Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World

ISBN : 9780199578023

Ben Ramalingam
480 Pages
163 x 236 mm
Pub date
Oct 2013
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It is widely recognised that the foreign aid system - which today involves every country in the world - is in need of drastic change. But there are conflicting opinions as to what is needed. Some call for dramatic increases in resources, to meet long-overdue commitments, and to scale up what is already being done around the world. Others point to the flaws in aid, and bang the drum for cutting it altogether - and argue that the fate of poor and vulnerable people be best placed in the hands of markets and the private sector. Meanwhile, growing numbers are suggesting that what is most needed is the creative, innovative transformation of how aid works. Aid on the Edge of Chaos is firmly in the third of these camps. In this ground-breaking book, Ben Ramalingam shows that the linear, mechanistic models and assumptions on which foreign aid is built would be more at home in early twentieth century factory floors than in the dynamic, complex world we face today. All around us, we can see the costs and limitations of dealing economies and societies as if they are analogous to machines. The reality is that such social systems have far more in common with ecosystems: they are complex, dynamic, diverse and unpredictable. Many thinkers and practitioners in science, economics, business, and public policy have started to embrace more 'ecologically literate' approaches to guide both thinking and action, informed by ideas from the 'new science' of complex adaptive systems. Inspired by these efforts, there is an emerging network of aid practitioners, researchers, and policy makers who are experimenting with complexity-informed responses to development and humanitarian challenges. This book showcases the insights, experiences, and often remarkable results from these efforts. From transforming approaches to child malnutrition, to rethinking processes of economic growth, from building peace to combating desertification, from rural Vietnam to urban Kenya, Aid on the Edge of Chaos shows how embracing the ideas of complex systems thinking can help make foreign aid more relevant, more appropriate, more innovative, and more catalytic. Ramalingam argues that taking on these ideas will be a vital part of the transformation of aid, from a post-WW2 mechanism of resource transfer, to a truly innovative and dynamic form of global cooperation fit for the twenty-first century.


Preface: globalization, development, and complexity
1. A system to change 'the system'?
2. Thinking inside the box
3. Strategic mismanagement
4. The goats in the machine
5. Watching the watchmen
6. Part 1 epilogue--global Fordlandia?
7. Introducing complexity
8. More than, and different to, the parts
9. The madness of men
10. Falling off cliffs
11. The devil is in the dynamics
12. Part 2 epilogue--what lies between order and chaos?
13. From Bali, with complexity
14. Systemic learning
15. Adaptive strategies
16. Networked organizations
17. Dynamic change
18. Part 3 epilogue--moving beyond panaceas
19. Aid on the edge of chaos

About the author: 

Ben Ramalingam is an independent researcher, consultant and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. He has worked with and advised leading development and humanitarian organisations including UN bodies, NGOs, the Red Cross movement, and government agencies. He holds honorary positions at the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, and the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University.

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