Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fight Poverty with Connectivity

The notion that large-scale handouts of aid hasn't worked to alleviate poverty is well documented. In the worst case, it enriches corrupt, autocratic kleptocracies (e.g. as it did with Mobutu in Zaire). More commonly it's simply wasted because the institutions necessary to use it are not effective, and a sort of low-grade ineffeciency and corruption takes hold. Even the biggest provider of such development aid, the World Bank, has now recognized that aid must be linked to governance to be successful (championed by Paul Wolfowitz, whose current woes do not invalidate this notion).

The basic underlying lesson, according to Iqbal Qadir, founder of GrameenPhone, is that poverty can be reduced only by empowering individuals, not governments. His own involvement in setting up a cell phone company in rural Bangladesh is testament to the individual-centered, connectivity-based model of economic development. Qadir is currently a director at the MIT Center for Developmental Entrepreneurship, which has already brought to market several innovative products for developing economies.

See below for a talk that Mr. Qadir gave at the TED conference in 2005, explaining his ideas about ending poverty through connectivity. (If you don't see the embedded video, click here).