Francisco Noguera

Friday Roundup – 1/14/11: Reflecting on Enteprise and Disaster Recovery

Let me try to build an argument starting from two seemingly unrelated ends.

The first end is Brazil, which has been prominent on the NextBillion agenda this week, and particularly the unavoidable discussion of economic inequality that follows any conversation about the country. Closing the inequality gap can be seen as an opportunity for pro-poor business innovation, argues a recent Economist piece on Brazilian innovation. Starting on Monday we’ll be tracking those opportunities and the way Brazil responds to them, with a stronger presence on the ground through our new NextBillion Brasil.

The second point I would offer is a reflection about our fragility and our increasing exposure to extreme events that turn our world upside down in a matter of minutes. The Earth clears its throat and we little humans suffer consequences that last for generations.

I have been thinking about this second point a lot this week. Haitian homes crumbled like gingerbread a year ago this week; TV reports on the situation a year after the earthquake are followed by images of the floods in rich Brisbane, which remind us that the excessive rains seen by Pakistan and Colombia in 2010 will be more, not less frequent and strong in countries rich and poor in the coming decades. The most impressive pieces of our making are unable to cope with the scale of these disasters. The US Federal Government closed an entire week when I was still in Washington DC a year ago; there just weren’t enough plows. The most massive bureaucracy on earth just stopped. 777s and A380s were on the ground in 2010 more hours than ever expected, unable to fly through the ashes of a volcano or the might of a snow storm.

In this context, a forum like NextBillion begs the question of what role it is that enterprise and markets have in disaster relief. Admitting that my research is not yet thorough, not a whole lot seems to be written about it. The last two issues of MIT’s Innovations are a great place to start, however, having covered social innovation models in post-Katrina New Orleans and post-earthquake Haiti. This last one features an intriguing piece on the role of ICTs in disaster recovery, commented by entrepreneurs Josh Nesbit, from FrontlineSMS: Medic, and Leila Chirayath Janah from Samasource, as well as an article by AIDG’s Catherine Laine whose organization is a clear leader in the quest for sustainable solutions in Haiti.

For an additional take on post-earthquake Haiti, I would recommend Michael Fairbanks’s reflection on the state of the country a year after the earthquake, which describes enterprise-based development alternatives that are possible, ironically, thanks to the endemic inequality that characterizes the very island of Hispaniola. Indeed, disaster recovery is often where innovation begins to flourish and the gaps of inequality can close more rapidly. If anything else, a disaster reminds us of our common fragilities and shared aspirations.

In December, Wharton took the lead by organizing the first conference looking at disaster relief from a business perspective; if you were there, it would be great to hear some of the proceeds from it. Beyond this individual conference, this Friday roundup invites us to start a reflection on the role of business and entrepreneurship in disaster relief areas.

We are working on an extended series on the same topic, for which we’ll happily accept your recommendations and suggestions.

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In case you missed it: NextBillion this week

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