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What's Next: David Bornstein

James Grant, the legendary director of Unicef, who, between 1982 and 1995, led the Child Survival and Development Revolution that massively increased the number of children worldwide receiving vaccinations and essential micronutrients, used to say that, to change the world, people have to overcome their inhibitions about repeating themselves. When asked about the secret to his success with the Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, responded in a similar vein: "Singlemindedness is everything." The easiest way to generate excitement is to continually look for new ideas. The hardest thing to do is to stick with things that work, and to keep doing them better and better, and to keep saying what needs to be said, over and over again. So I would like to take this moment to reiterate two old ideas, not terribly novel anymore, that have proven themselves to be extremely effective at alleviating poverty and bringing positive change in many of the poorest parts of the globe: extending micro-credit for self employment and eliminating school fees, especially for girls. Two great ideas that work especially well together. Let's continue to keep them at the top of our to-do lists for 2007.

David Bornstein is the author of "How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas" and "The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank." He is also a contributing author for the Worldchanging book. He lives in New York.

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I would extend the latter idea one step further. In a country like India, going to public school (what we call government schools) is not expensive (I am not sure whether one has to pay these days), but the quality is sorely lacking. Some schools might exist on paper only. I would argue that providing free, quality, primary education to all should be part of the constitution of any civilized country.

Posted by: Deepak on 26 Dec 06

Absolutely agree with David and Deepak as well. Here I am, taking James Grant’s advice to heart and restating the obvious. The goal, I suppose is sublimation. Eben Moglen at the Plone conference eminently noted that "Universal education" across the globe can now become a reality because of electronic delivery of knowledge. Uplifting the entire family with micro-credit from dire poverty is a necessary condition for that education to be meaningful and effective. Targeting the girl-child gets the most bang for the buck and I extend that idea by recommending that the bulk of the learning, nutrition and physical exercise be crammed in, with urgency, before puberty. After puberty, in many developing societies, the pervasive and deep cultural underpinnings of misogyny and gender oppression take over immediately and prevent any further learning from occurring. All the knowledge, nutrition and exposure to exercise that is crammed in the first few years of the girl-child’s life will hopefully equip her to cope with imposed adversity and help her mould both her sons and daughters to counteract life destroying ideas and promote the life affirming ones.

What may be a shocker to some is that these two ideas reiterated by David, of micro credit and targeting the girl-child may well be required in the inner cities of United States, albeit in a modified and scaled up form. The conditions of dire poverty (effective and relative) and its consequences exist widely in the US and the most effective strategy might be to target the girl-child for intensive nurturing and care for her mother and brothers with an integrated, comprehensive and long term plan to propel the family out of perpetual and generational poverty. Free public schools in inner cities are not enough because what is a child or a teacher to do when the child returns to a roach infested home with drug using care givers, gets beat up and comes back to school unwashed the next day? How meaningful are any “lessons? in that context? Who are we kidding? Oh, child services, you say? Foster care, you say? - that mercenary system that supposedly takes care of our future citizens as we continue to criminalize poverty, drug the child wards (70%, published statistic) with Ritalin and other psychotropics for behavior control and create the largest for-profit prison system on the planet?

Coming back to David’s points, the first phase (the subsequent phases can take on the more difficult cases) in the solution is to identify all low income single mothers (or grand mothers as in many cases) who currently have no substance abuse issues, remove them from the inner cities, house them in regular neighborhoods (done in Canada by paying market rents, and then giving sufficient living allowance and medical coverage) and care for them fully while their children are attending school. This of course would not be micro-credit but we can call it micro-grant or whatever else and super-size it to fit America. If the whole family is nurtured with good nutrition and quality education, all the children and the mother in that family will shoot right out of poverty. I can assure you that this investment will pay for itself many times over to the tax payers and within one generation. The pay back is large and obvious and beats the societal cost of alienating and marginalizing millions. If there are some tax payers in the US who cannot see this pay back and are unable to make these connections, then they are a part of the problem, a big messy problem of abject poverty in a land of plenty. For those who consider this a pie-in-the sky scheme, take note that it is routinely implemented in Scandinavia and with verifiable efficacy. Please don’t bring up simplistic words like “socialism? into the argument.

Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 27 Dec 06



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