Thursday, February 17, 2011

Autocrats, Technocrats, and Entrepreneurs

Easterly gives his thumbs up to a three-sentence definition of development: “If solutions are known, need $$. If solutions are knowable, need evaluations. If solutions are evolving, need entrepreneurs.” In another post he expands on the idea, indicating that the first category lends itself well to autocratic solutions, the second to solutions via researchers and coordinated efforts, and the third to individual liberty. I note that this explains the frustration many planning-minded scientists and researchers have – they believe they have moved a problem’s solution from knowable to known and want immediate action. Easterly then expanded on this thought by discussing “the guy named Bob theory of development”: now that we know the answers, who will implement them?

So what are the entrepreneurs doing? New products in mobile telephony that are being used in the developing world:
  • Read barcodes to identify if medicines are real or counterfeit (mPedigree in Ghana and Nigeria)
  • “Farmer’s Friend in Uganda, for instance, sends out market prices and other agricultural information in text messages.” See also Dialog Tradenet in Sri Lanka.
  • lists low-skilled jobs in India.
  • BBC Janala charges two cents for three-minute foreign language lesson and has been used by 3.1 million people in the last 15 months.
  • Bhoomi project tries to reduce corruption by letting people signal when they have been asked for a bribe.
  • The Anda Pradesh government disburses welfare payments and pensions via cellphone.
  • Stop Stock-outs maps “where essential medicines are sold out.”
  • In Mali, Pesinet collects birthing data and indicates if the infant needs more medical attention.
  • Txteagle pays people a few minutes of airtime for reporting information or translating into local dialects.
  • “In some countries, street hawkers assign special ringtones to different customers, which are in effect free messages placing orders.”

The main hang-ups to further expansion are lack of commercialization skills and inputs, and governance failures (both failing to provide the regulatory framework needed for firms to commercialize as well as setting up harmful regulations and taxes).

My favorite of the anti-gift-in-kind posts coming up lately as organizations who should know better show they don't.

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