When it comes to rejuvenating an urban community, expert opinions will often cite a variety of political, social and economic ills that range from the need for education reforms, infrastructure investments, improved racial equality and political reforms among many critical leverage points. Adding citing lighting is not something that leapst to mind. however Detroit has accomplished a milestone on its way to its goal of urban revitalization by doing just that. Read more about the city of Detroit’s latest success here.
The idea that poor people and their families can save anything meaningful seems as ludicrous as the assumption by Muhammed Yunus in 1976 (Price of Dream) that small amounts of credit could help build poor families start businesses in Bangladesh. Jeff Ashe and Kyla Neilan’s In Their Own Hands demonstrates both. In fact, the poor can do so effectively, on their own and with little to no outside help – a departure from the approach of the microfinance movement. When NGOs train participants and then “get out of their way” — these rural and urban groups perform best. Women and men in each group manage themselves and their money more effectively than constant NGO-interaction or supervision. The savings group movement enables not only the poor but the very poor to do what they could not do before: save first, then borrow from each other and continue the process over and over again without help from the outside.
Mr. Ashe’s chronicles his own personal journey from the Peace Corps volunteer forming solidarity groups in Guatemala to microfinance practitioner in Boston. He admits his own misgivings with the micro-lending movement (see this 2007 SSIR article here) and its microfinance institution-building efforts in the 1990s. He poignantly tells of his own sartorial discovery of these groups thriving in Nepal and his own efforts afterwards to launch them in some of the harshest climatic, economic and political environments across Africa and Latin America.
The novel is a compelling read for anyone interested in exploring a poverty-reduction model that is easily scalable, highly-efficient, low-cost to implement and teaches people and their communities to help themselves by putting the power of choice in their own hands.
What builds a successful ecosystem to support entrepreneurship development? The concept of focusing on enabling environments is a global concerns for development practitioners and complementary to efforts to support entrepreneurs individually or in groups. The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs provides a diagnostic toolkit for development practitioners to assess entrepreneurial ecosystems. Access the complete toolkit here.
A recent report from the World Economic Forum also details similar contextual challenges and opportunities that entrepreneurs face to launch and sustaining their businesses. The importance of access to markets, human capital and financing constitute a trifecta of priorities for budding entrepreneurs. Find the report here.
After my recent research into community economic development in Atikokan and Siene River First Nations (Ontario) in September, my travels will take me to Ely, MN this month to discuss similar economic potential with business and community leaders. Like so many other rural communities, this small rural community on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness managed by the USFS is at a crossroads of an aging demographic and lower patronage rates to the park resulting in fewer tourism dollars. Sulfide mining presents an opportunity both in terms of jobs, increased local business growth and a future for youth so that they may stay in the area. . It is a chance for communities, similar to Atikokan to survive. A central question that I will continue to explore in future posts is whether extractive industries are the only option for a community’s survival, particularly for the retention of its youth or other options available such as expanding environmental tourism or a blend of both? Check out a couple rural perspectives in these links here in Ely and MN