Development Economics

Next Billion Post: Energy to the BOP Made “Simple”

For my second post at Next Billion, I wrote about a company called Simpa Networks.  Simpa was founded by Jacob Winiecki and Mike MacHarg, two people I have known since I started out in the development game.  Here is a tangential story about the smallness of the world. I used to work for a consulting firm in Boston.  I wanted to work in development but wasn’t sure how to get in the door.  I knew I was interested in solar energy and read about a lot of exciting things revolving around energy solutions in the developing world.  I went on NextBillion, a blog about market-driven solutions to poverty alleviation, and looked up posts on solar energy.   I came across a post on a Brazilian NGO called Ideaas, an organization that focuses on clean energy for the poor.  Mike MacHarg had posted a comment about integrating micropayments into the Ideaas business model.  He had a Duke email address, so I reached out to him to talk about what he was doing.  He happened to be passing through Boston on the way to a wedding in Vermont, so we met up for coffee.  He introduced me to Jacob Winiecki, who he’d been working with at Arc Finance, another NGO focusing on rural energy delivery.   We talked on the phone, I told him I was applying to Kiva.  Arc Finance, as it turned out, was trying to work with Kiva to get an energy loan portfolio going on the website.  They were piloting a solar lantern program with an MFI in the Philippines and wanted to get the loans up on Kiva’s site. A month later I was accepted to the Kiva Fellows program and given my assignment in the Philippines.  As it turned out, I was placed with NWTF, the very same MFI that Arc Finance was doing a pilot with.  So, when I got down to Bacolod, I worked together with Kiva, Arc Finance, and NWTF to get the loans up on the website.  We were the first MFI in Kiva history to post clean energy loans. Now, things have come full circle.  Jacob and Mike started Simpa, and I am writing a profile on the company for the website that started the cycle a year and a half ago.  You can read my full piece here.  Below is the transcript of an interview I had with Jacob Winiecki to write the piece. (more…)

Development Economics

The Economics of a Cookstove

The other day I went to the NWTF branch office in Hinigaran to interview clients that recently purchased an Envirofit cookstove. Cookstoves have received a lot of positive publicity recently as a cheap and effective solution to the problem of indoor air pollution – a problem that claims 1.4 million lives every year. The predominant stove in use by the poor – a basic design with a fire lit beneath a pot resting on three stones (a “three-stone stove”) – burns inefficiently. Much of the heat from the stove is lost due to lack of insulation and the fuel – sticks or charcoal – does not burn completely, requiring more to produce the same amount of heat. What’s more, partially-burnt fuel produces smoke containing particulate matter that is particularly harmful to the lungs when inhaled. The Envirofit cookstove, designed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Colorado, is the product of air-flow modeling and rigorous testing. It is designed for efficiency. (more…)

Microfinance

Microfinance and Job Creation

[caption id="attachment_858" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="The staff of the NWTF branch in Puerto Princesa"][/caption]

"So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade — we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation." - Sarah Palin

The international economic development community is constantly holding its own feet to the fire.  I sometimes describe the push for transparency and demonstrated as a circular firing squad.  It s probably an unfair characterization, since a lack of oversight leads to billions of dollars in squandered aid and international investment.  Microfinance, in particular, is a frequent target of scrutiny from economists.  It is the darling of the development world, and often mischaracterized as the long-awaited solution to poverty alleviation.  But the impacts of microfinance are nuanced and cannot be reduced to a simple formula (i.e. poor woman starts business, business earns money, woman no longer poor).  In reality, microfinance smoothes consumption, offers money for non-livelihood expenses, like tuition and home repairs, and, in a few cases, propels women above the poverty line.  The impact on poverty alleviation is real, but perhaps more muted than the literature would have you believe. (more…)

Microfinance

Microenterprise to SME: A Thought Exercise Pt. II

This is the third post of a three-part series on small- and medium enterprises.  It is the second of a two-part post.

[caption id="attachment_831" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Enterpreneurship training with Negros Women for Tomorrow"][/caption] The other day I discussed six actions or programs a microfinance institution (MFI) can take to help clients convert their business from a micro-enterprise to a small- to medium enterprise (SME).  Today, I will cover the final six. (more…)

Microfinance

Talisay to Bago: A Day’s Work

On Wednesday morning, I woke up at 7:00 to get ready for call I had with some head honchos at Kiva about how we can put solar energy loans up on the Kiva website.  After that, I had to talk to the Kiva microfinance partnerships manager for Asian MFIs about an Excel model he built that automatically generates profiles to be uploaded onto the Kiva website.  I am modifying it to fit the specific needs of NWTF, but the process of following his logic is complicated and tedious.  I needed to go straight to the source.  By 9:30, I was ready to officially start the day. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Awaiting the drill."][/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The military dentists helped with the mission."][/caption] Last Saturday, a group of 26 Canadians came to Bacolod as part of a dental mission organized by the Rotary Club of Vancouver.  There are five dentists, a handful of hygienists, and others that are distributing eyeglasses or acting as gophers.  The mission is being held in a gymnasium in the city of Talisay, about 20 minutes north of Bacolod.  The group sees between 200 and 300 clients per day, performing mostly extractions with some fillings.  Clients hail from mostly the surrounding branches, which also happen to be first branches to post Kiva clients.  I had heard that the clients from Hinigaran branch would be at the mission on Wednesday.  I’d been meaning to get down to Hinigaran for a round of client interviews, but hadn’t had the chance.  Also, collecting information for Kiva journals usually means a loan officer or branch manager has to take you around to each client – a nuisance, to be sure.  So, armed with a list of Kiva clients in Hinigaran, I caught a ride in one of the vans heading that way. (more…)

Microfinance

What I Do: Borrower Interviews

As a Kiva Fellow, I go to the field to interview borrowers about the status of their loan and talk about the business, the family, and their dreams for the future.  Usually I do a short write-up to update the Kiva lenders, but sometimes I go overboard and write an essay.  This is not representative of most journal entries, but I found her to be such an interesting client that I wanted to share it.  I titled this journal update "Glenda's Business and the Economics of a Half-Hectare Farm."  It only went out to 13 people, so I'm hoping for a larger audience here*: (more…)

Microfinance

Branch Rollout in Cebu

[caption id="attachment_610" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The ubiquitous "Principles of Dungganon" sign."][/caption] This weekend I went to Cebu, an island east of Negros, for the Kiva rollout in the NWTF branches.  I traveled as part of a five-person team, including Massah, the photography consultant, Raymond, the research manager, Jubert, the IT manager, and Presy, the Kiva coordinator.  Pocholo, a friend of Raymond’s, needed a lift to Cebu and caught a ride with us.  The six of us loaded the infamous red van and left at 7 AM on Thursday morning.  The road to the port in San Carlos normally takes 3.5 hours, but we chose to take a shortcut through the mountains on a winding two-lane road cut neatly into the side of a cliff.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the port, the ferry was full.  The next ferry didn’t leave until 2:30 in the afternoon, so we drove three hours south along a coastal road to another port in Aclan, where the ferry leaves every hour and takes 30 minutes to cross.  Once on the other side, we had another three-hour trip back up north.  Twelve hours later, we arrived in Cebu City and checked into a hotel. [caption id="attachment_637" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Our route, highlighted by the black arrows"][/caption] (more…)

Development Economics

She Drives a Dodge Stratus: The Role of the Husband

[caption id="attachment_582" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="A husband and wife team working a store in Nepal"][/caption] One of microfinance’s major achievements has been to empower women in societies that relegate women to a second-class status.  At Negros Women for Tomorrow, 98% of clients are women.  The rationale behind lending to women is that they are more reliable, family-oriented, and stationary.  Women are more likely to spend the money on things like education and health care.  One of the major themes of this blog is to highlight the interconnectedness of the impacts of microfinance.  Giving women a livelihood pays dividends. Empowering women to start a business not only gives them the respect that comes with being the breadwinner, but also makes them more influential in decisions made in the home and reduces their dependence on a partner.  A widow that has relied on her husband will be reduced to poverty without grown children to support her.  If having a large family was once a retirement plan, giving women a source of income could have positive ramifications for family planning.  These are only a few of the examples of the benefits of empowering women.  The effectiveness of microfinance at achieving this end is often disputed.  In my experience, it is something very real and apparent.  The degree to which microfinance has contributed is certainly open to debate.  However, this post is not about women’s empowerment.  It is about the role of the husband in making microfinance effective. (more…)

Microfinance

The Journalist

This week Negros Women for Tomorrow published it’s first newsletter in several years.  I know the girl putting it together, so she gave me 250 words (shortened first to 150, then 100).  Here it is: Over the past year, Kiva has partnered with MFIs like NWTF across the Philippines to Read more…

Development Economics

SMEs in the Philippines

This is the second post in a three-part series on SMEs. In an earlier post, I discussed another area of development – SMEs – that is both important for creating sustained growth, and has recently attracted interest from investors.  The Philippines is also placing a lot of emphasis on this area of development. The Philippines is actually in good shape regarding SMEs, as it has an abundant labor pool.  The country has 800,000 registered businesses, of which ~7% are classified as either small (10-99 employees, $60K to $300K in assets) or medium (100-199 employees, $300K to $2M in assets).  Only 0.4% of the business earn above the $2M mark.  The remaining 92% are microenterprises, which have between 1 and 9 employees and earn less than $60K in assets.  These MSMEs (including microenterprises) account for 70% of the labor force and 30% of the output of the country. (more…)