AIDG has Ceased Operations

AIDG has ceased operations. Click through the audio/video slideshow on to hear about our 10 years of work in Haiti and Guatemala.

Dear Friends,

Ten years ago I was inspired by travels to create a new type of aid organization. One with a long term sustainable legacy. One that used market forces to reach constituents. One that embraced local production and innovation in emerging markets. Ten years later I can gladly say that with your help AIDG achieved those goals. The enterprises we helped have served several hundred thousand people, and they are just getting started. A few of them might scale to serve millions.

AIDG embraced local design and manufacturing, SME investment, and direct outreach in communities to achieve an impact that will last well beyond the scope of the organization. I invite you to look through this multimedia review of our ten years of work: Thank you for your support through the years.


Peter Haas
Co-founder Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG)

The $200 Walmart Shelter in Place Kit

Stay at Home Kit

So Engineering for Change did a shelter in place kit list in response to Hurricane Sandy(ten_things_to_put_in_your_emergency_kit.html). But it bothered me because of the prices of some of the items. The home solar kit or Biolite stove will run you a couple hundred bucks and they aren’t that appropriate for the developed world. I love my Biolite stove but I’m not going to use it in my apartment if the waters have risen. It got me thinking: what could I get for a couple hundred bucks to shelter in place from Walmart? The answer is a lot!

Here is my $200 shelter in place kit (mostly from Walmart excepting one cheat from Amazon that was cheaper). All of these items would be appropriate to surviving a week in an apartment or house without grid services. Most of these items have other uses, such as camping, going to a festival, or tailgating. All of the items are under $40, most under $10, meaning you can pick them up a bit at a time.

The $200 at Walmart (and one cheat at amazon) Shelter in Place Kit:

Water and Hygiene $33.45:

3X 5 gallon foldable water carrier $5.98ea

These are my mainstay at Burning Man. They scrunch up great in a closet or under a bed when it isn’t a disaster. They carry 5 gallons of water. This is meant for your drinking and teeth brushing water, fill them up BEFORE the disaster strikes. You should also fill your bathtub, if you have one, before the disaster strikes. Your bathtub is for your cleaning water, toilet flushing water. You want a gallon a day per person. 3 carriers gives you 15 gallons. This item is a great place to splurge if you have extra cash and space.

Iodine Tablets $4.56
Iodine is for water treatment should you be going to non-potable water sources such as your water heater or that water that’s been sitting in your tub for a week. Also iodine is good if you have a boil order but don’t have the fuel to spend boiling water. Iodine tabs are more portable than chlorine bleach and are a great item to take with you if you have to move or to gift to others if they are stuck with no purification.

Clorox UNSCENTED Bleach $1.98 No Online link

Chlorine is the mainstay of water treatment. Use 3 drops (5 if very cold water) per quart. 1/8 teaspoon (1/4 teaspoon if very cold) per 1 gallon. 1/2 teaspoon (1 teaspoon if very cold) per 5 gallons. That will give you a 5-6 percent chlorine solution.

For water to sanitize dishes after cleaning use 1/4 cup per 5 gallons of water and dip after rinsing for 1 minute.

I cannot stress enough ONLY GET PLAIN UNSCENTED BLEACH. The other types of bleach are not suitable for water treatment.

Camp Shower $8.88

Though I am sure in a disaster you’ve been doing bucket baths with hand towels or sponges, after a week you’ve probably gone through the tub water and are wanting to take a shower (or maybe you are lucky and have a shower separate from your tub). Either way the solar shower will feel like civilization in a bag. Here’s a hint, don’t fill it all the way. Partially full you might get away with hanging it from your existing showerhead.

Light, Power and Communications $131.71:

Eton Solar Crank Weather Radio $35.99

This little radio has weather, FM and AM. So you can keep up to date with important information. It stays charged between emergencies if you leave it in the sun due to a solar panel on top. It has a crank for charging in emergencies, and it can be used to charge you dumbphone (see below). It has a light for when your other lighting sources die out (in the unlikely event you are stuck for a few weeks).

Energizer LED headlamp $16.28

If you are walking around or doing task lighting activities nothing beats a headlamp. The Energizer one is nice because it has different light settings. Also it has a red light mode so you can walk around without blinding the people you are talking to.

3XTent Light $4.00 ea

I like light in emergencies. Lots of light. Unfortunately this is kinda blue light. But it is bright and cheap. This is a lot of light for very little cash. Put these around your home and it will feel like a much more welcoming place. (a more sustainable cheat to this is a Bogo light which is solar powered but not available at Walmart: . I recommend Bogo over Nokero and D-light due to quality reasons. Others have died on me over the years, but Bogo keeps going strong and is easy to open and fix.)

USB Battery Backup $36.72 Note only 3000MAH

This will keep your smartphone charged for an extra day or two. For a week if you use it sparingly and turn it off to conserve power. I have an 8600 MAH version of this and spent more elsewhere, but the basic premise still holds. Our devices are part of what makes us feel like we’re not living in the Stone Ages. Being online is important. I remember in Haiti handcloth washing from the rain barrel, but still feeling modern because afterwards I’d be online. This device will keep your smartphone going at least as long as the cell towers will have diesel for their generators.

Dumbphone $9.98

Should your smart phone die this is a back up phone that can be charged from your Eton hand crank radio. Just text and calls, but it could be a life saver. Battery life on dumb phones is much better than smart phones and you should go a few days on one charge. Tracfones usually come with airtime. I list the TracFone, but the ideal would be to buy an unlocked dumb phone and switch your SIM in emergency so you have the same number. Note you need an adapter to do this if you are using an Iphone 4 and up with microsim.

36 pack AA batteries $12.77

Batteries for tent lights. These should last you 360 hours (assuming you don’t use all 3 tent lights simultaneously)

20 pack AAA batteries $7.97

Batteries for headlamp. These should last you 450 hours with the headlamp.

Cooking $37.30:

Gasone Portable Butane Stove: $12.95

This is my cheat from Amazon because the walmart butane stove was cheaper quality and higher price. This is a stove that you can use indoors without killing yourself with carbon monoxide or tipping it over and starting a fire. It is a simple to operate single burner stove. Cheaper and much less complex than many camping stoves.

12 Butane Canisters for the Stove: $17.88

This will last you way more than a week’s worth of cooking. 1 canister should give you 3 squares for 2 days.

A Real Can Opener $6.47

This is just because I have heard stories of people buying canned food and getting home and realizing the can opener is busted. If you are buying canned goods you want to have a good working can opener, not just a Swiss army knife, on hand.

I did not cover food in this post but it shall suffice to say I am a big fan of dried goods, especially Japanese food in a disaster or while camping. Nothing like having veggie sushi and miso soup to feel like you are living large in a disaster.

I also did not cover heating, but if you have ever been without heat in the winter there is nothing like pitching a tent indoors and covering it with blankets to shrink that heat envelope (you still need to use blankets or a sleeping bag and an insulating pad or mattress inside the tent as well).

Hope this post is useful to some people to help them prepare for the next disaster.

AIDG Blog and the URL changes

Due to the hacking of the AIDG site we’ve had to do a migration of the blog. Much of our content was able to make the migration but all the URLs have changed. If you are here looking for an older post please use the search function or browse the timeline to the right. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Time for change in Haiti

National Palace

The National Palace is still in ruins 2 years on. Photo Credit: Cat Laine -

Today is the two-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and I wanted to write a positive article about the good projects I have seen there. Unfortunately after reflecting, I felt that it  would be a disservice to all the people still living in camps; it would be a disservice to all those who have been evicted. Things are getting better and will improve in the coming year in Haiti, but we are a long way from having the rebuilt, revitalized Port-au-Prince that people hoped for. And it is respecting those hopes  that I must say the international community, while good at meeting immediate needs, has done a poor job in transforming lives and livelihoods and I fear we may fail to deliver what the Haitian people are expecting of us. Unfortunately we are running out of time to change our ways.

Failures from Past Disasters: Gonaïves

I want to bring your attention back to 2008 and another devastating tragedy in Haiti: the hurricanes and flooding in Gonaïves, a city a few hours north from the capital. Gonaïves flooded with 10 feet of water; 800 people were killed and there was over a billion dollars in damage. US$100 million was given in response (Al Jazeera → The international community responded in force. Tents and emergency supplies were sent in. However, I invite you to visit Gonaïves 4 years on and  tell me if that was money well spent. Many  projects are half completed or not even started such as the US$19 million hospital pledged by the Canadian Government ( Admittedly there aren't huge tent cities in Gonaïves, but that is because many people were able to reclaim existing housing stock when flood waters receded.

I bring up Gonaïves only because it is a comparatively small problem compared to what is being faced in Port-au-Prince. It is an important frame of reference. Out of US$2.6 billion given for the Haiti earthquake, only an estimated US$360 million remains in unspent private aid funding. ( Three times what was ultimately spent in Gonaïves is not enough to address the problems remaining in Port-au-Prince. Yet for some reason the UN recently declared "two years later, we can say that the humanitarian response was a success."( With 500,000 still under tarps and tents, with a Cholera outbreak started by the UN (, and  with a huge sex scandal, you have to ask, what would failure have looked like?

While some might point to the 500,000 figure as a significant reduction from 1.3 million displaced by the disaster, it should be noted that only 4.7% of those who got out of camps got into quality housing ( ). Many were simply evicted into worse conditions than the camps in informal settlements. Many others got themselves out as soon as possible with the help of remittances from family and friends living overseas. The rate of people leaving camps over the past year and a half  has slowed dramatically. The people who are left have fewer and fewer means. The biggest fear for me is that when the money runs out in Port-Au-Prince, we will have a situation similar to Gonaïves with closed NGO offices and unfinished projects and with people left to fend for themselves in informal settlements.

The Money

Where is the money? The one positive statement I can make is that in analyzing the situation I don't see a lot of opportunities for graft in the traditional sense. Contrary to conspiracy theory the money, wasn't stolen, it was spent.  Largely it was spent on things people might expect: food, water, gasoline, medical supplies, and salaries. But there were some expenditures people may not have planned on. For example of the US$376 million from the US government, 30% was spent on our own military (

Of the US$2.6 billion given in the past two years and the US$9.9 billion pledged at the Haiti Donors Conference held at the UN Headquarters in New York in March 2010, it can be hard to understand where the money went.


In total, the following 10 NGOs raised $1.4 billion out of the estimated $2.6 billion of private aid funding given for Haiti earthquake relief.

American Red Cross: $486 million raised → food, shelter, medical supplies → $330 million spent
Médecins Sans Frontières: $138 million raised → emergency medical support → $58 million  spent
Catholic Relief Services : $136.9 million raised →  shelter, cholera → $67.6 million spent
World Vision: $132 million raised → everything → $194 million spent
Save the Children: $128 million raised→ child services → $100 million spent
Oxfam: $120 million raised globally → water, sanitation, shelter → $89 million spent
Partners In Health: $102 million raised → health care → $72 million spent
Care: $58.8 million  raised → food, water, shelter hygiene → $41.4  million spent
Clinton Bush Haiti Fund: $54.1 million raised → job promotion → $37.6  million spent
Habitat For Humanity: $38 million raised → emergency shelter, housing → $38 million spent



In March 2010, US$ 9.9 billion was pledged at the Haiti Donors Conference for the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF), of which US$ 5.3 billion was to be disbursed by Fall 2011.  Of that US$ 5.3 billion, US$800 million is debt relief. According to the Office of the UN Special Envoy, only US$ 2.38 billion have been dispersed of the remaining US$ 4.5 billion. From Haiti Libre:

“Of the US$4.50 billion pledged, US$2.38 billion (52.9%) has been disbursed through four channels:

$1.59 billion (67%) in grants in support of the Government of Haiti, and to multilateral agencies, NGOs and private contractors;
$319.9 million (13%) in budget support to the Government of Haiti;
$275.8 million (12%) in pooled grant funding to the United Nations, Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank through the Haiti Reconstruction Fund; and
$197.6 million (8%) in loans to the Government of Haiti

The donors have disbursed an additional US$654.8 million for general development in Haiti, outside of the New York conference recovery pledges.”


The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), which was formed under the mandate of the Haitian government to disburse the funds in the HRF, has granted US$1.8 billion of those funds to several hundred organizations.

Unfortunately, the IHRC suspended operations in October because the Haitian government would not renew its mandate. It is a shame because the IHRC was one of the few entities getting money out the door on a large scale. So the onus is now on the Haitian government to manage the money in the Haiti Reconstruction Fund.

But even IHRC funding going out the door doesn't mean work is happening on the ground. For instance everybody talks about housing in Haiti as the biggest need, but one of the big barriers to quality housing, aside from land title, is access to micro-mortgages and repair financing. Over a year ago, I spoke with Gabriel Verret, the head of the IHRC about micro-mortgages as an option to facilitate home ownership for those affected by the disaster. He said yes they had been looking into that. Indeed the Housing Finance Facility was approved with US$47 million to do this in February 2010 ( ). By March 2011, this money was appointed to Development Innovations Group (DIG). As of this week, the country director at DIG couldn't provide information on when the funds would become available. For a US$50 million fund focused on Haiti's core challenge, it is a shame there is not even a launch date in place yet. This is just one project in the book of IHRC funded activities.

Humanitarian Projects

So a lot of the money spent by NGOs went to getting people the basics: shelter, food, water, medical care and sanitation. For the all the problems with these responses, and I am going to piss off a lot of my activist friends by saying this, all things considered the international community did pretty well on triage.  They housed and fed over a million people. They took care of 300,000 wounded. They treated 250,000 cases of cholera. That is serious work and should not be discounted. The problem is when you give to groups like the Red Cross this is the extent of the services you will get, food, water shelter, medical care. The humanitarian organizations are really good at that. What we're worse at on the humanitarian side is rebuilding lives and livelihoods. That requires government intervention.

A good example of the failed ties between humanitarian organizations and government comes from housing and the Building Back Better Communities Expo. The Expo was supposed to be a showcase of model homes that would be used in reconstruction. I first heard about it in May 2010; the first Request for Proposals went out in June. But due to untold delays the Expo itself didn't happen until June 2011!  I knew several of the participant companies and they were hopeful to leverage government contracts after the Expo to launch real housing solutions in Haiti. Even now two years on from the quake those hopes have not moved forward.

Another unfortunate thing about the BBBC Expo is that it took place in the common area of a giant affordable housing apartment complex built during the Aristide era that stood up to the quake (unfortunate because it took the only green space from that community). My colleague Sasha Kramer, Executive Director of SOIL, ( kept asking the organizers, “Why is nobody building apartments like that...?” She never got an answer.

Not all projects were delayed. The Iron Market is a perfect example of this and is the crown jewel project of billionaire philanthropist Denis O'Brien, founder of Digicel. In all deference, Denis became the success he is because he has a "get 'er done" attitude that is almost a force of nature. The man gets involved in all level of projects across the country and sees them through to completion from bridges across previously uncrossable rivers to schools in the remotest regions. But as one guy he can only do so much, as epitomized by the Iron Market. If you look at photos around the market it is surrounded by destroyed buildings. The entire area looks like a war zone, except for one gleaming project.

That captures a lot of the aid effort in Haiti right now, one project at a time. Maybe a nice school or an orphanage but no systemic change. I remember in the days early after the quake being berated by Denis because I was trying to get container forklifts sent to the Port of Cap-Haïtien, the second largest port in the country and then the only functioning port. At that point in time Cap-Haïtien was not accepting new containers of goods, aid, or food for the rest of the country because it was clogged with empty shipping containers. "We need to focus on Port-au-Prince people," said Denis who offered that he might buy the forklifts for Cap-Haïtien himself if needed. This situation became symbolic to me of the problems of centralized Haiti, a country being denied food because its main port in Port-Au-Prince was shut down, couldn't accept supplies in its secondary port because of something as small as broken forklifts. For me at that point, understanding Haiti's problems involved stopping for a moment and getting the focus off of Port-Au-Prince.

Reconstruction and Decentralization

At one time Haiti had a number of vibrant port cities, Port-au-Prince was just one of them. If Haiti wants to get out of poverty it needs to reclaim its regional metropolis structure. Creating economic opportunities requires development in the regional city hubs: Cap-Haïtien, Gonaïves, Jacmel, Jeremie, Mirebalais, St. Marc, etc. A few months after the quake former Haitian Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis sent me a copy of this interministerial plan ( This was one of a few plans developed for the first donors' meeting in the Dominican Republic. The countering government plan that was presented at the March 2010 Donors Conference in New York also included  decentralization as a theme (, but the implementation has been muted. Following a true plan of decentralization could lead to wealth generation for all Haitians.

It is important for people outside Haiti to understand the importance of decentralization for the economic development of the country. Rugged terrain and a poor road network heighten the needs for stronger regional economic markets. People  have blasted the industrial park at Caracol, currently the largest project in Haiti at US$257 million, for being located on the North Coast and for being low wage textile jobs. In my mind, the primary mistake in this project is that they did not hire 50% of the workers straight from camps in Port-Au-Prince and build them worker housing at Caracol.

The country needs more projects like this, generating large amounts of employment, leveraging functioning urban centers outside of the metropolitan Port-Au-Prince area. The US$16 million teaching hospital being built by Partners in Health in Mirebalais is another example of projects outside the capital that hold bright promise for the future of the country. The ideal would be to tie these projects to housing initiatives that clear out the camps in Port-Au-Prince. In Port-Au-Prince everybody argues about land title. If you offered Jeremie a new road network, factory and airport, I can guarantee you'll find land for a 40,000 person community out there. The same holds for other cities.

I am just trying to be clear  here that the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince is going to be a decades long affair.  The conditions there are not ideal for the population contained within the city limits. We are late on this. We should have started transitioning people day one out of camps by empowering business development throughout the country. I remember the Delegate for the North telling me he expected 100,000 people relocated to Cap-Haïtien. How many did Cap get? 15,000 coming on their own. That is not an effort toward decentralization. But we should know it is not too late to start. There is still hope for developing an economically robust decentralized Haiti.

Ending Stopgaps

And let's be clear the clock is ticking. The aid money is drying up in Port-Au-Prince ( ). Of 35 major charities surveyed by the Chronicles of Philanthropy, 15 had less than US$200,000 or had spent all their Haiti aid money.  The time has past to be focused on the basics. If you are going to help, don't waste your money on sheds built out of 2 by 4s. Focus on permanent solutions that improve people's lives and livelihoods, don't settle for stopgaps that should have been finished 6 months after the quake.

It is time to get those larger systems in place leveraging what is left of the money pledged at the Donors Conference. The massive jobs programs. The micro-mortgage programs. The SME investment. The industry relocation. The agricultural renewal. The road rebuilding. Port and airport Revitalization. Grid development. Ecotourism development. Improving ease of doing business. Overhauling the courts. If these projects don't get moving soon, the money available to the government won't keep pace with the continued triage work that has already drained the aid community. If these projects move forward they will also help engage the diaspora. The diaspora are the silent lion for the redevelopment of Haiti. There are  over 1 million Haitians and people of Haitian descent living abroad. These families send over US$2 billion annually in remittances back to the country. They want to invest but the economic climate in the country needs to improve.

The Anger

If I seem angry it is  because I am. No rational person in my situation wouldn't be angry. Instead of trying to build a new Haiti, we fed people false promises of housing and T structures in government sanctioned wastelands right outside of Port-au-Prince. Financing has been stuck for reconstruction and training. In the meantime people rebuilding on their own have been doing so improperly with limestone “quarry sand” just perpetuating the risk in the next earthquake. There was a point for a few weeks after the quake when the international community had a real chance to capitalize on the migration out of Port-au-Prince and could have avoided a lot of this suffering. But we blew it in our focus on the camps.

I am angry that we broke our promises, that all of us, for however hard we worked, truly failed the people of Haiti in the scale of the response. Even the voices to the voiceless project ( has an empty echo to it these days, not updated, not followed up upon. The sad story of people's sad stories, another echo of empty promises made to people after the quake, never fulfilled and nearly forgotten. It is time to own up to those failures and move the dialogue forward beyond stopgaps and T shelters and towards the future of the country.

Peter Haas is the Executive Director of AIDG.

Related Links:

Live Twits from the Harvard IDC Conference

Here is a breakdown on Pete’s talk (Workshop 1: Social Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries) at the Harvard International Development Conference, as I liveblogged it on Twitter. It feels a little bit like telegraph.

Ran into Ben Salinas from engineering student from Olin College. Looking out for Stephen Lee from Brandeis. 09:09 AM

Pete starts his talk off with this: (dif in spread of grid globally) 09:14 AM

He moves on 2 talk about the differences in human development (UNDP’s HDI Report: 09:17 AM

Impact of increased infrastructure development on health U.S: 09:19 AM

He talks about the diff in the ease of starting a formal sector biz in various countries:

Talks about the importance of operating in the formal sector if you are trying to have an impact on a large scale in developing countries 09:22 AM

Talks about new trends in NGOs, private entreprise, dev agencies & BOP consumers working 2gether to achieve econ/social transformation 09:24 AM

Co-creation & participatory development –> idea generation, concept evaluation, Detail design, fabrication, testing and evaluation 09:25 AM

BOP entrepreneurs examples: Vacutug-UN 09:27 AM

Vacutug: “a small scale enterprise that UN-Habitat has been developing in Nairobi, Kenya. It is… a latrine emptying service.” 09:28 AM

Ooh the new human development report: (Thanx Luca) 09:29 AM

BOP example 2: Motorola, large company targeting bottom of pyramid market. Talks about motophone (and how it looks like the razr) 09:30 AM

Motorola got cash from african telcoms to develop a small durable phone for the african market. Used the idea to dev the Razor (sweet) 09:32 AM

talks about how cell phone tech is changing the marketplace in developing countries. 4 more info:… 09:34 AM

Next example: SKS India 09:34 AM

Here is a breakdown on Pete’s talk (Workshop 1: Social Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries) at the Harvard International Development Conference, as I liveblogged it on Twitter. It feels a little bit like telegraph.

Ran into Ben Salinas from engineering student from Olin College. Looking out for Stephen Lee from Brandeis. 09:09 AM

Pete starts his talk off with this: (dif in spread of grid globally) 09:14 AM

He moves on 2 talk about the differences in human development (UNDP’s HDI Report: 09:17 AM

Impact of increased infrastructure development on health U.S: 09:19 AM

He talks about the diff in the ease of starting a formal sector biz in various countries:

Talks about the importance of operating in the formal sector if you are trying to have an impact on a large scale in developing countries 09:22 AM

Talks about new trends in NGOs, private entreprise, dev agencies & BOP consumers working 2gether to achieve econ/social transformation 09:24 AM

Co-creation & participatory development –> idea generation, concept evaluation, Detail design, fabrication, testing and evaluation 09:25 AM

BOP entrepreneurs examples: Vacutug-UN 09:27 AM

Vacutug: “a small scale enterprise that UN-Habitat has been developing in Nairobi, Kenya. It is… a latrine emptying service.” 09:28 AM

Ooh the new human development report: (Thanx Luca) 09:29 AM

BOP example 2: Motorola, large company targeting bottom of pyramid market. Talks about motophone (and how it looks like the razr) 09:30 AM

Motorola got cash from african telcoms to develop a small durable phone for the african market. Used the idea to dev the Razor (sweet) 09:32 AM

talks about how cell phone tech is changing the marketplace in developing countries. 4 more info:… 09:34 AM

Next example: SKS India 09:34 AM

Talks about sks using a high tech solution:

The sensible use of technology (palm pilots to track microloans) allowed sks to scale rather rapidly. Paper tracking is very inefficient. 09:38 AM

They could move from non-profit to for-profit and have been able to reach ALOT of people (…) 09:39 AM

Next BOP example: Full belly project. Here Pete talks about standardization of their peanut sheller, invented by Jock Brandis. 09:40 AM

Full belly’s site: http://www.fullbellyproject.

Cooperative selling peanut sheller partners with cement manfucturer in indonesia. Cement is subsidized by biz because they collect peanut 09:41 AM

… shells to use as a sort for generating biofuel 09:42 AM

Next example: Light up the world foundation. LUTW provide white LED lights. It’s the product that an engineer could love (but not very purty 09:43 AM
Light up the world’s site:

Cosmos ignite: now their product is sexy.

Next example: Kickstart (formerly approtech). Shows off moneymaker pump. Met martin fisher last yr. awesome:

Next up: AIDG (hurray); Pete talks about biogas systems:

mproved stoves and cleaner burning fuel can huge positive impact on health:

Pete finishes up with the aidg model. For more info:

Bentley Leadership Forum Part II: Panel Discussion

This post is sooooo late [Over a month late, but still worth posting. Thank goodness].

A quick refresher. Bentley College held a leadership forum at the end of April on the subject of “The Business of Healing our World”. In attendance where social entrepreneurs (e.g. Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance), CEOs (Jeff Swartz of Timberland, Dean Kamen of DEKA) and scholars (e.g. Jeff Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute).

The following is a recap of the panel discussion featuring Vikram Akula, founder and CEO, SKS Microfinance; Dean Kamen, founder and president, DEKA Research and Development Company; the Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, MD, co-pastor of the Bethel AME Church and co-founder of My Sisters’ Keeper, Sudan; and David J. Refkin, director of sustainable development, TIME, Inc.

Vikram Akula

Vikram Akula starts off with his well-perfected pitch. The mission of SKS Microfinance is to empower “the poor to become economically self-reliant by providing financial services in a sustainable manner.” When they first started, SKS was just offering collateral free loans. Sivdama landless labourers earning at that time a dollar a day. Had to put their son in bonded labor just to get enough cash to buy grain fro their fam for that year. First year loan for 1000 rupeees about $20, fruit stand. 2nd loan Fruit trees.3rd year fishing nets… portfolio diversification, 4th yr all nets for all men’s friend, fruits 5th 25000, $500 fridge, so much fish; 6th and 7th contracts with distributors, 8th 50,0000 $1000, eight people working for her, $12 a day. Indian middle class. Her son is out of bonded labor, out of high school,) [that’s a darn good narrative. While the currently have about 650,000 borrowers.

At SKS, the spiel that the loan officers give is carefully scripted. The idea is that standarization makes things more efficient and streamlined.

The fatal flaw of microfinance … (a teaser; cheeky, very cheeky)

Gloria White Hammond – For $33 dollards you can earn the freedom of a girl.
7 women. Intentionally small. Pooled together palm pilots and atm cards for a small village in sudan.

Education girls, fastest shortcut to increasing well-being … 1000 girls. Going to start building. Because of peace agreement in southern sudan. Folks are comng back. Just want a fraction of oprah’s lunch money. No need for fireplaces.

You couldn’t have peace in sudan until you had peace in the entire country.

What she’s learned from Samantha power’s America in the age of genocide. Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Do not good.

Mentions China’s enterprises in Sudan and recalcitrance about using economic input to levarage influece in sudan.

David J.Refkin – sustainable business practice

How to turn this into something meaningful at your jobs. 1) understanding your impacts 2) realizing that these are opps, they shouldn’t be waiting to get attacked. There is a better way. Offense, people, offense. Rather than responding to campaigns (and after getting a wake up call of getting attacked by an NGO about 13 years ago). Making sure the people they do business with are doing the right thing as well. Protecting brand, maintaining credibility. Challenges but also opps. Toyota (5,000 a yr, now 18K a month). Time doesn’t own paper plants, etc. supply chain issue, have to influence. 500,000 tons a paper. 5yr they knew that only 5% of lands…. 2006 80%… only got to 70%. How, find innovative people that you can work with. Find governors who are interesting. Engage in dialogue. Take to the loggers. Answer their questions, tell them why this is important to them.

Remix: getting folks to recycle their mags. getting 1 in 6 mags recycled. Issue with slick coated paper… couldn’t recycle years ago, now can… launched add campaign…

Published a book by… measure carbon footprint by time and in style… not thrilled, but got to measure to act.
Did a forestry project in Russia (wood in Russia, paper in finland)… hard, trying to work with illegal loggers, can . carrot carrot carrot, giving more business to the guys doing well. Reward them for doing well. Time only company that has sustainability report in the publishing industry. Not about greenwashing, gotta show warts and all. It’s about making change and promoting sustainability.

Sustainability is going to be ingrained in biz. This is hwo we’re going to do the right thing and make it work for our business.

Deam Kammen
Technologist, physicists, engineer, . No laws of physics as changeable as the laws of man. They are subtle but not cruel. They cannot be revoked.

Stirling … 2 boxes … would take any water 1000L a day, 1/3 of the power as a hand held hair dryer. No filters, no membranes.
Other box that will make electricity that will make money out of anything that will burn. Vapor compression distiller. Neat piece of thermodynamics. Stirling … cycle … 800 psi working fluid of helium. Fuel cow dung. 30 villages to families that have never had any electricity.

Invention vs. innovating. Make stuff do stuff, fun. Getting people to use it in a meaningful way. These 2 boxes: $50m

50% of all chronic (?) disease is water related. Must verify this fact. … schistosomiasis. 50% of global population have never used electricity.

Water and power, top down and municipal things. Power companies, transmission lines very tough for very isolated communities. Need a new way. Gotta stop assuming that 18th century tech is going to solve these problems. Gotta use . grameen phone not needing subsidies from … . called iqbal quadir … what if I could give you a box that would do for water
Going to take a sabbatical from my sabbatical… 3 entrepreneurs. Mr Exxon (the cow dung ), mr con ed (who runs th ebox) an dmr GE (who cells the LEDs)
Each village had one fridge, …

If you could build those machines for $1000, you could microfinance that and sell it …

(US pharmaco pia standard for injectable water). In village (could make water for under a penny a liter). Very very cool. The price has come down A LOT. Hurray!

Vikram: What is the fundamental flaw: microfinance for all the success it has locally is not able to scale to large numbers. We have 3 billion people, living on $2 a day. Only reaching to 15% of need. Ifit was a telco, you’d write off the industry as underperforming. Microfinanciers give themselves a pat on the back and hand out awards.

Barriers: problems of capital à ngos that really on grants
Capacity à small mfi, small villages, most only get to 10,000 clients
Cost à high cost, lots and lots of 100 dollar loans with repayments of 1-2 dollars a day a week

Don’t have the people power and the issues. She said… am I not poor too. Do I now deserve to get a chance to get my family out of poverty. SKS how do you design a mfi so that you don’t have to say no to

Accessing capital: don’t be an ngo, pursue a profit model, that way you can access commercial capital. 24% return on equity. Sequoia capital (also invested in yahoo)

Capacity: finding … from the business world. Standardization baby. How does starbucks rollout. SKS does 60K new customers a month. Best practices from business

They EXTENSIVELY use tech to overcome costs. Introduced an automated … using cell phone based tech, leap frog some of the landline constraints.

Dean: tech when properly applied can be a terrific amplifier for the things that people do. They trouble is it can amplifier everything (the good and the bad). Monty python… I have a plan, it doesn’t work, I’m going to stick to it. Why is mmicrofinance flourishing when it is on th emargins. (so many large institutions are battleships). Leverage in the very very near future …

Be will reduce by 50% the number of people who don’t have access to water. For at least the next 15 years, at least 50% will still be dying. What will they say. Nothing they will be dead. … you couldn’t get away with that …

$1000 box, serve
1 billion dollars. How is it sustainable… not top down, bottom up… making a million job (or 3)… if we believe in capitalism why do wecheck out brain at the door when it come sot helping the poor. Let’s make the grameen phone fo rwater and power. Institutionalize that… 15 yr plans for that never happen on budget and we never seem to get what we wants.

Question: how to fund, and how to profit from this investment
They did not design, conceive, tool up, develop cell phones. They didn’t have …

In his model there are a not few 100 million people who need … $30 million … every he knows would happily pay $1000 to do that … I’m going to have to spend 2 yrs to design and build… the incremental thousands are easy to get (like venture, the first money is hard to get then it gets easier). They need to find another use for these boxes so someone else will pay for design and dev or there needs to be a another way to do development.

Most people at leat subconsciously believe that we have all these technologies because we are rich. No no no we are rich because we have all these technologies.

Poor folks are looking for opps. There is a way to givev a helping hand and get a financial return
Shorebank in Chicago, calvert has a social investment fund. Compartamos just went public, kiva for online lending. Institutional things $100m endowment gift to tufts from omidyar ?… has to go into microfinance. Very very cool

Q for Gloria
As a pediatrician how has that background influenced your experience in sudan and how would that ….

She was impressed with the integrity of the slave redemption work and the level of resilieance tha tpeople had. Lydia polgreen? Indices of hope of cultures that expereicnes great calamity. Highest indices in Africa … see new news out of Africa. One of the reasons that … so much of the news that comes out is so bad. She goes to list some of the good news that is coming out ….(plug for wedia). People perservere and believe that there is going to be a better way.

Q despite all of the innovative programs… at what point do they tell themselves that they are simply not doing enough… how far should a company like time go

They are starting to see othe rcos in their industry who would ask why they are spending time on these issues… journey without a destination (constant improvement… find the Japanese word)… announcing a project in Canada… measuring whether birds are reproducing in various types of forestry regimes…

Programs and initiatives are very important steps in this direction (sustainability) Continue reading

A Tale of Two Leadership Academies


Maarten's Work in Tierra Colorada

Maarten instructs Lety on how to use her biodigester

Maarten has spent this last week in Tierra Colorada installing a biodigester system with Candido for Dona Lety. Dona Lety is a victim of domestic violence, and AIDG has donated this system to her and her 4 children to help offset expensive fuel costs and provide fertilizer to help increase her crop’s productivity. In this picture, Maarten is showing Lety how to mix pig manure with water before dumping it into the biodigester. Each day, Dona Lety is to put in more manure or food scrap, and in the coming weeks gas will be produced, and Dona Lety will have a source of clean burning fuel.

Bush Visits Guatemala

Last week President Bush visited various Latin American countries, including Columbia, Brazil and Guatemala.

Here is what MSM (mainstream media) and the blogosphere say about the trip. Tough crowd. Tough crowd.

  • Spring break from the Economist
    Expectations are low as George Bush sets off to a region he has neglected throughout much of his presidency

    Here is a letter to the Editor from the Foreign minister of Guatemala in response to comments madethe above article

    Why Mr Bush paid a call

    SIR – You said that George Bush’s visit to Guatemala was “largely to thank the government for joining America’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq” (“Spring break”, March 3rd). In fact, Guatemala was the only country in Central America that did not join the “coalition of the willing” in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning the use of force in Iraq.

    We would like to think that President Bush’s stop in our country was partly because Guatemala has had such a compelling story to tell since the signing of the 1996 peace accords. While still facing difficult challenges, we have made progress towards becoming a pluralist, democratic society. It is well known that the United States has not always been an objective bystander in domestic events, but I am happy to confirm the point you made that in more recent times our bilateral relationship has been very constructive and mutually respectful.

    Gert Rosenthal
    Foreign minister of Guatemala
    Guatemala City

  • Guatemala: Photos from indigenous protest of Bush visit from Boing Boing

    Read the text of the post for some commentary from Allen Sullivan, the photojournalist who snapped the shots.

  • Latin America Trip Not Entirely Business as Usual from NPR

Bonus Latin American Story:
Banana profits went to terrorists from Foreign Policy Blog
Banana companies, like Chiquita, have had to pay protection money to terrorist orgs to prevent their employees from being murdered or harassed.

So let me put my biases on the table before I begin the discussion. I’m black, a nice chocolaty black, not so black that I’m purple, but black. In the black community as in many communities around the world, lighter skin is viewed favorably particularly in women. There is the whole “lighter is brighter” thing plus the “good hair vs. bad hair” thing. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, particularly the scene with the women are having a pow wow. Anyhoo, that’s where I’m coming from when I read about the Fair and Lovely Debate being played out between C.K. Prahalad and Aneel Karnani from U. of Michigan. See these posts from Salon’s HTWW () and () for a summary.

Here are a few questions the whole debate made me think of:

1) Is it progress when a person purchases a product that allows them to rise above their station when the underlying discrimination that determines their station doesn’t change?

This is one of those questions is that much better with examples as my answers definitely vary.

Example 1: A person with a thick Mancunian accent gets elocution language to sound posh like Lady Di.

Okay, that seems fair enough. Sure it would be nice if all regional accents were equal (some are actually quite lyrical) but that doesn’t bother me too much. It saddens me because diversity is lost, but it doesn’t really bug me.

Example 2: A

Example 3: A person with dark skin buys Fair and Lovely to lighten their skin.

Now that really bothers me. I was trying to figure out why aside from the obvious reasons.

2) Is it empowerment when people who would not have dared to try to “pass” can buy things that allow them to do so now?

I think it is in that people are recognizing the racist system in which they live and doing what they can do get by within it. It is crafty and from the buyer’s side is a smart move.

3) Is it an example that I would use to illustrate the success of the BOP concept?

Uh no. It’s creepy. However you slice it and regale the customer’s rationale choices, Unilever is making a profit off the fact that a certain type of racism/classism exists in India and other places. Ew. Yes it is a product that the people want, but ew just the same. Sure, I probably would be less bothered if it were any other cosmetic and yes I am sensitive about this issue, but still.