The new science of impact: How to ask the right questions

Who is the target population for a microcredit intervention? Your answer will depend largely on where you sit: Academics and microfinance institutions will be interested in different groups of people.

The Truth about Disruptive Development

By Ken Banks (PopTech 2012) 

Yes, we should provide local entrepreneurs and grassroots nonprofits with tools—and where appropriate and requested, expertise—but we shouldn’t develop solutions to problems we don’t understand. We shouldn’t take ownership of a problem that isn’t ours, and we certainly shouldn’t build “solutions” from thousands of miles away and then jump on a plane in search of a home for them.


Development is at a watershed moment, powered by accessible and affordable liberating technologies and an emerging army of determined, local talent. This local talent is gradually acquiring the skills, resources, and support it needs to take back ownership of many of its problems—problems of which it never took original ownership because those skills and resources were not available. Well, now they are.

“I was wondering about how rational we are as humans. Where does this come from? Where does this need, this addiction come from?”

Andri Magnason is an Icelandic writer who co-directed the documentary film Dreamland, about a massive industrial project in Iceland that exposed some ugly truths about politics, industry and so-called green energy. He studies what seem like cycles of endless growth simply for growth’s sake. 

“If you look across the globe, there are severe inequalities in how people access and use finance.”

As director of the Global Financial Inclusion Initiative at Yale University and Innovations for Poverty Action, Aishwarya Ratan’s goal is to ensure that the financial products, services and tools available to the poor to manage and grow their money are affordable, efficient, secure and welfare-enhancing. 

“Did you know that in 15 years depression alone will be the number one cause of disability globally, above heart disease, cancer and HIV?”

Giuseppe “Bepi” Raviola is a psychiatrist with Partners In Health, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, working to integrate mental health services into global health care efforts. 

Watch now: Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, explores how resiliency can empower even the most destitute and vulnerable communities. “When the World Bank was planning to invest $100 million dollars in upgrading the slums in Nairobi, these slum-dweller leaders were represented at the table.”

I’ve argued for years that culture matters as much as technology when you’re designing new products. Being surrounded by roboticists and synthetic biologists is a great inspiration to look for novel technical inspirations, but it’s worth trying these ideas out in the field early and often. While it’s frustrating to discover that many of my assumptions were wrong in pursuing this project, it would be vastly more frustrating to learn this six months from now, having developed an inappropriate prototype for the wrong market.

Anne-Marie Slaughter on a new era of ‘citizen social actor foreign policy’

In case you missed it, professor of politics and international relations at Princeton and former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State Anne-Marie Slaughter (PopTech 2011) was on NPR last week to weigh in on the struggling international peace plan for Syria.

Slaughter is a foreign policy expert and watching her PopTech talk you’ll see why. Slaughter provided an overview on the future of foreign policy, exploring the transformation, over the past few decades, from state to non-state, non-governmental ‘social actors’ as key players to effect change in a less siloed, more networked world.

Unity Dow wears many hats. She’s a lawyer, a retired judge (who happens to have been Botswana’s first female high court judge), a prolific author of four works of fiction and one non-fiction, and an advocate for the rights of women and girls. In her PopTech talk, she shared her perspective on a spectrum of topics connected to her pursuits including rethinking the future of Africa, reimagining the role of women and girls, and reclaiming one’s self and identity in the process. Watch Dow’s talk or read our complete interview with her, which touches on some of the most salient points from Dow’s talk.