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All posts by Dan Whalen,
Providence, RI (resume)

Friday, September 14, 2012

TED Talk - Eleni Gabre-Madhin

I came across this TED video recently and thought it was really great.  I wanted to take the opportunity to pass it along to you.

Take the time you might normally spend reading Economystified to instead hear the story of how the Ethiopian economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin translated the idea of a modern commodities exchange into something viable (and ultimately, successful!) in her home country.

Regular posts to resume next time.
                                                                               

A while back, I spent half a year in Nicaragua.  While I was there, I met new people everyday.  This afforded me ample opportunity to practices my Spanish – and my small talk.

One thing I learned quickly was that the question “so…what do you do?” doesn’t mean quite the same thing in Nicaragua as it does in the US. 

MOST Nicaraguans I met tied their entire livelihood to what we would call “odd jobs.”  Or “temp jobs.”  Or “seasonal employment.”  Or “under the table work.”  The concept of a career (as I understand the term) was pretty foreign to many people I came across.

“Last few weeks I’ve been helping a relative fix some buses.  Next month I’ll probably be working at a shipping terminal.”

“I’ve been working in the fields but now the harvest is over.  I have a friend I do construction for sometimes, I’ll probably go see him soon.”

“I baked these breads and will be walking around town selling them all day.  Tomorrow I’ll probably be doing the same.”

Heck, I even became part of this perpetually improvisational labor market!  For 2 months I taught English at an urban educational institute.  I worked 10 hours a week (teaches with seniority got “full time” - usually about 20 or so) and was I paid in cash.

In Nicaragua, jobs are come and go.  Income is sporadic and irregular.  Few are able to save, and many keep all their assets as cash or property. 

I really wasn’t aware of this fact before I traveled there.  And it was a part of life so mundane and obvious to so many Nicaraguans, they seemed surprised that I was surprised to learn it.

About a year later, I found myself back in college, taking a class on economic development.  I remember the professor and the textbook having a lot of great ideas about how to get an economy rolling.  But the economy they were talking about looked and sounded a lot like our own.  The discussion wasn’t quite tweaked to fit the unique particularities of the developing world.

Anyway, check out Eleni Gabre-Madhin’s talk below.  I think she really nails the issue on the head here.  Developing economies have realities, challenges and conventions that even economists in the rest of the world aren’t always cognizant of.  The devil’s in the details, and what a devil this one can be!

Eleni Gabre-Madhin - TED




(And just in case you were wondering, today her “ECX” is alive and well!  If you want to learn more, check out this PBS special documenting just how Gabre-Madhin got this puppy off the ground.)

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