Friday
September 25
2009

Francisco Noguera

Here’s Some Reading for the Weekend

I’m finally back in my Washington DC home, having spent the better part of the summer working from my other home in Colombia. While I enjoy almost every aspect of being on the go, traveling implies an almost inevitable distraction from routines and habits that I cherish, many of which relate to reading. For instance, I love to walk down to my neighborhood’s coffee shop and read the Sunday New York Times; I love to pick up and skim through The Onion on my way home and I eagerly look forward to getting ahold of the writings of Hertzberg and his colleagues every week.

Being back home also means catching up and tuning on to my BoP-related reading. Well, as I expected it to be, my mailbox was packed with good stuff that I’m currently working on. Following are a couple of pieces I thought I’d share in case you’re interested in bringing some home for the weekend.

Most notable in my mailbox was the Spring Issue of Innovations, the excellent journal published jointly by MIT, Harvard and George Mason University. One piece in it caught my eye immediately: Matt Flannery’s Kiva at Four. Matt is exceptionally candid, both in speech and in writing and it has been very fortunate to have his voice for those of us passionate about social enterprise and, more generally, about the process involved in turning ideas into organizations. I strongly encourage you to read Matt’s previous piece in Innovations back when Kiva was 2, as well as his blog post concerned with the not-so-successful periods of the organization’s history. Through all these pieces, Matt reminds us of an inescapable truth: human beings do not scale; organizations (in the forms of values, systems and processes) do, and with them, the impact of meaningful ideas. Building them is an iterative process and embracing transparency as a habit, as Matt wisely phrases it, pays off good dividends.

The latest issue of the Stanford Social Innovation review is next on my list. In fact, when I was about to tackle it, the Economist’s special report on moblie phones (most specifically mobile money) and development popped in the mail and I couldn’t resist taking a stab at it. Any discussion around mobile money begins by discussing the case of M-PESA and the reasons why Safaricom’s success in Kenya has been only timidly replicated in other geographies. (By the way, the issue of Innovations that ai Mentioed above also has an excellent article on the design of mobile money services, based, of course, on M-PESA’s case). After the intro, ot goes on to discuss other interesting elements that are shaping up the role and potential of mobile services among the world’s poor. The article addresses the trends of liberalization and business model innovation in the telecom carriersindustry, the explosion of beyond-voice-and-text services and the promise for widespread access to the Internet as the next wave.

While reading the report I found myself thinking that all the discussions and examples of mobile phones/money at the base of the pyramid start from the assumption that hardware and technology are SMS-based. Does this have to be the case? In other words, is it likely that smart phones and all their versatility will soon reach BoP markets? My impression is that the answer will be yes much sooner that later but if you want a couple of extra arguments to favor or counter this position, make sure to read a recent blog post written by Frogtek’s David del Ser and Mark Pedersen, whose application and many other associated to the same concept could flourish in the event that smart phones “cross the BoP chasm“.

With that, happy weekend! I look forward to discussing any of these pieces with any of you.

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