Fighting Poverty with Complexity Theory

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Posted on 2/7/2014
Fighting poverty around the world is a complex problem, and new approaches could yield greater benefits.

Combating poverty in the world is a considerable challenge with a diverse range of obstacles that need to be overcome. From identifying families' needs to determining the logistical approaches to providing aid to those who need it most, fighting poverty is a complex problem. However, many international aid programs follow a relatively rigid set of guidelines to help children in need and their families — an approach that may limit effectiveness. According to one expert, applying the principles of complexity theory could be one way to make international aid more effective.

Responding to the Problem

In a podcast on the Humanosphere website, Owen Barder, an economist at the Center for Global Development, spoke about how complexity theory could solve some of the most urgent problems surrounding international aid and helping families living in poverty.

Complexity theory is a scientific principle that involves taking environmental surroundings and uncertain or unstable conditions into account when solving problems, instead of hewing to a rigid set of rules and standards.

In the interview, Barder likens the current approach to international aid to an engineering blueprint to build a bridge, in which a detailed series of plans are developed and then followed.

However, complexity theory's tenets — reacting to the natural ways in which a problem evolves over time, in much the same way that a biologist responds to the development of an organism — could prove to be more effective, Barder says. By abandoning plans when they have less impact and switching to other techniques quickly, NGOs can respond to the changing needs of families living in poverty, as well as saving money.

Responding to Current Needs

ChildFund works with local partner organizations, which helps us respond nimbly to the needs of children and families living in poverty. Our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog and Fund a Project initiatives are important ways you can help provide communities with treated mosquito nets, stock health huts with needed supplies, give girls bicycles that take them to and from school, or fulfill other needs — all recent requests that our local partners and staff members in the field have conveyed from the communities ChildFund serves.