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They Already Have Answers, Just Ask
Category: Economy | By SDR, 29-Aug-2019 | Viewed 650  Comments 0 | Source Jeffrey Ashe
Jeff Ashe

A Commonsense Approach to Building Local Economies at Home and Abroad


What if there was a new initiative based on a common sense approach to international and domestic development, based on a simple idea: build on the savvy problem solving capacity and commitment that abounds not only within immigrant enclaves but also in the villages where these immigrants were born?

Jeffrey Ashe offers examples of how this approach might work in promoting economic development which could sidestep the aid industry with its preconceived one-size-fits all solutions and charity orientation. It could instead serve as a catalyst so local leaders with good ideas that have the time and resources they need to translate ideas into actionable projects. The expected outcome could be better solutions tailored to local needs that build on the commitment to help each other that abounds in poor communities at a small fraction of the costs of the institutional alternatives. 

Two examples, one from Nepal, and the other from Boston illustrate the concept:

In 2018, I interviewed a dalit (untouchable caste) woman living in a village in Nepal. Dalits are among the poorest and most marginalized population in Nepali villages. This woman organized a dhikuti among the other dalit women in the village. (A dhikuti is a traditional savings circle in which all members contribute a pre-determined amount of money each week with each member in turn receiving total collected that week until all receive their payouts.) If this woman were to receive a "Genius Award" from "They Already Have the Answers," she would have the time and resources to train and support new dalit savings circles in nearby villages. Then she could train dalit women from more distant villages so that they could organize dhikutis in villages near where they live.   

In Boston, I spoke with the Bangladeshi leader of a forty-eight member samite (the Bangladeshi term for a savings circle). Through their samite each member contributes $2,000 in cash to the fund every month with two members receiving a $48,000 payout at the monthly meeting. Most use their payout serves to launch or grow their businesses, or to make a down payment on a house. The samite organizer wants to create an "Immigrant Bank" to finance businesses larger than the convenience stores owned by the Bangladeshi members. Instead of loan eligibility determined by credit scores, which many immigrants do not have since they obtain credit through their samite and deal largely in cash, eligibility for loans would be determined by one's reputation in the community and their payment history in their savings circle. Since many in immigrant communities lack access to bank credit and use informal financing, this model, using criteria relevant to immigrant communities to determine loan eligibility, could be widely replicated.

As these examples from Nepal and Boston suggest, the "They Already Have the Answers Initiative" will first identify those who are passionate about their ideas. Then, with their "Genius Awards," the awardees will have time and resources to translate their ideas into projects, meet with other awardees to update each other on their progress, and present their projects to potential funders and socially oriented investors. The "They Already Have to Answers Team" will identify community leaders, help them develop their projects, facilitate meetings with other awardees, link projects to outside resources, and document the outcomes.

The work of development agencies and international and domestic NGOs (at their best) is important, but building economic development interventions based on local solutions may be even more important. The approach underpinning "They Already Have the Answers" represents a fundamental shift in how to promote economic development. Instead of development experts imposing their solutions, we will instead seek out smart, creative, dedicated problem solvers " the dalit woman in Nepal and the Bangladeshi samite organizer are only two of what are doubtlessly hundreds of thousands of examples " and with these leaders in charge, help move their ideas along. 

The balance of Jeffrey's ten page article including further background, cited references, budget and request for funding can be found here:

Jeffrey is a long time advocate for assisting the poor to rise above their circumstances.

Book by Jeffrey Ashe

Jeffrey Ashe

Fellow, Carsey Institute of Public Policy
University of New Hampshire

Research Fellow, Global Development and the Environment, Tufts University

Adjunct Associate Professor, School for International Public Affairs, Columbia University
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