According to a …

According to a paper released by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for roughly 99 percent of Filipino firms. However, those SMEs only account for 35 percent of national output–a sharp contrast with Japan and Korea, where the same ratio of SMEs accounts for roughly half of total output. This translates into far fewer high-paying jobs on the local level for Filipino employees and exacerbates the huge income disparity across the country.

From an article in The Atlantic. Especially interesting to me since I worked on a country-wide RCT testing the impact of increased access to credit for SMEs. It will be several more years until the results are available, but it seems clear that a greater focus should be centered on creating growth for SMEs and micro businesses in places like the Philippines. 

For anyone compelled by the story of the present day Philippines, check out the recent award-winning movie Metro ManilaIt gives an impressively realistic depiction of what life is like for so many of Manila’s 19 million people. One of my favorite films ever. 

Giving a transport subsidy to job seekers for up to 11 weeks in Ethiopia increases the likelihood of finding steady employment by more than a third. That’s pretty cool.

Giving a transport subsidy to job seekers for up to 11 weeks in Ethiopia increases the likelihood of finding steady employment by more than a third. That’s pretty cool.

Interesting to think something as simple as paying for a job seeker’s transportation could help them increase their likelihood of getting a job by 30%. Is this the case in urban areas elsewhere? Would the effects be as strong if every poor job seeker had their transportation subsidized? More questions to think about.

Another link I thought about posting on Facebook last night but then decided to post it here, where I hope that the judgment of my dorkiness might be a little less harsh:

Among other things, Russ Roberts accuses Jeff Sachs of crushing the dreams of poor people. It’s a 120 min debate about the Millennium Villages Project, the criticism it faces, and the realities of its impact. One surprising takeaway: Sachs thinks that evaluating the impact of his project against comparison villages is useless. Hmmm…

Got the link for the interview from Chris Blattman’s blog.

Typhoon Yolanda Relief in cebu city

Last weekend I got on a plane down to Cebu City, one of the Philippines’ largest metropolitan areas and the logistical hub for much of the typhoon relief operations. While the city itself wasn’t directly effected by the typhoon, remote areas in the north of Cebu island were some of the hardest hit. I worked with hundreds of volunteers all day Saturday and Sunday to help ship food aid up to these devastated areas.

In the morning and early afternoon sacks of rice were delivered in massive truckloads. All of the rice that we received at this particular volunteer center had been sent from Vietnam. A group of about thirty guys would unload the truck and bring the rice into the Capitol building to be sorted into family packs.

Unloading Sacks of Rice for Packaging

These bags weighed 125 pounds each! Over the two days that I was volunteering, we moved thousands of these things. Two volunteers would pick up one sack and put it on another guy’s back, as you can see above. This was hard work! After two days of this I had to mix in with the ladies who were sorting the rice (see below). My back is just now fully recovered.




Once all of the rice had been portioned, it was repacked into the empty rice sacks (maybe not the most efficient way of delivering emergency food aid) and the guys carried them onto trucks. From there,they were shipped up north along with cans of sardines, coffee packets, and packages of noodles. Below, one of the three non filipino volunteers working at the Capitol over the weekend. A czech friend who happen to be sleeping in the bed next me at our hostel. As you can see by his two-toned shirt, this guy was a workhorse.


On Sunday morning, after I bent down in a squat to carry my first sack of rice, I was over taken by a grunting speedster who didn’t look Filipino as he scooted past me. He sped ahead and beat me back to the truck to get his second sack. He enthusiastically pounded his shoulder, letting the Filipino rice sack picker-upper volunteers know that he wanted it loaded there, not on the back of his neck. Quickly, they obliged and with another grunt and a big smile he was out of sight. 125 lbs of rice supported by a maybe 150 lb frame. There was an obvious language gap between the Filipinos and our new hardest working volunteer, so I asked them where he was from. “Korea, Korea” they said, between lifting sacks. When he returned he told me that he was actually from Japan. I asked if he was traveling around the islands, as most foreigners do, and he replied that he flew all the way from Japan just to volunteer.

I was amazed, he took his week of vacation from work to come to Cebu to help victims of the super typhoon. I spread the word to all of the other volunteers, because I knew the Filipinos would really appreciate what he had done. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, as he had finally started to tire out, that he told me the real reason that brought him all the way from Japan. His best friend had been vacationing in Ormoc, one of the cities hit by the typhoon, and since the storm hit he hadn’t heard from him at all. It had been a week now, and he decided he had to go and look for him. He told me that the next day he was heading up to Ormoc to search through the destruction to find his friend. It was a heart-breaking story, but one that has been felt by so many as the death toll now rises over 5,000 people.

I haven’t heard from him since. While I hope that he was reunited with his best friend, I know that he helped a lot of others along the way. His energy in the face of a potentially devastating loss inspired everyone who was there that day. I didn’t get any pictures with him – he was moving too fast – but see below for a shot of some of our volunteer crew towards the end of a long day.


Investing in Impact — Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute in Nicaragua

This is an amazing promo video that my friend Abhi Nangia put together to promote the work of Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern. I met Abhi when we were assigned to design a successful business model around providing clean cookstoves to people in rural areas of Haiti. That project was incredible and now he is working to start his own social enterprise called reweave. The organization’s goal is to use media development much like you see in this video to promote the work of under resourced social enterprises around the world. It will also connect entrepreneurs, students, and volunteers to each other to create relationships that cultivate the greatest possible impact. The website is scheduled to launch next spring. If you like this video please vote for it in the Global Business School Network’s Competition. If you want to learn more about the Social Enterprise Institute check out their website or ask me! I’ve done a lot of cool stuff with them over the past 3 years.

Vote for Abhi’s video here:

Learn more about Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute here:

Does college education have the same fate as print newspapers?

Newspapers are ironically becoming yesterday’s news. As technology continues to evolve and change how we live our lives, media delivery has shifted from paperboys to 140 character blurbs broadcasted instantly over the Internet and plastered on a screen the size of your hand. Many long-time newspapers have been forced to shut down, and almost all have had to make budget cuts in the form of major layoffs.

The threat of technology has been too overpowering, and the choice to pay for news from traditional outlets or get it for free from up-and-coming entrepreneurial sources has been a no-brainer for many. The question is not when print newspapers will become extinct, it’s whether it will happen in 5, 10 or 15 years. The free, convenient alternatives available on the Internet just make so much more sense for Americans. It is clear that print newspapers are in the middle of a dastardly collapse into rubble, but are there other sectors that technology affect in similar ways?

If you were an alien – or just a foreigner – looking down from space, observing the lives of young Americans you would probably think that they were one of the most wasteful species of animals on the planet. Probably in terms of garbage, but even more so with their money. I am a student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, a vibrant school with a lot of students who know what they want in life, and work vigorously to achieve it. Northeastern surely isn’t what its counterparts across the Charles River are, but we like to think we are pretty bright. Sixty-three percent of incoming students last year were in the top 10% of their graduating classes, we have students working/studying in countries all over the world, and over 83% of our graduates get a full time job within 9 months of graduating.

However, it seems that either we are all ridiculously wealthy, or absurdly stupid in one area. We each are charged roughly US$20,000 for one semester’s worth of classes (four to be precise). That is not including hundreds of dollars in annual student fees the university charges, the costs of living in the heart of Boston, or any of our textbooks. I paid over US$9000 for two courses called Environmental Geology, and Black Popular Culture: Music, Movies, and More. Both were enlightening courses and are certainly useful to many students. However, I am studying to work in the field of international economic development, and was forced to take a level 1 science class (Environmental Geology) and an arts class (Black Popular Culture), in order to earn my degree in International Affairs. US$9000 later, after an A and a B+ my knowledge of volcanic rocks and 90s hip-hop has not helped me at all in the pursuit of my dreams. Rather my parents, sisters and I are working hard to make enough money to cover the cost of our menacing student loans.

Northeastern has offered me a lot of opportunities that I doubt I would have had elsewhere. Through its Dialogue of Civilizations program I was able to travel and study in Kenya, Chile, and South Africa and through its well-known co-op program I was able to work for the International Center for Journalists in Washington, DC and the South African Red Cross Society in Cape Town, South Africa. Still in my third year, I have plenty of experiences that I am looking forward to at Northeastern.

With that said however, I sometimes feel like a fool when I go online and take free courses from Harvard, MIT, and Cal Berkeley. Or when I go to the first lecture of the semester and my 25-year-old economics teacher reads straight out of the textbook that is available on Amazon to everyone in the world. I feel like an idiot when I am able to listen to podcasts of some of the smartest people in my field giving talks at DC think-tanks or when I ride my bike over to Harvard and sit in on a lecture from Paul Farmer, as if I was paying the same amount the other 200 students in the lecture hall are.

So if I have all of this knowledge available directly at my fingertips (in almost all cases), why am I willing to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to finance my college courses? Well, for one it’s the norm in the job market. Most of the jobs I aspire to have require a graduate degree let alone the undergraduate degree I am currently pursuing. And the average student can’t let all of the debt-free kids be the only ones who get a chance at those jobs. I’ll work as hard as I can to beat them out, and pay off my loans.

And secondly, not taking out the loans seems more risky than putting myself in debt. If I want to work to make a real difference in the world, I can do two things: 1. I could avoid the debt and become an entrepreneur, or 2. I could take out the loans, put a great college education on my resume and give myself a good chance at getting a job that I want. The second feels more secure, possibly because it’s the norm. Although I’ve thought fleetingly about becoming a college dropout entrepreneur, I am not confident enough to allow myself to take the risk.

That all leads to a question I’ve had on my mind for the past few weeks. What will endure? Will employers’ demand for a traditional college diploma continue to out-muscle the ability that we have to get a world-class education simply by moving to a city, buying a computer, and utilizing libraries? And are the incentives tempting enough for us to educate ourselves, or do we need to feel the weight of tuition payments, and student loan debt in order to do our best? In Europe, many students pay only a few hundred US dollars for a semester at their university, simultaneously receiving a stipend every month for living expenses. Here in South Africa, the Dutch and German students I’m with rely on the government to send them their spending money every month. They get this simply because they are in school. On the other hand, the US students I’m with are paying exorbitant fees to their universities in order to come to South Africa to work and study. One would think that this inequality in access to education between the US and Western Europe will cause the US to fall behind in technology, innovation, health and overall economic production in the next few decades.

However, if young people were rewarded for taking initiative to learn on their own, then those who can’t afford to go to universities in the US would be able to take advantage of the countless resources that the Internet, public libraries, and other non-profit institutions have to offer, and they would still be able to have a job. So how can we change the incentives so that employers reward students who learn on their own?  In the long-run today’s university education will become what print newspapers have become – those who wish to buy an education can, but those who want to save their money for other things can easily access the same quality information for free using technology. What do you all think?