At first glance, Give a Little, which has a theme of the transformative social effects of cumulative small charitable donations, is not the usual type of book that I review here. And in fact, I came across Give a Little in an unconventional way. Full Disclosure: I know the author slightly and met her a few times previously and for social reasons, received an invitation to the book release party, which required that I pick up the book and read it even though it was not my usual genre.
I was struck by several aspects.
First, the quality level is high ( it reminded me most of a narrowly focused Malcolm Gladwell book). Give a Little was refashioned from a more academic study with plenty of statistical data into a very readable book for a popular audience. The sense of depth carries through.
Secondly, though I’m certain that the author, Wendy Smith, who spent twenty years in the public/NGO sector wasn’t thinking in these terms, the principles behind the humanitarian programs she examines also have the potential to revolutionize foreign aid and economic development policies and breathe life into the “civilian side” of COIN.
Smith’s chapters delve into a variety of the most successful , and at times least well known, programs that have two things in common: first, they are directed at permanently improving the “human capital” or “social capital” of the recipients rather than sustaining a subsistence existence. Secondly, the programs all manage an enormous ROI for every donation due to generating powerful, downstream, “ripple effect” benefits. Cents given today translate into tens or hundreds of dollars of positive outcomes gained and negative costs avoided tomorrow
There are many worthy organizations profiled ( ex. Ounce of Prevention, Bridges to Prosperity etc.) and Smith offers the readers anecdotes that are deeply positive and uplifting narratives of individuals, families and communities transformed by the power of small donations designed to empower the people of the “bottom billion”. Mircolending and philanthropy issues are discussed, as is social investment policies but these subjects are not generally the focus of the readers of this blog.
Of this section of the blogosphere, who should read Give a Little and garner some “Aha!” moments?: