[TC-I Call to Action]: Total Immersion Programme in Finance and Development Summer Internships

The Centre for Development Finance (CDF) announces some very exciting internship opportunities for this summer.  If you’re looking for something more long term, word has it that CDF will likely be releasing postings for BoP related full time positions in the coming weeks… check back for more information!

Total Immersion Programme in Finance and Development (TIP/FD) – Summer 2009

CDF invites internship applications for the Summer 2009 IFMR “Total Immersion Program in Finance and Development (TIP/FD).”

Description of the program follows and application requirements follow below and in this CDF TIP document, and to apply please use the following link.

The TIP F/D provides undergraduate and graduate students interested in microfinance, development finance, and economic development an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in working on issues relating to access to financial services for urban and rural poor in a developing country. Interns will participate in a structured, two-week course directed by leading researchers, IFMR Centre Research Associates, and practitioners from the Indian government, microfinance institutions (MFIs), and NGOs. The course will be followed by eight weeks of work on a CDF projects which will consist of either field-based research, policy/sector wide studies or data analysis.  Past interns have completed stand-alone projects or worked to initiate, implement, and scale-up existing projects or pilots at the Centre.

The list of summer internship projects can be found online here and in this CDF Project Descriptions document. Interns may also be placed on another of CDF’s ongoing projects.

Internships are unpaid, although CDF will assist with housing and food or provide a small stipend of up to Rs 10,000/month toward living expenses. All interns are encouraged to obtain funding to cover international travel and personal expenses during the internship period.

This year, the TIP/FD will take place between June 8 and August 14, 2009. Applications will be accepted until April 15, 2009, although we encourage interested applicants to apply as soon as possible to ensure the best matching of interests and skills.

Positions of Particular Interest to the TCI Readership: Continue reading

Another failed development policy in the works?

A few headlines regarding the World Bank recently caught my eye, mostly because they are not the usual development headlines I am used to reading.  In the Business Standard‘s “Migration to urban areas is good, says World Bank,” and domain-b.com‘s “India’s rural job schemes are barriers to development: World Bank news,” the focus is on a new World Bank report that encourages a population shift from villages to cities.  More than that, the World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography says that current schemes to improve rural life are contrary to development, as pointed out by domain-b.com:

The central government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA) scheme and other poverty alleviation schemes act as policy barriers to economic development and perpetual alleviation of poverty, according to the World Bank.

In short, the report encourages the process of rural-urban migration.   This approach seems to be the  opposite of the upswing of efforts to address rural poverty and improve rural life so that the majority of India’s population has the same economic opportunity as in urban areas.  Instead of focus on rural schemes, the report advocates improving infrastructure in cities to boost economic activity.   Here is a quick look at the reasoning, as quoted by the Business Standard article:

“The world’s most geographically disadvantaged people know all too well that growth does not come to every place at once,” said Indermit S Gill, director of the World Development Report (WDR) and chief economist, Europe and Central Asia. “Markets favour some places over others. To fight this concentration is tantamount to fighting prosperity,” Gill added.

What does it mean for India when an international force such as the Bank supports a shift from rural to urban areas?  Will improving basic infrastructure in urban centers really address the pressure of large increases in city population?  While I’m not against migration as a whole, I remain skeptical about putting emphasis on encouraging rural to urban migration and discouraging rural schemes for poverty alleviation.  This debate also points back to an earlier post I wrote on urbanization.  Is this another development report gone bad?

mKrishi – More power at farmers’ hands

The Hindu reports about mKrishi (mobile Krishi) a mobile agro advisory system launched by Tata.  It can help farmers get personalized advise and updated information on their mobile phones about factors that may affect their crops such as weather.

Prima facie, this looks very similar to Nokia’s LifeTools that ThinkChange India reported a few days earlier.  However, there is one critical aspect in which mKrishi goes one step further. mKrishi mobile phones, that run on Tata Indicom’s network, are equipped with sensors that can read and send data about the current status of their crops.  This combined with an on-phone camera, should help agricultural experts provide specific advise experts understanding the on-field situation correctly.

According to K. Ananth Krishnan, vice-president and chief technology officer, TCS, personalised information and advice are given after farmers submit the soil nutrient and farming pattern data (The Hindu)

Further, it is also usable by illiterate farmers to make a query from a cell phone using voice-specific functions and get a response as an audio message.

This initiative has fetched TCS Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008. As I researched further to form my own opinion, I came across Ramesh Jain’s post on mKrishi.  He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Michgan, Ann Arbor and an entrepreneur.  I suppose his testimony should have better credibility than mine!

This project is truly revolutionary — it goes farther than most similar projects do.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Programme Head, Centre for Micro Finance

Lakshmi Krishnan of the Centre for Micro Finance, IFMR writes to us about a new opening in the organization.   This is particularly exciting for anyone interested in microfinance, research, and traveling throughout India.  Several classmates in graduate school had worked with IFMR and came away with good experiences after participating in breakthrough research.

IFMR CMF is now hiring a Programme Head in Chennai to manage a portfolio of 4-6 projects with a variety of partners. Read about the IFMR CMF Programme Head position for further information and contact information.

Get the world’s best brains on your R&D team

Social enterprises are often searching for sustainable breakthrough innovations, but lack the resources to invest in large-scale research and development.  One creative, and increasingly popular, solution to this problem is open innovation.  The basic concept is to utilize the collected knowledge of experts from around the world to solve design challenges.

One such tool is Innocentive, which has become the premier global marketplace for open innovation.  The website connects corporations and non-profits with thousands of brilliant minds from around the world. The best solution is awarded a cash prize by the sponsoring organization.

Social enterprises in India and around the world have posted numerous challenges on Innocentive and met with great success.  In an interview with Fast Company, Dwayne Spradlin of Innocentive discusses the growing trend of non-profits turning to open innovation.  He also explains how non-profits are able to generate interest even with small rewards,

We’re doing more in the non-profit space than ever. We’ve all come here to change the world and you do that by helping organizations of all types really address their challenges. It’s particularly rewarding to work in a challenge realm that can impact human life like people’s ability to drink clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.

Not-for-profit challenges, where there’s clearly some sort of a global good associated with it, tend to draw the attention of globally-minded solvers. That means that a $10,000 or $20,000 prize—which could be quite a bit for a not-for-profit to offer—is amplified dramatically because the dividends to the solver are not only the money.

Continue reading

UFV-CRRID partnership promises grassroot-level business development

Indian Express and Abbynews.com report that University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Canada and The Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “empower the rural entrepreneurs of North India.”

“India needs entrepreneurs at the grass roots level, and our partnership with CRRID allows us to fuel business start-ups and the development of SMEs outside the city centres, in the areas that need it most,” said Professor DJ Sandhu, UFV President’s Advisor.

A quick look at the university’s website to find out what the nature reveals some of the ways means of intervention this partnership will possibly employ.

…for example, students enrolled in UFV’s BBA degree at SDCC will be able to work with research faculty at  CRRID to implement projects aimed at uplifting businesses involved in such industries as agriculture and agrifoods.

In a way this partnership is similar to Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES), a partnership between TATA sons, UC Berkely and Cambridge University. Continue reading

Back to the drawing board? — A harsh look at microfinance

To start, I want to say that my mind has been racing despite sleep deprivation and jet lag since I touched down in Mumbai at 0135 IST this morning. This is the first I have set foot in India since 2005 and thus my first visit since the inception of TC-I, which makes the experience all the more exhilarating. But on to the post …

In the past, I have criticized microfinance’s shortcomings, particularly with regard to its inability to actually stimulate significant job creation. However, I also have recognized that despite its downfalls, microfinance still serves as a useful tool in the arsenal of a poverty alleviation strategy.

Now, microfinance has come under more scrutiny, as opponents argue that this financial product actually hurts the interests of the poor and that it can lead to the romanticization of the bottom of the pyramid, creating dangerous consequences. These new arguments further support my point that microfinance is relative to other approaches not an effective tool in combating poverty.

Continue reading

[Guest Post]: Financial Literacy and Microfinance – New Research

Editor’s Note: Aparna Dalal works with the Financial Access Initiative, a research consortium between New York University, Harvard, Yale, and Innovations for Poverty Action. FAI is focused on finding answers to how financial services can better meet the needs of poor households. FAI aims to provide rigorous research on the impacts of financial access and on innovative ways to improve access. Aparna previously guest posted on health microinsurance models.

Last week I attended a conference on cutting-edge research in microfinance.  Philanthropy Action live-blog presents in-depth coverage of the entire conference (see posts on Oct 17-18).  Many projects were based in India covering areas like credit, savings, insurance, product design and impact.

One panel revolved around financial literacy and its impact on savings.  With everyone, from the World Bank, to Citigroup, to Freedom from Hunger to IFC talking about financial literacy, it is important to understand what financial literacy really means. Does financial literacy mean teaching someone how to create a budget?  Does it mean teaching someone how to cut back on unnecessary expenses?  Does it mean teaching someone how to compare an interest rate and an APR?  Does it mean teaching someone how to read a rainfall gauge to determine their insurance payout?

The idea of whether the poor need financial literacy has generated considerable debate within the industry.  Muhammad Yunus (and others) argue that poor are good money managers with great financial acumen.  Others argue that the past three decades of experience suggest that education programs could play an important role in helping households better manage their financial lives.  Persistent borrowing, low saving, dealing with frequent emergencies are all indicators of poor financial planning skills – skills that could be improved through well-designed education programs.

It is difficult to tease out the exact effect of these programs, which makes this type of research all the more challenging.  Further, the diverse nature of the programs (as indicated in the questions above) makes understanding the components and structures of the programs critical.

Which Country is #1 for Social Entrepreneurs?

A quick insight from Ryan Gunderson of Riches for Good: India is the most favored country for social entrepreneurs around the world. According to his research, India has “over 75% of the top organizations [in the field] working there.”

Why is India the clear favorite for social entrepreneurs? The obvious answer is market opportunity. India has a population of 1.1 billion people, or 1/6 of the world’s population. According to the CIA World Factbook, approximately 1/4 of these people, or about 300 million people, live below the nation’s poverty line. GDP per capita at PPP is $2,500, or about $7 per day, which is high enough that market-based approaches to poverty alleviation can be effective. And industrial output is growing at 8.5% per year, so MNCs are eager to capitalize on growth and show good corporate citizenship in the process. So whether you’re a for-profit or a non-profit, be prepared to answer the question “What’s your India Strategy?”

His findings confirm that social entrepreneurship is playing a key role in India’s growth. Check out his complete list and methodology here.

Job Opportunities with the Centre for Microfinance

The Centre for Microfinance, an organization that focuses on research, training, and strategy for MFIs, posted about exciting new job opportunities:

The Centre for Micro Finance (CMF) has recently posted several new job openings, and we thought that some of this blog’s readers may be interested. New positions include:
• Programme Head – Analytics Unit
• Regional Field Director – West Zone
• Visual Basic Programmer

To learn more, check out the job openings section of CMF’s website, linked here. If you have any questions, please reach out to us at cmfhr@ifmr.ac.in.

Extreme Affordability

We at ThinkChange India, have reported (and discussed) extensively on serving people at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP). One such initiative is the Entreprenurial Design for Extreme Affordability effort under the aegis of Stanford Institute of Design.

The name clearly conveys the objective of the initiative – innovating in design to gain advantage in terms of cost – which in turn helps the product being available to a larger chunk of the population. Their mission is

To treat the poor as customers, not as charity recipients. We believe in listening to the needs the poor tell us about, not assuming we know best. We believe in products and services designed for specific cultural contexts, not just Western hand-me-downs. And we believe that careful attention to design can create innovative-and extremely affordable-solutions to the problems of the other 90%.

Exactly the same idea as espoused by BoP approach. The center believes it is high time that we start designing and creating products and services for less fortunate chunk of the society.

An interesting project being undertaken is Embrace – an infant incubator that costs around USD 25. The project also won the 2008 Echoing Green Fellowship. Needless to say in a country like India, where medical facilities, especiall at the rural level, leave much to be desired, innovations like these will help India correct the currenly skewed social indicators. They are currently preparing for clinical trials in – you guessed it right – India 🙂

Read more about product here. Also do read about other ongoing projects under Entreprenurial Design for Extreme Affordability.

Job Opportunity with BRAC Development Institute

Please contact ajaita.shah[at]gmail.com if you are interested in applying for the following:

BRAC Development Institute, BRAC University, Bangladesh

Seeking Young Professionals

for a Challenging Career in International Development

BRAC Development Institute (BDI) is looking for bright, young professionals, interested in an exciting career in development and research.  Selected applicants will be part of a core team that will coordinate different research activities and help build up the Institute. The team will be based in Dhaka and have access to the different activities of BRAC and a wide range of other development organizations.  

The recently created BRAC Development Institute seeks to promote research and build knowledge on practical solutions to problems of the poor in the global South.  It is anchored in the basic ethos of BRAC – developing solutions to the challenges of poverty, inequity, exclusion and social injustice. BDI is a space for academics and practitioners in the South (or working in the South) to come together to raise critical questions on development. It will build knowledge around exciting initiatives in the South, focus on developing new ideas and new strategies, pilot test such ideas and provide important lessons on good practices for practitioners, policy makers and funders. Continue reading

The Size of India’s (And Your) Water Footprint

While reading an article called “Water Footprints Make a Splash,” I was immediately intrigued by the concept of a water footprint. What exactly is a water footprint? Author Ben Block uses coffee to illustrate:

If the full water requirements of a morning roast are calculated – farm irrigation, bean transportation, and the serving of the coffee – one cup requires 140 liters of water.

Water footprints measure the complete cycle and at all levels of a water’s use. The Water Footprint website explains that

the water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

And how does India’s water footprint fare? Block’s article reveals: Continue reading

Ceding the floor to the other side, even if just for a moment

The greater point is that not all products and services are the same, and in some cases creating sustainable markets may be all but impossible. Though it is certainly not “ideologically attractive,” I strongly believe Kremer and Miguel are correct in reminding us that for at last some essential public goods and services “There may simply be no alternative to ongoing subsidies financed by tax revenue raised either from local or national governments, or international donors.”

This is the penultimate paragraph of a great post by Dan Kopf on the India Development Blog. It recognizes an unfortunate yet necessary limitation to the quest for finding sustainable solutions for some problems. Sometimes, you cannot do it. But the most poignant comment of this post is the recognition that accepting that such goods exist will be very unpopular in today’s development community.

The paper that Knopf referrs to, titled the “Illusion of Sustainability”, can be found here.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

The Summer Olympics takes place every four years. So does another, lesser-known event: the Copenhagen Consensus Conference (CCC). The forum involves a group of established and renowned economists discussing the world’s problems, and then prioritizing ways to address those issues. A 2005 video from TED Talks features Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, who explained the rationale behind CCC. He called the project “the defense for boring problems,” and noted that the solutions are prioritized without concern of making us, or the media, “feel good.”

Comparing the list from 2004 and 2008 shows a shift in priorities. The top four in 2004: Control of HIV/AIDS, Providing Malnutrients, Trade Liberalization, and Control of Malaria. In contrast, 2008 shows the top four as: Micronutrient Supplements for Children, The Doha Development Agenda, Micronutrient Fortification, and Expanded Immunization Coverage for Children.

The list is made with a global viewpoint – so to think about it from India’s perspective is interesting. Would the priorities still be the same for India? Also, keep in mind that this prioritization occurred from the economic mindset. I’ve always had an issue with this, since that means that a cost-benefit analysis is going to occur – which in turn means that everything must be quantified. But do the numbers always tell the full story, or is it a neat and packaged way to explain things?

In the video about the 2004 list, Mr Lomborg explains why these were listed as “good” projects instead of, say, climate change. Climate change, although picked up widely by the media, is very expensive given the little impact money has – according the video, spending $150 billion per year would postpone global warming by only six years. On the other hand, spending $27 billion over eight years on controlling HIV/AIDS would avoid 28 million new cases of the disease. Liberalizing trade would supposedly bring $2,400 billion dollars into the world, half of which would go to the Third World and help lift millions out of poverty very fast – but, as Mr Lomborg points out, movies aren’t made about trade, and it doesn’t necessarily make us “feel good.” Continue reading