On Thursday, I spent the afternoon in Taragwiti (one of the villages in which Nuru works) at a Nuru Savings Club meeting. We are testing some basic banking transactions using cell phones. Just so we are clear, I am not talking about iphones, blackberries, or anything too high-tech.  We have, instead, chosen to use the inexpensive and robust Nokia 1680 Classic, which is reminiscent in shape and exterior design to my first cell phone. Its capabilities, however, are vastly different. The $39 Internet-enabled phone is going to be replacing a lot of paperwork here in the field. We will be able to collect data; analyze it; and react at an extremely rapid pace- even in remote villages. If you are interested in more information about Nuru’s initiatives in this area, please refer to David Carreon’s  Nuru blog post from last week entitled, “Revolution”. There are a lot of possibilities, which come with the adoption of this mobile technology. Quick, accurate information is critical to conducting microfinancial operations in the field. By receiving data in real-time, we will be able to respond to the communities’ needs in a much more quick and efficient manner. In the coming weeks we are going to be piloting this mobile phone-based approach to collecting data in the Community Economic Development (CED) Program. I will continue to document how this process unfolds. In the weeks since I returned to the project, I cannot help, but be amazed with how much it has changed. While I was home in Orange County working with the Nuru Research Team, I was constantly tracking the project from a macro-level, but now, being back on the ground, I cannot help but be in awe of how far the project has come. I have been keeping up with the quantitative side of the CED Program, but from a distance, the qualitative side of the project is sometimes overlooked. Over the next five months, I am going to be continuing where my colleague, Vivian Lu, has left off. Vivian has done a tremendous job in adding an incredible amount of depth to the CED program. The Savings Club Groups have been around for nearly a year. They have saved; they have lent; they have borrowed; and they have repaid. When I visit the groups and speak with the members, it amazes me with how much they have grown. One of our members, Josephat Mwita, asked me yesterday if I could advise him on passive income generation because he is nearly finished building a second building on his land in Taragwiti, and he is thinking about renting it out. I was gobsmacked. I interviewed Josephat a little over a year ago (before the CED program started) when he was running a small eatery out of rented building. Now, he not only owns his own building, but he is building a second!?! I knew that he was savvy, but I must admit that I was impressed with the speed at which he was able to advance. It should be noted that Josephat’s Savings Club Group, Mkombozi, is one of our best Savings Club Groups, nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised.

All this talk about change brings to mind an old George Bernard Shaw quote from Man and Superman, as a reference to an individual’s ability to grow at a much faster rate than is generally noticed: “The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.“ I am learning a lot about how quickly projects, programs, and individuals can grow. Vivian has done such an unbelievable job in bringing this program to the next level. What I started with paper ledgers, basic contracts, and a couple spreadsheets has now evolved into whole folders of spreadsheets, protocols, contracts, procedures, and all of these are forming the underpinnings of the MIS (Management Information System) that we are going to be adopting in the coming weeks. Vivian has really set the stage for the adoption of this technology- both the cell phone data collection and the MIS. As I mentioned above, I will continue to post updates as these new initiatives take hold.