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.

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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!

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Tom Peters, Innovation is Easy

CK Prahalad, Furtune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

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.
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