This week, like all of our other weeks, has been jam-packed. We (the CED program and Nuru Research Team) have continued exploring and testing different possible applications for cell phone data collection. In just a short time, a wide variety of cell phone applications have been developed.

We are looking seriously into integrating mobile banking (that is banking using a cell phone- something like M-Pesa) into our current CED strategy. At present, I am looking at the possibility of adopting Mifos (developed by the Grameen Foundation) as our MIS, so, as a result, I am also looking into middleware, which would allow our mobile banking to interact with our MIS in a simple an efficient manner. We have seen some interesting possibilities, and are always open to input. I will keep developments coming as we make the jump from spreadsheet to MIS and receipt to cell phone.

Banking software, databases, mobile data collection, and mobile banking are all amazing advances in technology. Very quickly these technologies will transform a lot of our operations on the ground. We can collect information and respond quicker than ever before. This speed is a huge asset to us, but this speed and efficiency is useless if Nuru’s programs are not impacting our project areas in the way that they need to. Maybe it’s Mulago Foundation’s visit here last week that has me focusing on impact in this week’s blog; maybe it is my Luddite tendencies that lead me to believe that technology alone isn’t the missing link in poverty eradication. Nevertheless, I having been thinking a lot about how Nuru goes about helping communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, while maximizing the bang for the buck.

To be quite blunt, I neither believe in “silver bullets” nor “golden hammers” in poverty eradication. A lot of practitioners and academics alike toted microcredit as an end to poverty. Now, several years after these claims, it appears that poverty eradication is not that simple. Problems have arisen in microcredit. It appears that microcredit is only as good as its loans. Now there has been a shift to savings-led initiatives. I started a savings-led initiative here last year, and, while I believe it is an effective tool in poverty eradication, it too- like microcredit- is only a tool.  There is a time and place for each. To quote Maslow’s Maxim: “To the man who only has a hammer in the toolkit, every problem looks like a nail.”

I wish there was a Swiss Army Knife or a Leatherman for poverty eradication.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal tool; and if there isn’t a universal tool, this means there also isn’t a universal training either. Nuru is equipping our members with an ever-expanding toolkit, which includes trainings regarding where, when, why, and how to use each tool. This is, however, an uphill struggle.

Referencing a previous blog that I wrote last year, poverty is not only a lack of money, but also behavior pattern. The condition of a lack of money is constantly reinforced by the poverty mindset. It is relatively easy to increase one’s short-term wealth (in a relative manner of course). Nuru, as an organization, does not give handouts. We, instead, concentrate on empowerment. Our agriculture program trains farmers to increase their harvest by 300% in one season. So, being that we work exclusively in rural areas, our agriculture program can be quite an effective tool in poverty eradication, but simply increasing one’s wealth does not necessarily decrease one’s level of poverty in the long-term. The tricky part of our job is changing our members’ long-term behavior, so that they don’t revert back into extreme poverty. Behavior change is very difficult. Old habits die hard, but we are making some headway.

The impact our project has made in our members’ lives still astonishes me, as I mentioned in my last blog post. Behavior is changing. Nuru’s behavior is changing. We have begun to learn together that while there is no miracle cure to eradicate extreme poverty, the poor themselves are their own greatest resource.