Helping People Help Themselves

From the World Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance
David Ellerman
Foreword by Albert O. Hirschman
Presents the argument that development is a transformative process that cannot be imposed from the outside


David Ellerman relates a deep theoretical groundwork for a philosophy of development, while offering a descriptive, practical suggestion of how goals of development can be better set and met. Beginning with the assertion that development assistance agencies are inherently structured to provide help that is ultimately unhelpful by overriding or undercutting the capacity of people to help themselves, David Ellerman argues that the best strategy for development is a drastic reduction in development assistance. The locus of initiative can then shift from the would-be helpers to the doers (recipients) of development. Ellerman presents various methods for shifting initiative that are indirect, enabling and autonomy-respecting. Eight representative figures in the fields of education, community organization, economic development, psychotherapy and management theory including: Albert Hirschman, Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Søren Kierkegaard demonstrate how the major themes of assisting autonomy among people are essentially the same.

David Ellerman is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Economics Department at the University of California at Riverside.

Praise / Awards

  • "A towering achievement. It outdoes Sen and Hirshman in its reach across economics, management theory, psychology, sociology, mathematics and philosophy. The result is a coherent alternative "way of seeing" the relationship between aid organizations based in rich countries and aid recipients based in poorer ones, and some practical suggestions on how to re-engage the aid agencies more as "helpers" than as "doers". Along the way it fairly sizzles with insider insights into
    the workings of the World Bank."
    —Robert Hunter Wade, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics
  • "Ellerman provides a compelling humanist understanding of how economic development aid can succeed, if only people and nations are enabled to help themselves."
    —William Greider author,The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
  • "The tone of the book is critical and the fact that the author was a prominent employee of the World Bank makes its critique more valuable. The use of micro-social psychology in the core of the analysis is at the same time the strength and weakness of the book." 
    Development and Change
  • "Examines how great historical thinkers have wrestled with the basic conundrum of helping self-help and uses their ideas and recommendations to lay the intellectual foundations for an alternative philosophy of development assistance that is based on autonomy-respecting help."
    Journal of Economic Literature

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 354pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03142-9

Add to Cart
  • $31.95 U.S.

Related Products