Friday, June 18, 2010

good luck dying

I grew up at a time when most people had to confine themselves to closed spaces or there was serious risk of getting shot. This give people a good chance to make an income from by doing labour extensive handcrafts. People would spend ten hours a day working on a piece of embroidery or weaving carpet. The amount of money they were making was closer to nothing. Most women would severely lose eye sight in their mid thirties and the job general deteriorate worker health condition. this is the story of my uncle I had turned out to be against handcraft labour as a mean of income.

I was particularly pissed off by the international community and all other fancy people who would stand around and say how pretty certain carpet or embroidery was. If you google for Afghan handcraft, carpet, embroidery or etc you will see millions of dollars had been spent to revive or build such a niche where vulnerable people such as children and women labour so some fancy guy could show off. I always thought the way out is not through creating menial labour extensive camps but economic prosperity. My argument had a logic that is common sense - unless sweatshop workers are literally slaves, they are presumably working long hours in horrible conditions for low pay only because the alternative ways of making a living are worse or none existent.

When you take away iconic handcraft labour from a woman or child the obvious risk is that they lose whatever financial power they have, they will be out on the street begging or resorting to worst activities often with criminal inclination. This is surely not the aim. The only alternative is economic growth: while it may be frustratingly slow, it finishes off Afghan handcraft by producing far more attractive jobs. There is also a psychological element to the persistence of “afghan handcraft”. Many labours, traders and international buyers and sponsors see this work as the only way some afghan can make a living. In the head of the labourer it has resonated that he or she is not good for anything else but this repetitive task. This kills imagination and a will to life. The traders and international sponsors reinforces the belief by supporting the interprise.
While the economic logic is straightforward enough, it is not watertight. But I am starting to believe that economic development is not alleviating this particular problem. Economic growth itself can increase the demand for child labour as well as reducing the supply. While luxury customers are willing to pay a dime more for well established carpet brand, increasing the chances of handcraft labouror income. So I was intrigued to discover two new pieces of research addressing these questions. One is an article in March’s American Economic Review, written by Ann Harrison of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jason Scorse of the Monterey Institute. Harrison and Scorse study data from Indonesia. Harrison and Scorse look at the footwear, textile and clothing sectors with brand names for handmade products. After US boycott of such products profits did fall, and so does investment. Some small plants closed. But few, if any, jobs seem to have been lost. The minimum wage in Indonesia more than doubled between 1989 and 1996, after inflation, and this did depress employment. But there seemed to be no additional effect in the districts with lots of high street handcraft suppliers, despite the fact that wages in those regions outpaced wage increases elsewhere by almost a third.

The second paper was presented in draft form at the Royal Economic Society meeting in Guildford in 2010. This research, by Nigar Hashimzade and Uma Kambhampati of the University of Reading, shows that economic growth – at least in the short-term – is not enough to reduce child labour. Complementary policies to strengthen schools and the incentive to attend them seem to be necessary.

Neither piece of research is the last word, and neither discounts the long-term effectiveness of economic growth in improving working conditions. But I am thinking about women and children who work 15 hours to waving carpet and inhale the dust from the wool. There is no quick solution for them and it seems like they have to keep doing it for another few decades.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Information via mobile phone

Tamas is a project intended to provide crops and market prices to farmers. I was earlier talking with a few of people about it. It is a brilliant idea but they are not doing it right; I am not impressed by the people who had designed the project there is not much enthusiasm on their side – not a good attitude to start with. I was surprised by a predominant attitude that expects it to fail…

Tamas have a few sever shortcomes – apart from crappy attitude. They don't have a good user/client base. The number of people who use tamas falls in 0.000X figure of the people who need the information. The number of people with technical capacity to extract such information is between 15-20 % of those in need; given cellphone ownership. this line of thinking is valid for planning the user base but the project should be based on specifics; the inflow of user numbers within the first quarter and subsequent timeframes. I don't know what they originally planned but they can't readjust that to the reality and revise the figures. Reality for Tamas managers is more like we are not sure. The key to success of this enterprise is creating a user base and the inflow of users. I am a big fun of anthropological theory of innovation diffusion in this regard. It explains who and how the user base will expand. Many e-commerce enterprises used the concept, for instance paypal was giving free credit to attract experimenters when it first started.


Second problem with Tamas is the marketing approach they have. Mass advertising is not efficient for promoting technological innovation in communication chain. We need to provide knowledge to bridge the understanding gap. Projects such as cellphone innovations need education for end users. The efficient way to do this is through direct marketing,1.  it gives a virtual product a living face 2. Interactive information for user and step by step guide. 3. Targeted . Moreover technological innovation need to focus marketing effort on previous customers; to keep them engaged – so they are not there for a one time shop. This is all I have learned with a similar project I am working on. The radio advertising and print campaign didn't work out for us. Our marketers on the ground are drawing clients by dozens; with this inflow we are creating the customer base we need in a quarter.


The third problem with Tamas is the availability of price index. I texted for banana and apple price in Kabul and they didn't have it while now is the season for both. This is like having a radio station but it is not on air.


The failure of tamas doesn't mean text or voice based cell application doesn't work. For the starter it means that USAID and its partner did a lousy job in doing it. they need to have people who believe in texting and have entrepreneurial spirit , not the type experimenting on Afghanistan. "Tamas doesn't work" or "mPaisa doesn't work" are the common type of arguments I hear on daily basis when people want to oppose mobile phone applications. All of the above arguments also apply to mPaisa but I have to say they are getting better at it and will have a larger user base especially if the could successful enroll the entire police force for salary transfers.