Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

Sen on Poverty – the tolerance of the intolerable

23 Jan

Amartya Sen


Amartya Sen was lecturing last night at the LSE on this topic – sold out, as you might expect (2,000 enquiries in the first hour, apparently). But you could also watch a live webcast which worked well – check the LSE video site – http://goo.gl/Kqs6w7 – for the replay

He looked at possible reasons for why we tolerate poverty – ignorance, a belief it is impossible to remove it, and self-centredness (“no obligation”) and found all of them lacking. Of most interest to me were his illustrations from India, and the contrasts between India and China.

I had three key takeaways. First, on ignorance: Sen described how the Indian media ignored extreme poverty because they were “controlled” by the middle classes, in the sense that they pandered to the interests and obsessions of the middle class to ensure their advertising income. Hence little reporting of extreme poverty in India. So my thoughts turned to William Wilberforce, the crusader against the slave trade. I realised, perhaps for the first time, that part of his greatness was to rub the noses of the society of his day into what slavery really meant so that the elite that made the laws could not simply ignore it. I suppose the modern equivalent is “Benefit Street” and forcing politicians to live rough for a bit.

Second, the need for “balanced growth” – not in the sense necessarily of balance between sectors, but in the sense of balance between public and private provision. You need to grow healthcare and education as much as business if your economy is to thrive. A malnourished workforce is not that productive.

Third – think quantitatively about poverty and policy. In the Q&A session, Sen dealt with an argument that “India’s greatest problem was employment subsidies” – and simply showed that this was unlikely given their small cost, and that the much greater cost of utility subsidies to the middle classes were much larger. Avoid dogma and stick to facts and reason was a good message to put across.




Time for a change – more focus on social entrepreneurship

24 Sep

The observant among you will have noticed that I’ve changed the strapline on this blog to reflect my current interests – namely “social entrepreneurship” (of which more below), financial services, and public policy.

It’s an eclectic mix – but its foundation is my training as an economist, and how I’ve spent my time since graduating in 1975 – firstly, 10 years as an economist in government (including 5 years at H M Treasury in the early 1980s), and then 25 odd years in management consulting, focusing first on public policy questions and then for the last 15 years on financial services.

Social entrepreneurship is new. Over the last year or so since leaving IBM I have become increasingly interested in the role business (including small business) can play in helping to solve social problems, both in the UK and overseas, and have started to network more widely (my first meeting with Business Fights Poverty –  http://businessfightspoverty.org – is tomorrow). To my mind, this is an idea whose time has come – I was delighted to see that Esther Duflo (co-author with Abhijit Banerjee of Poor Economics) was this year’s Marshall Lecturer at Cambridge, and Georgia Keohane’s book and lecture, at the LSE, on Social Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century was also inspiring. Like Keynes, I think it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil – in this case, very much for good.

There are of course important links between these themes. Social entrepreneurship, as Keohane shows, is highly dependent on the public policy framework, and finance and investment play a major role in economic development. Of course, sometimes it is tempting just to abandon an avenue – looking at the latest financial mis-selling scandals, you feel the industry is like the Bourbons “they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing”.  But I still find things I want to say.

So I hope you will like this eclectic mix – and I would welcome your feedback!

Interesting week on “not [just] for profit” front

21 Jun

Social entrepreneurship

So an excuse this week to visit both alma maters – LSE Alumni on Monday evening to hear Georgia Keohane speak about her book (shown above – US-centric but highly recommended) and then, yesterday, a very English event at the Humanitarian Centre, in Cambridge  – strawberries & cream & Sangria with Fenners in the background, on a “rained out” English summer afternoon (my wife, being German, doesn’t believe there is any other kind).

No real content to report from Fenners. But several interesting discussions at the LSE, where Georgia picked out the role of social impact bonds, and their complex interaction with public sector safety nets (i.e. you need public expenditure savings from delivering cheaper public services to fund the bond coupon). Chasing around Twitter/YouTube afterwards, there was also a great clip on what levels of financial returns should be expected from BoP/social impact investing. General view seemed to be at least a “normal” return, but potentially over a longer timescale.

Interesting to think social entrepreneurship could both be more socially useful and more financially rewarding than hedge funds.