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Attainable Development

Monday, May 16, 2011

When Matthew Boms 07F sees problems, he also sees solutions. His Division III thesis is a 56-page history and critique of neoliberal and sustainable development, concluding with his own ideas for "attainable development."

Using two study abroad experiences from his Division II work, Boms focused on microfinance, a worldwide movement to provide economically challenged groups and individuals with access to quality financial services, including credit, savings, and insurance.

During Div II, Bom studied first in Nicaragua, working with the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a socialist political party. In 2007, Nicaragua instituted Usura Cero, an initiative that offers low-interest business loans to underprivileged women in urban areas. The loans are given to women who form "a group of solidarity," in which the group is held collectively responsible for loan repayment. The women are required to participate in two business-training classes before they can receive the loans.

Boms was bewildered by all of the flaws in the system: Collecting money was an issue, and the loans ended up being more of a crutch than a long-term solution. Additionally, the economic system in Nicaragua wasn't designed to support growing businesses.

"There was no middle class to support a lot of these businesses," Boms says. "Microfinance in a socialist country still doesn't work as well as you expect it to."

Boms then worked with the Ministry of Education in La Rioja, Argentina. As he arrived, schools in the area were receiving large quantities of discounted laptops from the One Laptop Per Child Project. The nonprofit manufactures affordable ($100-$200) laptops and sells them at cost to developing countries' governments to be dispersed among the people.

Again, he found that the idea was much better than the execution. The laptops are shipped indiscriminately to rural schools, without considering factors such as whether or not anyone working there is able to properly use the laptop, or even if there is electricity available. Without electricity, the laptops become useless as soon as the batteries run out.

The experiences in Nicaragua and Argentina became the basis of his Division III report.

Boms points to simple solutions to the often-complex ideas he studied: ensuring strong communication and building reciprocal relationships between the parties involved, challenging economic assumptions, and ensuring access to technology.

"If development is made more flexible and communities are involved in decision-making, then social justice and attainability should go hand-in-hand," he says.

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