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Friday, August 26, 2011

Leadership and Maya – Creative Power or Magic

This blog is about spreading ideas, views, and inspiration. Today, I share with you my admiration for Esther Duflo, one of the many people who inspire me.

MIT economist Esther Duflo analyzes poverty worldwide. Duflo has won numerous prizes like the MacArthur “genius award” (2009), for bringing the scientific method to development work. Duflo seems to live for understanding and fixing poverty. In Rajasthan, India’s desert state with a per capita income that averages around $ 1.77 per day, Duflo explores whether incentives might help get more young children vaccinated. Just to get an idea, the immunization rate in countries like the U.S. is more than 90%. In all of India it’s 44%, in Rajasthan it’s 22% and in Duflo’s study area near the city of Udaipur it was less than 2%.

Duflo and her team started the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab that has conducted 240 randomized, controlled trials of specific ways to help the poor. At this lab she tests poverty solutions the way medical researchers test new drugs and she tried out some simple solutions to increase the immunization rate. The most important premises were:
-       Make it easy.
-       Give a reason to act today as opposed to waiting another day.

The results of making shots more available (an increase of immunizations from 2 to 18%) and working with incentives (jumping to 38%) are amazing. Resistance like “How can you be so patronizing” to “The poor need to behave responsible so you shouldn’t provide handouts” to “You’re bribing the poor with incentives” is daily life for Duflo and her team, but she remains undaunted and determined to not give up. She describes her day job as identifying good ideas and her night job as convincing policy makers that they are good ideas.

The biggest lesson of all, according to Duflo: “If we really want to make change, we have to discard our “cartoon visions” of the poor. Doing good means engaging with what people really need and getting it to them by any means necessary”.

For me, Duflo is exemplary leadership. Leadership of the kind that is based on courage, creative power, determination, vision, patience, and teamwork.

For an informative review of the book Poor Economics – A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, you can go to this link: http://nicspaull.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/poor-economics-review/

You may ask yourself “What’s with the title of this post?” The word ‘maya’ is Sanskrit for magic or creative power, which I believe is exactly what Esther Duflo represents and creates.

With thanks to Fast Company Magazine for drawing my attention to Esther Duflo.

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