A Blue Sweater visit from Jacqueline Novogratz & Some tips for your own book club

December 18, 2010

As part of the University of Michigan’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Emerging Markets Club was delighted to be asked to organize a book club to discuss The Blue Sweater, which brought together students from across the campus to discuss issues raised in the book with Jacqueline Novogratz.

The event, held on November 19th, was marketed across campus to both graduate and undergraduate students as a unique opportunity to interact with Jacqueline in an intimate setting and take part in a substantive conversation with her about the book.  As such we limited the registration for the event to 30 people.

The event was structured in two parts. First, we held small group discussions for an hour in groups of 8-10 people during which each group formulated 3-4 questions that delved deeper into specific topics. Next, we had a30 minute discussion with Jacqueline based on the questions generated by the small groups.

If you want to plan a similar event, but don’t have the benefit of Jacqueline’s insights, I would suggest formulating the output of the groups into a short presentation (4-5 mins) given by one member of the group.  Depending on the size of the audience it may also be possible to discuss one or two key questions or discussion points raised by the groups.


We appointed a facilitator to ensure that the group discussions were both effective and inclusive and that the groups focused on developing questions that were concise and that would make for an interesting discussion later on with Jacqueline and the wider group…questions that couldn’t necessarily be answered just by reading the book.

Since we had a relatively short period for the group discussions,  it was beneficial to have the facilitators be ready with a list of questions that would act as a starting point to prompt the discussion; however the facilitators didn’t feel compelled to use these if they weren’t needed.  For larger events, allocating specific themes to each group might also help avoid any overlap or repetition in the discussions.

Discussion Groups

The discussion groups chatted about the book for an hour and used flip charts to record their thoughts.  During the last 15 minutes, the facilitators focused on finalizing questions and assigned each question to a member of the group to ask.  Some of the questions addressed specific topics in the book while others developed from participants sharing their own experiences within the group. We found it particularly useful to have a single facilitator roam between the groups to get an understanding of the scope of the conversations and questions being developed.

Discussion with Jacqueline

Each group had written their questions on a flip chart and these were placed around the room for the discussion with Jacqueline.  This segment was run by the roaming facilitator who selected group members and questions based on the flow of the conversation, which loosely progressed from issues of Jacqueline’s individual motivation and experiences to questions about Acumen Fund and issues regarding the institutions it interacts with.

Alternatively, for groups that don’t have Jacqueline present to take part, the roaming facilitator would invite each group to present a summary of their discussions and, if appropriate, facilitate audience response on key questions or issues raised by the groups.  Given the time constraints, it wasn’t possible to do this as part of our event, however, it would have been very valuable to gain wider views on some of the issues discussed, especially given the diverse experiences and backgrounds represented in the audience.

We plan to use the success of this event to continue to engage students on campus in substantive conversations about topics in emerging markets, as feedback suggests that there are too few outlets for this type of interaction and that students appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with their peers and to benefit from each other’s experience.

Colm Fay

Colm Fay is a second year MBA student at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and is Vice President of Academic and Educational Development for the school’s Emerging Markets Club.


Book Review: New Wastewater Book Balances Environmental Ideals and Low-Income Realities

July 28, 2010
Colm Fay

Colm Fay

by Colm Fay, Erb ’12

This review is cross-posted on Ecosystem Marketplace.

Poor countries that aim for top-notch water quality often end up with unmanageable water-quality schemes.  A new book, “Wastewater Irrigation and Health: Assessing and Mitigating Risk in Low-income Countries”, aims to help policymakers balance high ideals with economic realities.

28 July 2010 | “The perfect is often the enemy of the good.”

If the appropriate technology movement had a tagline, that would probably be it.  Designed specifically for low-resource settings and with appreciation for simplicity, low maintenance and ultra affordability, appropriate technology wastewater irrigation focuses on 80/20 solutions that are ‘good enough’ for the particular local ecological context to which they are applied. 

The use of wastewater for the irrigation of crops is not a new technology; it has been around for millennia.  In recent years, however, governments in low-income countries have tried, unsuccessfully, to control the use of wastewater for irrigation while implementing quality standards and levels of treatment that match those in developed nations.  This sounds great in theory, but is wholly inappropriate for countries that typically suffer from issues such as extreme water shortage, waste management challenges, extreme population growth and limited availability of food. 

The key drawback of the prevailing approach to wastewater irrigation is that it is a solution designed for environments where none of these issues are life-threatening and where the funding and political structures exist to implement comprehensive treatment solutions and planned uses of wastewater.  This ignores the possibility that a greater good may be achieved in low resource settings by actively supporting treatment measures that are less than perfect, but are accessible to the majority and result in a tolerable additional disease burden.  

The authors of Wastewater Irrigation and Health are described in the forward as exactly the group of pioneers that are set to change this approach, and they deliver a well-framed discussion involving both policy-makers and practitioners on how the risks presented by pathogens present in wastewater can be both managed and mitigated, creating a platform from which progress can be achieved through appropriately designed technology.

Setting the Stage

Part One of the book introduces the key drivers of wastewater irrigation as well as the core paradox to this discussion (namely, that while there are risks to using wastewater for agricultural irrigation, primarily associated with the consumption of uncooked vegetables, this is but one factor in a wider systemic problem).
Firstly, both water and nutrients are constrained resources in most low-income countries that are struggling to support ever-increasing populations.  By ignoring the potential to close the water and nutrient loops, or by making it difficult for individual farmers to do so, governments are not only missing an opportunity to reclaim valuable resources from wastewater, but they are driving the practice underground and therefore failing to control it. 

Secondly, the health risks presented by the practice of wastewater irrigation are difficult to ascertain exactly since poor sanitation and lack of access to clean drinking water create numerous exposures to pathogens such as E. Coli and Cryptosporidium.  Rather than attempting to control the use of wastewater for irrigation, the authors recommend adopting resource reclamation practices (which could result in additional revenue streams if appropriate business models are identified) while also addressing wider educational gaps around sanitation, the food hygiene and the access to clean drinking water.

The Science Part

Part Two of the book centers on risk assessment and makes reference to the 2006 WHO Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater,  which introduces the concept of there being an increased disease burden, in terms of Disability Adjusted Life Years (see sidebar, right), that is tolerable as a result of the use of wastewater irrigation.

The authors go on to present further risk assessment tools and practices that can be used to identify packages of treatment activities that operate within this tolerance, followed in Part Three by discussion of the specific treatment measures that can be employed for the treatment of wastewater as well as non-treatment solutions such as extraction of biosolids and nutrient recovery. 

Measures are well presented with data on both cost effectiveness and contribution to increased disease burden.  It is also notable that throughout the presentation of these options for risk assessment and management a multiple barrier approach is suggested as preferable and that these are not end-state solutions, but serve to put communities on the path to the planned and controlled treatment and use of wastewater for irrigation along with the improvement in standards of safety that implies.

Implementation Challenges

While both the risk assessment and mitigation measures form the main body of the book, Part Four goes beyond the science and focuses on the governance and adoption challenges that arise from the implementation of these risk reduction strategies.  The authors have correctly identified that there are significant behavioral and cultural issues at play with respect to this subject, and there are a large number of stakeholders that will need to be engaged if an administration is going to be successful in implementing solutions of this nature. 

This holistic approach is evident in “Facilitating the Adoption of Food Safety Interventions in the Street Food Sector and on Farms”.  Here the authors deal with how the success of innovations in wastewater management rely on cultural sensitivity and the understanding of ‘external behavior determinants’ when designing sanitation and hygiene interventions.  For example, the authors cite a number of cases in Ghana where the public respond to messages that promote neatness, cleanliness and prestige with respect to food safety and sanitation interventions, and care less about the health benefits. Specifically in relation to street vendors, these business owners are driven not by their knowledge and education, but by the public perception of the cleanliness of the product they offer. Successful campaigns leverage these social pressures to promote the adoption of interventions rather than attempting to overcome them solely through programmatic approaches.

Closing the Loop

Overall, the editors have structured the flow of the material very logically and crucially have taken care to provide a solid foundation and taxonomy in the opening chapters that frames the remaining material.  This lends an element of accessibility to what at times is very detailed coverage of epidemiology, statistical risk assessment and management methodology and some of the salient governance and behavior change challenges associated with public health and sanitation interventions.  This book provides great insights into appropriate solution development for anyone interested in closed loop or cradle-to-cradle design and presents an approach for how to apply these concepts to a complex and culturally sensitive topic.

Colm Fay is a dual MBA/MS student at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise http://www.erb.umich.edu/ specializing in Environmental Policy and Planning, in particular market based approaches to conservation, land stewardship and poverty alleviation.

Book Review – Builder’s Apprentice: A Memoir by Andrew J. Hoffman

April 27, 2010
Henry Ladd

Henry Ladd

By Henry R. Ladd

Builder’s Apprentice masterfully advocates for the pursuit of a personally engaging career and provides a vivid glimpse into the world of custom home building. This memoir tells the story of how Andy Hoffman made a decision in 1986 to turn down acceptances to graduate school at Harvard and Berkeley to become a carpenter on Nantucket and, later, a builder of high-end custom homes. As someone who made a similar decision after graduating from college in 2005, I find that this memoir captures the importance of personalizing your career choice, outlines some of the many implications of this decision, and provides a valuable glimpse into a world unfamiliar to most people outside of the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review

May 1, 2009

Steering Business Toward Sustainability, (New York, NY: United Nations Press) Written by Capra, Fritjof and Gunter Pauli (1995)

Reviewed by: Charlotte Coultrap-Bagg, December 2008


“Steering Business Toward Sustainability” edited by Fritjof Capra and Gunter Pauli (published by the United Nations University Press) is a compilation of case studies discussing a variety of new approaches needed for us to move toward sustainability. The case studies (11 in total) focus on the role that business will play in this transition but also touches on the role of society, media, government, and education. The case studies are grouped into the following categories: 1) education; 2) incentives; and 3) implementation.

Capra and Pauli provide an overview to introduce the reader to the subject material. They begin by discussing the systemic problems linking environment and society that we face and introduce the concept of sustainability, particularly in business, as a way to address these issues. They suggest that we need a new paradigm that takes a holistic world view which they define as “seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts” (p 3). By focusing on the whole earth, this view takes on a “deep ecology” perspective, integrating humans and nature. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review

March 9, 2009

The Clean Tech Revolution: Discover the Top Trends, Technologies, and Companies to Watch, (New York, NY: Harper Collins Business) Written by Pernick, Ron & Clint Wilder (2008).

Reviewed by: Paul Gruber, November 2008

In a world increasingly filled with books on the clean technology industry, I chose a book devoted to summarizing the key clean tech industry segments, their trends and key players, and potential technological breakthroughs in each segment. Authors Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder do a nice job in summarizing the importance of each clean tech sector in progressing toward a cleaner future for water, energy, and communication and a more prosperous world overall. The book provides the reader with a solid grasp of each clean technology; the biggest challenge in reading the book is determining to which technology I should devote myself. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review

February 17, 2009

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World. Written by: John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan (2008, New York, NY: Harper Collins Business)
Reviewed by: Arthur Peterson, December 2008

John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan define unreasonable people as those who refuse to change themselves to suit the dominant worldview, but instead insist on changing the world to suit their view.  Applying this idea to socially progressive entrepreneurs, in The Power of Unreasonable People the authors show what unreasonable people are doing to solve the world’s seemingly intractable problems.  Both social entrepreneurs themselves, Elkington and Hartigan provide several frameworks for understanding ways that social entrepreneurs apply themselves to problems, in addition to overviews of the types of intractable problems that social entrepreneurs have been working on.  Finally, the authors hypothesize about how to take the small-scale social entrepreneurship and scale it up to the larger scale of making social entrepreneurship a crucial part of society’s ability to deal with problems.

Although the authors show that society’s problems are solvable, and provide many examples of social entrepreneurs working on solving those problems, they could have been more effective at showing how social entrepreneurs actually go about solving problems.  Nevertheless, The Power of Unreasonable People provides an uplifting and practical look at the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship and its ability to change the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review

December 1, 2008

Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development (1997, Boston, MA: Beacon Press).  Written by: Herman Daly
Reviewed by: Trip O’Shea, December, 2008

Up until the recent global financial meltdown, the predominant mantra of sustainable development and poverty reduction from World Bank technocrats to New York Times editorial pages seemed to be that economic growth through market-based solutions held the possibility for a new, borderless utopia.  Whether it was Thomas Friedman exhorting the seemingly boundless opportunities from free trade and information exchange in his bestseller The World is Flat, to Paul Wolfowitz’s claim that “sustained growth is essential for economic development” at the 2005 annual IMF/ World Bank meeting, the notion that economic growth could be ever be problematic was considered among mainstream development circles to be laughably naïve if not completely heretical.  Where disagreements existed, they were generally about the extent to which that growth was distributed, not whether the growth paradigm itself should be fundamentally re-examined. Read the rest of this entry »