Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's next for Muhammad Yunus?

What do you give a guy who has won the Nobel Peace Prize? How about suggesting he try to win another?

Now he looks pretty pleased in the snap here - and he deserves all the kudos that are his due. But what would it take to get Muhammad Yunus and other microfinance institutions to keep at it - and make small loans available to entrepreneurs throughout the developing world who want to launch socially beneficial businesses in the water and sanitation sector?


$20 puts a woman in the handmade soap-making business. Wrap the bars of soap in hygiene promotion messages, and you've got a job with enormous social benefits. Throw in a local language cartoon like Bazooka Joe and you'll have kids begging to wash their hands - think Scooby Doo toothpaste.

$100 would allow a village to buy a few bags of cement, a shovel, and a mold for a cement pit latrine slab. Add a few donor dollars as a social marketing grant to kickstart the latrine business (this things rarely sell themselves), and you have a job with enormous social benefits. When the villager can no longer keep up with growing demand in his village - inshallah - he franchises the model, expands the business, and expands its social benefits.

$3,000 - $10,000+ provides an entrepreneur the opportunity to launch a water pumping business or water purification business. Depending on local externalities, this could involve a borehole and an electric pump. This could involve arsenic removal technology, UV water purification, protecting a spring, rainwater catchment and myriad other options.

What I'm asking for is not a revolution. We didn't need a revolution to kill smallpox. We won't need a revolution to kill polio, Guinea worm or even malaria. What we need is a little creativity. We need to take what we already know how to do with microfinance for betel nut juice sellers, bricklayers, bicycle repairmen and so on and reapply and customize those skills and financial models to the water sector.

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