Global news is generally bad news. On the surface, the story is about war, poverty, ethnic and sectarian strife. Yet just below the surface, more hopeful trends are brewing. A new global awareness of the people at “the bottom of the pyramid” is summoning forth an unprecedented response to human need and suffering. It involves a shift from vertical to horizontal power that official aid agencies are only beginning to comprehend. Whereas twenty-five years ago, government aid accounted for 70% of all American outflows, today 85% of all outflows of resources come from private individuals, businesses, religious congregations, universities, and immigrant communities.
If aid policy in the twentieth century relied on top-down bureaucracy dominated by policy specialists and elites, the twenty-first century is shaping up as an era in which citizens, social entrepreneurs, and volunteers link up to solve problems. Tens of thousands of voluntary associations are prying open closed societies from within, solving problems in new ways, and forming the seedbed for a long-term cultivation of democratic norms. Don Eberly’s book Building Nations from the Bottom Up: The Global Rise of Democratic Society presents a sweeping overview of these forces now shaping the global debate, including citizen-led development projects, poverty-reduction strategies that substitute opportunity for charity, and electronically linked movements to combat corruption and autocratic rule.