The Business of Alleviating Poverty

Fall 2016

The business of alleviating poverty: NGOs, corporations and social entrepreneurs

Instructor: Pierre Ly

Office: McIntyre 304

Office hours: rotating and to be announced each week to reach more people

Phone: (253) 879 3584


Course description:

This course studies the roles of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Corporations and social entrepreneurs in the fight against poverty. NGOs are driven by social and humanitarian concerns, but they must also resolve the tensions due to fierce competition for donor funding. The course starts by exploring what these tensions imply for development and humanitarian work, and for how NGOs should be selected and evaluated. Whether they come from NGOs, corporations or social enterprises, private solutions to poverty are controversial. Should NGOs and business be allowed to mix? Can businesses do development better than NGOs? Can we strategize our shopping decisions to save the poor? To understand these questions, we will explore many case studies and competing perspectives.

Goals and expectations:

The course is a selective survey of the business of poverty alleviation in theory and practice. The readings include theoretical and empirical academic works, as well as many case studies. By the end of the course, students will understand the issues faced by the private aid sector and be able to assess the relative successes and failures of different approaches. Through work on independent research, students will develop knowledge and skills relevant to the NGO/aid sector.

Click here for the schedule of readings and assignments

Click here for guidelines and expectations for research papers

Daily reading assignment: reading notes must be submitted on Moodle before class.

Why reading notes?

  • Most importantly, it ensures that everybody will have good preparation for class discussion.
  • The general guiding questions for each reading (sometimes a podcast or website) are: 1. What do you see as the key take away points? 2. What is your perspective/reaction on the material?
  • The writing can be informal, but don’t use quotes: write in your own words, i.e. use writing to think.
  • They are graded on a pass/fail basis and this is part of your participation grade. Submit something that shows you have done the reading and you pass. If you have submitted something and don’t hear from me, it means you pass, which should be the case most of the time. If submit something insufficient, you fail and I will tell you by email. If you fail to submit at all, you know that you have failed.

An overall assessment of your performance in class discussions and activities/workshops, and your P/F ratio on reading notes will form the basis of your participation grade.


Your final grade is determined as follows:

10%: Participation/reading notes

30%: Paper 1

30%: Paper 2

30%: Final Paper 3

All assignments challenge you to engage with the class readings and perform additional research. They make you reflect on issues of importance to the private aid sector in practice. More guidelines will be posted.

Important dates

Tue Oct 11: paper 1 due on Moodle by 23:59pm

Tue Nov 8: paper 2 due on Moodle by 23:59pm

Wed Dec 7: paper 3 due on Moodle by 23:59pm

Policies regarding paper deadlines

Late submissions will be penalized at the rate of .5 gpa point for every 12 hours passed the official deadline.

Example: for a late submission within 12 hour of the due time, an A minus quality work, 3.67/4, becomes 3.67 -.5=3.17. Another 12 hours and the grade becomes a 2.67, etc. You are given ample time to work on each assignment, so extensions will generally not be granted.

Academic honesty

University academic policy makes plagiarism a serious offense.  Plagiarism of any kind, including resubmission of old papers, papers used in other current courses, or papers written by somebody else will result in the student failing the assignment, and possibly the entire course.  If you are unsure about proper referencing, or what may or may not constitute plagiarism, please ask me before you hand in any assignments.  You may discuss your homework assignments with classmates, however, the work you turn in should be written up independently. You may also collaborate in studying or preparing for the exams, but the written exam should be your work alone. Any cheating on examinations or plagiarism in assignments will be reported to the Dean of Students.  For further information, please consult the “Academic Honesty” section of the University of Puget Sound Academic Handbook.

Classroom Emergency Response Guidance
Please review university emergency preparedness, response procedures and a training video posted at There is a link on the university home page. Familiarize yourself with hall exit doors and the designated gathering area for your class and laboratory buildings.

If building evacuation becomes necessary (e.g. earthquake), meet your instructor at the designated gathering area so she/he can account for your presence. Then wait for further instructions. Do not return to the building or classroom until advised by a university emergency response representative.

If confronted by an act of violence, be prepared to make quick decisions to protect your safety. Flee the area by running away from the source of danger if you can safely do so. If this is not possible, shelter in place by securing classroom or lab doors and windows, closing blinds, and turning off room lights. Lie on the floor out of sight and away from windows and doors. Place cell phones or pagers on vibrate so that you can receive messages quietly. Wait for further instructions.

Disability services at Puget Sound

If you have a physical, psychological, medical or learning disability that may impact your course work, please contact Peggy Perno, Director of Disability Services, 105 Howarth Hall, 253-879-3395. She will determine with you what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation is confidential.

Student Bereavement Policy
“Upon approval from the Dean of Students’ Office, students who experience a death in the family, including parent, grandparent, sibling, or persons living in the same household, are allowed three consecutive weekdays of excused absences, as negotiated with the Dean of Students’. For more information, please see the Academic Handbook.”

Course resources:

All readings and assignments will be posted on Moodle. In addition, the last part of the class will focus on the book Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World, available at the bookstore.