30 January 2010

What works..small is beautiful

All efforts at improving development indicators need not be scalable to make a difference. Anantha Nageswaran on how small is beautiful :


Anil Gupta of India’s National Innovation Foundation reinforced the case for small efforts in his characteristic forthright manner in a recent Wall Street Journal interview (http://online.wsj.com/ article/SB125376926792036847.html). He said that scale should not be made the enemy of sustainability.
What he said further is important: “In other words, if some solutions don’t diffuse, do they become less legitimate? Are problems of small communities less important than problems which affect a large number of people? Sustainability doesn’t mean that the same solution applies everywhere, because nature is essentially diverse. But we are trying to remove diversity by scaling up solutions… By treating it as such, it creates more problems because what was not uniform is being treated as uniform, which means the dissimilarities and variabilities became more manifest.”
This is important for public policymakers and thinkers. India’s size and the scale of poverty that remains to be tackled, combined with a Western fascination with scale efficiencies, make many of us suggest blanket nationwide efforts and interventions. They might make for neat Power Point presentations, but they mostly do not work. That is what many consumer marketing companies discover when their national marketing campaigns boomerang in some locations.
Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work on a pan-India basis confirm that small and context-relevant interventions work. Such interventions help to build evidence on what works and what does not. The recognition of this reality gave birth to Poverty Action Lab (www.povertyactionlab.org), housed at the department of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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