MIT Sloan’s mission is to develop innovative and principled leaders who will improve the world. This resonated with me, as I’ve always had a desire to help impoverished children, especially in the developing world. However, it wasn’t until I started this program that I was able to turn my good intentions into an actionable plan, much less a plan that might even disrupt the nonprofit world.
The key was utilizing the EMBA network, going to ‘see and assess,’ conducting small experiments, and learning from mistakes. In other words, I followed the MIT Sloan method for affecting change. Today, Broken Crayons has opened 15 businesses, which has positively impacted the lives of more than three dozen children in Ghana. Now, we’re scaling our approach to impact entire communities with plans to turn Broken Crayons into a self-sustaining organization.
Look for the root cause
The first step involved Systems Dynamics, which taught me to model the relationships in all parts of a system and how those relationships influence the behavior of the system over time. Applying this knowledge, I built models to identify the root cause of youths and poverty. The overarching question centered on how I could use simultaneous interventions to break the system of poverty.
Go see and assess
Another MIT principle is understanding the importance of observing the ecosystem you seek to impact. After connecting with a friend and former colleague Carl Dey, I decided to focus my efforts on the ecosystem of Ghana. The next step was going to ‘see and assess’ the ecosystem in Ghana. Read More »
As philanthropy becomes a common source of finance for poverty-fighting programmes, it is natural for donors to want data about their impact on the people they want to help.
Yet measuring the benefits of philanthropy is surprisingly hard. How can we define and measure “income” in a village of subsistence farmers? Can we ask a street kid enrolled in a violence-prevention programme about his illegal activities? How do we know if a change in nutritional outcomes was the result of a social programme and not some other variable, like a change in food prices? How can we measure non-quantitative or non-monetary outcomes, like women’s empowerment or entrepreneurial motivation?
For many years, aid impact studies were based on anecdotal evidence or fragments of data. Over the past decade, searching for a more rigorous approach, development researchers have applied the “gold standard” of medical research: randomised controlled trials. In an RCT, researchers allocate an intervention, such as a microfinance loan, to a randomly selected test group of people and compare their outcomes with a control group. Read More »
Picture yourself going to the doctor. You arrive by car, park nearby, and when you enter a receptionist greets you and checks your information on a computer. You’re led into a comfortable, well-lit office; the cabinets are fully stocked. Your records are on hand. The nurses and doctors are well educated and knowledgeable, their equipment at the ready. If they can’t help you, they refer you to someone who can.
Now try to picture the same scene in sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re wealthy, your experience may be similar. But if you’re not, it’s altogether different. The roads are unpaved and riddled with potholes; it might take all day to get to the clinic by public transport. The queue to see the doctor is long–an eight-hour wait is not unusual–and there’s nowhere to sit. You might have to bribe someone to be seen. The electricity is unreliable; the clinic’s supplies are running low. Your medical records are incomplete, perhaps even non-existent. The doctors and nurses, while trained and dedicated, are not up-to-date on current treatments, and lack access to the tools they need.
The first ever MIT Sloan Africa Business Conference began and ended with a bang. Conference attendees had an exciting energy surrounding them at the event. Walking out of the elevator onto the 6th floor of the MIT Media Center, where the conference was being held, you could easily sense the enthusiasm of business professionals, entrepreneurs, professors, and students discussing ways to put Africa on the world business map using innovation as the key driver.
I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, and so my research on M-PESA, the cell phone-based payment system that has spread like wildfire across the country, strikes a deeply personal chord. Most of my research on this has been in collaboration with William (Billy) Jack at Georgetown who lived in Kenya himself for a few years. We both experienced the frustrations of what in the US would be the simplest of money transactions, and felt that M-PESA could fulfill a need of many Kenyans.
In practice, the adoption of M-PESA has been faster than we, and most other observers, had anticipated. In four short years it has been widely embraced by Kenyans, and has already had a big impact on the lives of people I’ve known for years. I did my dissertation on the adoption of farming technologies in Africa, and it’s still a subject that interests me a great deal. I’ve looked at the implementation of seed technologies in Kenya, and the diffusion of improved coffee farming practices in Rwanda. It often takes decades for these kinds of technologies to fully penetrate a population.