Sustainability + Development

February 23, 2009

As someone who is keenly interested in environmental issues, I’ve often found it challenging to consider sustainability’s role within the larger development context. Global health, water resource management, information technology, and energy diversification are obvious choices when looking at proven methods for addressing poverty. But when we introduce the environment into the equation, the game seems to change. People versus the planet. One versus the other.

In reality, it isn’t a zero sum game and sustainability should be incorporated in international development. Just look at the UN Millenium Development Goals -the environment also has its place at the table, and it’s not at the consequence of human issues.

It reminds me of a conversation I had when I was volunteering at Oxfam America. There, one of the staff members described Oxfam’s approach to climate change. For Oxfam, climate change wasn’t really about the environment. It was about the people that were most affected by climate change, like subsistence farmers in Africa, who relied on the rain to fuel their crops.  Global warming and the lack of rains made it impossible for these farmers to harvest a bountiful crop.  These types of environmental problems, namely the aftereffects, were the main concern of Oxfam.

In a similar vein, I recently came across a report from the UN Environment Programme about SCP.  SCP, or sustainable patterns of consumption and production, are indicators that measure progress for what our society should look like.  As countries begin to lift themselves out of poverty, we need to question our own levels of consumerism, as well as what is sustainable for these other nations.  Read the full UNEP SCP report here.


Thought the $100 laptop was good? Try $10

February 2, 2009

Fast Company reports that on February 3rd, the Indian government will unveil a $10 educational laptop with 2GB of RAM, Wi-Fi and expandable hardware, that operates on only two watts of power. Mass production costs are $20, but expect this to be halved as large-scale production starts up.

The laptop is an answer to MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 One Laptop Per Child.  Can’t wait to see what it looks like in a few days!

Click here for the Fast Company article.

**Update: It turns out that the $10 laptop is not a full-functioning laptop, but a “computing” device with storage.  Read the comments below for more information. **

Google funding internet initiatives in Africa

February 2, 2009

Google is starting to enter the world of ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies and Development) by funding initiatives to bring internet to small, rural villages in Africa.  One such project, implemented by three engineers from University of Michigan, involves installing satellite dishes powered by solar panels to hookup computers in the local community to the rest of the world.

The head of Google’s East Africa office, Joseph Mucheru, notes that “building infrastructure is not necessarily Google’s objective, but if you look at all the areas that Google has gone into, in many cases it has been to fill a gap… The market should see the opportunity.”

Google’s entry into ICTD seems to be an especially appropriate fit for a corporate social responsibility strategy.  Google can help rural villages get “online,” and also ensure their place in a new market.

It will be interesting to see if internet adoption in Africa and other developing country follows the same trajectory as mobile phone adoption – e.g. leapfrog over “standard” infrastructure like electricity grids by using solar-powered mobile phone towers.

Click here for the full New York Times article.

Poverty-fighting tool: conditional cash transfers

December 30, 2008

The New York Times recently published an in-depth article about a poverty-fighting program called Oportunidades in Mexico.  Instead of traditional government welfare programs that offer subsidized food or healthcare, the program gives the poor cash on the condition that the money is spent on “activities designed to break the culture of poverty and keep the poor from transmitting that culture to their children.”   Some examples of these conditional cash transfer activities include:

  • Money for school fees, contingent on the child’s attendance record
  • Money for food, subject to preventative health checkups
  • Money, on conditions of attendance at monthly educational workshops on health topics (like purifying drinking water)

Initial objections about Oportunidades stemmed from the program’s potential to increase domestic violence, given the machismo culture of poor, rural Mexico. The program is targeted towards women who are the primary spenders in the family.Women must leave the house to receive payments, attend workshops, and visit the clinic.  Workshops are about women’s rights and self-esteem.  Women also get their own money and control how it is spent.  Indeed, the stories reflect the shifting balance of power between the husband and wife; transitions that are fraught with tension and anger in the beginning, but fade over time when the program’s benefits are realized.

Overall results have been impressive thus far.  In Mexico, rates of malnutrition, anemia, and childhood and adult illnesses have dropped.  Children enrolled in the program drop out less frequently, repeat fewer grades, and stay in school longer. In some rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school is up by 42% and 85% for high school.

Similar programs are being rolled out in 30 other countires (mainly in Latin America) including Turkey, Cambodia, and Bangladesh.  New York City is also starting a pilot program under Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Opportunity NYC.

To learn more, read the New York Times article and the World Bank case study on Oportunidades.

2008 Social Capitalist Awards

October 6, 2008

Fast Company is my favorite business magazine, hands down.  Every year, the magazine chooses 45 Social Entrepreneurs that are changing the world.  Some of the top picks include organizations that have been highlighted in the Market-based Approaches to Poverty course, like Acumen Fellows, KickStart and Scojo Foundation.  Definitely check out the list if you’re interested in working for an innovative social enterprise – I’ve got my eye on a few of them as well!

See the World – Visit London

September 2, 2008

After finishing up an exciting International Business Development assignment in El Salvador, and heading home for a few days to do laundry, I boarded a plane once again and headed off to London for my summer internship. As someone who has always done work centered around emerging markets with no prior experience in Europe, I didn’t know quite what to expect when joining the general leadership/corporate strategy summer program at British Telecommunications (BT). As it turns out, my work was far more international than I could have expected. In fact, during the first few weeks, I had a difficult time keeping my colleagues’ countries straight: the Russian going to school at INSEAD in Singapore, the HBS Israeli paired on a project with the American at IESE in Spain, the Indian at Chicago GSB or the Spaniard at Stanford. Not only were the 21 summer interns incredibly diverse, but the full-time team was as well.

This made for an incredibly interesting work environment as this team of diverse MBAs tackled many of the problems that BT faces from its legacy as a company (and previously a government institution) that has been around for over one hundred years. Although the work was intense, I didn’t miss the opportunity to hang out with this global group in a less formal setting. In fact, my favorite Friday tradition in London became traveling with my coworkers to the far extremes of the city (Whitechapel, Eastham, Westham, Southall) to sample some of the finest Indian food I have ever had.

London itself is an incredible city that is both an exciting place to live, and an international travel hub. The cuisine, the museum art, the cultural shows, and the diversity of its people have all contributed to London’s identity as a truly global city. How appropriate that on one of my last tube journeys I should see the following advertisement that so aptly describes my summer: “see the world – visit london”

FallA Speaker Series…Market-Based Solutions to Poverty

August 26, 2008

I couldn’t be more excited to announce a new speaker series for FallA that GIH has been helping organize along with two Acumen Fund Alumni, David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  The speaker series is titled: Enterprising Solutions: Market-Based Approaches for Reducing Global Poverty.

You can read all about the class including the specific topics and speakers for each week.  This class is going to be an excellent forum to discuss and learn about these newer market-based approaches to development.  My goal is to make the class as inter-disciplinary as possible by inviting students from across the campus to join the debate and dialogue about these topics.   We want to use this class to help students meet others who are interested in these same areas, regardless of their discipline.

This speaker series is the result of a partnership between GIH and two excellent ambassadors to this field: David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  David and Jocelyn have volunteered their time to lead lectures at the beginning of each class and used their fantastic network to recruit some top-notch speakers!  I can’t thank them enough for their dedication to making this class happen.

I look forward to seeing you in class!

-Roxanne Miller

GIH Co-Chair