Sunday, September 02, 2007

Technology and Microfinance

This article in MIT's Technology Review magazine highlights a UW grad student named Tapan Parikh who has applied a whole lot of common sense to the problem of poverty in the developing world. As the subtitle states, he applies 'simple, powerful mobile tools' which are software programs that he develops for mobile phones. Tapan spent a lot of time in the field learning how people performed their work, whether they were fair-trade coffee farmers or fishermen, and then crafted software that would assist them in making their business successful. As an example, a fisherman in India could determine which port to head for to sell their catch, avoiding ports where the market is glutted on a particular day. Tapan believes in decentralization and his products are being used in the traditionally decentralized area of microfinance.

Contrast this with Mifos, an open source microfinance software project sponsored by The Grameen Foundation. This project's core is a freely-available MIS system for microfinance institutions. The Grameen Foundation is providing the initial leadership and funding for the project but is actively seeking developers and other technology pros to participate in this open-source project with the goal of making it an industry-wide effort.

These are two great examples of applying technology expertise to the problem of poverty by enabling more successful microfinance ventures. I'm excited about both of these projects. Whether they are conflicting models or will someday meet in the middle is hard to say. But there are smart people applying themselves to an increasingly dire situation.

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