April 15

Francisco Noguera

Friday Roundup – 4/15/11: New Books Dive Deep into “Poor Economics” and Prosperity in BoP Markets

Two new books hit the shelves in the last few weeks. Both are very relevant to the development community and especially NextBillion’s development through enterprise dialogue. Both books shy away from big, catch-all diagnosis of world poverty, focusing on rather micro-level interventions and specific questions related to the behavior and mindsets of the poor. Both come from Cambridge Massachussetts, by the way.

The first one is Poor Economics, by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. Drawing from the authors’ experience and the data gathered by MIT’s J-PAL, Poor Economics summarizes conclusions and ideas that emerge from looking at development through the lens of randomized control trials (RCTs). I’ll save a full review for next week when I’ve finished the book, but I thought I’d use today’s roundup to point you to the book and the excellent website that accompanies it.

Despite the strengths and shortcomings of RCTs (this post by Brian Trelstad points to an interesting critique of the approach), the ideas of Duflo and her partners have changed the tone and emphasis of the development conversation. The texts and photographs of Poor Economics consistently regard the poor as individuals who make decisions and respond to incentives on a daily basis. Rather than catch-all diagnoses, they drill down into the behavioral traits that make some development interventions/ social enterprises work and others fail.

This on-the-ground perspective is refreshing and the resulting stories a pleasure to read. As Tim Ogden writes this week on the SSIR blog, our sector needs more small thinking, an understanding of which might be the largest contribution of the renowned J-PAL.

The second book on my desk is Eric Kacou’s Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity in BoP Markets. Similar to Duflo and J-PAL, Kacou looks at the choices and mindsets that are underlying to the success and failure of enterprise solutions to poverty challenges. I had a chance to meet Eric recently and ask him a few questions about his book and ideas. Stay tuned for an interview transcript coming live on NextBillion at the crack of dawn on Monday.

This week also saw the launch of a new project by Michael Fairbanks and our allies at SEVEN Fund: The Daedelus Experiment. A convening of many of the world’s prominent voices on economic development, the Experiment brings new ideas to the questions of development and looks at possible scenarios in a world where the influence of emerging markets is growing, and the approaches of traditional aid (as conceived by the U.S. and industrialized nations in the last five decades) become less and less relevant -or at least less and less the only available option. We’ll be following what continues to come out of the Experiment. For a primer, make sure to take a look here.

In case you missed it: NextBillion this Week

rural development