information flow


Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Posted on April 2, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Physics of Poverty, Writing. 2 comments

For tens of thousands of years of human history the world over looked like our village landscape – no running water, no electricity, no cars, no phones, no printing press and low literacy. You have to wonder then how all of a sudden some parts of the world experienced an explosion in innovation and enterprise over the short span of a few hundred years to bring this all about. What was the driver? Surely it didn’t happen because of a king handing out gold coins or jewels from his coffers to the peasants (‘financial inclusion’?).

Some time ago I was lamenting the difficulty of getting new product information to people who live in the villages – no phone, poor road connectivity – and my husband very helpfully offered up that it sounds like we need to have heralds, messengers and town … Read More »


Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Posted on December 11, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 6 comments

One of the greatest challenges our rural folk face is a lack of access to information about markets – not just distant markets but neighbouring markets as well. Few of them read and our research has shown that they don’t tend to travel beyond a few kms for commerce (see my earlier post Do not disturb). When they do travel longer distances it’s primarily to visit temples on pilgrimage. Consequently, many of them claim that they don’t need a phone because everyone they know and interact with lives close by. I was lamenting the difficulty of getting new product information to people who live in these circumstances and my husband very helpfully offered up that it sounds like we need to have heralds or messengers and town criers like they did in medieval Europe. That got me thinking and I … Read More »


Read More, Make More

Posted on August 16, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. Comments Off on Read More, Make More

I’m betting heavily on the value of information. From everything I know in theory and intuitively, without timely access to information, not much can get done, and certainly very little can get done well. This is true for societal progress in general and for organizations. Without information there would be a lot of resources wasted reinventing the wheel and we would lose the benefit of access to the collective ideas around us. Still, this value seems sort of intangible. How do you put a number on it? Some folks in Boston from MIT and BU have tried to do just that.

In a study titled Productivity Effects of Information Diffusion in Networks Sinan Aral, , Erik Brynjolfsson and Marshall W. Van Alstyne asked the question:

Does better access to information predict an individual’s ability to complete projects or generate revenue?

They … Read More »


What’s Google? Is Obama a computer program?

Posted on May 17, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 4 comments

I am increasingly convinced that poverty is a network problem. Poor people are less connected and linked in to the rest of the world on various dimensions. The resulting information poverty results in a poverty of opportunity and therefore economic poverty and the cycle goes on. I recently did a small survey for fun where I asked about 20 women from our self help group member base that are between 5th and 8th grade educated what the following four words meant to them:

Google
Obama
Microsoft
Manmohan Singh

The majority were flumoxed by Google. No idea they said. Microsoft is a computer and Obama, is it something to do with computers? Manmohan Singh was correctly answered by a handful (6 to be exact). Others asked: Is he a Hindi film actor? cricketer?

Facebook? YouTube? I didn’t bother to ask.

We don’t live in the same world.


The Madura Experiment

Posted on March 27, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Microfinance, Writing. Comments Off on The Madura Experiment

Madura is a for-profit social enterprise whose core business is providing small unsecured loans to the poor. In India and around the world microfinance is very much an evolving sector. Today microfinance is practiced either for-profit or not-for-profit, each with its own unique drivers.

The prevalent for-profit approach is scale focused and profit driven. In this model the goal is to create a streamlined process for the disbursement and collection of loans that allows loans to be pushed out as rapidly as possible. Interest rates for this model generally range between 25 to 40% in India today. This is profitable business. Unfortunately it has also been widely publicized and hyped as a path out of poverty. On the positive side, it provides a conduit for more fund flow into the ‘subsistence’ economy and over time competition will result in innovations to … Read More »