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Reframing Poverty by Eric Meade - Book Tour & Review

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By Eric Meade


We typically view poverty as a technical problem we can solve with more 

money, more technology, and more volunteers. But there is an adaptive 
side to the problem of poverty as well. Reframing Poverty directs
our attention to the emotional and often unconscious mindsets we bring 
to this issue. Meade's approach is as unique as it is challenging. 
Rather than trite tips or tricks, he offers a series of nested insights 
from diverse fields like political science, physics, complexity theory, 
and psychology. Most importantly, he provides a path of self-exploration
for those eager to become the kind of people who can successfully 
navigate the tensions of a world in need.





“And because how we feel is intricately tied to how we know, we cannot

feel differently if we don’t know differently. We need a bigger emotional and

cognitive space, one in which we experience that the internal conflicts and

inconsistencies of our adaptive challenge are not inevitable and intractable.”

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

The most constructive conversation about poverty may be the one we’re not


We talk a lot about poverty. Rarely does a day go by without someone

offering a new book, white paper, or article marshaling new data to support a

particular point of view. Experts make definitive statements on long-standing

debates, only to see those debates reopen the next day with a new report issued

from the opposing side. The pace of the conversation seems to suggest that we

are making daily progress toward understanding – and solving – the problem of


Unfortunately, most of this conversation is a rehash of the same old views.

Contrary to popular opinion, “breakthrough studies” and “radical new

perspectives” on poverty are of-ten – for those familiar with the historical

discourse – merely rediscoveries of or variations on arguments and proposals

heard many times before. The same ideas come and go as seasons and public

attitudes change.

But why? Why does so much discussion yield so few genuinely new insights

about poverty? The answer is that we have misunderstood the challenge of

poverty. We have seen it as a technical challenge – one that we can

solve once we learn the right skill or methodology. We strive to determine

“what works” and to apply it as broadly as possible.

Too bad it’s not that simple. We cannot have a straightforward, technical

discussion about poverty because the topic is too emotionally charged, and for

good reason. Until recently, the vast majority of humans were poor. A mere 200

years ago, 83.9 percent of humans lived in extreme poverty, on less than $1 per

day (in 1985 dollars)1, which is roughly equivalent (ac-counting for inflation)

to the World Bank’s poverty threshold today. Poverty is the ground from which

most of us who are not poor have only recently emerged. Most of us would only

have to look back a couple of generations to find a relative who genuinely

struggled to survive. How our own relatives made it out of poverty – or why

they were unable to do so – likely shapes how we think and feel about poverty


Thus, poverty is not just a technical challenge. In the words of

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey as quoted above, poverty is an “adaptive

challenge.” It requires us to change not just what we do but also who we are.

It requires us to change how we think and how we feel, and to work through the

emotions we carry forward from our personal and familial experiences of

poverty. Only then can we shift the focus from the unresolved needs of our own

pasts to what the world needs from us right now.

Prior to that shift, we experience “internal conflicts and

in-consistencies.” In our dealings with others, we cling to our own

limited ideas about poverty at the expense of the ideas of others, preventing

meaningful collaboration and partnership. In our dealings with the poor,

we unconsciously project the difficulties of our own lives, and we offer the

poor not what they need but what we feel fulfilled in providing. In our

dealings with ourselves, we reject new insights and discoveries that

threaten our established identities and our ways of understanding the world.

After we work through our emotions about poverty, how-ever, we become more

potent leaders of change. In our dealings with others, we embrace

multiple perspectives to build collabor-ative partnerships with those we

previously may have avoided. In our dealings with the poor, we respond

to their most pressing needs rather than making them foils for our own

challenges. In our dealings with ourselves, we recognize that the

emotions poverty evokes in us may actually raise issues we need to ad-dress in

our own lives.

These benefits accrue not  only to

those who address poverty on a professional or volunteer basis, but also to all

who are concerned about the state of their own communities. The question we

must address affects each one of us. It is not: How do we eradicate

poverty? But rather it is: What am I, as a human being, to do, living

as I do in a world where poverty exists? This question demands a new

conversation – one in which we look deeply into our own experiences.

This book opens the door to that conversation. Part One explores what our

society has already been saying about poverty, but in a novel way. First, it

shows how our emotions about poverty shape how we think about it. Second, it

explores the range of perspectives on poverty and suggests the emotions that

may be associated with each. Finally, it concludes that all such perspectives

have some validity.

Part Two reframes those perspectives by introducing concepts not currently

included in the poverty conversation. These concepts allow for a way of

thinking about poverty in which all the major perspectives can be true at the

same time. They also highlight and address areas where I believe the poverty

conversation overall has heretofore fallen short.

Throughout the book, I will offer a series of nested insights drawn from my

own experience living in developing countries, consulting to nonprofits,

teaching social enterprise classes at the university level, serving on the

board of a global development non-governmental organization (NGO), and

otherwise living my unique human life. What you will do with these insights, I

cannot say. What I can say is that after reading this book, you will

be able to enter into a new, more constructive conversation about poverty.

My Review

Reframing Poverty is a fascinating take on the issue of poverty. The book breaks down how people view poverty/the poor, and each "viewpoint" is tackled in detail, considering the possible pros and cons of each mindset. It then challenges readers to put aside their feelings/emotions on the subject and possibly open themselves up to a new way of thinking/feeling about poverty. 
There are charts and diagrams that sort of showcase things in an easy to understand way, and it makes readers really dive deep into their own lives. Everyone has either known poverty personally, or they've known someone who has. 
The author comes up with new ways to look at the problem that is poverty, creating new ideas and forcing readers to really think about what their emotions/reactions towards poverty really mean. How does seeing a homeless person make you feel. How does knowing a single mom with three kids is struggling to make ends meet make you feel? How does seeing the poor, poverty-stricken citizens of a third world country make you feel? And how can you use those emotions and mindsets to start a conversation about how to start overcoming the challenge that is poverty.
In-depth, emotional at times, and quite thought-provoking. 
4 stars from me!


Eric Meade is a futurist, speaker, and consultant serving nonprofits,
foundations, and government agencies. He teaches graduate courses on
strategic planning and social innovation at American University’s School
of International Service in Washington, DC. He lives in Superior, CO.

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