Measurement tools and why we should not be afraid of failing

This guest post is by Juanita Riaño, who has a long-time experience in working on issues of measuring anti-corruption, transparency, and good governance at the World Bank Institute, Transparency International, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Since I first read about Global Integrity’s innovation fund, TESTING 1 2 3, I have been looking forward to learning about the selected proposals. I have been working on the field of measurement of governance for a number of years now, and I have witnessed the explosion of approaches to gather or produce information intended to advance the agenda. By no means have I thought we have reached the frontier, but I think we are starting to see some diminishing returns.

This morning in her blog-post “tools in search of a problem”, Nicole Anand from Global Integrity was asking us, the blog readers, “Are we at risk of producing tools that yield disappointing results? Or can there be unexpected benefits to them – for example, can a tool conceived to help X end up fixing Y?” I could not resist giving my 5-cents worth of an answer. Of course you are at risk of producing tools that disappoint! That is the whole point of innovation; otherwise you should be talking about replication and/or adaptation.

The governance community should not be afraid of trying and failing. There is so much we can learn from our failures. Of course if, and this is, for me, the important part, we do not sweep it under the carpet but take the time to reflect on it. The worst case scenario would be that thanks to someone else trying and not succeeding, the rest of us would know that under a particular set of circumstances, certain ways of gathering information do not work.

This would save resources –money, credibility, social capital, etc– for many other organizations. The best case scenario, there are unintended consequences that benefit other initiatives. For example, thanks to someone else trying an approach to gather information to improve the participatory budget process, the rest of us could learn that there are tools we can use to inform programs intended to increase parents’ participation in primary schools in rural areas. Not bad, isn’t it?

This does not mean that those of us who work in the field of informed advocacy should stop being critical about our thinking process. When developing tools and approaches to gather or produce information, it is crucial to not forget defining what is exactly what we want to change. It is important to have a clearly defined objective because it is not about gathering information for the sake of gathering it. Nor it is only about trial and error: we need to  take some time to craft a strategy that put us at a point where given our resource constraint, we design an instrument that help us to get closer to whatever it is we want to change.

At the end of the day, I think it is about us being willing to take risks but also not losing sight of the forest. All this to say that I look forward to reading about the ideas supported by the TESTING 1 2 3 Fund.

developing social impact through crowdfunding in Latin America

Crowdfunding in the US is buzzing. And while the crowdfunding crowd is anxious as to when the SEC will put JOBS Act regulations into place, there is few doubt that the market will grow even further. In Latin America, however, crowdfunding is just gathering momentum with about 40 online platforms established over the last couple of years.

That’s why I am excited to meet some of the leading and most interesting crowdfunding platforms next week, including Idea.me and Crowdfunder in Mexico, and Kiva, Global Giving and Solar Mosaic who have been working in the region. With CommunityLeader, Rebirth Financial and When you Wish, there will also be some US based platforms sharing their experiences. At a workshop at the Multilateral Investment Fund, we will discuss the potential of crowdfunding for Latin America. The different models that we’ll be looking at are those that offer non financial incentives, such as donations and rewards, and platforms that promise financial returns through equity or debt-based models. I am very grateful to Kevin Berg and Carl Esposti of crowdfunding think tank Massolution to have helped design the workshop and gather this great group of people for a surely inspiring day.

The crowdfunding market

The global crowdfunding market had raised about $1.5bn in 2011, with most of the money coming from North America and Europe according to research by Massolution. Still a relatively small amount comparing it with the microcredits market for example, that only in Latin America has reached a record high volume of nearly US$ 19bn in 2011.

Most platforms in Latin America are concentrated in Brazil, with the remaining based out of Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Uruguay. And while the development is only blossoming out, the first numbers of these platforms are encouraging.

The largest platform in the region, Idea.me already has funded 175 projects in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. Agreed, not that much, given that Kickstarter, the largest crowdfunding platform hosted 34,000 successful projects in 2012. But looking at some of the projects supported, I think these are 175 projects that would not have found funding otherwise.

Cumplo Chile, an equity lending platform in Chile, has had a transaction volume of US$ 500k in only half a year of its existence. It is struggling with regulators to keep in business, but it underlines that there is a need for alternative financing models.

The projects

This great infographic by leading Brazilian platform Catarse shows which areas received most interest. Generally, most of the projects looking for funding on these platforms are in the field of creative arts, films, books, music albums and the like. In Argentina, BananaCash funds only art and cinema projects. And how can you not love great design projects, or projects that connect visual design with urban development, such as the map of public transport in Dhaka that I supported last year. But not everything are creative projects, as this selection of the most interesting projects on Idea.me in 2012 shows, or what can be discovered on Mexican platform Fondeadora.

Working at a development organisation that supports economic development to, eventually, reduce poverty, one of the challenges that I am most curious about is how crowdfunding can be used to improve small businesses and entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid.

Social impact of crowdfunding

Crowdfunding will definitely be an increasing opportunity for the growing middle class in the region to start businesses through equity and lending models, and fund creative projects, and help close the gap between microfinance, bank loans, and angel investors.

While Kickstarter has not included a category of projects that might affect social development, Indiegogo does so by the way, some reward-based platforms such as Idea.me allow to tick the social impact box. An interesting project funded last year on the website was a community workshop for bicycles, Enchúlame la bici. Other platforms, such as Acciones DF, provide a platform to crowdsource ideas to improve the urban development. And in Colombia, Donacciones is a donation-based model that looks exclusively at social projects. The Brazilian platform Impulso focuses on micro-entrepreneurs.

So how can these models trickle down to the poorer populations? Which are the sectors that could provide benefits?

While platforms of social crowdfunding such as Donacciones in Colombia is covering a multitude of sectors, on more general platforms areas such as solar energy, education and urban development seem to be the most promising ones.

Sustainability and Environment, especially solar energy, and funding for projects that bring solar energy to poor communities, is addressed by two main platforms: Sunfunder, that crowdfunds solar projects in off-grid communities around the world, and Solar Mosaic. With solar panels providing energy, Solar Mosaic is even exploring to deliver returns through creating a mutual fund. This model could very well be adapted to the developing world. Green projects seem to be popular and successful as well.

Urban development is an area I care a lot about. I think community driven projects that benefit both poor and less poor populations can have big impacts, such as local infrastructure for basic services, energy, bus maps, a bike shop that employs young people in the community with their first job, or classes for young handicapped people. In Chile, UrbanKIT supports community based projects, such as street lights and news boards. In this field, the line between crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and community projects and platforms such as Acciones DF or Viral is becoming less clear.

Education and supporting higher education for students is a field that has been around for longer. The social enterprise Lumni for example, also funded by the MIF and present in Chile, Colombia and Mexico in Latin America, allows investors to support students through loans.

Diaspora financing: Another concept is to engage the diaspora. Through this model, the crowdfunding platform Zafen, counting on support from the MIF, allows to donate money to projects in Haiti, as well as support small businesses through loans.

These are just a couple of ideas how crowdfunding can be applied to social development, and bring financing and projects to people who have less access to it. As with microfinance, it probably will not be a silver bullet for development.

But it seems to me that there is a huge potential to explore this emerging form of peer-to-peer economic development, and create benefits for an even larger population. Especially the next generation, young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, a sense for the social world of the internet, and the wish to take the future in their own hands, might just use crowdfunding to start off their business.

What do you think? How can crowdfunding benefit poorer populations and informal businesses? What sectors will best benefit from these new funding models? What needs to happen to make this work?

I hope to have some new insights next week, after the workshop!

By the way, for those who understand Spanish, last week I did a short interview on crowdfunding in Latin America for CNN en español.

crowdfunding en América Latina

Por mi trabajo en temas de innovación social con el FOMIN, fui invitado a comentar sobre financiamiento colectivo de Gabriela Frias en CNN Dinero hace una semana. Hablé un poco sobre qué es, qué tipos de crowdfunding hay, como regular este sector creciente, y las perspectivas de su desarrollo en América Latina.

La grabación se puede ver aquí.

inauguration

six hours walking, standing, waiting, clapping, finding a good spot, not finding one, having to turn around, struggling to listen to a great speech through a malfunctioning videoscreen, feeling the breeze around my nose, enjoying the sun in my face, celebrating the country I live in, and the second term of its president.

drifting brasilia

I have been wanting to share these images of Brasilia for a while now. Since travelling to Brasilia for the 15th International Anti-corruption Conference last year in November, master architect of many of the buildings, Oscar Niemeyer has died.

The images are focused on the architecture, the spaces, of a city conceptualised in the 60′s. You’ll see few people crowding the places. It has been raining as well, so people hushed from one building to another. Standing in the entrance to have a quick smoke. Some tourists mingled around the main sights, the church, the Praça dos Três Poderes. It is even difficult to catch a taxi at times.

No bicycles. I have been wondering if the city could be re-imagined as a city for bicycles, rather than cars. I think it would work. It is mostly flat. There is enough space to create dedicated bike lanes. Places aren’t too far away, at least in the centre. Alas, it is not likely to happen any time soon. So only pictures of buildings…

my year on kickstarter: crowdfunding development, products and movies

I must say, this year I got a bit lost on what I funded and backed on Kickstarter. Solar power, urban transport maps for Dhaka, relationship movies, magnetic comic strips. Quite a random selection of fun, intriguing, intellectual and useful projects.

In this post, I wanted to look a bit more in depth into what I have supported on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Both to get an overview for myself, and to reflect on what this new form of funding means to me, and might bring for the future. I haven’t backed big amounts, or a huge number of projects. I guess, I am kind of an average backer, with US$ 199 among 5 projects. An average of US$ 40 dollars per project. But it has triggered a couple of thoughts around:

What does crowdfunding mean for international development? How driving local economic development might be supported by crowdfunding platforms? And what it means for specific products and industries?
Here’s a list of projects backed.

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The animal I didn’t see

Do you know the feeling?

I have struggled myself out of bed, denying myself the pleasure of another snooze, out into the cold, to be bitten by mosquitos, only to be waiting for that famous moose to appear. I imagined its majestic appearance, slowly trotting into the focus of my lens. But nothing. One hour wait next to the misty morning lake, and not a sight of the animal. All those road signs promising moose crossing the street, nothing.

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Trapped.

Eingesperrt. Draußen versperrt.
Gitter vor den Augen, in den Augen.
zwischen Glas und Netz, nach oben, nach unten.

Ein anderes Fenster.
Das gleiche Ritual.

Gefahr? Gelb-schwarz.
Groß, größere als andere ihrer Art.
Gigantisch.

Inspektion aus der Nähe,
ein Stachel?

keine Kommunikation.
kein Weg-weisen.

Dann die Nacht. kalt. starr.

Und der nächste Morgen,
keine Veränderung.

Hin und her. Ein Tanz.
Langsam. In den Tod?

Die Stadt, in der Ferne.

Der Wind.

Der Weg in die Freiheit so klar.
Von außen.

Beobachterposition, in der Wärme.

Hoffnungslos.

Die nächste Nacht naht.

Doch plötzlich, unverhofft, unerwartet -
fliegend, dem Licht entgegen,
noch zwei, drei Mal im Kreis,

schließlich, die Tür,
auf und davon,
in ein besseres Leben?

A City of Windows

The sky has been as grey as I have never ever seen it in Washington. It’s raining. And raining. All the rain that hasn’t fallen in the last two months. It’s getting dark again soon. But I can’t see further than a couple of blocks anyways. The wind blows around the corners of the building. A steady beat pounding from the loudspeakers. My lightened window one of thousands, of millions. The world outside isolated.

1. Cities are full of stories. I am a story. I am here now. Welcome to Washington D.C.. I am part of this city, this crowd, breaking through the rain, cycling its streets, going places, work, cinemas, restaurants, parks. At the same time, I am alone in this city, any city, any place. What would be this city without me? It wouldn’t cease to exist. It would only not exist for me.

Every person a story, a light behind a window. When they are lucky. I have never seen as many homeless people as in Washington. Some hiding behind constructions, some just lying on the next doorstep, wrapped in pieces of cloth, blankets, newspapers and cardboard, wherever a roof provides them shelter. Lighting up a cigarette, if they can afford it. Once, I was standing in front of a bar, waiting. A guy comes along and starts talking to me. I know that he will ask for money, his clothes are worn down, hair uncombed, he has this look. But I let him. Hastily, he gives his line, it’s a joke: “How’d you get a homeless person on the roof? You tell ‘em the drinks are on the house!” I have to grin. It is funny. He knows, it is funny. I give him a buck. He goes on and tells his line to the next passer by. That is his story. All day long.

In the rain, all cities are grey. Streets are lonely, suddenly, life washed away by the water, not recognizable.

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Earthrise

Ahead of the Rio+20 summit, I have been working on a new tool that looks at investment in green energy in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Climatescope. Had me crazy, but it is now live and it kicks! Definitely worth playing around with.

But what I came across, and what had me breathless for a while, was this 1968 photograph of the earth. Imagine this, you are an astronaut, you step out of your Apollo 8 in the morning, to get some fresh air (or a smoke, or so) and then you see this, the earth rising from the dark, magically appearing in front of your eyes. A beauty. Our princess. So peaceful.

That is the moment you take out your, er, iPhone and snap the shot pictured below, best watched in HD – click on it – and make sure you instagram it, tagging it #earthrise #space #RioPlus20 #SaveTheEarth.

Photo credit: NASA