Nathan Wyeth

Weekly Roundup: Stand with Haiti

It’s impossible to write a summary of news from this week, even for a blog that concerns itself with the everyday struggles of people in often desperate poverty, without the situation in Port-au-Prince making new research reports and blog posts seem at some level trivial.

First and foremost, I expect NextBillion readers are a resourceful group and so I urge looking at the list on TED’s blog of the non-monetary needs of Partners in Health in case you can contribute something that’s otherwise difficult to procure with speed. Beyond that, if a monetary contribution is what you can make, I trust PIH to continue now the good work they’ve been doing for so long in Haiti.

What is there to say about the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath? While oriented towards people living in deeply marginalized situations, the approaches covered by NextBillion are generally ones that require a basic level of socioeconomic stability – a reasonable business climate – in order to be relevant. But I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that the the sooner relief efforts in Haiti can become development and empowerment efforts, the better, and this is not simply a matter of seeing things only through an enterprise lens.

At the point when Port-au-Prince’s physical infrastructure has been utterly demolished, the social infrastructure that exists and can be built in the course of relief and stabilization is really all that is left, and becomes that much more important. Where social infrastructure is emphasized, indigenous strength can overcome tragedy, but when the organizations leading relief or peacekeeping efforts remain the only thing holding society together, there is no recovery. In this space innovative community organizations and social businesses would be critical.

It goes without saying that investment in these kinds of efforts is what Haiti has long needed, and that the earthquake was much more deadly because of vulnerability created by poverty. We will have done little more than assuage our own empathy towards Haiti today if aid efforts are simply intended to stabilize the situation where it was before the earthquake.

Nathaniel Whittemore says it well in reference to Rwanda: “One of the most remarkable stories of the last twenty years is Rwanda’s post genocide rebirth… Should there be any hope that Haiti can do the same, we must recognize it deserves far more than just relief.” One can hope that attention will not dry up when emergency funds do, that any need for stabilization by the military forces being sent to Haiti won’t interrupt efforts to nurture a stable democracy, and that what gets built in Port-au-Prince is not only earthquake-resistant buildings but opportunities for the people there to rebuild their own lives.

If relief efforts give way to the social efforts necessary for this to happen, if aid gives way to a whole range of social investment from the same kinds of organizations that have been investing in Rwanda, Haitians can make Haiti in the Western Hemisphere and this decade what Rwanda was to Africa in the last.

With that said, the news of the week from outside Haiti:

Please note that we’ve just posted two events on the Take Action page coming up in a few weeks – Market, Poverty, and Inclusive Business in Latin America on February 2 in Barcelona, and Alleviating Poverty Through Enterprise summit at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio on February 5.

If I had to pick one trend that we will hear a lot more about this year, in the Next Billion newsroom and elsewhere, it would be mobile banking and mobile payments at the base of the pyramid. Last week I had the chance to sit down with Ben Lyon of FrontlineSMS Credit, who was gracious enough to give me a tutorial on what mobile payments and banking really look like – I hope to have the chance to say more about FrontlineSMS Credit soon. For now, CGAP, McKinsey, and the GSM Association are working together to actually measure the extent of the unbanked population and potential mobile money market globally. It’s estimated to be almost 4 billon, including a billion who have a mobile phone but no bank account. Their first country study, of the mobile money potential in the Philippines, is just out.

More research: a detailed analysis of the introduction on a commercial basis of solar LED lanterns in Malawi came out this week from the Millennium Villages Project. The writeup documents a sharp decrease in household spending on kerosene – the savings from which is what the commercial proposition of solar lanterns hinges on. Better lighting for children to study by is an appealing image for solar electrification – in this case people appreciated the lighting even more for cooking and eating. Overall, it’s a very detailed snapshot of the introduction of a product that is being introduced across Africa and the world increasingly broadly and with the intention to take hold commercially.

Across the globe but on the same subject of community energy, Mathias Craig of blueEnergy writes periodic but thoughtful updates on the work and growth of his company on the ground in Nicaragua. In December he took at stab at articulating the divisions in the global economy that updates the worn-out First World/Third World taxonomy. This week in another thoughtful post he discusses blueEnergy’s trials interacting as a community-oriented business with development banks, European development agencies, government bureaucracy, and staying “adaptive” as the company navigates a long-term vision, uncertain project funding, and dedication to a local community.