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Good Reads: From no-strings cash, to a warlord-turned-priest, to a South Pole hike

This week's roundup of Good Reads includes a follow-up with a group of poor Kenyans who received $1,000 each, a warlord who became a priest, how 3-D printers will undercut retailers, a trek to the South Pole, and why each snow flake is unique.

By Staff writer / November 16, 2013

A woman awaits customers outside her store in a poor part of Nairobi, Kenya.

Noor Khamis/ Reuters

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One year ago, National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” reported on GiveDirectly, a group that planned to give money to poor people in Kenya, no strings attached. It drew a lot of skepticism from charity experts. Many worried that the recipients – who received about $1,000 – would squander the cash rather than invest it wisely.

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Innovation Editor

Chris Gaylord is the Monitor's Innovation Editor. He loves gadgets, history, design, and curious readers like you.

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In November, “Planet Money” did a follow-up.

“By and large, people did not waste the money and their lives got better – significantly better,” says NPR’s Jacob Goldstein. Families spent the money on businesses, education, and health care. The number of days their children went hungry dropped by 42 percent. Incomes climbed by 31 percent. Violence declined.

But Kenya is a rather stable country. Would this plan work in more dangerous places?

Columbia University professor Chris Blattman carried out a similar experiment in Liberia, a country recovering from civil war. He gave money to inner-city thieves and drug dealers. While his data are still preliminary, Mr. Blattman found results similar to GiveDirectly’s. People started businesses and stopped committing crimes. However, he says, while the Liberian recipients invested the money, they did not see any meaningful profits.

From vicious warlord to priest

As Liberia works to heal itself, one of its most feared warlords looks for forgiveness. During the war, Joshua Milton Blahyi ruled over the streets of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. He was a cannibal, charged into battle naked with a machete, and – by his own count – was instrumental in the deaths of 20,000 people.
Now, Mr. Blahyi is a priest. “He has built a mission for former child soldiers he finds in the streets, and he gives them food and clothing,” writes Jonathan Stock for Der Spiegel. The story follows Blahyi as he visits the homes of his victims and seeks to convince his former enemies that his new profession is not simply an act.

Machine adds a critical dimension to retail

Wal-Mart dominated bricks-and-mortar retail by building one of the world’s most efficient supply chains. Amazon conquered online retail by using computer analysis to intelligently suggest products based on people’s past purchases. Both companies succeeded by removing barriers between people and products.

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
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