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The World Until Yesterday is interesting, but far less compelling than Diamond’s masterpiece, Guns, Germs and Steel. Diamond’s goal is to learn lessons for our modern ways of being and interacting from “thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society”. These ‘natural experiments’ evolved in every corner of the globe before the rise of the first states about six thousand years ago. He calls these natural experiments ‘traditional’ societies.

Diamond’s focus is where his heart is – Papua New Guinea – and the book includes many personal stories. PNG includes many of the most traditional societies on earth. And modern human development there has been compressed (more…)

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DSCN1854 Saving Wood

Children playing in an Isabel village. Saving in wood (left).

In a 2002 speech Sir Dudley Tuti described as ‘quite tormenting’ the state of rural credit unions in the Solomon Islands. The Paramount Chief of Isabel Province, Sir Tuti had pioneered the national credit union movement two decades earlier. He had secured national legislation and formed the Solomon Islands Credit Union League (SICUL). By 1994 the SICUL reported 121 credit unions with 16,588 members: reaching almost a quarter of the nation’s households.

The Solomons are a natural laboratory for community-based finance: (more…)

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In The End of Money (see citation, last entry) David Wolman suggests that poor people may taste the ‘cashless’ (i.e. digital) society early on, due to a ‘leapfrog effect’ that has already delivered mobile phones to over a billion people without bank accounts – many living in villages which have yet to be reached by national road or electricity networks.

“Almost overnight the phone has evolved from a one-trick pony (more…)

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The ‘cooperative wave’ of microfinance gave way to the ‘microcredit’ wave in the 1970s. ‘Elite capture’ severely damaged the cooperative wave in the South. The story of the transition from the Comilla model to Grameen Bank, at the inflection point between the movements, is exemplary.

The ‘Comilla Model’ was initiated in East Pakistan by Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan in 1959. Khan drew inspiration from the Raiffeisen credit unions of rural Germany. He envisioned ‘vigorous local institutions’ that could provide credit and access to markets for the farmers of Comilla district. The cooperatives (more…)

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