the immediate future.

“I’m not going to tackle another book for now,” he said. “I’ve got a backlog of papers I haven’t published, so this summer I’m going to crank out three, maybe four or five papers and than write another book.”

As for the book itself, those interested in reading it can find it on Amazon. 



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