What more can we learn?

April 9, 2012

Stanford Social Innovation Review posted a great article about the importance of data in the non-profit world, and how one specific organization, Data Without Borders (DWB) is making a difference.

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DWB’s mission statement begins with the line, “Data Without Borders seeks to match non-profits in need of data analysis with freelance and pro bono data scientists who can work to help them with data collection, analysis, visualization, or decision support.”

A noble task indeed. Of the resources available to non-profits, data visualization and analysis is typically not at the top of their list. Non-profits are mainly concerned with looking for the next batch of funding, and working to drive impact true to their mission. Read more »

Microfinance Monday: Full steam ahead…for what?

March 26, 2012

Amid a damning report from one of the industry’s heavyweights, financial activity in the microfinance world is picking up, clearing the way for more opportunity – but at what cost?

David Roodman, one of the world’s foremost thinkers on microfinance, presented his newest book in a column last week that might appear to strike a spear through the heart of microfinance champions everywhere.

On current evidence, the best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on poverty is zero. So microcredit as a whole appears neither to live up to the hype nor justify the harshest attacks against it as modern usury. Microcredit does not appear to be the financial equivalent of cigarettes.

Well that’s good to hear! At least we’re not addicted to cancerous activity. Yet, the heart of what Roodman is getting at is something secretly feared by microfinance champions for years. Does it live up to the hype? Is this truly impactful? Read more »

After Mother’s Day, Lets Talk About The Human Leaky Faucet

May 12, 2011

Drip, drip drip.  This isn’t a loose pipe… its your body.  Try as you might, you can’t stop the urine and feces from dripping down your legs.

With your private parts torn apart, likely as a result of childbirth gone bad, you now have a steady stream of human waste trickling out of you. You have a fistula.  Just the very word makes me cringe.

In the days following Mother’s Day I’ve reflected on how excited my own mother was to receive an unexpected call from me. Throughout the world moms were celebrated by their families, but not all.

In some cases, mothers have thanklessly endured far worse pain than childbirth only to be shunned and left in misery. It is time that fistulas became a featured part of the anti-poverty conversation. Read more »

The Promise and Limitations of Cash Transfer Programs

April 4, 2011

The beauty (and frustration) of social entrepreneurship is discovering that what works in one part of the world just may not work in another part.  Therein lies the difficulty of establishing a cohesive strategy for tackling poverty globally: each situation is unique.

Cash Transfer Programs are an attempt at poverty reduction that have struck a powerful nerve on both sides of the debate.  Simply put, Cash Transfer Programs (CTPs) are the act of distributing cash to the poor; and at times, the payment is dependent upon a certain action by the poor.  Providing a family with additional income if their children attend school on a regular basis is an example of an action-dependent (or ‘restricted’) CTP.

There are many layers to the debate on whether or not CTPs are an effective method to improving the lives of those at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  I am not going to dive into whether or not the programs should be in existence; rather, I want to look at the difference between restricted and unrestricted CTPs. Read more »

Applying Behavioral Economics to the Developing World

March 28, 2011

Speaking from an engineering and (hopefully) entrepreneurial perspective, one of the reasons why work in the developing world is fascinating is the challenge it poses. Complex design requirements, non existent supply chain routes, extreme poverty – these are all unique issues that entrepreneurs have to combat when developing or producing products/services for the Bottom of the Pyramid.

But what happens when the your client base acts irrationally or doesn’t follow the ‘model’ you’ve based your business on? Enter Behavioral Economics. The title of Dan Ariely’s book sums up the behavior: “Predictably Irrational” .

Questioning economic models is nothing new.  Tying these hypotheses with cognitive psychology has been around for some time.  Yet, what makes Behavioral Economics exciting is the acceptance and adoption of BE models in economic or business policy.  [A lengthy read, but a great primer on Behavior Economics can be found here.]
Read more »

How Can Social Entrepreneurs Influence Macro Issues?

March 14, 2011

Last year, I wrote on how social entrepreneurs are Using Micro to Solve Macro problems. “Micro-finance, micro-insurance, micro-work, and now micro-franchising are all tools enlisted by social entrepreneurs when faced with the lack of governmental infrastructure. The success or failure in the fight against poverty is reliant upon the success stories of the micro approach giving back to build the necessary infrastructure.”

Essentially, micro is the great answer in the short to near term. The real battle against the root of extreme poverty will be won when proper infrastructure is instilled in poorer nations and regions.

The next logical question is: can social entrepreneurs affect change at a macro level, or are they limited to a bottoms up approach to poverty eradication? Before we attempt to answer that, we need to define a couple of terms up front: Read more »

Why Mobile is Key to Development

February 21, 2011

Ineffective development and infrastructure growth plans have prevented Africa and much of the developing world from operating on a similar level to the developed world.

Yet this apparent lack of technological capability presents a promising silver lining, that if realized, can provide an ‘express lane’ to closing the poverty gap.

I am, of course, talking about mobile phone infrastructure and its increasingly relevant usage in the lives of those at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  From offering up to date pricing and crop information to farmers or providing a platform to accept mobile payments, the innovative uses for mobile technology are on the rise and at the forefront of development efforts around the developing world.

Why?  There are a few key reasons why the advances, adoption, and growth of the mobile industry are paramount to the successes at the BoP; and they all center around a simple theme: It Works. Read more »

Global Poverty Rate Cut in Half? Not So Fast

January 31, 2011

Early last week, the Brookings Institute released a report complete with data supporting the progress of the successful fight against global poverty.  In short, the results are nothing less than impressive, and everyone involved in making these results a reality should be commended.  Good news about the fight against poverty is always welcomed especially considering the rash of negative PR we have seen with Andrha Pradesh.

While the results are indeed promising, I caution the trumpeting of this report of success beyond our goal definition.  Poverty is a real term and should not only be viewed as landing above or below a certain income threshold.  Daily income rates have become a strong and widely accepted measure of poverty, but its important to keep in mind that while data points help to ground our assumptions and estimates, the real issue of poverty still exists at an alarming rate.

An important caveat to keep in mind is that the data referenced for this study holds true through 2005.  The Great Recession that affected so much of the global economy as well as recent devastating natural disasters will have no doubt negatively contributed to these results.  This downward shift in the poverty population is a great sign in the right direction, yet one data point should not equate to a trend – yet.  Sustaining this trend and building upon it through infrastructure, health, and environmental improvements is where we have an opportunity to truly turn the corner.

So what should we think then?  The journey needs its milestones to be celebrated, but the objective is far from met.

Though we here at Rising Pyramid may have a tendency to be slightly biased, I would like to believe that Social Enterprise has played a role in and of itself in this promising statistic.  As stated in the Brookings report, “From 2003 onwards, developing economies have expanded by more than 6 percent in every year except 2009, during the height of the Great Recession.”  This economic growth will  continue to be the backbone upon which this growth is predicated and social entrepreneurs aim to assist in that area.

While the extent of the data can be debated, there is no doubt that the conclusions of the report indicate something positive.  Let us read this as a sign that we’re moving in the right direction, and continue to bring innovation and business to the BoP in the hope of hearing equally positive news the next time around.

- Chris

Micro-insurance: What is it and how does it work?

May 10, 2010

In a time where we see the word ‘micro’ attached to many aspects of social businesses that serve the Bottom of the Pyramid (‘micro-credit’ and ‘micro-enterprise’ come to mind right off the bat), insurance is a sector that is starting to garner major interest. Where micro-credit has already started to prove itself a worthy business model, micro-insurance seeks to do the same. Micro-insurance providers already range from large multi-national financial institutions to local organizations. The market for micro-insurance is starting to get some real recognition. LeapFrog, a global micro-insurer, recently publicized the closing of their $137M investment fund in Africa and Asia. In this time of proving a business model legitimate, I think its extremely important to pay attention to the growth, successes, and setbacks that micro-insurance will experience over the near future. Read more »

To be ("Social") or not to be…

March 15, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the term “Social Entrepreneurship” was being used to define the industry of social business. I argued that it is healthy and almost necessary to not try to isolate social entrepreneurship from the rest of the different industries. Around the same time, Carl Schramm (president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, author of The Entrepreneurial Imperative and coauthor of Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism) wrote an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled, “All Entrepreneurship is Social”. In it, Mr. Schramm argues,

“One danger, however, is that the use of the modifier social will diminish the contributions of regular entrepreneurs—that is, people who create new companies and then grow them to scale. In the course of doing business as usual, these regular entrepreneurs create thousands of jobs, improve the quality of goods and services available to consumers, and ultimately raise standards of living.”

I agree with him, to a point, but think there is a need to keep the separate distinction for social entrepreneurship vs. entrepreneurship. I offer one main point of contention. Read more »

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