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More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty
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More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  591 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
A leading economist and researcher report from the front lines of a revolution in solving the world's most persistent problem.

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We've thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last fifty years and accomplished almost nothing.

Dean Karlan an
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Dutton (first published April 1st 2011)
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Daniel Tello
Apr 25, 2011 Daniel Tello rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the publisher via Goodreads First Reads program.

Team Sachs? Team Easterly? Try Team Evidence. It might not be catchy, but it is definitely catching on in the development/aid world. If you are interested in what Team Evidence has to offer there is no better way than Karlan's and Appel's book: More than Good Intentions. The already-proven successful, yet conversational, approach is used in this book to capture readers and explain the fascinating developmen
Jul 27, 2011 Gwenyth rated it liked it
Shelves: global-health
I would probably recommend certain chapters of this book to people to read as alongside other material on the same topic. For example, I liked the chapter on microfinance, and I thought provides the sort of background and commentary on the subject you might if someone was interested in learning a bit about the subject. The section on malaria bed nets did a good job of very simply summarizing the Sachs-Easterly debate and provided a bit of interesting additional evidence.

Probably I would not reco
May 10, 2011 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
Excellent book which discusses the nature of charity and poverty, and which programs work best. People do not always act in their most rational interests, and poverty restricts their options even further. The author has done a lot of research and investigation into which programs are the most beneficial, and offers several extremely promising programs in addition to thoroughly detailing the theory behind them. An excellent book.
I didn't know individual U.S. donors donate more than $200 billion every year. And that till recently they didn't even know whether the products (e.g., brilliant microcredit plans) they were investing in were reaching customers, let alone if they worked as intended.

If enough people think about what they're donating to we could actually save the world. I'm not being an idealist here. For e.g., 40 mn people suffer from Trachoma, an effective prognosis like an eye surgery takes $20. So curing the w
May 03, 2012 Jamie rated it liked it
A broad brush stroke of development initiatives supported by randomized control trials, primarily conducted by Innovations for Poverty (IPA). I empathized with the dilemma presented by Peter Singer of our localized and immediate compulsion to give away away money if it was to save a child we could see drowning, but not to save someone remotely in poverty. I particularly liked the willingness of the book to challenge accepted norms.

The book emphasized the need to market and sell development solu
May 09, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Karlan and Appel make a good team. They should do more research of their own.

Most of the research in this book are the same studies that Poor Economics covers. It's slightly more entertainingly written than Esther Duflo and Abhijit Bannerjee's book, but as Karlan is an apprentice of Duflo and Bannerjee, it just seems like a lesser book that you could skip.

I'm a bit skeptical of the value of Karlan's site,, and more than a bit annoyed that he shilled it in the middle of a book on the p
4.5* yeah, this book grew on me. strong information and important studies run to determine true effectiveness of various aspects of development programs focused on a wide-variety of issues, all of which central to addressing major problems of poverty. A smooth, speedy, interesting read on development efforts.
Ko Matsuo
Dec 30, 2015 Ko Matsuo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book. Per Karlan, Americans donate over $200 billion every year to help the poor. The problem is that no impact is being made. The recent excitement around micro-financing as a solution also misses the point in that it does not offer a way of measuring what tactics actually work.

Karlan describes how his team used randomized control trials (RCTs) to test what had an impact and created a learning mechanism for teams to figure out how micro-financing could help decrease poverty in the w
Mar 31, 2011 Lavender marked it as to-read
I won this book from First Reads giveaway. Should be an interesting read. Thank you.
Although written by two economists, this book is incredibly accessible and relateable. It hits again and again on the importance of monitoring and evaluation in working to find solutions to the complex problems of development. The writing is entertaining, although ultimately a bit simplistic; I would recommend it as a gateway reading to supplement more in-depth texts on the issues of particular interest to someone. Nevertheless, it certainly helped invigorate me even more towards my career goal ...more
Lauren Coonen
Apr 25, 2016 Lauren Coonen rated it really liked it
The book makes a strong case for studying any program aimed at reducing poverty with a rigorous evaluation. We should no longer throw money at a problem and assume that with enough resources or enough “good intentions,” that it will have a positive effect. More often than programs that use these approaches can have little effect, and at worst be detrimental. Instead non-profits and governments a like that are designing programs need to invest in a method of studying their effectiveness. The book ...more
Bea Bezmalinovic
Apr 20, 2015 Bea Bezmalinovic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The research behind Good Intentions provides useful guidance about how to design effective interventions at the micro-level (e.g. how to get people to save, how to influence people's behaviors to achieve better development outcomes.) This book is one of various that focus on changing micro-habits to achieve greater outcomes. To his credit Kaplan says the book is not for people who design programs, but for interested individuals who give to support them. The book helps them to figure out what to ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Marit rated it really liked it
Karlan & Appel have created quite a solid and intriguing foray into how economic research can directly improve poverty-relief programs. They use a good balance of illustrative, highly personal anecdotes from their vast experiences and influential, rigorous research studies. Some of the more lyrical prose was actually quite lovely and moving, a style I appreciate in straightforward non-fiction.

Their writing revolves around the ideas that (1) randomized controlled trials (RCT) are key to disc
Apr 13, 2011 Debbie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"More Than Good Intentions" focused on what programs (or parts of programs) actually achieved their objective of helping the poor. The authors talked about the studies they've done on this and explain their findings about what works, what doesn't, and how various programs might be improved. The authors acknowledge that people don't always act in their long-term best interest, so we need to understand why the poor act in certain ways, modify programs to take that into account, and test those prog ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Eva rated it really liked it
An intriguing book, academic but with vivid case studies and anecdotes. Some quotes from kindle:

Three billion people, about half the world, live on $2.50 per day. (To be clear, that’s $2.50 adjusted for the cost of living—so think of it as living on the amount of actual goods that you could buy for $2.50 per day in the United States.) - location 156

When you click to fund the woman’s loan, you make a hundred-dollar no-interest loan to Kiva. Kiva then makes a hundred-dollar no-interest loan to the
Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Goodreads First Reads program.

Karlan and Appel have contributed greatly to international development scholarship with this book. They advocate that development programs must 1) robustly evaluate their effectiveness through randomized control trials, and 2) take into account people's irrational (non-economic) behavioral choices. They provide overviews of various programs designed to help improve the lives of the most underserved in developing countries, w
Aug 02, 2012 Meepspeeps rated it really liked it
This is an outstanding critique of programs aimed at helping the poor. They outline well-controlled research studies, often not done by development organizations, or ignored because the results call for certain groups to stop what they are doing or do it very differently. A good example is the microfinance craze, which has come under attack in the mainstream press a bit, but the research here is clear, and also points out how researched effectiveness in one locale doesn't mean the same thing wil ...more
Fermin Quant
Aug 29, 2015 Fermin Quant rated it really liked it
It starts off a little slow, but at about one third it gets momentum which maintains through to the end. Very interesting book with very interesting results. It explains how just giving money to charity doesn't help on its own, and goes on to explain some cases where successful programs have made them work. It shows the way the world is currently fighting poverty effectively, and his point is that all programs should do so like that.
Jan 28, 2015 Jacob rated it it was ok
I was expecting a lot more from this book. I didn't really learn anything new, and I never got comfortable with Karlan's informal writing style. If you don't know much/anything about international development, it might be a good read, otherwise, I'd pass.
carlos leos
Oct 13, 2015 carlos leos rated it really liked it
Great book, it was an easy read and offered a positive way at looking at microcredit and why we should invest into it.
Imad Ahmed
Jul 31, 2014 Imad Ahmed rated it liked it
A continuation of his advisors at MIT's work Poor Economics. Good ad for Innovations for Poverty Action. Ghana-centric.
May 17, 2014 Yiannis rated it liked it
A little wordy, and it sticks a little too close to the pattern for pop econ / social science books, but still an interesting read.
Jul 07, 2011 Dena rated it it was amazing
This is about quantifying the results of efforts to combat world poverty so that funds and resources can be used more effectively. This sounds horribly dry and boring but is actually extremely interesting. I'm about half way through the book after about 3 hours.

I just finished the book and I'm very impressed with the ideas in it. This is not a highly technical book with lots of economics jargon and complex mathematics. But if you are interested in helping eliminate world poverty it shows specif
Gail Owen
Jul 02, 2015 Gail Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aid, economics
Good introduction to several economic strategies for dealing with poverty throughout the world. It had enough anecdotes throughout to provide the reader with concrete examples of how empirical analysis and behavorial economics can impact efforts to intervene in international development projects.
For me, it was a good chance to look at projects with a different perspective. In the future, I will be looking to support projects that are not afraid to analyze their success and go back to the drawing
Margaret Sankey
Jun 02, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Case studies of the application of behavioral economics to poverty alleviation programs, most of which boil down to a menu of small scale banking and getting people to use mosquito nets, put chlorine in water at dispensing stations and give their kids anti-diarrhea salts correctly. The trick, however, is marketing it appropriately to local conditions (will "rebate" or "matching funds" go over better?), controlling the program agents on the ground for corruption and neglect and avoiding large sca ...more
Brian Westlander
Jan 11, 2016 Brian Westlander marked it as to-read
rec'd by Lin on KFBS Sustainability Immersion
Aug 09, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Katie by: Dean Karlan
Shelves: own, nonfiction
In the interests of full disclosure, I worked for Dean Karlan at Innovations for Poverty Action for over three years. During that time I came to realize the value in the evaluations that IPA has been running all over the world. I found this book a good introduction for anyone who is new to the work of development economics and wishes to know more. I was particularly interested in the section about microsavings versus microlending which I think people from any economic background should take note ...more
University of Chicago Magazine
Dean Karlan, MPP’97, MBA’97

From our pages (Mar–Apr/11): "Putting development aid programs to the test, Karlan and Appel studied African, Indian, South American, and Filipino villages to determine the most effective ways to invest in the world’s poorest regions. Using behavioral-economics theories and field interviews, the authors argue that, rather than throwing money at a cause, small changes in banking, insurance, and health care can make the most of international aid."
Deborah Nicol
Apr 29, 2012 Deborah Nicol rated it really liked it
It's great to contribute money to an organization helping sick women in Guatemala...but how do you know your money is effective? Dean Karlan is president and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, an organization I have great admiration for because not only do they seek projects for the greater good, but they test them to make sure they actually work. The book reviews various projects in an extremely readable manner and encourages everyone to be critical of methods used to save the world.
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Dean Karlan is a professor of economics at Yale University. He is also president of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and a research fellow of the M.I.T. Jameel Poverty Action Lab. He founded and is president of His research has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Alfred B. Sloan Foundation,, National Science Foundation, World Bank, and ...more
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“Find individual programs that work, and support them. Find programs that don’t work, and stop doing them.” 1 likes
“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society.” 0 likes
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