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July 2012

What Katherine Boo’s book tells us about the modern city: garbage has more mobility than citizens do

Sintana Vergara's picture

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo. Random House, 2012.

Mumbai Slum, Girl on SwingKatherine Boo’s book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” digs deep into life in a Mumbai undercity. The author escapes the dichotomies that roll off our tongues when we speak of places that are replete with disparity; instead she spends seven years interviewing and observing, and brings us a story of life, hope, and despair in Annawadi, a slum precariously perched between an international airport and a sewage pond. What emerges is a sensitive, careful, complex portrait of characters that use the means at their disposal – hard work, political connections, lies, or prayers – to climb over the high walls that separate their city from the rest of Mumbai.

Using trash as a thread to tell the story, Boo illustrates both the feudal nature of life in Annawadi and the absolute segregation – the boundaries, to use Richard Sennett’s term – between the slum residents and those who live on the other side of the great big wall dividing the slum from the international airport. The narration is centered on Abdul and his family, who make money by selling recyclable materials from the city’s garbage. Their relative wealth has afforded them a position above the trash pickers’ – they own a small storage facility that allows them to purchase waste from collectors and sell it to waste dealers.

Growing Book Program Gives Rural School Children Access to Textbooks

Victoire Ngounoue's picture

Thousands of schoolchildren in the northwest region of Cameroon are benefiting from a co-investment schoolbook program established by Knowledge for Children (KFC), a Cameroon-Dutch based non-governmental organization (NGO).

-Despite high enrollment rates, one in two students in Cameroon leaves school without basic literacy skills, a metric that is significantly worse among students without access to textbooks
-In the northwest region of Cameroon, a local development project has made school books available to more than 27,000 children in rural primary schools, which provides the potential to hugely enhance a student’s academic performance
-Since 2005, the number of primary school students in the northwest region with access to books has increased from 15% to 25%

if you think education is expensive, try ignoranceManjong Sixtus, Delegate for Basic Education, Donga-Mantung



During the 2010 – 2011 academic year, 95 schools participated in the program that has made school books available to children in rural primary schools. But, thanks to a US$20,000 (XAF 10,470.900) grant awarded during the 2011 Development Marketplace competition in Cameroon, KFC has been able to extend the program to 15 new schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, bringing the total number of participating schools to 110 and reaching 27,500 children.

How Kenya became a world leader for mobile money

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

What if anyone owning a cell-phone, whether rich or poor, also had access to financial services with the ability to save and send money safely, no matter where they are located?  This is not science fiction; in fact it is already happening in Kenya, which has become the world’s market leader in mobile money.

Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” (or “M-PESA” which is very different from “mobile banking” as Michael Joseph–the former Safaricom CEO, and the man behind that revolution—can explain passionately!).  

Internet access is also increasing rapidly, even though many are complaining about poor service by some operators. Within the next two years, Kenya could become one of the most connected, and modern economies in the developing world, and a unique case among the world’s poorer countries, that have an average annual income of below US$ 1000 per capita (see figure).

Indigenous Peoples: The Issue of Poverty and the Importance of Good Policy

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

Indigenous Peoples make up 4 percent of the world’s population yet account for over 10 percent of the world’s poor. The Development Community cannot afford to ignore Indigenous Peoples if it aims to achieve the international development goals.

In our recent book, Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development (edited by Gillette Hall and Harry A. Patrinos), several issues threatening indigenous peoples today, are highlighted. The book provides a study of Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities (and scheduled tribes) for most of the countries with the largest indigenous/ethnic minority populations, namely India and China, along with three countries in Africa (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon), Lao PDR and Vietnam, and has updates from six Latin American countries, which we had analyzed in our earlier work on Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004.

Quote of the Week: Jean-Claude Trichet

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“My own working assumption is that the Europeans are learning the hard way that to run a single currency, you have to have not only a monetary union but also effective governance of the economic union."

--Jean-Claude Trichet. As quoted in the Financial Times, July 6, 2012. Lunch with the FT: Jean-Claude Trichet, by Martin Wolf.

Cutting Trade Costs to Kick-Start Growth

John Wilson's picture

The ongoing turmoil in Europe with the euro and sluggish global economic recovery has important implications for growth and trade in developing countries. A World Bank report released recently suggests that as a result of instability in advanced economies, developing country growth will slow to a relatively weak 5.3 percent in 2012. In a speech recently, WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy described the rise in trade protection as alarming. Restrictive measures put in place since the global economic crisis in 2008 amounts to 3% of world merchandise trade, and almost 4% of G-20 trade. They have remained unabated over the past seven months.

Given economic slowdown in developing countries and an increase in restrictions on trade, what policy steps can the global community take to ensure trade remains a source of jobs and growth? 

Do Commitment Accounts Help?

Xavier Gine's picture

Ask farmers from low-income countries why they don’t purchase critical inputs, such as improved seeds and fertilizer, and they will most likely tell you that they “lack the funds” to do so. While this may be a catch-all excuse, the answer is all the more surprising given the high marginal returns that these investments usually entail.

One solution to this liquidity problem is to encourage formal savings. Low-income households do save informally in more expensive and risky ways (holding cash at home, purchasing livestock, etc.) but they find it hard to save at a financial institution. There are many reasons for this behavior. Absent the more recent technology-based solutions, such as mobile banking or banking correspondents, transaction costs can be high given the sometimes substantial distances to branches and the costly and unreliable transport. In addition, individuals may lack knowledge about the benefits of formal savings and may not be familiar with account-opening procedures. Banks don’t typically make much money with savings products targeted to low-income products unless they are loaded with hidden fees and commissions, in which case potential customers may be better off not saving at all. (One of these days I’ll blog about an audit study we are doing in Mexico to understand the quality of information and financial products offered to low-income households.)

Health information systems in developing countries: Star Wars or reality?

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

(Doctor at the GP office working with prescriptions. Kirov, Russia. Credit: Dmitry Kirillov/World Bank)

In the late 1990s, an international consultant told me that a proposed electronic health information system in the Dominican Republic was “like Star Wars and will not work in this country.”


Our objective was to improve service delivery by virtually connecting health providers to share medical records with one another as patients moved from health centers to hospitals. We learned that this was much more than an overnight task, requiring a sustained medium-term effort by the government to get the system fully up and running.


In recent years, I’ve seen similar efforts realized in the Russian Federation, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Botswana. In two Russian regions, Chuvash Republic and Voronezh Oblast, for example, electronic records are helping coordinate the flow of clinical and financial information across the health systems as facilities, departments within hospitals, and health insurance agencies have been “virtually” connected through broadband networks. The electronic records are supporting clinical decision-making, facilitating performance measurement and pay-for-performance initiatives, and ultimately the continuity of care as patients move across the health system. Inter- and intra-regional medical consultations and distance learning activities are also being supported by telemedicine networks that connect specialized hospitals with general facilities.

Training opportunity for people interested in doing RCTs on savings programs

David McKenzie's picture

The Yale Savings and Payments Research Fund (YASPR), under the Global Financial Inclusion Initiative at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), is planning a training event for PhD (and PhD-track) researchers who are interested in conducting randomized control trials (RCTs) on micro-savings and payments.