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Abundance in Haiti?

May 16, 2012 1 comment

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a generous supporter of Grameen Foundation.  He is a regular source of important new ideas.  On that afternoon, he brought a book to my attention titled Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.  He said that it argued, rather convincingly in his view, that technologies that already exist or that are advancing rapidly are likely to resolve most of the crises facing humanity including energy and water shortages, the cost and accessibility of health care and education, and more.  Since then, I bought the book and read it, saw the authors featured on PBS Newshour, and was informed that Grameen Foundation (where I work) was going to give away copies at a gala that took place in late April (since a promoter of the book donated sufficient copies to do so).

An important new book  suggests that advancing technologies and microfinance working together can change the world dramatically

If even one-third of the book’s predictions come true, there are incredible opportunities before humanity to accelerate progress and reverse worrying trends for the benefit of both the rich and the poor, and everyone in between.  One of the interesting arguments is that microfinance is an important enabler of making these technologies available and accessible to the poor.  On page 10 the authors write: “…there are the very poorest of the poor, the so-called bottom billion, who are finally plugging into the global economy and are poised to become what I call ‘the rising billion.’  The creation of a global transportation network was the initial step down this path, but it’s the combination of the Internet, microfinance, and wireless communication technology that’s transforming the poorest of the poor into an emerging market force.  Acting alone, each of these three forces has enormous potential.  But acting together, amplified by exponentially growing technologies, the once-unimaginable become the now actually possible.”

In other words, if breakthrough technologies to improve agriculture, human health, education and access to clean energy are upon us, one of the best hopes for them reaching and benefitting the poor in places like Haiti are through the world’s microfinance institutions that already have people on the ground, the trust of the poor, and the ability to finance and encourage them to be early adopters.

Fonkoze’s Jacmel Branch (this is me on a balcony outside the second floor of the branch in 2006 — it was destroyed by the earthquake and today the branch is in a building one block away)

Especially in a country like Haiti where there are few if any national institutions working throughout the countryside, this reinforces the importance of the branch network that Fonkoze has created.  Debates go on within Fonkoze about whether the organization can sustain all of these branches – some are in very remote areas with limited economic activity.

Many argue that the network effect – what becomes possible when you have a large national presence – is a key differentiator for Fonkoze and should be defended, leveraged and expanded.  A growth plan to bring the total number of branches to 60, from the current level of 45, remains under active consideration.  While expensive and difficult to operate, especially with a virtually non-existent government and frequently uncooperative commercial partners, this network might end up being the secret weapon that enables new technologies to transform Haiti.

Bearing this in mind, I would definitely give Abundance a read.  It will likely leave you more optimistic and with a greater appreciation for the potential of branch networks of microfinance organizations like Fonkoze.

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