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When Microcredit Won’t Do

By Tina Rosenberg

Darby Films

Greg Van Kirk teaches an entrepreneur how to give an eye exam.

If you asked poverty experts to name the single most significant new concept in the field in the last few decades, chances are they would say microcredit.  Microcredit is the lending of very small amounts of money to very poor people to help them invest in things that have the potential to bring income later on — a loan of $50 to buy a sewing machine to make clothes, for instance, or piglets to raise and sell.  It reaches nearly 100 million clients in more than 100 countries.
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Beyond the Business Suit

By David Bornstein

Earlier this week, I wrote about Year Up, an organization that is unusually successful at preparing young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds for jobs in big companies like banks, investment houses, health care providers and technology firms. What became clear to me while researching the story was that workforce development no longer means giving people job skills; it means giving them the ability to navigate a career in a professional environment. This isn’t knowledge you’re born with. You pick it up from family and friends and, if you’re lucky, from mentors. Oddly, for something so important, it receives little emphasis in schools and colleges; many job training programs gloss over it.
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Training Youths in the Ways of the Workplace

By David Bornstein

The most frustrating economic news of 2010 wasn’t that the recession had worsened — it was that things had improved markedly for corporations, but not for the labor force. Even Alan Greenspan expressed concern that the U.S. is evincing “fundamentally two separate types of economy” — one in which big companies and high earners thrive, the other in which millions struggle to find jobs and make ends meet. One group that has been particularly hard hit by the recession is youth. Among workers aged 16 to 24, the unemployment rate is almost 20 percent. For young Latinos, it’s over 24 percent, and for young African Americans, it’s over 32 percent. Some 4.4 million youths are currently unemployed.
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A Light in India

By David Bornstein

© Harikrishna Katragadda/Greenpeace

Students in the village of Tahipur in Bihar used kerosene lanterns for studying.

When we hear the word innovation, we often think of new technologies or silver bullet solutions — like hydrogen fuel cells or a cure for cancer. To be sure, breakthroughs are vital: antibiotics and vaccines, for example, transformed global health. But as we’ve argued in Fixes, some of the greatest advances come from taking old ideas or technologies and making them accessible to millions of people who are undeserved.
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Removing the Roadblocks to Rehabilitation

By Tina Rosenberg

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Delancey Street Foundation’s buildings along the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

What works and what doesn’t work to solve a social problem is often no mystery.  The mystery is why we so often persist in doing what doesn’t work.  The topic of Tuesday’s column — prisoner re-entry into the community — offers myriad examples.   One is the practice of dropping people getting out of jail or prison right back into the neighborhoods where they got in trouble in the first place.  Intuition tells us that this is a bad idea: the old street corners and the old friends seem like a recipe for the old troubles.  Research on this idea is rare and hard to do — it’s tough to get around the problem that the person who chooses not to go home may have other qualities that make him successful.
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For Ex-Prisoners, a Haven Away From the Streets

By Tina Rosenberg

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

The Fortune Academy in West Harlem.

This year, the United States will release nearly three-quarters of a million people from prison, a record high.   Nationally, 2.3 million people are in prison in the United States, and 95 percent of them will, at some point, get out and go home.

 

Society has a strong interest in keeping them home — in helping them to become law-abiding citizens instead of falling back into their old ways and returning to prison.  But American programs for newly released prisoners echo the typical follies of our criminal justice system:  our politicians usually believe that voters only want the emotional satisfactions of meting out maximum punishment, even if these policies lead to even more crime.
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Illuminating Thoughts on Power

By David Bornstein

One of the pleasures of writing a column about creative problem solving is that readers typically write back with practical, rather than ideological, critiques as well as suggestions for other solutions to highlight. The comments from this week’s Fixes column on Husk Power Systems were enlightening — and provided rich fodder for future columns.
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To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor

By Tina Rosenberg

Bruno Domingos/Reuters

An apartment building in front of the Rocinha shantytown in Rio de Janeiro.

The city of Rio de Janeiro is infamous for the fact that one can look out from a precarious shack on a hill in a miserable favela and see practically into the window of a luxury high-rise condominium.  Parts of Brazil look like southern California.  Parts of it look like Haiti.  Many countries display great wealth side by side with great poverty.  But until recently, Brazil was the most unequal country in the world.
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