Jatropha Picked Up By New York Times

Jatropha, a plant that can grow easily in tough environments and hailed as a huge potential breakthrough for biodiesel, was picked up by the New York Times. The article, focuses on the potential the plant has for transforming the economy of Mali. Most of the early buzz about the plant was dominated by the South East Asia region but the Times gives us some details on how entrepreneurs in Africa are trying to use this as a path toward development.

Here in Mali, a Dutch entrepreneur, Hugo Verkuijl, has started a company with the backing of investors and assistance from the Dutch government, to produce biodiesel from jatropha seeds.

Mr. Verkuijl, 39, an economist who has worked for nonprofit groups, is part of a new breed of entrepreneurs who are marrying the traditional aims of aid groups working in Africa with a capitalist ethos they hope will bring longevity to their efforts.

“An aid project will live or die by its funders,” Mr. Verkuijl said, but “a business has momentum and a motive to keep going, even if its founders move on.”

Behavioral Economics Exploration Into Doing Good

Here’s some interesting weekend reading for you–

The WSJ Blog points to research by Dan Ariely of MIT, Anat Bracha of Tel Aviv U, and Stephan Meier of the Fed on “how extrinsic incentives (such as cash or gifts) influence the effects of “image motivation” (looking good in public).”

In one experiment they called “Click for Charity,” what they found was interesting.

Without any monetary incentive, the subjects (Princeton University undergrads) put forth more effort in public than in private. Add in money, and their effort increases in private while not changing much in public.

The authors find that the signal from a prosocial act — doing good — gets diluted when a financial benefit — doing well — is included. People want to be seen in public doing good acts, the authors write. On the other hand, “if no one is watching (i.e. the prosocial decision is private) the incentive to be doing well cannot dilute any signal to others, and consequently extrinsic incentives are very likely to increase prosocial behavior.”

WSJ: A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy

The Wall Street Journal offers a nice piece on web based tools to help make the world a better place:

Young donors and volunteers, snubbing traditional appeals such as direct mail and phone calls, are satisfying their philanthropic urges on the Internet. They’re increasingly turning to blogs and social-networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, to spread the word about — and raise funds for — their favorite nonprofits and causes. They’re sending Web-based fund-raising pitches to their friends and families, encouraging them, in turn, to forward the appeals to their own contacts.

At the same time, a growing number of charities — ranging from start-ups to established names such as the Salvation Army — are launching profiles on popular social-networking sites, hoping that young people will link up to the pages. Some are also encouraging bloggers to mention the causes on their sites, raising thousands of dollars in small donations from readers.

Some of the charitable online organizations profiled include: Causes on Facebook, Change.org, DoSomething.org, Firstgiving.com, GiveMeaning.com, Impact.MySpace.com, Kiva.org, and SixDegrees.org.

If the article is walled, give me a shout and I’ll get you a more detailed review.

Microfinance Reading- CGAP

Check out CGAP’s Portfolio newsletters for some great microfinance reading material and resources.

CGAP is a consortium of 33 public and private development agencies working together to expand access to financial services for the poor in developing countries. CGAP was created by these aid agencies and industry leaders to help create permanent financial services for the poor on a large scale (often referred to as “microfinance”).

I particularly like their primer on microfinance.

New York Times On The Digital Divide

Here’s a great article in the New York Times detailing the lack of internet infrastructure in Africa:

Attempts to bring affordable high-speed Internet service to the masses have made little headway on the continent. Less than 4 percent of Africa’s population is connected to the Web; most subscribers are in North African countries and the republic of South Africa.

A lack of infrastructure is the biggest problem. In many countries, communications networks were destroyed during years of civil conflict, and continuing political instability deters governments or companies from investing in new systems. E-mail messages and phone calls sent from some African countries have to be routed through Britain, or even the United States, increasing expenses and delivery times. About 75 percent of African Internet traffic is routed this way and costs African countries billions of extra dollars each year that they would not incur if their infrastructure was up to speed.

Link:Africa, Offline: Waiting for the Web.

Catching Up Links

This has been a busy summer for me so here’s a collection of relevant links from the past week. Posting will be light for the next few weeks.

Wal-Mart extends financial services to low-income customers. The world’s largest retailer will sell prepaid payment cards at over 3300 of its discount stores in the U.S.


Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a new record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.


At an event in Google’s New York offices on Tuesday, the company unveiled a new initiative to make its Google Earth geography software a more accessible tool for nonprofit organizations.


‘Hey Project Red Stripe, why the silence?’…Why? Because we wanted to start a not-for-profit. Then, imagine if our pitch hadn’t worked and we had to kill the site. It would have been embarassing for The Economist, we thought.


Weekend Reading: PR for Philantropy, Societal Value of Corporations

From Business Week:

Philanthropic outfits increasingly are adopting PR programs to achieve their goals. Here’s why some old PR objections are no longer valid


From Conde Nast Portfolio:

Indeed, the likes of Robert Barro, writing in the WSJ yesterday, go one further. Never mind Bill Gates’s personal philanthropy, he says, the real good that Gates has done for the world comes from his for-profit venture, Microsoft.


Weekend Reading: Small Companies That Try to Bring Innovative Technology to Teaching

“A revolution is needed in education — students exist in a world where technology is pervasive but classroom teaching hasn’t basically changed in 50 years,” said Mona Westhaver, a founder of Inspiration Software, a Portland area firm that developed a visual learning system for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Link to NY Times.

Weekend Reading: How To Set Up A Non-Profit

Via Guy Kawasaki’s blog, here’s a story about how a non-profit, FROG, was created using online resources. Here’s the short list of resources used: PBWiki, Gmail, Google Apps, YouSendIt, LiveMeeting, Skype, GoDaddy, Blogger, WordPress, FormAssembly, Craigslist, Upcoming.org, Eventful, Idealist, Reactee, Flickr, Facebook, Technorati, Feedburner, Change.org, and Paypal.

Weekend Reading: What Does Africa Need Most: Tech or Aid?

Here’s an article in the New York Times covering the TED conference in Africa.

But beyond this Panglossian message, however much a corrective to the common images of African misery and however flattering to the pride of TED’s African attendees, was something that everyone at the conference knew (and which I saw every morning on my runs). Whether measured by per capita income or by the gross domestic product of its nations, Africa is the poorest place on earth. The question that the conference was really exploring was this: How can we make every African family richer?