Monthly Archive for July, 2011

From the Field / Solar-Powered Autoclave

The Solar-Powered Autoclave team is working on harnessing the sun to power autoclaves for improved sterilization of medical devices. This week they’re down in Nicaragua working with women from the solar tech start-up Solar Women of Totogalpa.

Two quick peeks into what they’re working on:

SolarAutoclave / Nica July 2011

Teammate Ted working with the women in Ocotal.

From Anna: The photos are from Ocotal, Nicaragua outside of the IIH-MEDIK lab and include Alejandra, Yelba and Maria from the Solar Women of Totogalpa and Juan Miguel a local lab technician who was part of the MEDIK class taught by IIH.

What Works in Poverty Alleviation / A Review of Poor Economics

Much coverage has been given to MIT researchers Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s new book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. Banerjee and Duflo are well-known here at MIT for their use of randomized control experiments to test the means of poverty alleviation and their co-starting of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal).

The 273 pages of Poor Economics shares the results of their research – and starts to fill in the gap between economist Jeffrey Sachs’ (aid breaks the poverty trap!) and William Easterly’s (free markets and provide incentives, people will solve their own problems!) theories on development.

Banerjee and Duflo’s work raises oft-debated questions such as what really supports the use of bed nets in malaria infested areas, when is microfinance useful, and why, given the availability of education, are more individuals not receiving quality education? What is actually working?

There are many good intentions in development work (regardless of the location); being able to learn from and distinguish between good intentions and theories and the associated results will help us all push forward the next iterations on our work.

As writers Ramnath and Misra point out in Forbes India, “The approach is not without its critics [one example]. One relates to the danger of generalising [sic] the results (what social researchers call ‘external validity’; it questions whether what worked in one place will work in another). In an earlier interview, Banerjee said it was a serious concern. But some evidence is better than no evidence. Also, many such trials will lead to better policies.”

While we are all not able to commit to (or have the luxury to) conduct randomized control trials, we can learn from Duflo and Banerjee’s work. They offer five key lessons when working on poverty alleviation (summarized here and can be found starting on page 268):

  1. A lack of information often contributes to untrue beliefs.
  2. The poor bear responsibility for too many important decisions (such as whether to spend money on vaccinations).
  3. Markets are not always friendly to the poor.
  4. Many policies meant to help fall short because of the three Is: ignorance, ideology, and inertia.
  5. People live up to their expectations.

Duflo and Banerjee end on a practical note, inviting readers to use the book as an invitation (almost a challenge) to dig deeper. As they say,

If we resist the kind of lazy, formulaic thinking that reduces every problem to the same set of general principles; if we listen to poor people themselves and force ourselves to understand the logic of their choices; if we accept the possibility of error and subject every idea, including the most apparently commonsensical ones, to rigorous empirical testing, then we will be able  not only to construct a toolbox of effective policies but also to better understand why the poor live the way they do. Armed with this patient understanding, we can identify the poverty traps where they really area and know which tools we need to give the poor to help them get out of them. (page 272)

You can find more about the book here: http://www.pooreconomics.com.

MIT Global Challenge Partner Wins Design Award!

Kudos to the entire IdeaCouture team led by Cheesan and Caroline for your outstanding work – we’re thrilled and here’s bending an elbow to you!

From PRWeb.com:

There is no shortage of wicked problems. Or good ideas. What would a digital platform look like for MIT’s powerhouse of innovative and entrepreneurial minds to collectively problem-solve the challenges faced by under-served communities without clean water, health care or reliable energy? That was the starting point for Idea Couture, the strategic innovation and multi-disciplinary design team that built and continues to power the MIT Global Challenge.

Recently honored with a prestigious IDSA 2011 International Design Excellence Award (Silver), in the category of Best Interactive Product Experience, the MIT Global Challenge is a digital co-creation platform that inspires, enables and supports the global MIT community to apply innovation as public service and drive solutions to the greatest global challenges.

Read the full announcement here.