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Tony Gibson, 'Streetwide Worldwide: Where people power begins', Duncan Green, 'From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World' and Duncan Green and Isobel Allen, 'The Urgency of Now'

Streetwide Worldwide: Where people power begins, Jon Carpenter 2008; ISBN 978 1 906067 03 8; 306pp; £14.99. From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World , Oxfam 2008; ISBN 978 0 85598 593 6; 522pp; £15.95. The Urgency of Now, Oxfam 2008; ISBN 978 0 85598 629 2; 62pp; £3.99.

Tony Gibson’s previous book The Power in Our Hands (Jon Carpenter, 1996) demonstrated truly participatory grassroots organising using methods as open to the verbally unconfident as to the fluent.
Surprisingly (to me), his follow-up book is an autobiography. But what an autobiography!
Tony Gibson’s experiences in just-pre-revolutionary China with the (Quaker) Friends Ambulance Unit are a wonderful description of how outsiders can truly support and empower poor people.
His ingenious adventures in educational broadcasting explain the background to the famous “Planning for Real” system now used by urban planners and others around the world.
Streetwide Worldwide is a highly readable treat for anyone yearning for change and needing a dose of hope.
Dealing with exactly the same themes – of active communities and (un)responsive authorities – Duncan Green, Oxfam GB head of research, has written a totally different kind of book.
From Poverty to Power also contains hopeful stories (Botswana and Mauritius, for example), but these are embedded in a complex, encyclopedic, rather academic study.
It’s important to make economists and decision-makers realise that poverty is about powerlessness as much as it is about low income, but this is a book for specialists, I fear.
Hence Oxfam’s decision to simultaneously publish a condensed version of the book, The Urgency of Now, which is smaller and shorter, and has punchy graphics, all combining to make it much more of a good read.