From Poverty to Power - what's changed since 2008? Q&A with author Duncan Green

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The Second Edition of From Poverty to Power, Oxfam's flagship publication on global development published last week. We asked the author Duncan Green to reflect on what's changed since the book was first published in 2008.

What is From Poverty to Power about?

From Poverty to Power was an attempt to come up with an NGO narrative on development, it's rooted in decades of Oxfam's experience across the developing world. The book argues that it requires a radical redistribution of power, opportunities, and assets to break the cycle of poverty and inequality and to give poor people power over their own destinies. The forces driving this transformation are active citizens and effective states.

How does the Second Edition differ from the first, published in 2008?

The book has been updated throughout with the latest statistics and with a new section summarizing the human impact of the global financial and food price chaos of the last 5 years. It looks at new thinking and research in relation to the Arab Spring and climate change. It also incorporates large amounts of analysis from my blog, which was launched in 2008 to promote the first edition, but rapidly acquired a life (and readership) of its own. Oh, and the cover's green, not red.

What is your take on the global economic crisis, viewed from 2012?

The global economic crisis was a watershed event, triggering historic geopolitical change, including the shift from G8 to G20 and the rise of the emerging powers. It drew attention to the risks of an excessively 'financialised' global economy, but failed to lead to a reining in of the excessive size and volatility of 'hot money', condemning us to future financial crises, possibly starting with Europe in the coming months.

Many reviewers of the Second Edition have talked of your prescience, of foreseeing events. What did you get most right in the First Edition?

The central role of active citizens and effective states has only become more apparent with the events of the Arab Spring and the growing focus on 'fragile and conflict affected states' as the hardest development nut to crack. That focus on the 'national' (rather than seeing development as primarily decided in global fora) has been underlined by such events, and multilateral paralysis on everything from climate change, to trade, to arms control.

What did you get most wrong?

The book was right to highlight climate change, but has been overtaken by events, with climate change and ecological boundaries becoming more obviously a game changer, and a present not future threat to the whole human endeavour.

Has anything been cut from the Second Edition?

The new edition does not have the 'How Change Happens' annex (but it is still available in the first edition). I have greatly expanded my work in this area, but that's the focus of my next book!

Are there any Oxfam research papers that helped shape the Second Edition?

Yes, there's a long list of references in the back of the book, but my top 10 must-reads are

  1. Dangerous Delay: The cost of late responses to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa
  2. A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can we live within the doughnut?
  3. Crisis in a new world order: Challenging the humanitarian project
  4. Living on a Spike: How is the 2011 food price crisis affecting poor people?
  5. Growing a Better Future
  6. The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on the Budgets of Low-Income Countries
  7. The Global Economic Crisis and Developing Countries
  8. Gender Perspectives on the Global Economic Crisis
  9. What Happened to the Seasons?
  10. For a Safer Tomorrow: Protecting Civilians in a Multipolar World

Are you launching the book at any events?

Yes -  Have Powerpoint, will travel! I've just been on a panel at the OECD Conference in New Delhi, I'll also be signing books and speaking at Cambridge University and leading a panel at the Development Studies Association Annual Conference in November. There are more talks and events planned through to 2013 but I'm keen to add more locations to the list so if there are any organisations that are interested in lectures or panel events please contact Catherine Meredith, Promotions Officer to discuss dates.

I'll be documenting some of my event experiences on my blog. I'm also really keen to repost stuff as a guest on other blogs. My ideal model is the World Bank's People, Deliberation, Spaces site, which regularly reposts, and is really easy to work with (no demand to post before/at same time as me etc). If anyone is interested in blogs you can contact me via the blog or on twitter.

If you'd like to review From Poverty to Power contact Andrea Palmer at Practical Action Publishing to request a review copy.