What we’re reading this week

There are an incredible number of thoughtful and exciting initiatives taking place around the world.  Here are a few we read about this week that are particularly interesting:

Development as freedom.  Great discussion on whether group microfinance truly empowers women, or is just a different form of control. He cites several examples from Bangladesh and India and concludes: In sum, I see financial services as inherently empowering—after all, they exist to help people manage their financial affairs—but not automatically so. . . Loans are most worrisome from the perspective of development as freedom. The more the microfinance movement moves away from credit and toward savings, insurance, and money transfers, the more it will realize its potential to empower.

Cash for innovation.  Many are using competitions to solicit new ideas to solve problems.  The United States of America’s Government has received much positive press about using novel funding models to reward creativity and engage communities in problem-solving.  Private Foundations like McKinsey are holding contests for social innovation and generating a lot of buzz.  Internally, the Strategic Partnership Arrangement seems like is a similar competition! Particularly interesting are the findings relating to who solves the problem.  You may be surprised to learn that it’s not always those with the most “technical expertise.”  From the article: This seems bizarre, but it is consistent with scientific history, which shows that innovation occurs when knowledge from one scientific discipline is applied to another.   “Innovation happens when someone comes in from a different perspective and breaks a problem open,” says Lakhani.  “But rarely do we have mechanisms in place so this happens systematically.”  Prizes provide that mechanism.  What other mechanisms can you think of that could help BRAC tap into the great potential for cross-pollination and idea generation?

Radio + SMS.  As if community radio (Radio Pollikontho) weren’t innovative enough, here’s an article about linking it with a free application to enable listeners to participate and communicate with the DJs via SMS.   Can technology increase community leadership or engagement with a local radio station?  Can it increase social responsibility and action? BRAC has already launched one application to engage communities via technology (such as the recently launched Icress that BRAC ICT build with the Human Rights and Legal Services Programme), and many are thinking about how to do more.

What are you reading this week?  If you come across something you think would have a broad interest to others at BRAC, please send it to us and we’ll happily share it for you.

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