“How Change Happens:” The Wisdom of Duncan Green

By Bill Abrams
Trickle Up President

You probably haven’t heard of Duncan Green. Neither had I until 2008, when he started a blog called “From Poverty to Power.” Now he is my daily required reading, which is why we invited him to be a guest speaker at a December 1 event co-sponsored by Trickle Up and the NYU School of Professional Studies, Center for Global Affairs.

Green has just published How Change Happens, a book that captures his years of field study, research, and writing about reducing poverty and combating injustice. A Senior Adviser to Oxfam and a professor at the London School of Economics, he says his aim is to “do justice to the complexity of the world, while still believing there is a story about how it can be changed for the better.”

Here is why I find his thinking and writing invaluable: through his blog, he introduces many of the smartest, most provocative people in development. He works at the frontiers of our field, skeptical about much of how aid and development are practiced, but never succumbs to pessimism. He is funny and never afraid to tweak the earnestness of NGO leaders, academics, and government policy makers. He generates ideas that help us think about how Trickle Up can maximize our impact.

Poverty, Green says, is not simply about a lack of money. It is, instead, about a lack of power.

And ending poverty isn’t simply about implementing projects, especially those conceived by well-meaning aid organizations that too often get snagged by their “If A, then B” linear logic. The world is a complex, chaotic place (“Make friends with ambiguity and uncertainty,” he recommends) and, to change it, you have to truly understand the systems that need to be influenced.

The subject of “how change happens” could not be timelier (fundamental change often is preceded by crisis, Green says). While I’m naturally most interested in how Green’s work applies to global poverty, his conclusions are applicable as well to human rights, the environment, political reform, and a host of other issue areas.

Green is also an exceptionally generous author, as is his publisher. In addition to being available for sale in bookstores and online, How Change Happens is available as a free download. The book’s website also includes a variety of other resources for those who want to learn more about changing the world.

Bill Abrams is the President of Trickle Up. As a former journalist (Wall Street Journal, ABC News, New York Times), he especially admires writers who never bore him.