Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What I learned from NYC: urban planning is all about love

File:I Heart New York.jpg

I spent a very fun and very cold week in New York earlier this year.  What a great city!  A lot has changed since I lived there back in 2006, but the unlimited subway/bus pass remains one of the best value transportation deals in the world.

Here's the thing about New York: the people who live there love it.  They proudly call themselves New Yorkers.  They have an entire magazine dedicated to love of the city.  Frank Sinatra and others wrote great songs about it.  They passionately believe that it's the best place to live on earth, and that there's something kind of wrong with all of us who don't just "get" that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Selection: get it right or prepare to fail

So often we don't think about important factors like trust when implementing new products.
But these oversights can make or break us.

Photo: pixabay.com

Shortly after I started working in microfinance, I had a meeting with two researchers and a colleague who began working at BRAC in 1984.  The researchers had a lot of questions about the repayment rate--how was it possible we managed a repayment rate of over 95%, given that our clients were mainly poor women without collateral, in a country with no credit bureau, etc?

My colleague said, "Ultimately, the most important factor is selection.  We spend a lot of time making sure that we only give loans to people who we think can and will pay them back.  If you get selection right, then everything else is relatively easy.  If you get it wrong, no system is good enough to save you."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why care about digital information systems? Millions receive good care without them

A community health worker interviewing a client about her family's health.  Most of the notes she jots down never
make it into the program's information system, but she'll remember them.  Gazipur, Bangladesh.

Sure, there's a lot to be gained from collecting information digitally. But it's often expensive, time-consuming, and even risky to implement one.  So it's worth asking: why is it really necessary?

BRAC has been delivering health services for decades in rural Bangladesh.  Typically a community health worker (shashtya shebika) looks after about 200 households surrounding her home.  She visits each one monthly, offering basic health information, products and services.  Once or twice a month she's visited by her supervisor, a more specialized community health worker (shasthya kormi).  During these visits, the pair will follow up on any issues that were identified in the recent household visits and provide check-ups to pregnant mothers and infants.  The supervising community health worker supervises around 10 local community health workers, and rotates between them.