Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World (Hardback)
  • Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World (Hardback)

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

Hardback Published: 24/10/2013
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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.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199578023
Weight: 866 g
Dimensions: 236 x 163 x 34 mm


The examples presented in this work should proprt a reconsideration of how one thinks of foreign aid. - S. Paul, Choice,

An exhaustive tour of the complex systems research landscape, including how it is used to understand phenomena as diverse as climate change, food price rises, ethnic segregation and the Arab spring ... Important and relevant for the aid world. - Amy Kazmin, Financial Times

The most interesting part of Mr Ramalingam's book is his discussion of how some agencies are beginning to learn from the way poor people can successfully do difficult things... [and that] experimenting repeatedly and quickly has much to offer the world of aid. - The Economist

Sets a new milestone in the aid debate... an impressive interdisciplinary tour - The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network

This book explains an important global activity few outsiders understand, and important scientific ideas that might yet turn it around. - Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist

Masterful. An important step towards changing our institutions and organizations Ramalingam skilfully draws upon a diverse body of ideas and research to deliver a vital message for aid and beyond. - Philip Ball, author of Critical Mass, Winner of the Aventis Royal Society Book of the Year

Aid on the Edge of Chaos will change the way you think... One of the most important books you will read about development. - Owen Barder, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

The accolades on the cover are well-founded; this is a great read, engagingly written, and full of vivid examples, poignantly-funny cartoons and a reflective humility that suits its subject matter. - Melissa Leach, Knowledge, Technology and Society

Many see international development aid as in thrall to linear, mechanized thinking, and champion approaches in which local people solve their own challenges with intelligently tailored backing. Ben Ramalingam offers a scientific model for that path... and fosters a new aid paradigm: an open innovation network, catalysing and leveraging change in countries around the world. - Nature

Ben Ramalingam's thought provoking and highly readable book re-frames the debate on aid and development challenges the existing aid paradigm and points the way towards a genuinely new approach - a new approach that is urgently needed. - Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director, Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford and author of The Origin of Wealth

Ben Ramalingam's tour de force of a book provides an unorthodox and fascinating insight into today's global aid sector: its current practices and sometimes faulty theories of action. This book is a vital source of inspiration - Yves Daccord, Director General, ICRC

Marrying science, policy and practice with a deep moral conscience, this important book points to a future that that we should all be working towards. - Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate, Medicine

Challenging... Much needed. Ramalingam pushes his reader to question traditional wisdoms, navigate different disciplines, and value the import of local experience. - Noreena Hertz, author of 'Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World'

Ramalingam sets out a challenge to everyone working in international cooperation, to rethink our basic assumptions and to think and act in ways that are more attuned to the real world in all its complexities. This is one to read and re-read. - Sir Richard Jolly, Assistant Secretary General, United Nations

Ben Ramalingam convincingly shows why transformational change is so badly needed in foreign aid, and where it might come from. - Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management, London Business School, Author of Hot Spots

This well-written and thought-provoking book is an important contribution to redesigning aid for a messy, complex world. - Duncan Green, Senior Strategic Advisor, Oxfam

Ben Ramalingam is a leading champion of the adaptive, scientific, trial-and-error thinking that the aid industry badly needs. - Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist Strikes Back and Adapt

This excellent book [is] a must-read for anyone interested in development, its current discontents, and its future potential. - Ricardo Haussmann, former Chief Economist, Inter-American Development Bank and Director of the Centre for International Development, Harvard University

This is a superb book, boldly facing in this age of globalization the complexity of aid to developing countries. Impressive and inspiring, this work is destined to become a 21st century classic. - Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Laureate, Chemistry

With beautifully clear writing and stories, Ben Ramalingam uses complexity concepts to reveal the deep reasons for why aid sometimes worksand sometimes doesnt. - Thomas Homer-Dixon, Director, Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, Author of The Upside of Down

Far from being a pessimistic funeral march, Ramalingam's wide-ranging discourse provides many inspiring examples of how complexity theory can be put to practical and meaningful use, and lays out a hopeful path forward. - Simon Levin, Moffat Professor of Ecology, Princeton University

Well-intentioned aid agencies sometimes oversimplify the problems they need to solve. [this] book makes the good case that the growing field of complex adaptive systems can help prevent such errors from being repeated. - Eric Maskin, Nobel Laureate, Economics

This brilliant book will energise the struggle to make big government, big money and big aid sensitive to contexts, humble about what they can achieve, and sophisticated about the connectedness of things. - Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, and former Director of UK Prime Minister's Strategy Unit

Ben Ramalingam seamlessly combines practical experience, policy relevance and scientific expertise. Aid on the Edge of Chaos deserves a very wide audience. - Paul Ormerod, author of Death of Economics and Positive Linking

A terrific, stimulating book. Ramalingam clearly and engagingly shows how the use of complex adaptive systems thinking can significantly strengthen and enhance the impacts and effectiveness of global foreign aid. - Jerry Sabloff, President, Santa Fe Institute

A magnificent piece of work a major contribution to the debate about how to rethink and improve the way we deliver aid worldwide. - Sir Nick Young, Chief Executive Officer, British Red Cross

The examples presented in this work should prompt a reconsideration of how one thinks of foreign aid. - S. Paul, Choice,

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