I have watched many people set out to start something completely new as a way to increase social impact. I have even started a few such ventures – such as Grameen Foundation – myself. It takes a lot to launch a successful start-up, including courage and, dare I say, cojones. There is significant risk involved, and with the upside of transformation comes the often looming downside of humiliating failure.
Blog Posts By: Alex Counts
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The movement to end poverty lost a great friend and champion earlier this month when Margaret Crow passed away in Dallas, Texas. Mrs. Crow was a generous donor, warm host and fearless traveler when it came to poverty reduction through microfinance, especially in Latin America, and most memorably in Chiapas, Mexico. She believed deeply in Grameen Foundation’s work to advance the elimination of poverty, and actively supported Chiapas International, our long-time partner in the Dallas area, during the last decade of her life.
I met Mrs. Crow through her daughter, our former board member Lucy Billingsley. Mrs. Crow took part in a memorable trip to Chiapas in 2003, leading a delegation of 30 female business leaders, professionals and philanthropists to spend a long weekend with the leaders, staff and loan clients of AlSol, a Grameen Foundation partner based in the charming colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas.
Just as increasing use of a “gender lens” has transformed thinking about and the practice of international development in recent decades, so too can behavioral economics in the near future. In some cases, this discipline explains and reaffirms current practice. In other cases, the study of behavioral economics provides an alternative explanation of why some things work and others don’t. In still other cases, it suggests that current thinking and so-called “best practices” are wrong and counter-productive. Now and then, it prompts us to consider readopting a practice that has fallen out of favor.
Now, I will comment on the specific insights and implications I see for microfinance and international development when looked at through a behavioral economics lens.
The field of behavioral economics – the intersection of psychology and economics – is fairly new. This is a partial explanation of why its lessons have not yet been applied much to microfinance and anti-poverty programs generally. But this is clearly changing, and none-too-soon, as microfinance in particular is in need of reinvention and rebranding.
In fact, I am coming to believe that thoughtful applications of behavioral economics can be a central part of defining and realizing the idea of “responsible microfinance” that the Microfinance CEO Working Group and others are championing and also “full financial inclusion” that moves the dial on poverty.
This post by Alex Counts was originally published on his blog, where he describes the process of writing a book on Haitian microfinance pioneer Fonkoze. It has been a few weeks since I have posted on this blog, but I have continued to study and to work inside Fonkoze all along. Now I feel like I finally have a juicy topic to write about and time to do so. In response to my post on outcomes and impact (as opposed to inputs) in poverty reduction programs, Meredith Kimbell, a top-notch management consultant in the Washington, DC area whom I have known for years, mentioned the book Better by a physician named Atul Gawande, and in particular a chapter towards the end titled “The Bell Curve.” I read the entire book, which is basically about how the practice of medicine has been and can be improved (with lessons for other disciplines). I found that the book had some important lessons for the effort to end poverty through holistic approaches to microfinance such as those employed by Fonkoze.
Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.
Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation. He recently wrote this post on his own blog. We have included an excerpt below, followed by a link to the full post.
Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World. At Grameen Foundation, we often talk of the concept of “tipping,” which was popularized by the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I define the concept as taking something, such as an idea or a product, to the point where it starts to spread virally, exponentially and without much additional effort. For an organization like Grameen Foundation that works with limited resources to make significant impact on a global problem such as poverty, it is a very important concept. Through tipping, our early seeding and nurturing of innovations can lead to their widespread adoption by poor people, the organizations that serve them, and even by businesses and governments.
Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World. On Wednesday, May 9, I had the pleasure of attending a book signing event at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City. Meera Gandhi, a long-time Grameen Foundation donor and volunteer whose husband Vikram sits on our Board of Directors, has come out with a beautiful and moving book. It is titled simply Giving Back. I was fortunate to arrive early enough that I was able to get my copy signed early, and didn’t have to wait in the long line that formed later.
Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World. I first met Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations, through one of our greatest Grameen Foundation Board members, Lucy Billingsley. When Isobel and I were introduced to each other, she was running a small program at the Council focused on women’s issues. She has since grown it into a flagship initiative of this prestigious institution, and her reputation as a researcher and thought-leader has naturally grown along the way. I was therefore very pleased when she invited me to speak as part of her Women and Technology series last week, alongside Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S.