Review: A Life Half Lived

“Only employment provides long term solutions to poverty”

A Life Half Lived in the Media (above)

This is not just a book that criticises aid. It proposes a new way forward. This is a book for those interested in international development, the effectiveness of aid spending and those wanting to find news ways to bring the world out of poverty with private sector tools.

Six wars, numerous natural disasters and fifteen years in the writing, A Life Half Lived takes the reader on an highly interesting journey from naive and idealistic young man joining the world of aid, to a pragmatist staying focused on the goal of poverty alleviation – but now recognising that the private sector must be a critical part of any global solution.

“Only employment provides long term solutions to poverty”, writes MacLeod. “People think that community good and corporate good are mutually exclusive. The best companies improve community outcomes and profitability. Why is it so uncomfortable for people to think both can be done concurrently?”

It may seem a ‘betrayal’ to some on the left of politics for MacLeod to look to the strangest of bedfellows such as mining companies and banks, MacLeod challenges the reader to see it differently.

How did MacLeod get from the Red Cross to Rio Tinto? This is the first part of the journey of ‘A Life Half Lived’.

Andrew MacLeod joined the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1990’s and had his baptism of fire with the aftermath of the Bosnian War and the lead up to the conflict in Kosovo. This was his first exposure to not only the brutality of war and the illogicality of conflict.

Sarajevo Graveyard

“I have a problem”, said a young girl to him just after the war. “My neighbour wants to move back in to their house”. the girl and the neighbour where childhood close friends before the war. But the neighbour moving back was a problem ‘because she was Muslim’. Nothing bad had ever happened between the two friends, yet the poison of conflict still destroyed the harmony of their young generation.

The inefficiencies of Aid surprised Andrew. The Swiss centric and at times racist nature of some aid actors was mild in the former Yugoslavia, but when MacLeod moved to Rwanda it was down right shocking.

‘I have never met a smart black man’ said one of MacLeod’s bosses. Yet MacLeod worked closely with several smart Rwandans to write a neRwandan Army Law of Armed Conflict Trainingw discipline code in the post genocidal Rwandan Army in the hope to professionalise the rag tag outfits.

Why does an aid worker professionalise a military? MacLeod’s role to spread understanding and compliance with the Law of War as written in the Geneva Conventions is one of the Red Cross’ main roles. Reducing civilian casualties in war sometimes means the killing of soldiers becomes more efficient. But only when trust and confidence is gained with soldiers can the fundamental security and access guarantees for the delivery of food, shelter and water be granted.

Sometimes to do good one has to deal with the less good.

Helicopters waiting to deliver aid. Muzzafarabad, northern Pakistan.

‘In foreign affairs there are two truisms’ writes MacLeod. ‘One: if the answer seems simple it is not the answer. Two: most of the time you do not have a good option and a bad option. Most of the time you have to chose between competing bad options and decide which is least bad’.

Both of these truisms came to pass as Andrew took on the role of Chief of Operations in the response to the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, an operation that was larger even than the tsunami. Working closely with Pakistan Army generals the operation saw 100 helicopters carry more cargo than the Berlin airlift. One million tents and 400,000 emergency shelters were built to keep 3.5 million people alive through a six month Himalayan winter.

With President Clinton in East Timor 2002

MacLeod credits the Pakistan Army and secret negotiations with terrorist groups to gain access to remote fundamentalist areas as key to the successful operation. MacLeod also points out that most of the success was despite, not because of, the aid world.

His fact based and data driven critique and criticism leaves the question ‘is the NGO and UN aid world an emperor with no clothes?’

Moving on to the Philippines, the most natural disaster prone country in the world, MacLeod finally left the aid world in disgust of the inaction following major floods and a breakdown of the peace process in Philippines long going civil war.

Planting trees with the local governor in the South Gobi Desert, Mongoli

“The end game of development”, he writes, “should be for people to have a sustainable income and pay tax to a responsible government who then uses that tax to build hospitals and schools. That can’t come from Aid.”

Andrew joined the private sector to find what he describes as ‘leading companies’ that have found a way to increase profitability and community benefit at the same time. From BHP’s anti malaria campaigns in Africa to Rio Tinto in Mongolia and Peru, Andrew saw what he thought to be far more effective operations at ending poverty.

MacLeod’s book ‘A Life Half Lived’ is a life journey far from the ordinary, filled with many literal life and death choices. Now at the cutting edge of ‘shared value’ thinking MacLeod is one still filled with passion and a desire to see change, but the change that comes from a source that many will find confronting.

What MacLeod writes challenges the reader to ask who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Aid. And your answer may surprise even you.

To order “A Life Half Lived”:

Buy from Amazon below.

US and Global Orders

Amazon here.
Book depository including free international shipping here


Best price is through Booktopia here
It is also available at The Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park thanks to my dad’s lobbying!

In the UK

Waterstones here
Book Depository here

Germany and Europe:

Online available here.

One Reply to “Review: A Life Half Lived”

  1. This is what I want to do, I want to help people helping themselves. Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.


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