Smart Risks—How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems

Title: Smart Risks—How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems

Writer: Aleah Ostrowski


Introduction and Goals

The goal of the authors of this book was to demonstrate and explain to readers that investing in local communities and the creation of meaningful interpersonal relationships with a strong focus on the use of local knowledge is an investment that is worth it in terms of the risks associated (Lentfer & Cothran, 2017, p.1).

Book cover of the book Smart Risks by Jennifer Lentfer and Tanya Cothran

The authors certainly fulfill the guidelines and goals of the book and this is evident throughout the clear table of contents at the beginning of the book and throughout each chapter. Every chapter includes what can be drawn from the chapter and what can be taken away from the story that every author has presented and shared with the readers. This review will include theories that were addressed within the book, the proximity of the authors, the audience that it targets, ways that it could be improved and the strong points.

Theories and Methods

The authors explain the theories and methods that are used in this book in different ways. The first method is through story-telling. The book is first split up into five different smart risks which include; “investing in local expertise”, “being non-prescriptive and flexible, with a long-term outlook”, “looking to the grassroots for innovation”, “rethinking accountability” and “practicing vulnerability” (Lentfer & Cothran, 2017, Contents). Then the book is broken down into smaller parts which include first-hand stories from the different authors and their experiences with this particular topic in relation to the smart risks that are explained more broadly. Therefore, the theories are mainly explained through the method of telling a story, but at the end of each chapter there is a summary with the main points that the readers can draw from the book which was very useful. This provides the readers with an easy way of picking out the most important elements of the chapter and how the theories and methods can be learned and applied to the real world. The theories are very applicable to the book’s aims in terms of explaining how using these methods can contribute to taking smart risks within international development.


The authors are certainly close enough in distance to the topic because they are telling the story from their own point of view and explaining first hand experiences in terms of the challenges they may have faced or overcome throughout their time working in international development. Each chapter is written by a different author and is a unique experience from the next. It shows that not everyone’s experience working in international development is the same and provides insight for others.

Listening practice in a meeting between refugees and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at a camp in the Parwan Se district of Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2012

Not only do the authors tell the story from their own personal experiences but they also give advice for those that may be working or learning about international development and trying to improve the ways in which they can contribute by not only contributing but also simply listening to what the demands of different communities are. I would say that the whole book really avoids sounding judgmental or that they are in a position of power, in fact the authors sound as though they are really trying to put the power in the hands of local people and giving them the ability to use their knowledge in effective ways by providing them with the proper tools.

Relating to Literature

Since this book is fairly new, it is certainly encouraging ideas and theories that are still quite new to the international community in terms of working in development. Many large development banks are known for providing large loans to developing countries with high interest which are nearly impossible to pay back. However, some of the more recent findings are presenting the idea of small grants for developing communities and countries to put the power to allocate the funds in the hands of the local people without leaving them in debt (Bulow & Rogoff, 2005, p.393). Therefore, these findings, presented by Bulow and Rogoff in the article Grants versus Loans for Development Banks, support the same arguments made in Smart Risks in the way that it is explained that local knowledge is what will make the risk of small grants worth while (2005, p.393). The argument about providing small grants instead of large loans made in the article by Bulow and Rogoff is explained in more detail in Chapter 13 written by Tanya Cothran (2017, p.77). Cothran’s chapter concludes by explaining that small grants are more effective and beneficial because they place the power in the hands of business owners instead of the government (2017, p.79).


The book could be improved a several ways, but one of the main aspects that stood out was that the advice and conclusions that are given at the end of some of the chapters seem as though these are the only ways to do development correctly. Something that would bring a unique perspective to the book would be to incorporate some of the opinions and experiences of those currently living in communities in developing countries that the authors may have interacted with. Even though these authors have worked and studied in development, it would provide a more holistic perspective by incorporating the stories of those that are not in positions of power or privilege.

Target Audience

This book is an easy read and could certainly be understood from someone that is not studying or working in international development. Closer to the start of the book there is actually a section that explains who the book is meant for, which include “readers from individuals with small contributions to make, to large philanthropists, and heads of organizations with portfolios of millions to spend” (Lentfer & Cothran, 2017, p.13).  The beginning of the book starts off with different examples of real world people that are simply trying to help others in developing countries but may not know how or may not have the resources to help in an effective way (Lentfer & Cothran, 2017, p.1-3). Therefore, the language used is very simple and would be easy for almost anyone to understand. The structure itself conveys the ideas in a clear way and I think that the book would be suitable for undergraduate students, graduate students and experts because it provides a different perspective about how to focus on local development using small grants instead of large loans. I think that even some higher grade high school students would be able to read this book, possibly in a global studies class, just because the ideas are explained in plain words that are easy to understand. This book would be an enlightening read for young people that aspire to make a difference.

Conclusion and Praise

This book was completely well worth the read. I would certainly recommend it to others studying or working within international development but also to those that are not familiar with the reality of international development. The book is easy to read and provides a unique perspective on the use of small grants instead of focusing on large loans which many of the large international development organizations have used in the past and which continue to fail. As an international development student, this book was refreshing in terms of presenting another platform that could potentially be a better solution to providing funds to developing communities directly so that the power is in the hands of small businesses or those that are new entrepreneurs are trying to improve their livelihoods (Lentfer & Cothran, 2017, p.12).


Reference List

Bulow, J., & Rogoff, K. (2005). Grants versus Loans for Development Banks. IDEAS Working

Paper Series from RePEc, IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc, 2005.

Lentfer, J., & Cothran, T. (2017). Smart risks: how small grants are helping to solve some of the worlds biggest problems. Bourton on Dunsmore, UK: Practical Action Publishing Ltd.

The Medicine of Peace: Indigenous Youth Decolonizing Healing and Resisting Violence

Title: The Medicine of Peace: Indigenous Youth Decolonizing Healing and Resisting Violence

Writer: Jessica Quinn


Jeffrey Paul Ansloos’ (2017) book The Medicine of Peace: Indigenous Youth Decolonizing Healing and Resisting Violence provides a unique theoretical framework of critical-Indigenous peace psychology as an alternative to mainstream Western psychologies. In his debut novel, Ansloos sets out to answer several challenging questions around Indigenous psychology, including how critical-Indigenous psychology nonviolently resist colonial oppression of Indigenous youth identity, and how can this non-violent approach address the revitalization of this identity? Ansloos successfully addresses these critical questions and more by exploring the history of colonial violence and how it presents itself today in the lives of Indigenous youth, how to envision a critical-Indigenous peace psychology, and how this theoretical framework can be utilized to move forward on Indigenous youth healing and resistance.

Ansloos, J.P. (2017). The Medicine of Peace: Indigenous Youth Decolonizing Healing and Resisting Violence. Winnipeg, MB: Fernwood Publishing.

In the initial chapters, the author argues that the currently observed patterns of violence among Indigenous youth are a product of colonial and intergenerational violence and trauma, and that the current methods of Western psychological and systemic intervention continue to perpetuate such harms against Indigenous youth. In further chapters, Ansloos recommends a critical-Indigenous discourse that will unsettle and decolonize the status quo of Indigenous inferiority to change the outcomes of such failed colonial interventions (p. 51). In his final chapters, Ansloos offers an analysis of the ritualization and reinvigoration of cultural pride and integrity among Indigenous youth as a stepping stone towards developing an Indigenous peace psychology for youth, including an in-depth analysis of the utility of the sacred medicine wheel teachings on which to build an Indigenous peace psychology (p. 92-95). Ansloos concludes with recommendations for further action in order to transform his theoretical framework into action for the benefit of Indigenous youth.

Ansloos explicitly names the framework from which his position is based in the introduction of his book, as it forms the foundation of his entire theoretical argument towards an Indigenous peace psychology and ensuing qualitative analysis. Ansloos takes a non-violent critical-Indigenous approach; he explains its formation over several chapters and then goes forward to explain why it is significant, and why it is useful in answering his core questions. Ansloos develops this theoretical framework with backing from such thinkers as Michel Foucault on discourse (p. 43), Franz Fanon on racialized and colonized identities (p. 46), Alasdair MacIntyre on communitarianism and ethics (p. 67) and Catherine Bell on ritualization (p. 72). By establishing his theoretical basis in the previously established and validated writings of both historical and modern philosophers, Ansloos preemptively validates his theoretical position and forms a sound argument on this foundation.

Ansloos’ inquiry is a unique critical analysis of traditional social sciences and psychology as perpetrators of colonial oppression and violence towards Indigenous peoples. In deconstructing the hegemonic violence of such systems as the juvenile justice systems through theory, Ansloos provides an Indigenous voice in the social sciences, which Indigenous voices have been intentionally excluded and erased from. While the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in such realms as the justice system and those with mental health concerns is well explored in academia, Ansloos goes beyond simple explanations of violence being inherent to “[Indigenous peoples’] nature” (p. 22) and instead suggests that “the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in prison [not] be viewed as a statistical oddity, especially in isolation from colonial history” (p. 105). Ansloos also provides realistic, albeit theoretical, solutions to the difficult challenges of decolonization, resistance and healing in his final chapter, a challenging and largely neglected task, which could readily translate to practical and policy solutions.

The photo, taken in 2008, of Graffiti from Feone Sem Crise, placed in Avenida Itaberaba, Sao Paulo.

As an Indigenous person, a youth worker, an educator and a psychologist, Ansloos is close to the issues explored in his book. His position in the field of the book’s focus, however, does not present a significant or disabling bias as it enables him to delve deeper into the issues explored than a non-Indigenous person or someone without the level of expertise that he holds. Due to his experiences in youth work, education and psychology, as well as contact with the social sciences in general, Ansloos is rightfully critical of these fields and their perpetuation of colonial mentalities. Ansloos also acknowledges his deficits in expertise as needed, though not disqualifying him from being an expert in this field, which he fills with knowledge from other scholarly and cultural sources. In his exploration of the medicine wheel, Ansloos offers that was “acculturated and formed primarily in Western culture, especially Western academia,” (p. 85), and thus comes to cultural understandings through his engagement with Elders and those within Indigenous cultures.

Ansloos’ arguments are well-supported by the experiences of Elders and the work of academics. Throughout his book, Ansloos draws in a variety of scholars, theorists and practitioners, and he intertwines these thoughts into logical and clear arguments. Considering the plethora of psychological and social sciences-based theories, knowledge and analysis, Ansloos makes clear and concise arguments and connections between his ideas, fitting all of this into an easily digestible format and length for readers new to the subject. Ansloos also ties in personal experiences at the beginning of each chapter in a manner that compels readers to feel his emotions as he walks through the chapter. This forges a personal relationship between the reader and the material, and is especially important for non-Indigenous readers or those who have not experienced racism or colonialism directly.

Despite the well-supported arguments and emotional connections supplied by Ansloos, the work is mostly theoretical; in acknowledging this, Ansloos calls the current work “‘fuel for the flame’s of developing diverse Indigenous psychologies” (p. 107). Ansloos overcomes this limitation by providing the aforementioned practical and policy solutions to stimulate decolonization and healing. Also, while well-researched, it can sometimes be challenging to decipher which ideas belong to Ansloos and which are those of the Elders, scholars and frameworks he references. Ansloos provides clear analyses in the latter chapters of his book, but his message can at times be muddled in the heavily theoretical chapters.

Overall, Ansloos has provided a sound and practical solution to the neocolonial practices of psychology and social sciences that reproduce colonial hegemony, especially among marginalized Indigenous youth. Ansloos acknowledges his privilege and bias throughout the book, most notably being raised in a predominantly Western-influenced household (p. 85), and actively works to avoid taking a pan-Indigenous approach so as to not homogenize or erroneously speak for any Indigenous groups on Turtle Island. At the conclusion of each chapter, Ansloos provides references for further reading and makes accessible related materials and authors. Ansloos’ book would be useful for educators and students in the social sciences and psychology to challenge and decolonize their ways of thought, especially going forward to potentially work with Indigenous youth. Those currently working with (especially marginalized and vulnerable) Indigenous youth would also benefit from reading Ansloos work, as would anyone with an interest in critical perspectives on colonialism and oppression of Indigenous peoples.

Kaandossiwin: How We Come To Know

Book Title: Kaandossiwin: How We Come To Know

Author: Kathleen E. Absolon

Review by: Athavarn Srikantharajah 


This document was produced by a non-white settler on Turtle Island. CMIC operates on stolen unceded Algonquin Territory, and attempts to be cognisant of the role of colonization in this work. I would like to make clear that I am a first-generation Tamil person on this land, whose family was forced here from Sri Lanka because of forms of colonization that affected my people, but through a refugee program established through colonial laws and governance. I have only received formalized education through colonial institutions. These experiences shape my worldview, and how I interpret Indigenous ways of knowing.


Cover page of the book Kaandossiwin: How we Come to Know, by Kathleen E.Absolon

This document serves as a summary of Kathleen E. Absolon’s Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know, and the key teachings that may help folks involved with CMIC or taking the certification program. With Western scientific methodologies dominating academia and many other spaces, it is important to consider other pathways to knowledge and understanding when administering a certification program for community mobilization. One such pathway is through Indigenous pedagogical approaches. Though it is difficult for non-indigenous, specifically non-Annishanaabe folks to adopt these approaches in research, there are key learnings that can guide the way in which we conduct research from the context of our worldviews and perspectives. Absolon’s book is an examination of Indigenous methodologies told through her specific Anishanaabe worldview. This book explores broader ways of knowing by exploring 11 graduate theses by Indigenous scholars. Absolon explores the petal flower as a metaphor for how we acquire knowledge.


Indigenous methodology centres the knowledge found from within. We must acknowledge that how we come to know is living and fluid, and that these processes include the spirit, the heart, and the mind. Before beginning the search for knowledge, one must consider the spiritual, cultural, political, and social effects that are present within their life and worldview.

According to Lester Rigney, an Indigenous Australian Scholar (1999), “[lived experiences] speak on the basis of these experiences and are powerful instruments by which to measure the equality and social justice of society.” With this in mind, Absolon discusses repeatedly throughout the text that it is important to acknowledge that within Indigenous epistemologies, one does not attempt to interpret lived experiences through another’s worldview. Absolon frequently cites the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Decolonizing and Indigenizing (Re)Search

In the book, Absolon recognizes that colonized knowledge is meant to dominate, within it ignorance prevails, and that through it colonization and superiority are internalized. Thus, decolonization and Indigenizing is “about both knowing, and having critical consciousness about our cultural history.”


Within this framework of (re)search, the following must be taken into consideration:

  • Community: community should be respected, and each community’s ownership of the research is honoured.
  • Respect: Absolon warns to avoid voyeurism, outsider interpretation, objectification of culture, and reductionist analysis. “Within Aboriginal culture, one does not inquire or tell about matters that do not directly concern one.”
  • Take accountability: claim and openly state who you are before you begin your search for knowledge.
  • Non-neutrality: understand that our voices are not neutral. How we come to know is linked to our historical, political, legal, economic, geographical, cultural, spiritual, environmental, and experiential contexts.
  • Knowledge is relational: knowledge is derived through our mind, body, and spirit, in connection with all of Creation.
  • Solution-focused: Absolon states that “the seeking of knowledge has been solution focused and often has an underlying purpose of survival.”
  • Unstructured: within Indigenous epistemologies there are no prescriptions or formulas, models are always multi-dimensional, layered, and wholistic.

The Petal Flower Model

In the book, Absolon uses the Petal Flower as a model for how we come to know. This for several reasons. First, the flower’s survival is dependant on several internal and external factors. The components of the flower are interrelated and interdependent. Furthermore, it is earth centred and exists within a relationship with all of Creation. The flower is also cyclical, as it changes constantly. Finally, it has a spirit and life that is impacted by the environment within which it exists. The following are taken from Absolon’s summary of the model.

Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands by Mrs. Frances Sinclair, Plate 17 (Argemone glauca), 1885. Image produced in the context of colonial dominance in Hawaii.


  • The roots are the grounding for Indigenous methods.
  • The life and presence of the flower depends on its roots.
  • Prioritize Indigenous knowledge, worldviews and principles in the research.
  • Position Indigenous ways at the centre and refuse to see them in relation to western/dominant ways of knowing.

Flower Centre: Self

  • The centre of the flower represents self and self in relation to the re-search.
  • Place yourself at the central presence in the research.
  • Know your location: who you are, what you know and where you are from.
  • Commit to re-searching relationships, Indigenous peoples and communities.
  • Dedicate to recovering humanity and rehumanizing knowledge production.
  • Remember you motives and re-member your relations.

Leaves: The Journey

  • The leaves enable the photosynthesis of knowledge: transformative journeys.
  • The leaves embody the journey of the self through the research process.
  • Embark on processes and travel on search journeys that are emergent, transformative, learning and healing.
  • Attune to process.

Stem: Critical Consciousness and Supports.

  • The stem represents the methodological backbone and connecter between all parts of the whole.
  • Have a strong backbone: a confrontation of colonial history with socio-political honesty.
  • Integrate Indigenous knowledge and decolonizing ideologies, thoughts, feelings, frameworks, and models of practice.
  • Acknowledge the supports of ancestors, family, community, Elders, and Creation.
  • Capitalize on our strengths and supports throughout.

Petals: Diversity in Methods

  • The petals represent the diversity of Indigenous re-search methodologies.
  • Accept diverse, eclectic and varied Indigenous approaches as essential and useful for Indigenous scholars’ research.
  • Use a wholistic and cyclical approach that attends to Spirit, heart, mind and body.
  • Use methods that are culturally relative and rooted in doing and being. Methodologies rooted in oral traditions involve ceremony, song, stories, teaching and knowledge that are creative, diverse, visual, oral, experiential, and sensory based.

Environmental Contexts

  • The environmental context of the petal flower influences the life of Indigenous methodologies in the academy and affects Indigenous re-searchers who are trying to advance their theories and methods.
  • Make strategic decisions related to coping with obstacles and gatekeepers, the committee and writing oral traditions.
  • Negotiate and deal with the clash of academic and Indigenous theories, methods, and expectations to create change.


As a student of social sciences at the University of Ottawa, and having only ever learned to learn through colonial methodologies, Kaandossowin: How We Come to Know has been a revolutionary process of dismembering a poisonous attempt to re-member my body, mind, and spirit into a way of knowing that is relational. I was able to apply to some of the core principles in an anti-colonial context as well as broader Tamil/Desi ways of knowing. As Absolon states in her book, the active process of her writing this book on Indigenous methodologies is in and of itself apart of the process of decolonization and an act of defiance against colonial education.

Kathleen E. Abolon (Minogiizhigokwe). (2011). Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know.

Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.

 To maintain personal accountability, please feel free to reach out to me at to discuss my summary of the text further.