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What it takes to open a door for the poor

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Micro- and small-business lending challenges the idea that enterprise is a uniquely "Western" value. When ingenious nongovernmental organizations and lenders such as Grameen Bank in Bangladesh make small loans for small-scale garment and food-processing businesses, generally to women, self-sufficiency flourishes. The loans are audited and community-based, with default rates a fraction of the International Monetary Fund's tragically bad big-loan performance. For self-sustaining enterprise, small really is beautiful.

Trade beats aid.

Good trade policy is hard to visualize through a prism of the rich oppressing the poor. Yet abolishing all barriers to trade in goods and services could increase global income by $2.8 trillion and lift 320 million people out of poverty by 2015, according to a 2002 World Bank statement. Yes, globalization must be better managed and regulated, but not through trade barriers. Protectionism is stealing, from every side. Trade and growth offer a path to dignity and self-sufficiency.

Assessment and accountability.Among so many innovations – in farming, water, healthcare, women's rights – we have only a vague understanding of their direct impact. For any organization trusted with other people's money, it's critical to report real results.

Abhijit Banerjee of the Poverty Action Lab lays out excellent methods for testing and controlled sampling of specific projects, to understand what works. Such assessment, to be credible, should be independent, supporting local trial and error, refinement and retrial. Assessment means accountability, and an opportunity to reward people for experimentation, revision, and results. There are no silver bullets, but the right statistical analysis and incentives can help identify silver buckshot.

Military intervention.

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