Microfinance – contribution on poverty reduction: zero

Development agencies have promoted microfinance — the provision of small financial loans to poor people — because it is supposed to help poor people move out of poverty. After a comprehensive review of existing studies, with particular focus on recent randomized control trials, Roodman says that just isn't true. "On current evidence, the best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero," he argues.

Roodman does find, though, that the while microcredit isn't a successful approach to poverty reduction, "it's not the financial equivalent of cigarettes." Wow. That's comforting.

Another reason for justifying microcredit is that it offers poor people, particularly women, greater control over their financial lives. Roodman says the evidence is mixed on that count too. Some women may have been empowered, but others have been forced to repay loans when it wasn't best for them. Cross-collateralization groups become burdensome, not emancipating, and at their worst, they lead to situations where people rob from each other to pay off their debts.

The third benefit is that microfinance represents a new industry that generates jobs and services. Roodman does say that the evidence is generally positive here. Microfinance institutions do "compete and innovate, cater to poor people, create jobs, and enrich the national economic fabric." According to Roodman, the cumulative amount of subsidized capital in microfinance by 2009 was $15.7 billion, and that has helped create a new industry. That's nice.

However, those billions could have helped create jobs in other industries, some of which — such as health, water, and sanitation — may have had a bigger impact on poverty than microfinance has had. To make a judgment, a comparative cost-benefit analysis would be necessary. And we couldn't throw in the benefit of poverty-reduction as a mitigating factor since that doesn't seem to be happening.

(no subject)

“Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intellignece.”

Thelma Ritter as Stella in “Rear Window”

“Intangible religious benefits”

A statement indicating whether or not any goods or
services were provided in return for the gift; receipts
from religious organizations must include a statement
indicating that “intangible religious benefits” were
provided but they have no monetary value for tax

If you have donated to a religious charity in the US, said charity is to provide you a receipt which clearly states that you have received “intangible religious benefits” in return…

The Gender Neutral Pronoun Debate

It’s not often that pronouns become a national debate. But in the past few months in Sweden, there’s been a heated discussion based on the idea of spreading the usage of a gender neutral pronoun.

It’s not often that pronouns become a national debate. But in the past few months in Sweden, there’s been a heated discussion based on the idea of spreading the usage of a gender neutral pronoun.


What’s wrong with TED…?

The way TED talks fuse sales-pitch slickness with evangelical intensity leads to perhaps the most damming argument against the TED epistemology: It necessarily leaves out other groups and other ways of knowing and presenting ideas. As Paul Currion tweeted, TED seems “unaware of its own ideological bias.” Let’s take one example. Take a wild guess which gender is massively over-represented as TED speakers (answer, via Tom Slee @whimsley). And TEDxWomen stinks of tokenism. Hint: It is better to be more inclusive through and through than to segregate marginalized groups into their own token corners. But the TED style aligns much more easily to articulating ideas that sell than ideas that concern power, domination, and social inequalities. Real cutting-edge ideas also come from the margins. TED’s corporate-establishment voice and style aren’t without their uses, but they are certainly not innovative or cutting edge.

As problematic as TED is in itself, its popularity is more troublesome, coming to dominate the social conversation about what new technologies mean. Not that TED should be barred a role in the conversation. Because of the conference, some complex ideas get wider exposure than they otherwise would (as Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal pointed out in a Tweet). But TED and the larger TED-like world of Silicon Valley corporatism have far too much importance, as Evgeny Morozov points out when criticizing the “Internet guru.”

There are consequences to having this style of discourse dominate how technology’s role in society is understood. Where are the voices critical of corporatism? Where is there space to reach larger publics without having to take on the role of a salesperson, preacher, or self-help guru? Academics, for instance, have largely surrendered the ground of mainstream conversations about technology to business folks in the TED atmosphere.

So yes, TED. It has an almost mythical role in the AIESEC community where I was long involved. And yes, I used to enjoy the talks a lot. Lately however, they seem to have lost their edge, becoming less challenging and diverse and more like sales pitches and focused on self-development ‘gurus’ – I ask, where are the new Ramachandrans?

The blog from The New Inquiry (http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/against-ted/) quoted above takes up a lot of the problems that the TED culture has created. I think in large parts it is valid. However, as far as I see it, it boils down to how people relate to TED. Do you think that you’ve got your dosage of ‘engaging with the new of the world’ through watching a couple of TED talks? Do you believe that you’ve grasped complex ideas by watching a 16 min talk (to the level that you’d argue against true experts in the field based on your ‘knowledge’ gained)? Do you use TED as your only source of ideas, academic material or discourse?

Arguably, I have been on the ‘bad’ side of all those questions above. However, I try (with some help from smart people like M) to ensure I use TED in ways that I think makes puts it at its most powerful:

1) As a complement to A LOT of other material which such as articles I read, discussions I have, documentaries/movies I watch

2) As a source of divergent perspectives, to let myself get disconnected from the everyday ‘focus’ that I have in my work and connect with things that are outside of my normal pathways of thinking

3) As the start of deeper inquiries & action, where a TED talk leads to a Google search, leads to a literature search which leads to a home experiment, which leads to fruitful conversations

Like anything you read, watch or experience TED can be entertaining and also lead you to come up with new ideas or develop new interests. However, as with everything, it’s when we tend to push it to it’s extreme and dogmatise one way of learning or ingesting ideas that we fuck up. TED as an idea is becoming a victim of it’s success when what was once an alternative way of disseminating information becomes one of the incumbent ones leading to just the type of convergent thinking that TED was built to avoid.

The sheer number of poorly designed, highly convergent (where the main stream thinkers are presenting main stream ideas) TEDx events which are cropping up everywhere are a key evidence of this.

Disclaimer, this is all based on my experience of TED as a non-participant in the conference itself (and merely a consumer of TED Talks online and TEDx events). I’m sure the conference has a role to play, and likewise do some (but surely not all) of the TEDx events. The question is more how we can find ways to relate to this phenomenon that allows it to serve an important, useful role rather than a harmful one.

All cash transfers above Rs1,000 to be transferred via Aadhaar accounts

Increasingly, the ability to prove your identity and citizenship through the universal ID scheme of the Indian government will become the main way to access benefits from the government. I can’t come to terms with this. The Swede within me says that “Of course, being able to uniquely identify people is the clearest way to ensure appropriate deliver services and ensure they reach their intended recipient”, where as the person-who-has-lived-in-India-for-a-while within me says that “This is a misjudged attempt to bring unnecessarily complex technology to a task where behavioral change is the key item needed and the system by setting rigid boundaries will only lead to further exclusion of the already most marginalized groups in Indian society”…