Microfinance Misses its Mark

This article goes some way in laying out more categories in the BOP debate.

Yet the BOP proposition glosses over the real issue: Why do poor people accept that they cannot expect running water? Even if they do accept this bleak view, why should we? Instead, we should emphasize the failure of government and attempt to correct it. Giving a voice to the poor is a central aspect of the development process.

The business community, bureaucrats, politicians, and the media are very busy congratulating themselves on the booming private sector in India. Sure, more Indians have cell phones. But what many remember about India is not all the people using cell phones. It’s all the people defecating in public because they do not have toilets. Even in Mumbai, the business capital of India, about 50 percent of the people defecate outside. The current celebration of private sector successes should be met, and perhaps chastened, with anger at the failure of the state to provide basic services.

Overall, governments, businesses, and civil society would be well advised to reallocate their resources and energies away from microfinance and into supporting larger enterprises in labor-intensive industries. This is what is alleviating poverty in China, Korea, Taiwan, and other developing countries. At the same time, they should also provide basic services that improve the employability and productivity of the poor. Otherwise, they will miss the mark of lifting people out of poverty.



Base of the Samosa

I have finally begun reading Prahalad – and have been deeply and persistently irritated. First it was the blase account of the post colonial history of India. Then it is the valorising of Hindustan Lever and putting all into the framework of a ‘social’ economic construct – and of course the pyramid. There is no room for ‘evil’ which is what the track record of the MNC (which are going to deliver us from poverty if CKP has his way) has been in developing countries – a la opium and the British in China. But maybe this perspective – of looking at the MNC with suspicion – is the marginal ( and reactionary) as CKP says. I will allow that.

But what of the aesthetic – they, the MNCs, have a flat, colourless aesthetic- very socialist Russia.

Either way I went looking for the critique of the BOP and CKP and found a little – but also found among the acolytes an interesting post. Read on.

Behind us, on a brown flip chart taped to the wall, is drawn a large three sided figure, a triangle really, with the words “Base of the Pyramid” written on top, or BoP for short. That’s us. A brave hand ventures forth, “Do you mean like a samosa?” For those not in the know, a samosa is a triangle shaped pastry of Indian or Persian origin, stuffed with a delightful filling of meat or vegetables. You can find samosas being fried and sold fresh on the mud tracks, pathways, and streets of Kibera; one of the tasty treats will set you back only about 5 shillings (7 cents). “Yes!” we say with a smile, thankful for a local translation, “The pyramid is like a samosa! The rich people are up top, that’s where most companies traditionally focus, but down below here in the base are some 4 billion people, a whole world that’s been…” There’s another hand up in the air now. “Tafadhali”, we prompt, “please.” “Why should people at the top of the samosa get everything,” one man asks, “when all the meat is at the bottom?” There are a few murmurs of agreement from the crowd, so the man continues, “And why a samosa? A chapati would be better, that way everyone is the same!” This time there are cheers. A chapati is a flat round fried bread, kind of like an Indian version of a Mexican tortilla, and like samosas, chapatis can be found fresh and hot all throughout Kibera. I love chapati, but I’m too much of a free market fan to buy into the idea of it as a symbol of world commerce, nor do I think it’s an accurate representation of how the world really is. Another man speaks up, “Can’t we just turn the samosa upside down?” “Upside down?” “Yes,” he explains, “turn it upside down, then all the rich people are on the bottom and we can force them up to the top!


What is Social Innovation?

Many definitions:

  1. Social innovation is a concept that involves the use of new technology, or the new use of existing technology to achieve a social purpose. It includes the application of examples of good social practice so that these can have an impact on more people. From here.
  2. Social Innovation happens through new solutions to social needs. To solve problems such as social exclusion, lack of quality of life, and participation, we need new solutions and to reinvent the existing ones to achieve better quality, more impact and efficiency. The creation of new strategies and answers to address social needs is urgent, especially where they are getting worse (i.e. climate change and aging), where the existing models have failed or idle (i.e. democratic participation, criminal justice or education), and where exists unexplored potential (i.e. the intelligent use of technology for housing and health). From here.
  3. Social innovation refers to strategies, concepts, organizations that meet social needs of all kinds and strengthen civil society. Examples of social innovation include micro-credit financing in Third World Countries, earned income strategies in nonprofit management, zero-waste/closed loop industrial systems, socially responsible business and corporate social responsibility. From here.
  4. Case studies here.
  5. Social innovators are individuals who propose novel ways to consider and solve major social issues. Social innovators partner with communities to offer sustainable solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. The social innovator recognizes when a part of society is stuck and provides new ways to get unstuck. Rather than leaving societal needs to government or business, social innovators solve problems by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new approaches. Effective social innovation links research to practice, builds on existing community strengths, takes a long-term view, encourages measured risks, builds networks and partnerships across sectors and silos, and invests in strategic research and policy analysis. From here.
  6. social innovation — the emerging art and science of bringing different groups of people to the table to collaborate on solving complex community-based problems such as poverty reduction, disease control and job creation. From here.
  7. The process of Social Innovation from here.
  8. To simply define, social innovation is to meet unmet social needs through the development of new products, services and organisations. From here.
  9. “pattern-changing new ideas that meet pressing unmet social needs…” From here.

And finally from the Centre for Social Innovation

Definitions of social innovation abound and a casual observer can quickly become entangled in a debate over meaning and nuance. We’re not too hung up about it so we’ve adopted a simple working definition: Social Innovation refers to new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.

Even more simply, a social innovation is an idea that works for the public good.

Social innovations come from individuals, groups or organizations, and can take place in the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors. Increasingly, it is happening in the spaces between these three sectors as differing approaches collide to spark new ways of thinking about the challenges we all face

The way Cars are Designed

I am going back in to teach UG classes after a semester of work exclusively with post grad. I am beginning to feel the energy of this enterprise and am quite excited.

Undergraduate teaching in design consists of setting up fictional projects – which simulate a design project situation where the student plays the role of a designer in a workplace. Usually we only half set up the fiction – that is we let students into a class (say) ‘to design a car’ for a semester and then sporadically interact with them to help them do a good project. The half is when we just set up the shell and wait for the student to put the content in through their own research. A great way to teach design and innovation.

I however believe in Authentic Tasks – which means the fiction is a reality. That is the design project the student works on is real and will have an impact. So …

I began a dialogue with Car Share firms to set up the context in which car share firms can influence the ways cars are designed. Th student project teams ( 3 of the) thus become the agency which converts ideas ( which can be influenced by the car share firms) into a three dimensional design.

My next task is to see that the teams that are set up understand their role – and what is required of them in this project (as distinct from what they may do in other projects on offer next semester). I plan to communicate this to them by saying:

  1. The project is a Work Placement opportunity.
  2. The Design Task is to take the ideas of the car share firms and convert it into a design that a firm like Honda can appreciate.
  3. The Campaign Task is to put all their work into an accessible channel like YOUTUBE and FLIKR – so that others can get inspired to do their own projects of this kind.
  4. With the aim – to generate critical mass to influence the ways cars are designed in the future.

Campaign Goals

Campaign Projects 08 has three goals.

  1. Stop people bying cars: This can be interpreted in the short term as changing the ‘way cars are designed’ – designing cars for car sharing so that Car Sharing is promoted/ increased. Each car share car replaces 10 indiviually owned cars.
  2. Make people Buy local food: Historically I have been working on green maps – so would look to maps(paper and online) and posters as means to achieve the goal. But there may be better and more proactive ways to help people change their consummption of food – so that more local produce is consumed. This could therfore also be a venture, a portal, tools/ products, publications, events and programs.
  3. Improve Diabetics control of their blood glucose readings: The goal is to enable individual diabetics to have access to a service ( product service system) that helps them manage their BGL – to keep it in range. This could be a combination of face to face, online (ehealth), and other modes. The design task would similarly be to design the service and the products that go with the service.

Social Innovation as Postgraduate Study

I would be happy to talk to prospective students interested in taking some of the Social Innovation projects on as a Masters by Research or PhD Project.

For now the areas are:

  1. Melbourne Icarus Project
  2. The Locavore Project
  3. The Artificial Pancreas

A few other projects – that I can also discuss are:

  1. Renounce Network
  2. Water
  3. Waste

Happy to hear from you if you wish to talk about pursuing a Masters or PhD.

Its Social Innovation Stupid

We know how to innovate in science and we have an idea about how to do industrial research and development. But when it comes to thinking up new ways to reduce indigenous poverty or find clever ways to help people live independently as they grow older, it’s all a bit hit and miss. In the future, we’re going to have get better at social innovation … much better.


Lifecycle of Emergence

Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

But networks aren’t the whole story. As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence. When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn’t that they were hidden; they simply don’t exist until the system emerges. They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale.


Strategic Story Telling and Social Innovation

What do stories have to do with social enterprise?

At its core, social entrepreneurship is about introducing a new story of social innovation – and convincing others to believe in your market-based solution. Too often, the status quo stands in the way of behavior change and idea adoption.

Most social entrepreneurs must ask others to reframe some of the basic assumptions that we all take for granted. That’s why reason alone cannot overcome the intractable forces of culture. You need a story that inspires and emotionally connects to what people care about.

A well-crafted story becomes the platform that allows people to See, Feel, and Believe in what you are doing. By starting with the right story frame, you accelerate the pace at which people will be able to locate themselves and feel drawn into your story.

Your story should call people to a higher truth. Help people see something we tend to ignore or overlook. Illustrate a new path where everybody wins. Frame your message around universal needs and aspirations. What do we all deserve or want? Rather than pontificate on the moral value of this truth, develop a point of view that is refreshing, unique, or even provocative. Get people to think from a new perspective.

Great stories are driven by sincere emotion. This kinetic energy is what engages people, and gets your audience to invest in the outcome of your story. We make choices based on feelings, not reason. Your story must establish an emotive connection, compelling someone into caring and wanting to be a part of what you do.

Every story is ultimately at the mercy of its audience. They hold the power to judge and perceive your story however they wish. Get clear on the audience you are trying to persuade and take the time to understand their motivations. How will they identify with your story, and why should they believe in your ability to deliver on your promise?

MORE … in Social Edge

Notes on Social Innovation Course Design

On Social Innovation

Teach students Social Innovation – and develop capability in the community for future participation in projects.

The Case studies for the papers will be in the areas of: Waste, Water, Community Health Care, Car Sharing, and Renounce.


Each student does two papers (to be published online) – and one Volunteer project.

Cars for Car Sharing

The Melbourne ICARUS Project began with the objective of looking at – A Car specifically Designed for Car Sharing in Melbourne. See what I wrote before I went in to see Monique Conheady the CEO of Flexicar.

And what she told me changed the brief. Before it was 2-seater and small and now its not!

1929 Austin 7 Restoration Project 2003

A car not as a status symbol, to drive on highways, to zip-nip-revv-race and just zoot in.

The Image is of a 1929 Austin 7. This was a Restoration Project I worked on in 2003. With 20 students.

The engagement is with Car Design and titled Melbourne Icarus Project. The project looks at the phenomenon of Car sharing and speculates upon the Design of Cars for the future – cars that would fit with the requirements of the car sharing systems. Currently cars used in car sharing – Yaris by GoGet and Jazz by Flexicar – have not been designed for this specific purpose and have been retrofitted with the necessary hardware/ software to enable car sharing.

In 2008 the project aims to develop a understanding of Car Sharing services and begin a dialogue with the service providers. The outcomes of this project are to be two fold: (a) the design and depiction of the service for car sharing and (b) the designs of cars expressly visualized for car sharing.

The CAR: A car designed just for the Car sharing Industry. For now this vehicle is specified as –

1. Using a 400 CC multi-cylinder Honda CB motorcycle engine running on CNG, and Exploring hybrid options

2. Seating two

3. Luggage space for city shopping

4. Weight Conscious (PEEL was 132 Kgs, This car? 300 kgs?)

See for Carsharing:

1. The Car Sharing Library

2. World Car Share Consortium

The ‘Other’ Pancreas


Our work in the area of Diabetes started in 2005 when an Entrepreneur walked in and asked if we could design a gizmo – a glucometer built into a mobile phone, which would shoot off the BGL readings to a central server automatically. He was keen to see the phone have a non-invasive BGL monitor in the phone. We walked some way with Gordon and then parted ways.

From then till now 4 student orientated projects have been offered. While in the early days we were still understanding the area and so did the usual projects looking at Needs from the outside. In the middle of 2006 things changes just a bit – One was I was now talking to the Victorian branch of Diabetes Australia, and two was I was very interested in the marginalised and suppressed voice in the disbetes community. This aligned with my interests in amplifying the faint ( Faint Voices) and in looking for innovation in the neglected. The dominant was not the place to innovate. The students who worked with me in sem 2 of 2006 were year 1 students and they produced some wonderful interventions into the homes and lives of diabetics. 2006 also saw Charles and Mark complete their projects – some quite sophisticated work there – at the 4th year final project level.

We got the ‘Designing the future’ garnt in end 2006 and so in sem 1 2007 we worked with Engineering, Product Design and Entrepreneurship students and staff in a studio. This tiem around we went into the studio with quite clear brief’s and areas of work. The work from this group is up at this site.

From mid 2007 I began working on setting up a research project with a China and India focus. I had two research assistants on this one looking at China dn the other looking at India. Helen travelled to Chennai and met the people at the MV institute of Diabetes – who focus quite significantly upon amputation. In November I travelled to Tianjin and met people in different areas and even the Department of Health. By this time we had a draft document of our research grant application. But after China and India it suddenly seemed like I needed to go back and change the project.

The Research Group

By May I had a focus and a project again – this time stronger and relevant to the future implementation in China and India. I then began showing this work – and RMIT Nursing and the International Diabetes Institute joined in. The project is now renamed and called the Artificial Pancreas – though there is some discussion about this name and we will possibly change this too – to something that works for the whole research group.

  1. Soumitri Varadarajan, Ass Pro, Industrial Design, RMIT
  2. Prof. Eleanor Holroyd, Head of Nursing, RMIT
  3. Dr. Paul Beckett, RMIT
  4. Dr. Heiko Rudolph, RMIT
  5. Dr. Neale Cohen, International Diabetes Institute
  6. Dr. Sanjeev Khurana, Pediatric Surgeon, Royal Childrens Hospital, Adelaide, SA

Design Studio

AND – The task for me in recent days has been to create a window so that a small group of Design students can walk into this project to do something. This I have done – and as a way of thinking I call it as working out the Chennai Model!

The Chennai Model: Is a chronic care service designed around the home as context of delivery. It is a user pays service as the health care system in India does not fund Diabetes to quite that extent. Give the nature of the context the service has two distinctly different modes of delivery – the urban and the rural.

  1. The service constitutes the ‘other pancreas’
  2. The other pancreas is made up of devices, peoples, routines (management protocols), medicines and other network agents
  3. A fully functional other pancreas will attempt to approximate the function of an biological pancreas.
  4. The technology introduction is to create a virtual body of the diabetic – externally
  5. The locus of other pancreas is to be the home.

The Design students group are thus required to step in to complete the picture – given the problem as: The deteriorating body and India as context!

  1. Visualize and Map the other pancreas
  2. Design the service
  3. Design products for the service.

Notes on ‘about’

Imagine – so watch Lennon and then move on. Just imagine – a world without …..!!!!!!!

I have for years believed we are the ones who define these pragmatic projects that we do to give us social mobility or just to keep things going. But what if – what if we said: ‘Hey!’ That should of course be enough. Russel Peters does a Hey really well – which I will not post here but will let you go off and see it at the bottom of this page. Anyway to come back to the point – hey what if we just cut the Crap ( see what Hemmingway said about the crap detector) and get to the point. Should be easy. Okay lets try. We use too much water – so then just cut off the sewage pipe! See – easy wasnt it. And so it goes – poo wee tweet ( thats Kurt Vonnegut for you – his was the comment ‘all lies’ to the Gulf war – another one who looks past the crap.)

In 2008 this is a site for a Design studio ( next year this will be something else – recycling you see!). Last year it was ‘The Campaign Project’. The studio this year has three major areas: 1. Project Icarus, 2. The Locavore Project, 3. The Artificial Pancreas. Or rather the studio allows students entry into three Ongoing Projects.

This site is maintained by Soumitri Varadarajan. Thats the bald chap in the photo. The site is accompanied by a subject guide on Social Innovation in the RMIT Library site.


I took a close look at the structure of CKPs book and realised it had two parts – the discourseat the front arguing for a BOP way of looking at business strategy. There is more money at the bottom of the pool. And the rest of the book is case studies done by student groups. I could attempt a documentation in a similar vein. And with this target in mind I am constructing the posts as the argument of both the significant issues and ways of looking at them. Which then leads to the approach and method of work. At this stage no new terminologies are visualized but it may be good in six months to go towards a crystalline approach – that marks a new location. For now its IEID, Cultural Amplification and FALCE.

  1. Re the case studies – I have broad themes in Waste, Water, Transport and Consumption.
  2. Re the way to handle it – I have the ‘studio’ as the centre with the outcomes and examples as the illustration. A la Kathalys.

Plan for a Document:

  1. Introduction: Locates the concern and positions SI as significant.
  2. Locating Social Innovation
  3. Aspects of SI – also could be features
  4. Themes explored: As propositions and as documentation of Case studies ( both existing case studies and explorations/ design projects of students)
  • Health
  • Consumption
  • Food
  • Transport
  • Waste
  • Water

Green Consumption

“Long-time environmental activist Paul Hawkins once described “green consumerism” as an oxymoron. Indeed, “green consumption” makes Wikipedia’s “List of Genuine Oxymora”. The reason: consumption by its very nature has an impact on the environment – to some degree or another – and therefore, is hard to call truly green.” More

Cooler site

Earth Movement Site

The principle of Responsible consumption

I am detailing out the ‘maps’ project which I am floating next sem. And am looking for a person/ people who live ‘extremely’ responsibly – In what they consume and what they eat.
1. No big Brands. Plus are political in their approach and do not consume products by multinationals – like Colgate/ P&G and will not shop in supermarket chains -Coles/safeway – will instead do farmers markets.
2. Sympathetic to: Organic, Macrobiotic, slow, biodynamic.
3. Buy seasonaal food.
4. Will do lo GI and will not consume processed.
5. May even do food miles.
6. Buy seasonal
7. No chemicals/ toxics
8. Biodegradable.
And they live within the city of Yarra. And would be okay to spare time to talk to a student – who will then make a book about the conversation with this person.
I do have an initial list but am looking for more before I choose the final 3.

Where there is no doctor


About the online Book:

This handbook has been written primarily for those who live far from medical centers, in places where there is no doctor. But even where there are doctors, people can and should take the lead in their own health care. So this book is for everyone who cares. It has been written in the belief that:

1. Health care is not only everyone’s right, but everyone’s responsibility.

2. Informed self-care should be the main goal of any health program or activity.

3. Ordinary people provided with clear, simple information can prevent and treat most common health problems in their own homes—earlier, cheaper, and often better than can doctors.

4. Medical knowledge should not be the guarded secret of a select few, but should be freely shared by everyone.

5. People with little formal education can be trusted as much as those with a lot. And they are just as smart.

6. Basic health care should not be delivered, but encouraged.


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