Rob Katz

Book and Blog Reviews – To Read and Not To Read

Keeping up with the JonesesFor many suburbanites, success is sometimes measured by one’s ability to keep up with the Joneses.? For me, the clich? changes only slightly–to keeping up with the Christines.? My friend and colleague Christine Bowers of the World Bank’s Private Sector Development Blog has an enviable tendency to scoop me on stories I’ve been meaning to write.? It’s happened twice in the past few days: first, Christine reviewed two books I’ve read and have been meaning to comment on; then today, she updated her blogroll, a task I’ve been meaning to do for a while now (and just completed).? Anyway, my hat’s off to you, Christine.? Go read the PSD Blog if you don’t already–and keep reading to hear what I have to say about Make Poverty Business, You Can Hear Me Now, and which new blogs are worth reading and tracking in the BOP universe.

Books are a tricky subject.? BOP books are a trickier subject, since it’s difficult to be groundbreaking unless you have a huge amount of new data or a wildly different strategic innovation.? Peter Wilson and Craig Wilson (no relation, I think) attempt to be groundbreaking in their new book, Make Poverty Business.? Unfortunately, their well-meaning attempt falls well short of success.? I received a copy of the Wilsons’ manuscript some months ago, and gave it a close read.? I kept waiting for some sort of new theory, example, strategy, or data–but as I read, none came. ?This is a pretty basic introduction to BOP theory and practice, which disappoints because the authors claim in the first chapter to be moving away from the ’guru cycle’ of BOP authors.? They introduce some new anecdotes and write in a welcome, engaging style, but what the Wilsons claim to be new and innovative is just more of the same–engage local communities, build reliable partners, work around governance issues, etc.? My notes on the book say ’this feels like a BOP literature review’ and that’s what it is.? If you want a good introduction to the BOP ideas and don’t want to read C.K. Prahalad or Stuart Hart, pick up Make Poverty Business.? Otherwise, I’d advise you to look elsewhere–like the authors’ blog, which does a good job of getting down to business on details (e.g., environmental impact) overlooked in the book.

On the other hand (and continuing my break from Christine’s review), I enjoyed the forthcoming You Can Hear Me Now, by Nick Sullivan.? This is a history of sorts, about how Iqbal Quadir came to launch Grameen Phone.? Sullivan doesn’t claim to offer new or different strategies to engage BOP markets; he simply sets out to tell the tale of an expat Bengali and his innovative phone company.? You Can Hear Me Now is well-written and very engaging, as the author enjoyed good access to some of the stories’ major players.? A smart manager can learn from Grameen Phone without being led by the hand, and Sullivan’s storytelling and analysis open up the case in a way that we haven’t before seen.? The book’s out next month; in the mean time, check out his blog.

As if you didn’t have enough to read already, check out the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (which I wrote about before) and their excellent blog.? The primary author is Catherine Laine, who posts a mix of international development, environmental conservation, small business development, and technology innovation stories, as well as from-the-field updates on AIDG projects.? It’s well-written, oft-updated, and comprehensive.

Finally, the Technology, Health & Development Blog also merits mention.? The authors don’t always talk about the impact of business, but they understand that the private sector plays an important role in service delivery at the BOP, and their posts reflect it.? Check them out and bookmark them–or subscribe.