Book Review: Shrewd Samaritan: Faith, Economics, and the Road to Loving Our Global Neighbor

Growing up, I was always told to “love my neighbor” especially those who did not have the same access to opportunities that I have. Today I, like many others, understand loving your neighbor does not only apply to communities around us that we see every day, but more importantly the communities that are thousands of miles away. Whether you are a Christian or not, believing in loving your neighbor or simply conducting random acts of kindness is more important now than ever. In his book, titled Shrewd Samaritan: Faith, Economics, and the Road to Loving Our Global Neighbor, Economist Bruce Wydick will inspire you to genuinely lift communities up especially those affected by poverty.

Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Grimes. Courtesy of US Army, ©2019

With the growing amount of social justice causes, both domestic and international, in need of help, it can be overwhelming to figure out which cause to support or how. Today with the click of a button using technology and social media you can help your neighbor, but there is always the lingering question of whether your monetary donation and/or time scrolling made an impact. Using the parables “the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) and “Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-9), Wydick drives the point that we should love our neighbor no matter their color, financial status, or faith. He addresses global poverty by analyzing new findings in development research and behavioral economics and evaluates the plethora of intervention programs out there.

The Shrewd Samaritan lays out a dummies 101 framework for people who want to do good by helping the global poor but don’t know how to in a globalized world of the 21st century. Wydick’s states his purpose is to increase the understanding of God’s grace and how we can best direct our grace to our families and communities both local and global. Wydick starts his book by critically analyzing both parables and suggests that in order to help the global poor we must be a bit of both, hence the title the Shrewd Samaritan.

What’s most enjoyable about the book was Wydick’s approach to addressing global poverty through a framework of human dignity and its relationship versus human flourishing, a noteworthy hashtag. Human dignity is the Judeo-Christian belief that human beings are made in God’s image. The human dignity framework has been adopted by most evangelical global poverty organizations and a secular version is used as a foundation for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The idea of human flourishing is the ability to give to others and by doing that we are glorifying the creator.  Wydick insists that when human dignity is restored people will begin to flourish; their human development and creativity will improve immensely.  

Wydick writes in greater detail about how effective the current aid programs are at solving problems. Using an innovative rating system with human flourishing as a scale, Wydick judges the effectiveness of various humanitarian interventions and their importance, and the book provides this as a cheat sheet for the curious person wanting to donate to a reputable organization based on their own judgment.

This rating system could be central in the development world as more and more policies and programs are being created, making it overwhelming for non-specialists to align with a particular cause. An example of this program saturation can be seen in the number of initiatives to designed to help women entrepreneurs actively participate in their economies. There are a variety of programs ranging from micro-loans, cash transfers, and fair-trade systems that market how their solution helps to penetrate a market that is not set up for women entrepreneurs. All of these programs are subject to scrutiny in the book, with the research to back up its claims. Generally leaving the audience with the understanding of how to support communities in need.

The author does not leave you hanging but gives a step-by-step guide on how we can play a larger role in helping people flourish and live with dignity globally. As a person who works more in the international development space and less in the economic space, I appreciated how the author grounded his work in economics and biblical insight to effectively love our global neighbor. Through the use of social media and technology, it is easy to help others without having to leave your couch. However, what I liked about this book is the author challenging us to step out of our comfort zone and become more aware of the happenings both domestic and abroad. I look forward to continuing my path of becoming a “Shrewd Samaritan” by helping humans flourish.

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Wanida Lewis

Wanida Lewis, PhD, is the YPFP Gender in Foreign Policy Fellow. She lives in Washington, DC, where she is a business owner and program analyst for women's economic empowerment programs, with a background in policy. Dr. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Saint Augustine's University, a Master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry from North Carolina Central University, and a doctoral degree in Food Science from North Carolina State University. Follow her on Tiwtter: @WanidaL
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