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Book Notes: In the River they Swim

In the River they Swim, available at Amazon.com

Among the benefits of attending I2I were the two books I snagged by presenters which have deepened my reading stack, though one made it to the top of the pile by virtue of cracking it open on the long subway ride from the Village to JFK.

And if I may: if there’s one must-read Summer book on entrepreneurship and development, “In the River they Swim” (“The River” from now on) is my cool and refreshing pick. First off, its a collection of essays, which makes it easy to dip in and out of. Second, its well written and edited, which means you’ll find the intellectual waters at a constant and cozy temperature. [Caveat: I'm precisely half way through the book; these observations may not hold. But I think they will].

A few thoughts.

  • Every student who wants to work in international development – whether commerce, government, academia, relief, etc – should read this book. The contributors come from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. What they share is a sense that the growth of domestic and international business activity is a cornerstone of development.
  • Its not just for students. The depth of the contributors’ experience in international development is impressive – essays from heads of state (Paul Kagame, Rwanda), leaders of multinational institutions (Luis Alberto Moreno, Inter-American Development Bank),  international business executives (Malik Fall, Microsoft), and global financiers (Michael Fairbanks, S.E.VEN Fund) – will appeal to the most pragmatic of professionals.
  • Think globally, act globally. “The River” challenges conventional wisdom about how to approach work as a development actor. It recognizes that today’s global economy turns on interdependence, and thus requires high levels of thinking and broad theaters of action. Its not a guidebook for the underachiever.
  • For business to survive, culture must thrive. One of the things I like about the book is that its contributors span the globe. While most have spent some time at elite intellectual centers, they speak from the homes where they’re grounded – Senegal, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Colombia… And many of the authors point to the benefits – and difficulties – of surrounding themselves, and others, with the broadest intellectual and talent base possible.
  • Reflection, praxis and anticipation. The book is divided into three sections: the first are essays that nurse out into important dynamics in international development, as seen from a range of actors – from cultural pluralism in the workplace to hard lessons learned about managing expectations – and more. The second section is less about lessons-sharing and more about advice-giving: the authors introduce intellectual models – tools and analytical frameworks – for better performance. The third section is a little ambiguous – not just because I haven’t read it, but with a quick scan it seems less focused – a pastiche of globe trotting anecdotes aimed at contextualizing(!) the global economy in ways that bring wealth creation vs poverty trap into some kind of resolution, integrate lessons from around the world into a coherent framework for, if not coordinated action, shared assault.

Learn more about “In the River they Swim.”