Five Questions For the Guru of CGAP’s Forays into Blogging
CGAP recently launched a new blog on technology and microfinance, led by Communications Officer Jim Rosenberg. Jim has a preternaturally polite nature and speaks with a delicate inflection that almost belies some of the intense experiences of his journalistic background (covering the wreckage at the Pentagon on September 12, 2001 comes to mind). In a recent interview with NextBillion.net, he discusses his vision for this online space and tells us what a microfinance blog means for the underserved and the development community alike.
A somewhat provocative starter: 2.5 billion people in the world are without access to finance. How does blogging help them?
Let’s be honest, those people who lack access to finance are probably not reading the blog. However, the microfinance community, the mobile phone sector, commercial banks that are trying to expand services to the poor, journalists who cover these issues, people curious about mobile phone banking or smart cards – they are reading the blog. Hopefully the work we’re doing is useful to them, or we’re pointing them towards interesting news or research that others are doing. Since we launched in September we’ve logged visits from 136 countries. We have a mandate from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other CGAP member donors to share what we are learning, and to raise awareness about how technology can increase access to finance for poor people.
It seems like many development institutions have blogs these days – what will separate CGAP’s?
Ideally we’ll be complimentary to the good things that other people are doing already. We have two key objectives for the blog: 1) increase awareness about how technology can expand reach and reduce cost for access to finance and 2) provide a way for CGAP research and learning to be shared in a rapid way.
As someone who watches the online space for development issues, in what way do these blogs reflect the institutions that run them? What do these blogs tell us about the development space?
What I’m seeing is that development organizations are feeling the need – and responding to the challenge – to prove their value and demonstrate relevance to their external constituencies. That’s a good thing. Institutions that feel insular, distant, or unaccountable to the people they serve are in big trouble. Communication is now a conversation – it isn’t about developing a message and then forcing it on people. One of my favorite blogs (aside from nextbillon.net of course) is the PSDBlog at the World Bank. It strikes a nice balance between 1) reacting to the news of the day and 2) providing a platform for World Bank research and messages.
What is your vision for this online development space in ten years? Where is it and what is it accomplishing at that point?
I think the most exciting thing going on right now – and indicative of what is next – is that people in developing countries are finding their online voices. The number of blogs written in Hindi is skyrocketing. Blogger has Hindi as a standard feature now. Global Voices Online pulls together the blogosphere from all over the planet, it’s one of my favorite sites. One can only imagine how this will change as the web becomes less English language-centric. That means development organizations will have to adjust their online presence in order to reach audiences with different profiles.
I have to ask – as a former business reporter (someone who had direct contact with corporations and knows the field well), do you think the BoP concept fits into the worldview of big business?
There’s an exciting confluence of trends that may make it inevitable to some degree. First, environmental awareness means development has to be sustainable. At the same time, companies have to be seen to be doing good things – the world is too small and communication has become cheap and fast. Finally, consider this: Where are companies going to get the most growth – through incremental expansion in existing markets or by reaching new markets altogether? Why is Buick a strong seller in China? What does it mean that half of the handsets Nokia makes in Chennai are exported to 58 countries in Africa and Asia? Catalyzing the private sector to do the right thing – in a commercially viable way – is essential. That’s part of what we’re trying to do with microfinance and technology.
Many thanks to Jim Rosenberg for his comments – you can browse the CGAP Technology and Microfinance blog here.