Mobile money is creating new ways to work with the poor and help them manage their money. Already in four countries, there are more mobile money accounts than bank accounts. Innovative development approaches are appearing around the world. Bangladesh is the fastest growing mobile money market in the world, and organisations like Oxfam, FHI 360, Chars Livelihood Programme and others are experimenting with it.
Last week I wrote about mobile phones and the potential for unbanked and poor households to benefit from digital financial services, as an introduction to topics that we’ll explore on Day 1 in the upcoming Frugal Innovation Forum: Scaling Digitally. Day 2 will bring yet another exciting and urgent topic—data.
As if that’s not enough, there will be substantial growth in the number of people online. Google is hoping to create access for 50 million women in India alone. Most of this won’t be through computers. The “one laptop per child” mantra has given way to a “one affordable, probably made-in-china smart phone per child” approach.
When assessing pilots, people often talk about a program or organization’s potential to scale. Certainly there are factors that make some models easier to scale than others. At BRAC, the world’s largest nonprofit organization, there is a relentless focus on making models that are not only effective, but also efficient and scalable. But our current research initiative, called the Doing While Learning: Collaborative Models for Scaling Innovation project, is revealing the importance of factors beyond the model, such as organizational capabilities and social capital in the pilot’s environment.
My former roommate, Nina, was a Teach for America fellow in the South Side of Chicago. Dropouts, teenage pregnancies, drugs, violence--she had plenty of stories about her students along these lines. But she had another one that was tragic in another way that stays in my mind: one of her students had been incredible bright, resourceful, committed.
A week before the Frugal Innovation Forum, I came across the Ted Talk by Dan Palotta that criticized development for rewarding frugality (i.e. low rates of overhead) instead of ambition and big ideas. This is one reason why, in his opinion, progress has been slow to find solutions to address social issues.
It may surprise you to learn that BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab team is actually incredibly sceptical about the importance of innovation. More than once, my colleagues have asked if we could change our name to something that didn’t put innovation up on a pedestal. “Social Innovation, Improvisation, and Improvement Lab” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, unfortunately. From my perspective, this questioning is important—it keeps us grounded in terms of the limitations of the tools we can offer to the problems posed to us.
Crowdmapping is an undeniably cool tool in development. It’s amazing that we now can take data from people scattered all over the place, who don’t know each other, and easily consolidate it into a central, often beautiful and transparent website.
As a child, I was fed a healthy supply of fairy tales and fables. One of my favorites was that of “stone soup.” In the version I know, it’s about a community facing extremely harsh times during a war. Food was in short supply, and hope even shorter. A hungry traveller came to town and in the village center, put a big pot with water and a stone on a fire. Curious villagers came and asked what he was doing. “Making a tasty stone soup!” he would explain.