Recap: The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

This is a response to The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems by Courtney Martin. While I do not agree with some of the more political examples in her post, she gives some great insight into the main trouble of attempts to solve foreign problems.


Other people’s problems seems easily solvable from an outside perspective. “It’s not malicious. In many ways, it’s psychologically defensible; we don’t know what we don’t know.” A lot of non-profit organizations are geared towards “saving the world,” and international aid.

It is problematic to try to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.

It’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. There’s domestic need, which we can better understand because it’s closer to home. It does require more research and as such seems more daunting.

Problems abroad can be tackled, but they take time and effort. You have to cultivate relationships with the people, listen to them, understand them, build trust so you can work with them to solve the problem.


It only seems more because we recognize the complexity of the problem and the depth of understanding required to solve it. If we understood the same for foreign problems we could help the people create better solutions to those problems as well, but it would take time.


The article has a lot of excellent real world examples which I did not include. This is far shorter than the original piece, but that is a synopsis. I recommend reading the full article, it’s really good.