Thursday, November 27, 2014

Can financial products be designed to provide peace of mind?

Microfinance institutions are lending billions to the poor
each year.  Can they make that money more valuable to
clients simply by redesigning their loans?
 A few months ago I wrote that peace of mind was a first-world luxury.  While I have never seen a study putting a value on it, I think that it’s an important ingredient in development thinking, especially where finances are concerned.

Last week I spoke with the leader of an urban microfinance institution in Dhaka about its clients and their needs: was it mainly credit or savings they were after?  He said,

“When we first talk to them, they ask a lot of questions about credit.  All of them say they want it.  We sign them up for a savings account and after a few months, they get access to credit.  Ultimately only half of them end up using it, but all of them want to know that they can if they want to.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Which is harder: writing a novel or improving a national legal system?

I had the privilege of seeing Zia Haider Rahman this morning at the 4th annual Dhaka Hay Festival talking about his recent novel In light of what we know.  Seeing the author of a book that you love is always risky; it’s possible that the book eclipses the person who wrote it, and meeting its creator will actually tarnish it.

But today I got lucky! Zia’s discussion was as thoughtful as his writing.  I loved that his book managed to weave together a story that literally takes you around the world, while exploring class and nationality, while also ambling through many asides, interesting quotes, and other tidbits. And a love story for good measure.  Zia said that he hoped the book made its readers feel uncomfortable—until one feels uncomfortable, it’s hard to get to a place where you see things in a new light.   It did not make me uncomfortable, but it did make me think and brought many thoughts into sharper focus.  For example, at one point, one of the main characters finds himself parachuted into Kabul in the midst of the development frenzy.  His commentary on the American “my rights end where your nose begins” attitude to other cultures, the expat party scene, and general lack of humanity among many aid workers is a section that all development workers should read and consider.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Technology as an empowerment strategy

When I'm not too busy flying around the world (if only it were as glamorous as it seems!), my favorite thing to do is to get out of the office and go see what's happening "in the field," where our staff interact with clients.

One of the recent areas where I've been focused a lot is on technology, and specifically giving our frontline staff technology to either capture information from their interactions or even aid them in providing better services.

There's a constant discussion about whether technology reduces "the human touch" of service delivery.  Anyone who has been to the doctor and felt that he spent more time trying to enter information into the system than actually examine you will understand why this is a risk!
But what I've been hearing recently from several different visits around Bangladesh is that technology is extremely empowering.  Mastering technology builds confidence!