“My Neighbor Drinks Clean Water While I Continue to Suffer”…

24 10 2016

Here is our new paper published in the Journal of Development Studies. The paper builds on the impact evaluation we undertook in Nampula, Mozambique, for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Emily Van Houweling

An article Ralph Hall, Eric Vance and Marcos Carzolio and I collaborated on has just been published in the Journal of Development Studies.  The article titled, “My Neighbour Drinks Clean Water, While I Continue To Suffer’: An Analysis of the Intra-Community Impacts of a Rural Water Supply Project in Mozambique,” uses mixed methods to reveal the intra-community impacts of a rural water project in northern Mozambique.  The article is relevant for anyone thinking about rural water decision making, the measurement of sub-national inequalities, the uneven impacts of rural water supply programs, and the unintended social consequences of development.

The abstract is copied below.

Rural water planners assume the positive impacts of community water projects are spread evenly across the population. We test this assumption by looking at the distribution of benefits within communities that received handpumps in rural Mozambique. Using survey and qualitative data we analyse the characteristics of those…

View original post 78 more words

100andChange Moonshot

3 10 2016

Our proposal for the MacArthur 100&Change ($100 million) grant was submitted this morning. Using the language of Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries initiative, this is our ‘moonshot’ idea. If implemented it could fundamentally retool the global economy to provide everyone with a capital ownership stake in an inherently sustainable economy. Here is the executive summary of our proposal:

Boldly conquering global poverty will require an innovative economic paradigm that provides everyone on this planet with a personal ownership stake in the future. This project aims to transform our economic systems and promote sustainable enterprises by leveraging creativity and innovation. Our forward-looking mechanisms will enable all people to obtain a capital-based income that will supplement their labor income. Using the principles of binary economics, people will acquire capital with credit repayable with pre-tax future earnings of capital (future savings). The approach does not require coercive actions of government or a redistribution of existing wealth. As capital ownership becomes more broadly distributed, the economy will grow as people spend their newly acquired income on inherently sustainable goods and services. Our team’s alliance of academics and expanded-ownership pioneers will demonstrate how universalizing access to capital ownership can reduce inequality and advance sustainable development to create inclusive and sustainable prosperity for all.

In this post, I wanted to reflect a little on how we made it to this point.

My decision to advance a proposal came after listening to Regina Dugan speak at Virginia Tech in August. During her talk, Dugan commented that organizations are often limited not by what they can do, but by what they “believe” they can do. Having initially decided not to develop a 100&Change proposal due to the sheer scale of the grant and significant global competition, her comments and the Beyond Boundaries initiative made me rethink this decision.

I would put my ideas for how to spend this scale of funding into two categories. The first contains those ideas that could lead to siginfnicant progress, but largely within the existing development paradigm. One example would be the creation of an accessible and open data-rich sustainable water decision-support platform that could be expanded to include other sectors of the economy such as energy and agriculture. The second category contains those ideas that are potentially transformative in a macro sense, but are also currently on the fringe of mainstream thinking. One example, and the anchor of our 100&Change proposal, is the theory of binary economics that has been developed for over fifty years, but has yet to receive significant attention.

During her talk at Virginia Tech, Dugan commented that real innovations tend to occur when you feel uncomfortable about what you are doing – uncomfortable in the sense that there is no known pathway to success and there is a high potential of failure. While binary economics inspired the creation of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), its economic principles have yet to be fully implemented in a way that increasingly broadens capital ownership and creates a sustainable economy. Thus, some could argue that it is an unproven idea. Flying at Mac 20 was also an unproven idea until it was not. With regards to the high potential of failure, I view this in the context of a highly competitive grant competition, rather than failing in terms of the approach. Having spent many years exploring the approach with Prof. Robert Ashford, I feel confident it has the potential to reduce inequality and stimulate significant economic growth. The basic idea is that if everyone received an additional and growing income from capital ownership, they would spend this money on goods and services, stimulating further growth (‘binary growth’). Given the potential negative environmental impacts of this growth, our proposal developed an innovate way to finance the growth of inherently sustainable goods and services. The problem statement from our proposal clearly explains the combination of these two ideas.

Few people today produce enough to take care of themselves or their families. Labor, the main source of economic productiveness prior to the industrial revolution, has declined in relative productiveness as labor-displacing technology advances and becomes hyper-productive in comparison to labor [see the Second Machine Age]. These trends are driving the growth in inequality and the erosion in labor earning capacity, with the ownership of productive wealth being highly concentrated, and with most people owning little or nothing. Attempts to generate equitable growth via government stimulus or austerity programs have failed.

A second critical and related problem is the negative environmental impacts that accompany technology-fueled growth. The Rio+20 promise of a Green Economy has yet to truly materialize, but simply going green is not enough. A new, inherently sustainable industrial revolution is needed, where products and services are produced, used, and disposed of in closed-loop, hyper-efficient systems. A major challenge, however, is the creation of markets for these next-generation products and services. These markets need to provide all people with an equal opportunity to earn incomes from their labor and from a capital ownership stake in the inherently sustainable products and services they benefit from.

When put together, these two macro problems – i.e., inadequate income and the negative environmental impacts of growth – underlie most of the major challenges facing humankind. The fundamental problem addressed by this proposal is how to create Inclusive and Sustainable Prosperity for All.

Since we decided to advance a 100&Change proposal in the first week of September (four weeks ago!), I needed to recruit help to make this proposal happen. I decided to focus my sustainability seminar on the topic of binary economics and asked my graduate students to help structure the content of the 100&Change ‘pitch’ video. They willingly agreed to help and spent several weeks reading, learning, and struggling with the ideas before developing what I considered to be a firm understanding of binary economic principles. The pictures below capture some of the ideas we discussed during this learning process. We also developed a number of concept videos that can be viewed here and here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While my students helped develop the video (with technical support from TLOS), I was fortunate to have colleagues in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), the Office of International, Research, Education, and Development (OIRED), and the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) who both understood the approach and worked hard to help craft a viable project (described below).

This project will make the ownership of capital – a critical and growing form of income – more inclusive by using future capital earnings (future savings) to finance broadening capital acquisition to provide growing numbers of people with capital income. The new capital income will target inherently sustainable goods and services, stimulating innovation and supporting long-term sustainability. As production becomes ever more capital intensive, providing everyone with an ownership stake in capital will be critical to broadly increasing purchasing power, reducing inequality, and fostering sustainable communities.

Because most people lack the capacity to generate past savings, there must be a shift to using future savings to finance new capital. Presently, almost all capital acquired by corporations is acquired with the earnings of capital, and much of it is acquired with borrowed money. The new mechanisms developed by the project team will open to all people the techniques of corporate finance that will broaden capital ownership and provide beneficiaries with a growing capital income. Because present demand for the employment of capital and labor is dependent on expected demand for goods or services in a future period, a voluntary pattern of steadily broadening capital acquisition promises more production-based consumer demand in future years and therefore more demand for a fuller employment of labor and capital in earlier years. Further, the targeted use of newly acquired capital income to purchase inherently sustainable goods and services will significantly expand the market for these goods and services, creating powerful incentives for innovation.

What is perhaps most interesting about this experience is that while I initially viewed the challenge of creating a 100&Change proposal as a moonshot, the more we worked on the idea and began to form the team, the more it became a realistic possibility. My graduate students proved to be the best critics of the ideas we were exploring and played an important role in framing the approach to the project. In many ways, as the proposal evolved, so too did the team’s confidence in what we could accomplished with binary economics. Our final 90-second video (below) is ‘one small step’ towards a broader understanding of the approach.

After completing our proposal, I started watching the other 100&Change videos on YouTube and realized that our approach could finance those ideas focused on the creation of inherently sustainable goods and services. Thus, if you find yourself wondering what inherently sustainable means, take a look at the available videos and get inspired.

Regina Dugan … Part 2: Design Space

3 09 2016

Earlier this week, I posted my reflection to Regina Dugan’s Presidential Lecture. After a couple of days of thinking, I wanted to extend one of the ideas I discussed and connect it with my research on innovation/transformation.

In my previous post, I discussed the idea of creating sandbox spaces or studios where students from any discipline can work on ‘use-inspired’ solutions to significant problems. I wanted to extend this idea by introducing the concept of “design space.”

In 1978, Allen, Utterback, et al. of MIT introduced “design space” as a cognitive concept that refers to the dimensions along which the designers of technical systems concern themselves. The basic idea is simple. Once a problem is clearly defined (or bounded), so too is the design space within which a solution to the problem can be created. A well-defined design space opens up the creativity of an engineer, designer, etc., by clarifying the dimensions of a problem that must be solved. A poorly defined problem cannot be easily solved, if at all. While the roots of the idea stem from innovation theory, Nicholas Ashford and I have argued that the idea of “design space” can be applied in a technical and regulatory setting to advance sustainable development.

If solutions to problems are sought only along traditional engineering lines, unconventional solutions – which may or may not be high-tech – are ignored. Put differently, if the design space ignores a specific factor or dimension, the solution to a problem is also likely to ignore this factor or dimension. From an organizational perspective, organizations that limit themselves to current or traditional strategies or agendas, are likely to have a constrained use of the available design space, reducing the chance they will be able to fundamentally transform their functions. Thus, organizations can become ‘locked-in’ to their own routines and ways of thinking if they do not have a process to engage with outsiders and radically new ideas. The implications of this idea for the Beyond Boundaries process should be clear.

The Presidential Lecture series provides a good example of how Virginia Tech is trying to engage with ‘outsiders’ to expand the Beyond Boundaries design space – i.e., to help us identify important factors or dimensions that we previously had not considered.

In the context of creating sandbox spaces or problem-solving studios, it would be critical to broaden the design space to capture the full scope of issues that underlie a complex problem. For example, a design space for a sustainable development problem would be necessarily broad (or multidimensional). In this case, the design space would need to be ‘opened up’ (perhaps, through engagement with ‘outsiders’) to achieve mutually supportive social goals, co-optimizing the determinants of economic welfare, environment, consumer and public health and safety, and employment, etc. A failure to do this may result in solutions that create problems in those areas excluded from the design space. I believe that limited or single-purpose design spaces are one of the reasons progress towards sustainable development has been so slow.

Finally, the way in which Virginia Tech crafts the design spaces for the Destination Areas (DAs), is likely to be critical to the type and scope of problems that the university will be able to address. We should heed Regina Dugan’s advice and not limit the DA design spaces to what we feel comfortable doing. We need to stretch our imagination and capabilities to the point of discomfort, in search of disruptive and transformative ideas. The sandbox spaces or problem-solving studios could provide safe places where students and faculty could fantastically succeed or fail, both outcomes are part of the same transformative coin.


Allen, T. J., J. M. Utterback, et al. (1978). “Government Influence on the Process of Innovation in Europe and Japan.” Research Policy 7(2): 124– 149.

Textbooks Africa donates books for Mzuni

3 09 2016

I’d like to thank Textbooks Africa for their generous donation of 75 boxes(!) of books to the Mzuni Library Initiative.

The Mzuni Library Initiative

The Mzuni Library Initiative would like to extend many heartfelt thanks to Textbooks Africa for the generous donation of 75 boxes of books for the Mzuzu University Library. On August 29th, we were excited to welcome Francesco, a representative of Textbooks Africa, to Virginia Tech. Pictured below are volunteers Francesco and Kevin with the book donations.


One of the best parts of the day was getting to show Francesco the beautiful farmlands in Blacksburg while transporting the books. I was lucky to snap this picture in a peaceful moment before the team arrived and the fun began!


We are also grateful to Zach and Danny, engineers from the Unmanned Systems Lab, for continually being the “willing hands” of the initiative and assisting with moving heavy boxes of books. Thanks Zach and Danny!


View original post

Blacksburg’s Sustainability Week

2 09 2016

The town of Blacksburg will be holding its 10th Sustainability Week from September 18-25. Please click here or on the image below for more information!

Virginia Tech students – please consider signing up for one of the six service-learning projects that will be happening that week. The list of projects can be found here.


Regina Dugan’s Presidential Lecture

1 09 2016

This evening I attended Regina Dugan’s Presidential Lecture at VT. Her remarks tracked the history of innovation and made a compelling case that innovation must be treated as a discipline. Her experience at DARPA, Google, and now Facebook have provided Dugan with a unique and broad experience in advancing innovation, which she describes as a “way of life.”

During her lecture, I tweeted the question below that I believe captures the central challenge of her remarks to the Virginia Tech community.


Her response was that organizations are often limited not by what they can do, but by what they “believe” they can do. Thus, an important idea for the Beyond Boundaries process is to create spaces where students and faculty can make bold moves without the fear of failure. As Dugan argued, the ability to fail is a necessary part of innovation. I’ll come back to one idea for how Virginia Tech could make innovation a ‘way of life’ in a moment.

During the Q&A session, Dugan remarked that the ability of her research teams to move fast (i.e., innovate) is due to the depth of disciplinary knowledge held by team members and their broad curiosity. This comment mirrors the idea of a VT-shaped student – a student with disciplinary depth (the “I”), transdisciplinary knowledge (the “–”), and who demonstrates purpose-driven engagement (the “V”) – which is now a central part of the Beyond Boundaries vision. Dugan also highlighted the importance of having people who are willing to walk across to other disciplines to understand how they are viewing a problem and to learn from them. The idea of needing to ‘walk’ to visit another discipline feels familiar!

Dugan’s ideas point to the need to create sandbox spaces or studios where students from any discipline can work on ‘use-inspired’ solutions to significant problems. According to Dugan, challenges should stretch the imagination to the point of discomfort – i.e., there should be no known solution so students and faculty are required to work at/create the leading edge of knowledge. By making the sandbox or studio a capstone experience, students would be equipped with the disciplinary expertise needed for teams to ‘move fast’ on a problem. However, to make innovation a ‘way of life,’ we would need to find ways for students at any stage of their academic career to engage in these experiences. This challenge points to the need for an ecosystem of spaces (that includes VT’s living learning communities) where students can work in a transdisciplinary setting.

A final point I found interesting was the idea of understanding the core purpose of your actions. Dugan commented that 93% of our face-to-face time with our parents is completed by the time we leave high school. This rather alarming statistic (for parents!) reveals one frontier that Facebook is looking at – i.e., how to make family communication seamless. My second tweeted question to Dugan was inspired by her idea of “friction free communication.”


While Dugan was not asked this question, her response to a different question provided a possible answer. The secret is to focus on the “outcomes” not the technology. Thus, a question for the Beyond Boundaries process is what are the outcomes that technology could help us realize?

UAP 5524 – International Development

22 08 2016

This semester, Bill Anderson will be teaching UAP 5524 International Development, which will replace UAP 5764G International Development Policy and Planning as the core class for the Graduate Certificate in Global Planning and International Development Studies.

The syllabus for the class can be accessed here.

UAP 5524 Course Description

Concepts and practices in the field of international development have changed dramatically over the past few decades and even the past few years. This course is designed to introduce students to the main theories, approaches, and practices in international development planning as implemented by leading actors today.

This interdisciplinary course examines the historical and contemporary practice of international development planning, especially at the strategic versus the project level. Students will consider issues and challenges facing low-income states, societies, and communities and will examine a range of different and often competing approaches to development.

Through lectures, readings, videos, discussions, written assignments, and group tasks, the course will explore international development from a range of different perspectives.

In addition to review and discussion of these topics, students will develop and practice skills in planning through the preparation of a strategic plan for a developing country in a major sector or sub sector.  During the class, students will work on, discuss with each other, present, and critique different elements of their strategic plans, which will consist of several components prepared in a series of written assignments, revised, and then knitted together in a comprehensive plan.  To complement the theoretical discussions, several experienced international development practitioners and academics will participate as guest lecturers.