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Kenya Has Mobile Health App Fever

Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:26pm

Mobile health platforms are fast emerging in Kenya, where one startup's newly launched mobile health platform is attracting nearly 1,000 downloads daily, and the dominant telecom, Safaricom, has forged a partnership that will give its 18 million subscribers access to doctors.

A World Bank official sees significant promise from such efforts, pointing to the fact that 50 percent of all Kenyan banking is already done on mobile phones-suggesting that the population is ready to go mobile with health care, too.

"In terms of providing basic services through mobile phones on the continent, Kenya is in the lead in many ways, and showing the way," says Elizabeth Ashbourne, director of global health information forums at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. "Local applications in the health space are absolutely frontier activities."

Many Kenyans have serious health problems; for example, according to the World Health Organization, more than 30 percent of children under age five show stunted growth. At present, only 7,000 doctors serve a nation of 40 million people. But Kenya is rich in mobile phones, with 25 million subscribers (Africa has more than 600 million of them).

The new app, called MedAfrica-available for smart phones and less powerful feature phones-is the product of Shimba Technologies, a Nairobi-based company founded by two locally educated entrepreneurs, Stephen Kyalo and Keziah Mumo, with $100,000 in seed money from a European VC.

Selling Organs to Pay Off Debt: Microfinance Needs Reforms

Mon, 01/09/2012 - 3:06pm

When Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work on microfinance with theGrameen Bank in Bangladesh, he would have been mortified to know that a version of his model would one day force his country's poor into the organ trade.

At the time, microfinance (particularly the practice of giving small loans to the unsalaried poor with low to no collateral) was revered for its ability to "do good while doing well." In other words, it enabled people to escape poverty while turning a profit.

In 2010, microfinance euphoria was dampened when aggressive money collectors drove more than 30 Indian farmers to suicide to escape their debt. Although regulations followed that outlawed such practices, last summer's revelations of Bangladeshis selling kidneys to pay off loans highlight deeper flaws in microfinance's traditional approach, and show once again that giving loans to the poor sometimes just exacerbates their plight.

Fortunately, governments and microfinance institutions are taking steps to reform the industry and provide the impoverished with a variety of financial services, including savings options, which better meet their needs. These institutions' ability to continue those improvements will not only determine microfinance's future but the well-being of aspiring households around the world.

The desperation caused by debt in Bangladesh makes the need for change even more urgent. When Selina Akter from Berendy village took out loans to start a vegetable farming business, she couldn't have imagined what it would cost her to pay them back. When her business went through a bad streak, Ms. Akter was unable to meet the required payments and had to take additional loans from another microfinance nongovernmental organization. All told, she amassed 400,000 taka ($5,280) in debt.

As first reported by the GlobalPost in October 2011, to get out from under her loans, Akter had surgery. The 25-year old Bangladeshi received 220,000 taka ($2,676) for her kidney. To cover the rest of her loans, her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law chipped in. By selling their kidneys. Experts estimate that the Akter family is just one of the many in Bangladesh who get caught up in a "web of loans," with 250-300 people selling their organs each year for quick cash.

Create Scope for Women to Flourish in Business: Analysts

Mon, 01/09/2012 - 3:01pm

Women entrepreneurs in South Asia are failing to flourish due to shortage of funds, difficulty in marketing, social constraints and non-participation in decision-making, analysts said yesterday amid calls for governments and private sectors to change the scenario.

Women are treated as second-class citizens in the region while their contribution to the economy is totally overlooked, they said.

The comments came at a discussion on "Women Leadership" on the second and concluding day of the South Asia Entrepreneurs' Convention LEAD 2012 at Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.

The Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry co-organised the event, themed "Youth in rising South Asia: promises and dreams".

Speaking as the chief guest, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said democratic institutions were of paramount importance in securing the fundamental rights of women and providing them with mechanisms for full economic, political and civic participation.

Although women are often engaged in entrepreneurial activities, they face numerous barriers that deter them from developing their enterprises, scaling up, and creating jobs for others, she said.

The minister said one big problem is that women's enterprises are often informal while in many countries women play a dominant role in informal economies.

She emphasised bringing "informal businesswomen" into the formal sector where they can build on their productive assets and have access to state institutions and public services and that there must be adequate incentives and minimal barriers to formalisation.

Statistics show that women entrepreneurs account for less than 10 percent of the total entrepreneurs in developing economies, including South Asian countries, whereas the figure is about 25 percent in advanced economies.

Coming Up, Job Plan Scheme for Urban Poor

Mon, 01/09/2012 - 2:57pm

The UPA government, which launched schemes providing employment opportunities for the rural poor during its two term in power, is now targeting the urban poor, majority of whom are slum dwellers.    With an eye on the 2014 Parliamentary election, the Centre plans to launchthe National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM), which will create job opportunities for the urban poor, during the 12th Plan. The housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry, which has proposed the scheme, has sought a Rs 20,000-crore budget to roll out the programme.

The UPA government had in 2006 launched its flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme targeting the rural poor and had also rolled out the National Rural Livelihood Mission, a massive self-empowerment programme focusing on rural women, last year.

According to the ministry data, 93 million urban residents are estimated to be slum dwellers. "With the number of urban poor growing, a need was felt for a specific employment generating scheme targeting the urban poor," a ministry official said.

Officials said the programme will focus on providing wage employment opportunities and skill development to the urban poor so that they are gainfully employed. "Skill development will be the key to enhancement in productivity of this segment," a note by the ministry states.  

NULM will have four components - building community institutions like self help groups and their federations, employment through skills training and placement, capacity building and training and self employment programme.

Micro-loans Helping Solar Power Take Hold in India

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 4:26pm

In Chemangala, in southern India, silk farmer H.B. Manjunath walks into a back room of a dark thatched roof cabin, flips on a light switch and watches as the cool light illuminates hundreds of milky white silkworms crawling in a wooden box full of mulberry leaves.

The worms need the crispy leaves to survive and spin their silk cocoons, but they'll only do it when there's continuous light. Manjunath said that used to be very hard to come by.

"We had four or five hours of unscheduled power cuts every day," Manjunath said. "Sometimes, we would not have it at all."

But that changed when Manjunath took out a small loan from his local bank to pay for a single solar panel and batteries to store the electricity they generate. The 120-watt system generates enough power to illuminate the silkworms for three hours a day. Manjunath's not worried even if he doesn't have grid power for 24 hours.

"The solar works for us," he said.

Manjunath's bank loan was part of an effort in the southern state of Karnataka to promote affordable solar lighting in rural areas, part of a larger national movement. India's government hopes to boost renewable sources of energy and install 20,000 megawatts of solar generating capacity over the next decade, to help fill a huge power gap in the country.

About 500 million people don't have electricity in the country today. That's nearly half the population. And even places that are hooked to the grid face frequent blackouts.

Dr. Harish Hande, founder of the Bangalore-based solar company SELCO, said the need for energy is urgent, and not just so people can run their businesses or light their homes.

"It's very important from a governance point of view, India's social stability point of view, that we need to provide basic needs," Hande said.

India's economy is booming, but conventional sources of electricity just haven't been able to keep up with the growth in demand in India. That's one reason Hande spent years trying to convince local banks in Karnataka to offer small loans to rural families for renewable energy systems. In recognition of his efforts, Hande recently was awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Award, sometimes called the Asian Nobel prize.

Hande said solar lighting can have a profound emotional impact on the poor.

Do Designers Actually Exploit The Poor While Trying To Do Good? Jan Chipchase Responds

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 4:21pm

Recently, at the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine, Jan Chipchase, Frog's all-star field researcher, was giving a presentation on his travels in search of novel design solutions when a person in the audience lobbed a pointed question: "What is your motivation? Why do you do this?" When Chipchase began to respond, the audience member interrupted and asked again, "No, what is your motivation?" The follow-up hanging in the air was, "How do you sleep at night?"

As the back and forth continued, the hostility became more palpable. The audience grew quiet and unsettled. Were Chipchase and those doing similar work really helping those in developing countries by creating better products for them? What if, instead, they were simply scraping local communities for big ideas and then riding them to big profits?

Whether you're a fan of design research in the field--or more sympathetic to that audience member--you can't gloss over the issue. Who is the best poised to bring innovation to the developing world? Big corporations that are already rich? Or people living in the countries themselves? Do big corporations bring better standards of living, or simply sugared water and useless doodads?

Chipchase didn't respond directly to the question at the time, but later he sat down with Co.Design and addressed the topic more specifically: "It doesn't take much effort to find something about globalization to be incensed about: Starbucks squeezing out your neighborhood coffee shop from the prime location; riots in Indonesia triggered by a stock market crash in Wall Street impacting oil subsidies. Coke logos being painted onto remote pristine mountain ranges. Make no mistake: Big companies, governments, organizations, agencies need watching, need to be held to account, and in many markets hold a disproportionate amount of power." But Chipchase has thought long and hard about these issues, and has a sophisticated view informed by millions of miles traveled. He believes that if those in the West aren't working with the emerging markets they're developing for, the products suffer and people lose out. If we don't design for these markets, then the alternative for them is usually no design at all--and that means no designs solving their specific problems, and no economic might to prove their standing in the wider economy.

Does Microfinancing Really Work? A New Book Says No

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 4:16pm

Politicians from Washington to New Delhi have argued for years that giving tiny loans to poor people to help them start or expand their businesses is a sure-fire way to help millions improve their lot in life, and drastically reduce global poverty, especially among women. The idea has become such a central feature of foreign aid programs (USAID pours millions into such projects) that the microfinance industry has ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar business operating in virtually every country on the planet. The question is: Does it work?

Unfortunately, only sometimes. That's the conclusion of an exhaustive new study of programs across the world, published on Thursday, which details how many loans leave poor people even more desperate than before - or at least, barely improves their circumstances. "On current evidence, the best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero," writes David Roodman, author of the new book Due Diligence and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

Roodman's assessment is far different from the enthusiasm microfinance programs have generated since the first institution, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, opened in 1976. The bank's founder Mohammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and is probably the third world's most celebrated economist.

The reality which Roodman found is far more complex than Yunus's original idea that millions could be lifted out of poverty if they only had access to credit - something regular banks have always been loath to offer. Roodman gathered evidence over three years from hundreds of lenders and borrowers in microfinance institutions - some with loans as small as $2 - in part by blogging about the issue on the center's website, and then posting his book online, chapter by chapter, as he wrote it, generating a furious global debate about the issue.

With his book now finally published in full, the findings are sobering. Although microfinance organizations have earned a reputation among U.S. and European aid agencies for having a remarkably high repayment rate on their loans - often a lot better than regular banks - Roodman found that some institutions' impressive repayment records come with a tragic price to borrowers.

Read more:,8599,2103831,00.html#ixzz1ii9ToWG5

Intuit Taps Text Messages, Economics To Boost Farmer Incomes In India

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 2:49pm

"How can technology help the places I grew up in?"

That's Deepa Bachu, describing her personal mission. Bachu was born in Bangalore, India, but spent a decade at Intuit's Mountain View headquarters developing flagship products like Quicken. She returned home several years ago, for family reasons, and after becoming the director of emerging market innovation at Intuit, set out to build products for many of the neighbors she grew up with. "It's so motivating," she says. "It's just so awesome."

If Quicken is the product she felt most passionately about stateside, then Fasal--which she developed in India--has certainly become the pride of her hometown. Fasal is a free SMS-based product that connects rural farmers with buyers and provides them with real-time price information. Roughly 70% of India's economy is tied to agriculture, but it's a market fraught with obstacles. "The problem is that farmers didn't know how to get the best price for their produce, nor what markets to go to and when," Bachu explains. "Nine times out of 10, farmers didn't know if they were actually getting a fair price. 'Wow,' we thought. 'This is a huge unmet need. Let's see if we can iterate and find a solution.'" The result is a service that has blossomed to more than 500,000 users who earn an average of 20% more income because of the technology.

But in 2008, Fasal was nothing more than a research project. Bachu and a small Intuit team were traveling in rural Karnataka when they first learned of the many pain points of doing business there. Identifying customer pain points is common practice at Intuit, but Bachu didn't anticipate the points being so painful. "We found some really scary stuff during our research," she recalls. "Farmers committing suicide, farmers living hand-to-mouth because they didn't have enough money, lots of waste. And remember, there is no access to refrigeration, so if you have perishable produce, if you're a farmer that grows any fruits or vegetables, what would happen is they would have to find a buyer before it perished. Four times out of 10, they were having to deeply discount their produce just to take some money home."

Bachu immersed herself in the lifestyle for two weeks, staying long days at rural farms and homes, and making trips to the mandi--or marketplace--with locals. It's was an anthropological approach to consumer research that Bachu says is core to Intuit's design principles. "Do you know the customer better than they know themselves?" she asked her team.

"Intuit began brainstorming a slew of solutions, from eBay-like buyer-seller connections to voice-based systems for providing market information. But the solution that made the most sense in terms of simplicity and scale required nothing more than an SMS-based mobile phone. Think of Fasal as a basic supply-and-demand calculator. Farmers can register for the service by calling a toll-free number. A Fasal agent will then capture a profile of that farmer with simple questions: Where are you based? What crop are you farming? How much of that crop have you planted? How many acres? On what dates was the crop filled? Do you own a vehicle? It takes only 20 to 30 minutes before farmers can start receiving personalized messages from the service. "If you are a carrot farmer in a particular area, we're able to figure out when you're ready to harvest, and start sending you price information [by SMS], calculate how much supply we think you'll have, and then connect you with a buyer or mandi agent that we think will pay you fair price," Bachu says.

Essentially, Fasal facilitates the relationship between sellers and buyers, whether through finding marketplaces or determining market rates. The algorithm at work under Fasal's hood was far from easy to create, and is still being refined. "The truth is we cannot precisely forecast what a farmer's supplies will be. There's so many things that can go wrong," Bachu acknowledges. "If there's a disease onslaught or the weather patterns messed with the supply, say. We have to take into consideration all of these possible things that could go wrong--we don't know which seller sold to which buyer, for example. The big difference in developing markets and emerging economies is that, in the U.S., a cauliflower is $2 pretty much throughout the year. In India, the price fluctuates like crazy because of the supply and demand equation. We tried to take advantage of all of the information we have, to project out a possible supply, then we can connect it up with demand.

Exclusive: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Invests In Mobile Payments Platform BASIX Sub-K

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:56pm

BASIX Sub-K iTransactions Limited, a mobile payments platform promoted by Vijay Mahajan's BASIX Group, has raised an undisclosed amount of equity investment from Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Sub-K provides residents of rural, urban and semi-urban areas with a mobile technology based transactional platform for access to services like banking, NREGA, utility payments, prepaid mobile pop-ups and others.

This is done through a network called basic convenience outlets (BCO) operated by Sub-K agents. Sub-K appoints service providers/banks at one end and BCOs at the other.

Sub-K, which means less than 1,000 as also 'for everyone' in Hindi, tries to offer a financial solution encompassing accessibility(BCO to be located within 1,000 meters from customer), affordability(within a cost of 1,000 paisa or Rs 10 per transaction) and outreach(each BCO is expected to serve up to 1,000 customers).

The organisation raised the undisclosed amount sometime in 2011, though the exact date could not be ascertained.

Started in 1996, BASIX is one of India's largest development group focusing on financial inclusion at the bottom of the pyramid. It has promoted Bhartiya Samruddhi Finance Ltd, India's oldest microfinance institution which is currently going through a loan recast process.

DLF Foundation and Laurus Edutech Sign An MOU to Setup Over 18 Centres Jointly in First Phase

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:51pm

New Delhi, Delhi, January 5, 2012 /India PRwire/ -- In a significant development, Laurus Edutech- A leading skill Development Company signed a MoU with the DLF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of DLF Limited. DLF Foundation has launched a programme called DLF Life where LIFE stands for Learning Initiatives for Employment. As part of the LIFE Program and MoU, DLF Foundation and Laurus Edutech will set up joint centres. These centres which are spread out pan-India, will primarily focus on skilling the under privileged students and then further assist them with providing employment opportunities.

DLF Foundation provides structure and focus to the ongoing social responsibility initiatives of the DLF Limited Company. Registered under the laws of India, the Foundation has been formed with an express mission of empowering communities and creating opportunities for the underprivileged in areas of education, training and health. Since its inception, several rural Education, Training, Health and Environment initiatives have been taken by the Foundation

Speaking on the occasion Mr. Srinivas Rao Cheedella, Managing Director of Laurus Edutech said- "We are happy to be associated with DLF Foundation and help implement its initiatives under the LIFE Program. It is a privilege to be working with one of the biggest names of the construction industry. The centres to be operated in the brand name "DLF LIFE Skill India" will roll out most of the programs including services like retail, computers etc. The services are hardcore engineering focused like electrical, plumber, fitter, welder, auto mechanic, etc. and target the bottom end of the pyramid students."

How Biochar Will Help Kenya Go Green And Save Money

Wed, 01/04/2012 - 3:25pm

Re:char is a pioneering company that sells kilns to farmers in Kenya that allow them to convert their farm waste into what's known as biochar, which can then be used for cooking. As an enterprise, Re:char seeks to deliver a "triple bottom line," expanding the uses of sustainable alternatives for energy, providing a cost effective solution for farmers in an effort to combat poverty, and stemming deforestation in Africa by encouraging use of biochar as cooking fuel instead of cutting down trees for firewood. Jason Aramburu, CEO of re:char which works in Bungoma, in the Western Province of Kenya, spoke to us about the emerging area of biochar and a grant that re:char just received from the Gates Foundation to develop a system to transform human waste into biochar.

Fast Company: Where did you get the idea for re:char?

Jason Aramburu: I was doing due diligence for a clean energy investor in New York. After the 2008 financial crisis, the investor I was working for was hit hard. He didn't show up for work for a week, when he came back, it was obvious that he was negatively impacted by the crisis. He ultimately decided to slow down his operations. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I reflected back on an experience I had had in college, I had participated in a program in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where I worked on a variety of different projects involving soil and nutrient cycling. I'd heard about biochar there. After the crash, I thought it was time to try something new and re:char began.

What exactly is biochar?

In the Amazon basin for over 3,000 years indigenous farmers have been making charcoal and burying it in the ground. They did this because it improved the soil's ability to capture and retain nutrients, which led to increased crop yields. The soil is so fertile, that they call these sites terra preta which means black earth in Portuguese. What the farmers didn't know 3,000 years ago was that biochar was actually making a lasting impact on the soil. Today at the sites where they buried the biochar, it's still in the ground. As a result of how fertile the land is, that biochar-rich land is worth about five times as much as the land without it.

It's Time for Sustainable Development

Wed, 01/04/2012 - 3:18pm

Bill Clinton was set to enter the White House, the European Union was born and China had its first taste of a double cheeseburger with fries when McDonalds opened its doors in Beijing. That was 1992. A lot can happen in 20 years.

In June 2012, two decades after the groundbreaking Earth summit, which put climate change and biological diversity on the global political agenda, attention will turn once again to Rio de Janeiro for the UN conference on sustainable development, or Rio+20.

But the biggest environmental summit in 20 years is already proving controversial. The conference is a vital chance to renew political commitment for sustainable development at a time when urgent action must be taken to divert humanity from disaster. However, some commentators already believe it will be just another conference - all talk and no binding action.

The event's focus on the "green economy" is deeply dividing opinion. Some see the label as an opportunity to hitch global financial systems firmly to sustainable development goals. Others see it as an open invitation for the proliferation of "greenwash" initiatives, which continue to put profit before people and planet.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Rio's seven-strong shopping list of "critical issues" to be replaced by focus on one sector. UN executive Brice Lalonde, for example, has pushed for agriculture to be at the centre of negotiations, arguing that from agriculture other development goals - gender, biodiversity, land use, water, energy - flow.

Africa's Mobile Pricing Wars

Wed, 01/04/2012 - 2:10pm

The increasing availability and ownership of mobile phones across much of Africa has brought numerous impressive benefits to ordinary Africans. And with the costs of calls, data-usage and handsets falling rapidly in many African countries, there has been a continuous rise in the number of mobile phone users across the region - in fact, the continent-widegrowth rate of 20% makes Africa the fastest growing market for mobile phones in the world.

The use of mobile phones allows people to circumvent limited infrastructure and poor access to affordable landlines in rural areas, and helps businesspeople in these areas contact and coordinate with suppliers and customers. Cheap handsets and low running costs are also highly significant in the agricultural sector, with applications such as Kenya's M-Farm enabling small plot-holders to operate as a co-operative thus reducing the cost of essentials such as fertiliser. Kilimo Salama, another application, allows farmers to take out agricultural insurance by phone. Indeed, mobile money-transfer has revolutionised the lives of those in remote areas who wish to save money or receive funds from relatives working in cities. Moreover, the increased availability of mobile phones has afforded traders greater access to information about buyers and prices. Many benefits are being accrued in the health sector too, where emergency services can be more easily contacted and doctors have a greater ability to communicate with patients remotely and advise on medication.

The Year of Controversial Giving

Tue, 01/03/2012 - 2:42pm

By Matthew Bishop and Michael Green

What does 2012 have in store for giving, especially the impact-driven approach to it we call "philanthrocapitalism"? Having peered into our philanthrocrystal ball, we see giving becoming more dangerous, more controversial, and more political, among other things, as philanthrocapitalists find themselves at the centre of some of the year's biggest news stories.

Here are our 10 predictions for the coming year:

BOI/UNDP: Nigeria’s household energy market worth $5.1b

Tue, 01/03/2012 - 11:45am

The Bank of Industry (BOI)and United Nations Development Programme (BOI/UNDP) partnership has identified the potential in investing in household energy through supplies of energy-efficient equipment and bulbs adding that the market is worths $5.1 billion.

The Project Manager, UNDP/BOI Access to Renewable Energy Project, Segun Adaju in his paper titled 'Investing in clean energy for the Base of the Pyramid (BOP) in Nigeria' presented at a forum in Lagos, said the BOP is the largest of the pyramid, but poorest socio-economic group, which in global terms, refer to the four billion people who live on less than $2 per day.

"The phrase "bottom of the pyramid (BOP)" is used in particular by people developing new models of doing business that deliberately target that demography, often using new technology. The BOP bottom of the pyramid has been seen as the biggest potential opportunity in the history of commerce. It makes up US$5 trillion global consumer market in local purchasing power, yet highly underserved."

More Corporate Companies Should Adopt Social Enterprise Ethos

Tue, 12/27/2011 - 12:28pm

Recent political and financial events have seen businesses retrench, dig in and attempt to ride out the storm. To many, this suggests that the corporate world is being indifferent to its social responsibility. Community projects are being curtailed and cash donations to charities drying up. The impact can only be detrimental.

As austerity measures deepen, are big businesses unwittingly contributing to social injustice? If so, who will fill the gap they are leaving?

In the UK, social entrepreneurs are often seen as the antithesis of corporate enterprise and tend to stand shoulder to shoulder with social justice issues. They strive to create new models that aim not only to deliver shareholder value (for social entrepreneurs are still business people after all), but also seek to share some of that value elsewhere. Today's social entrepreneurs look for alternative ways to run successful businesses that are not dependant on traditional power models. Wealth is considered as more than a healthy bank balance and value becomes more than just cash. The social entrepreneur ensures that some of the wealth their activity generates benefits the wider society.

Case studies: investing in bottom of pyramid

Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:54pm

Dfid's role models for its new private sector approach in India include the US-based Acumen Fund, part of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, the US Rockefeller Foundation and Mumbai-based Aavishkaar Investment.


Dfid has chosen the Small Industries Development Bank for India to channel investments to small enterprises, in its first private sector development programme in India.

Ethiopia Invests in Farmers to Achieve Country's Middle-income Ambitions

Wed, 12/21/2011 - 12:39pm

Fields of red sorghum in terraced fields that stretch into the distance are a common sight in the scenic mountains of eastern Ethiopia, giving a misleading impression of bountiful harvests despite this year's drought in the east Africa.

Farmers tie five or more tall sorghum stalks together so they support one another, and the red seeds at the top of the plant grow heavier as the plants ripen, giving them a triffid-like appearance. A common plant and an important staple crop for millions of poor Ethiopians, sorghum is ubiquitous in the region around Dire Dawa, 352km north-east of Addis Ababa, the capital.

Apple orchards are a more surprising presence. Dadi Yadete, a bearded 72-year-old, took a gamble three years ago and started growing apples, a fruit that he didn't know. Hesitant and doubtful initially, he planted 12 trees, but the experiment has paid off. Located 2,300 metres above sea level, these Ethiopian highlands enjoy a temperate climate, almost alpine, where apples can thrive.

Yadete, who has two wives and nine children, now has 70 flourishing apple trees on his small plot of land - about 0.5 hectares - where he also has a large avocado tree. He also grows barley, a few coffee bushes, sweet potato, green pepper and bright red hot chillies.

"Life was very difficult when I was trying to grow maize and barley," said Yadete. "I was producing nothing and I was receiving food aid, now I don't need food aid." He gets about $600 a year from the sale of his apples, and he owns four cows and two oxen, which makes him a relatively wealthy man.

Social Business: A More Sustainable Way to Help in Haiti?

Wed, 12/21/2011 - 12:36pm

Children dressed in school uniforms sit in rows listening to one of their classmates sing a song while snacks are passed around. Two years ago, before a devastating earthquake struck the island, they were in a different location in a building that has since been demolished on a nearby plot of land here in Léogâne, Haiti.

Now these youngsters and their families are getting another chance with the help of an innovative antipoverty effort that combines business tactics with social goals.

Such new approaches are much needed in Haiti. Even before a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the country in 2010, it faced profound structural issues: ineffective government, widespread poverty, and little educational opportunity.

Only half the children in Haiti actually start school, and just 1 percent complete their education through the secondary level. One of the biggest obstacles is the cost, since public education is not the norm and the average family lives on less than $2 a day.

At the Henri Christophe School in Léogâne, the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, paying the costs of administrators, teachers, teacher training, school uniforms, and facilities falls largely to charities or to families of the students, many of whom lost loved ones and their livelihoods in the earthquake.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I watched how Haiti Partners, a nonprofit group, supports the Henri Christophe School and six other schools in Haiti with money and training programs. This year, it has forged a partnership with the Grameen Creative Lab to help these seven schools create a more sustainable source of revenue than charity or family tuition payments: They are creating social businesses that will create money to cover education costs.

Grameen Creative Lab is a project of the Yunus Centre, which is led by the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, and is supported by the Clinton Global Initiative. These high-powered backers have helped gather $4-million from a handful of investors. The money goes to Haitians who need small loans to run and start social businesses.

ICT Vital in War Against Poverty

Tue, 12/20/2011 - 1:49pm

THE application of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in gathering, analysing and disseminating market information to businesses and agricultural producers has been cited as a significant strategy in poverty reduction.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Marketing, Dr Shaban Mwinjaka, made the remark in Dar es Salaam over the weekend while opening a stakeholders' meeting on Management Information Systems (MIS) Strategy, operational Framework and prototypes.

"Export led economic growth that provides significant reduction in poverty is only possible if the majority of small and medium scale businesses and agricultural producers have access to market information coupled with the capacity to utilise it," said Dr Mwinjaka.

Having accurate and accessible market information is essential even in situations whereby some fundamentals like poor infrastructure are considered as key constraints to economic growth, he explained.

For example, market information can quantify the costs and prices for the producers and manufacturers to help them determine market trends, he said and added that the state of market information in Tanzania currently lags the overall objective for the provision of timely, accurate and cost effective statistics to both public and private sectors.

He lamented the fact that Information was scattered, isolated and not easily accessible despite the fact that poverty remains a major problem, especially in rural communities where most of the farming takes place.

Inability to access market information even in good harvest seasons continued to bar farmers from enjoying premium prices for their products. Since the analytical capacity in both public and private sectors is limited regardless of the size of the firm, the MIS must integrate with the existing value addition chain and business development services if it is to be widely adopted and eliminate obstacles for small and medium enterprises as well as producers.

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