From Homo Economicus to Homo Sapiens

The World Bank published this week its flagship World Development Report entitled Mind, Society and Habit. While incorporating the science of behaviour for better development interventions is not news (think MIT JPAL and others), making it the central topic of the annual WDR certainly propels it to mainstream.

At the World Economic Forum I’ve been managing the Global Agenda Council on Behaviour – a group of some of the most renowned experts in the area, chaired by David Halpern, CEO of the UK’s Behavioural Insight Team (aka “Nudge Unit”). David wrote a blog about his impressions and the work plan that the council agreed on here.

Two of the most discussed agenda items during our meeting were: (1) the dissemination of some of the most impressive behavioural insights applied to policy, and (2) outlining the ‘next generation’ interventions – from rainy day savings and money management platforms for low income groups ; to the use of sport and positive role modeling with respect to violence (especially violence against women). A space to be watched!

One of the frontier idea discussed was related to parenting, and included a proposal to prompt parents to talk to their kids by printing messages on nappies – an idea that was received with mixed feelings by the public. For more on this, you can read the blog post of Michael Feigelson, another member of the council.

Behavioural science’s application to all sorts of policies and interventions is (and will continue to be) on the rise. And understandably so. Small, low cost tweaks with big returns on changing behaviour for the recipient’s and society’s benefits is an alluring proposition.

also published on LinkedIn 

Ode to Damascus

To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.

                         Marc Twain, 1867, upon visiting the city.

International Women’s Day

Celebrating the 101st International Women’s Day by sharing some of my favorite links:

Here’s to hoping that the need for this “celebration” soon becomes laughably obsolete.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:19)

Fail Fast. Fail Often – But Do it Responsibly

Quick addendum to the last post.

The “Fail fast, fail often” mantra is good advice if you’re prototyping in your lab. It is not a good idea if you’re rolling it out to the vulnerable communities you’re trying to serve. The unintended negative consequences of a failed experiment can be substantial. So, make that “Fail fast, fail often – responsibly”.

Changing the World Isn’t Easy: Advice for Social Entrepreneurs

A version of this article was originally published on Wamda. Thanks, Nina for the edits!

Inclusive capitalism, disruptive innovations, triple bottom line, scalability… My head is abuzz with catchy expressions after spending the past weekend at the 13th Social Enterprise Conference* at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
The crowd of 1,500 young, passionate (and caffeinated) attendees bounced around the hallways between panel discussions, hands-on workshops, and the much-anticipated Pitch for Change Competition. The excitement and entrepreneurial spirit were palpable. When meeting someone, the question was not the usual “What do you do?” with which East-Coasters usually strike up conversations, but rather, “What’s your idea?”

Change the F*ing World

Daniel Epstein of Unreasonable Institute set the tone of the conference by opening the keynote address with a reminder of what unites all attendees: a deep desire to Change the F*ing World (take note of the newest acronym on the block: CTFW). He was joined on stage by Kavita Shukla of Fenugreen, Lauren Bush of FEED, and Taylor Conroy of Destroy Normal – three young social entrepreneurs making an impact.
One of the topics discussed was fundraising. Taylor’s advice: the most effective way to raise funds for your project is to reach out to people you personally know, ask for little (microgiving), show them the tangible impact of their gift, and finally, acknowledge them (a little recognition never hurts). Lauren’s FEED Project which has sold over half a million bags, providing 60 million meals in the process, perfectly illustrates the last two points: every FEEDbag features a printed number on it that indicates how many children are being fed by your purchase.

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Microfinance Duel: SKS’ Akula gives advice and admits Muhammad Yunus was right

I spent the past weekend at the great 13th Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard University (you can find my impression of the conference here). Of the two-day gathering, one moment was particularly interesting: ex-chairman of SKS Microfinance gave a humbling talk about failure during Saturday night’s networking reception.

Akula during the Social Enterprise Conference 2012  |  Photo cred: @RxFogarty  |  Check Rob’s beautiful work at

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World Economic Forum at Davos: Old Capitalism is Dead. Long Live… Capitalism?

This post also appears on the Women and Public Policy Program of Harvard Kennedy School wire.

Last week, 2,600 of the world’s most powerful gathered in the recluse ski resort of Davos for the 42nd World Economic Forum – and I was lucky to be there. Amidst the lavish parties (Mick Jagger!), limousine/helicopter rides, and icy sidewalks, the general mood was a somber one.

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Some Favorite Quotes from World Economic Forum in Davos

“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. […] We never call boys bossy. Any of the women in the room who as a girl were called bossy? If you got to  Davos you were called that. I was!”
~ Sheryl Sandberg, on women as the way forward.

“I have succeeded so much in life because I only had to compete with half the population.”
~ Warren Buffet, on gender equality.

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Everyone Has a Story (Liberia Archives)

 K. Lost both parents to the war at age 13.
Taught me how to play a card game called “AK47“.

Le Quarantième Jour

J’aurais aimé être avec toi aujourd’hui. Aussi fort que j’aurais aimé être présente le jour de ton départ le 4 Décembre pour te dire adieu en bonne et due forme.
A défaut, j’honore ta mémoire à distance, dans mon petit studio de Boston. Je sais que tes autres petits fils font de même, de Londres, Dublin, San Francisco, les Alpes, Montréal, Illinois, Dubaï, Bogota, et Paris. Tu vois, Jeddo, ta semence a fait le tour du monde.
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