“I really appreciate this well done memorial bio. She really took economics beyond its ‘dismal science’ reputation and demonstrated its relevance and necessity in addressing pressing global problems where other disciplines would fail.”
“'However, much like the larger development conversation, most of the talks have centered around how the impoverished could be saved with a simple idea if "we" or the government, or humanitarian organizations would just implement it.'
Which is why weirdness like the Play Pump, Soccket, and 1 million shirts never lack for attention, kudos, or celebrity endorsements. Community-driven development and partnering with or accompanying/supporting communities driving their own development just aren't 'sexy' enough for a TED talk.”
“I found some new information about the volunteer life-cycle, which has caused me to revise my thinking on this topic. I still think the members of Gen X are acting heroically, but now for very different reasons. It turns out that every generational cohort goes through a volunteering peak stage between the ages of 35-46, so it should be no surprise that Gen Xers are doing the same. What is different, is how low our generation started. When we were younger, we volunteered at rate significantly lower than other cohorts. But we've shed our disengaged slacker past and have redeemed ourselves by volunteering now at rates similar to other cohorts, and notably higher than the Boomers (no offense intended dad). See my revised take on the data here: http://wp.me/pYIwQ-8v”
“This is a good question, do volunteers displace employees? I haven't looked at the data on this (good idea for future post), but my experience is that they don't. Organizations like to hire people for core functions - they need to know that they can rely on that function getting done and only a contracted fully-vetted employee can provide the stability and certainty they need. Trained employees tend to stay on longer than volunteers, accumulating experience and competency. They use volunteers for work that, while important, if not not done wouldn't put their core functions at risk. So, things run a lot smoother with the volunteer, but they don't necessarily fall apart as they would without their employees. So, I think volunteers make life better for the organization and for the employees, without displacing them. My guess then, is that the library and your community would welcome your generous gift of time at the library - more things would get done well and on time, and it is very unlikely that you'd be helping to keep someone unemployed.”
I'm afraid you've been unnecessarily offended. You raise a very important point, which is that those who are looking for work are in fact participating in the labor force, they just don't have a paying job yet. This is actually one of the main reasons I used the Civilian Labor Force Participation rate instead of the unemployment rate in my analysis. The CLFP rate includes both those who are working and those seeking work, while excluding a whole bunch of other people, (people not of working age, stay-at-home parents, people who've given up on looking, etc.) In other words, the issue you raise is taken into account by the data I used.”
“Thanks for your comments Susanjellis. I like the bikini quote - an effective and risqué metaphor. You bring up an important point about the accuracy of the statistics on volunteerism, but for my conclusions to hold, I need reliability more than accuracy. In other words, I'm looking at change over time. Even if the measure is flawed in terms of being accurate, if the same measure is used over time, it should be inaccurate in more or less the same way. So, unless it is wildly inaccurate, especially in ways that correlate to other unrelated things that change over time, then we can assume that, at a minimum, the direction of change we see is reliable. So, whether the actual percent figures are accurate or not, we have a strong indication of a direction of change that is downward for volunteerism and upward for unemployment.
As for your anecdotal evidence, well, statisticians and economists have all sorts of sayings for that, but none are as clever as the bikini, so I won't bother. But, you can imagine the point of them, you don't have to discount the truth of anyones experience, but discounting any extrapolation from a data set of n=1 is pretty standard fare, as compelling as the story may be.
That said, as a point of interest, what sort of volunteering are we talking about? And why do you think it bucks the trend (assuming the trend I presented here is true)?”
“Agreed. There are still plenty of organizations doing excellent development work through microfinance. I lavish praise on them wherever I see them. But, as a movement, microfinance has broadly shifted. Many of the original thought leaders have been pushed aside and the conversations at the multiplying summits seem to have moved from exploring how to make a better and more sustainable impact for those we call "the poor" (for better or worse) to how to grow larger, adopt better banking practices, earn more profit, and satisfy the demands of the investor market.
I will take a look at your thesis as soon as I am in a place with faster Internet (I'm currently in rural Bolivia with *gasp* 24Mbps.) Best to you and your work.”
“Thank you for your comment Noor. I'm glad that these issues are being discussed at places like the C5 Micro investment summit; I'm sorry it takes something like the crisis in India to spur it. I'm curious to know more about your experience. You seem to indicate that your donors/investors abandoned your organization when the board shifted its focus - is that what you meant to say? I have suspected that this could happen, but I haven't looked for examples of larger MFIs experiencing this. When you say "that was the end of Microfinance for us" do you mean that was the end conceptually, or that was the end as in you went out of business? Finally, I wish you well in your work with Shahina Aftab Foundation - glad you are staying true to your first love.”
Noor Aftab on Dec 26, 2010 at 06:53:24
“No the investors did not abandon the project. I meant the previous board felt the "development focus" from the heart. The new donors saw it as money being stuck in the project. Having an investment banking background, I was called in to turn around the bank, close its micro finance activities and make it fully commercial bank. Our team did that and it meant no one microfinance from that entity.
Of course having the largest portfolio meant, no more new loans. And literally for a lot of those women micro-borrowers it was the end of the facility. Many new MFIs sprung up but not with the women-focus, so we started Shahina Aftab Foundation to cater to that setting up the first and only women-based microfinancing institution in the world.”
You are right on both accounts. My point though is that microfinance used to be innovative on behalf of the poor, and now it is innovative on behalf of the investor. It is getting very good (through innovation or rather borrowing yesterday's innovations from the banking industry) at creating profits, but it is moving backwards in terms of its social performance. I'm a fan of microfinance, but it kills me to see what its become.”