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.
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At Grameen Foundation, our goal is to spur innovation in the global movement to eliminate extreme poverty. Part of that work is to develop better solutions and share them with people like you.
On GF Insights, we share lessons learned from our leaders in the field, news about efforts to expand access to financial and information services for the poor, and how poverty-focused organizations are using data to improve the way they work.
Julius Matovu is the Research and Program Coordinator for Grameen Foundation's AppLab Money Incubator. Let me introduce two interesting petty traders based in Owino market – the busiest market in downtown Kampala. They are Akim, a secondhand-shoes trader, and Patrick, a secondhand-clothes dealer.
Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service. One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton. As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer. I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job. Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work. Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not. The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.
Julia Arnold is a program associate for Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative, and will graduate from American University in May with a master’s degree in international development.
As a graduate student at American University and a Grameen Foundation employee, I have studied international development in the classroom and have seen it in practice through my work with Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative in India, Ethiopia and the Philippines, and our livelihoods work in India. This unique vantage point has given me many opportunities to reflect on the relationship between what is taught in school and what is done in the “real world” of international development. On a recent trip to one of the project sites of our microsavings project, I began to truly appreciate the difference between classroom theories and realities of the lives of the poorest.
[caption id="attachment_2112" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Clients of Indian microfinance institution Cashpor take a break during a group meeting, where poor women like these meet to make payments on microloans and to make deposits in their savings accounts."][/caption]
During our visit to the holy Indian city of Varanasi, my colleagues and I visited the homes of some of the urban and rural clients of Cashpor, a microfinance institution (MFI) we’re working with to deliver microsavings services to their ultra-poor clients. It was a privilege to be welcomed into the homes of the families for whom Cashpor provides access to vital financial services. The women I met were beautiful in their bright saris – and serious about their membership in the self-help groups (SHGs).
Though I was inspired by their resilience and determination, the women also bore the marks of very difficult lives. They were extremely small – a result of malnourishment – and extremely poor. Those in urban areas lived in one- or two-room homes in concrete apartment structures with little more than a bed and a curtain for a door, while those in rural areas shared their small homes with their precious livestock. One urban family lived in a very small room in an apartment that didn’t hold much more than a bed – shared among seven family members. The youngest of the five children was badly scarred from surgery for a broken leg and would never walk properly again. Though most of the children wore school uniforms and were enrolled, I struggled to imagine where they studied or how long it would be before they would be pulled from school to help earn income for the family.
Several truths jumped out at me as a result of meeting these clients. These truths had been spoken during my classes, but I was not able to fully appreciate them until traveling to India to meet these women.
Matt Inbusch worked as an intern for Grameen Foundation’s Marketing and Communications team during the spring of 2012.
What a moment to come back from the field! After three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Peru, I briefly returned to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, over the Christmas holiday, and then – probably a little too soon for my mother’s liking – bought a one-way ticket to Washington. I was fortunate to be offered an internship at Grameen Foundation’s headquarters, and jumped right into the day-to-day work of what I believe is one of the most innovative development organizations around. My eight weeks at Grameen Foundation have given me a good perspective on the incredibly exciting crossroads facing the development “industry” in 2012.
[caption id="attachment_2104" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="In his final year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, Matt worked in Santa Lucia, a small village in the coastal department of Ica. He’s shown here with beneficiaries of the work he did as a rural-sanitation consultant, building eco-latrines and clean cookstoves for poor families as part of an earthquake-recovery project funded by the German government."][/caption]
I was in for more than a few shocks upon my return to the US , but my own cultural readjustment pales in comparison to the changes that non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aid agencies and governments are making in response to new developments in developing countries. Actually that’s not the whole story; it’s really a two-way street, where unprecedented innovation is happening both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The result is a total paradigm shift.
I know I’m not the first to observe some serious flaws in the traditional development model, but I have to say I count myself very much among those who want more than the “aid” concept, which – for most of the last 60 years – has meant hand-outs and feel-good solutions, rather than a hand up and a focus on organic, sustainable systems. That’s why it’s so exciting to be getting my feet wet in this space right now. Technological innovation, market-based strategies and a growing public consciousness are combining to drive game-changing approaches that I see in three big 2012 headliners: David Roodman, KONY and Occupy.