social networks | Of Mind and Money

social networks


Brain networks and ecosystem position

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Tara Thiagarajan in Science. Comments Off on Brain networks and ecosystem position

How much does the ecosystem we experience, and our behavior within it, reflect in the dynamics of our brain activity? We use the Emotiv EEG device to record brain activity in different ecosystems, from people who have spent their entire lives in small, remote villages with very small and homogeneous social networks to city dwellers with hundreds of social connections and always on the move. Stay tuned for some startling results!



Evaluating Social Impact

Posted on February 6, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Microfinance, Physics of Poverty, Writing. 2 comments

For people engaged in the social entrepreneurship space, one of the most difficult questions is how to measure the positive social impact you make. How do you know you’re doing net social good?

What we typically do is assume that our product has intrinsic positive social value and so simply measure how many people have used our product or service. Then we make grand statements like ‘We have positively touched a million lives’. For some products this might be all it takes. Take solar lanterns, for instance, a solar alternative to kerosene lamps that is cheaper, brighter and healthier. A simple count of product sales in un-electrified areas might be a pretty reasonable indicator. For many other products and services though it is far more ambiguous. Microfinance, pharmaceuticals, health services, education. All of these have great potential for good but also … Read More »


The Madura Experiment (more refined)

Posted on September 12, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 2 comments

It’s been a bit of a busy month for me and I haven’t had time to post. After years now of reading, surveying, observing and thinking, we (meaning Madura) are finally putting together the pieces of our socioeconomic transformation strategy. We’re taking quite a leap from the run-of-the-mill microfinance, so we’re operating like a start-up again, which is fun. But, with profits to take some chances with, so that’s even more fun. We’re looking at a massive, for profit experiment in reengineering the socioeconomic system dynamics of our members – about half a million poor women in rural Tamil Nadu, moving rapidly to a million. This involves putting in place a large scale smart phone driven data collection system, a mobile phone rollout for our members that will support a host of applications in the future, and development of a … Read More »


Social Impact Evaluation in Interconnected Evolving Systems

Posted on July 18, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Microfinance, Writing. 1 Comment

Today there are many development economists that focus on social impact evaluation studies. These studies typically compare groups receiving an intervention to groups that did not. For example, did the group that received microfinance do better than the group that did not? Although they attempt to ‘control’ for variability between groups, I see some fundamental flaws in this approach. First, to be meaningful comparison, a ‘control’ group must be independent of the intervention group. In society, which by definition is an interconnected system, this is virtually impossible and you can never control this way for network effects.

For example, lets say the people who received microfinance in the village used the money to buy goods from the people who didn’t. Its not impossible that this could result in the ‘control group’ getting richer because they could sell more. Compared to them, … Read More »


Madura is looking for a postdoctoral scientist

Posted on June 8, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Madura is looking for a scientist who will do cool things that haven’t been done before. Here’s the ad:

Postdoctoral Scientist: Rural Social and Trade Networks

This is a unique position where you will reconstruct the trade and communication networks of rural South India from various large empirical data sets and make it available to the greater scientific community. Real time understanding of the social and trade network topologies and dynamics will be used to design interventions that can significantly impact the dynamics of the network as part of an ambitious large scale social experiment to bring about poverty alleviation.

The key requirements are large imagination, a strong desire to work for social change, the ability to work efficiently with large datasets in MATLAB and C and the ability to design cool GUIs that will facilitate public access to the data.

This … Read More »


A network view of entrepreneurship

Posted on May 5, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 1 Comment

Here is a definition of entrepreneurship that I came across in another one of Mark Granovetter‘s articles called The Impact of Social Structure on Economic Outcomes. He writes:

Schumpeter defined entrepreneurship as the creation of new opportunities by pulling together previously unconnected resources for a new economic purpose.

Granovetter goes on to say:

One reason resources may be unconnected is that they reside in separated networks of individuals or transactions. Thus, the actor who sits astride structural holes in networks (as described in Burt, 1992) is well placed to innovate. The Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth (1967) paid special attention to situations where goods traded against one another only in restricted circuits of exchange. He defined “entrepreneurship” as the ability to derive profit from breaching such previously separated spheres of exchange.

Schumpeter’s is an interesting definition and now ranks as the one I like best. … Read More »


The Strength of Weak Ties

Posted on May 3, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 2 comments

I have been thinking a lot about how to understand poverty from the point of view of the properties of the social network. In this context, I thought I would share with you a very important paper by sociologist Mark Granovetter written in 1973 called ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’ which he has more recently revisited in a new paper called ‘The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited’. Here is an excerpt:

…..individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on … Read More »


Connected we succeed, divided we default

Posted on April 26, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Microfinance, Writing. 3 comments

At Madura Microfinance, one of our primary assumptions is that women who are more informed and better connected will be more successful and make more productive use of loans.So, much of our efforts are aimed at increasing networks and access to information among our members. A PhD Student from Oxford, Sangamitra Ramachander, recently studied our women’s borrower groups to see what kind of factors predicted whether a group went successfully on to the next higher level loan or would default.This is still a work in progress but there are some very interesting results. Here is one odd one that stood out to me. She found that women that travelled more frequently to neighbouring villages (but surprisingly not the nearest towns) were several times more likely to be successful rather than default. It’s not clear whether this factor is … Read More »


The Physics of Friendship: Do we make friendships no differently than a bunch of particles bouncing around?

Posted on April 10, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 2 comments

Here’s an interesting article that I came across that surveyed 90,000 high school students to reconstruct friendship networks and then created a model of the results using knowledge of how particles in physical systems collide and interact. Haven’t read the article in depth so I’m not really doing much of a job in terms of useful commentary on its merits. Just pointing it out. (The lead author on the paper though is Marta Gonzales who worked with Albert Laszlo Barabasi who wrote Linked that I posted on earlier).

The Physics of Friendship (This is an easy to read writeup on the actual paper)By comparing people to mobile particles randomly bouncing off each other, scientists have developed a new model for social networks. The model fits with empirical data to naturally reproduce the community structure, clustering and evolution of general acquaintances and … Read More »