Health Tech CoLab Sponsors “Lab Links” to Further Research Connections at UC Berkeley

To facilitate and advance the work of like-minded labs across campus, Lab Links is a new program to sponsor presentations and discussions among labs working on topics with similar characteristics.

By Alisha Dalvi

How do research labs at the best public university in the world share insights and learn from each other? Through Lab Links!

UC Berkeley is home to hundreds of world-class research laboratories — each staffed by faculty and students driven by curiosity to produce new knowledge. These labs are dynamic organizations within the larger UC Berkeley campus, focused on conducting experiments, collecting data, and translating their work for the benefit of the world. To facilitate and advance the work of like-minded labs across campus, Lab Links is a new program to sponsor presentations and discussions among labs working on topics with similar characteristics.

Lab Links is hosted by the Health Tech CoLab, a collaboration-centered initiative housed at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Lab Links is part of Blum Center Faculty Director Dan Fletcher’s goal of bringing together faculty and researchers working on important problems who may not have crossed paths. This community-building event “connects faculty while providing educational opportunities for graduate students and networking in a unique format,” says Karenna Rehorn, manager of the CoLab. 

So what happens at each event? Graduate students from disciplines ranging from bioengineering to public health to molecular and cell biology share three slides summarizing their work to an audience of other UC Berkeley researchers they don’t know. Topics vary widely — from presentations on environmental diagnostics to tuberculosis to antibiotic-resistance bacteria — and each event pulls in unique attendees and speakers ranging from the School of Public Health to the School of Optometry to the Berkeley Water Center. Each presentation is followed by a Q&A, shifting the atmosphere to a group discussion where professors and graduate students gain insights and connections to add to their research. This lightning-presentation-to-informal-conversation sequence is repeated for each research lab in attendance, typically three labs per event. Following the presentations, there is time for networking and socializing.

Graduate student discusses their lab’s use of environmental diagnostics at the first Lab Links in January 2022. (Photo by Karenna Rehorn)

Lab Links helps researchers working in different departments form collaborations between labs — all in furtherance of their own unique research goals.

Along with staying up-to-date on the work of other labs, this collaborative environment allows researchers to share tips, research practices, and contacts. “It’s an opportunity for networking, information exchange, and skill exchange,” says Rehorn.

At the first Lab Links, focused on environmental diagnostics, Amy Pickering, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Blum Center Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty and Practice, connected with one of Prof. Fletcher’s graduate students to help with a project in his lab. Fletcher’s lab needed samples of Soil-Transmitted Helminth (STH) eggs. STH refers to intestinal worms which are transmitted through human feces and are common in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene. Fletcher’s lab needed these real eggs from human samples to help optimize imaging and develop machine-learning algorithms to automatically recognize the eggs in images. The overall goal was to expand the number of diseases that the LoaScope, a cell phone–based microscope developed by Fletcher’s lab, can diagnose. This is one of many examples of the Lab Links vision in action — cross-lab communication increasing resource accessibility.

Graduate student discusses their lab’s use of environmental diagnostics at the first Lab Links in January 2022. (Photo by Karenna Rehorn)

The topic of conversation for each Lab Links depends on many factors. For one, it has to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion, pulling in researchers across departments. But there is also a need-based element as well. Amy Lyden, a graduate student in Fletcher’s lab, helps organize Lab Links by developing the theme and then recruiting labs to talk about it. With tuberculosis being one of the top three infectious diseases in the world, and still insufficiently researched in therapeutics and diagnostics, Lyden felt that it was important to have the second Lab Links centered around TB.

The theme must also highlight the ongoing work and accomplishments of labs on campus. Sarah Stanley and Jeff Cox, both professors of pathogenesis, are principal investigators of labs focusing on tuberculosis. This made TB the perfect topic for addressing the needs of public health while featuring relevant Berkeley labs and providing them a platform. “Each Lab Links is about bringing people who are thinking about the needs with people who are thinking about technology and engineering,” says Lyden.

Future Lab Links? Rehorn has big goals for the event series, aiming to grow and diversify the audience to encourage even more amazing discussion. She hopes to incorporate academic grant opportunities in future Lab Links events ,where researchers can collaborate and combine projects, put together a proposal on mutual projects, and hopefully receive funding to further their research.

In order to improve networking, information exchange, and skill exchange, Rehorn emphasizes the importance of pulling together more interdisciplinary labs.

“Professor Fletcher articulated an ambitious vision — to bring together a variety of disciplines so that each researcher can learn from each other and gain new perspectives,” Rehorn explains. “And their collective work can bring about new knowledge in many different areas for the benefit of the world.”

Q&A with Blum Center’s Chief Economist, Brad DeLong, on his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia

Economics Prof. Brad DeLong discusses his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia, and the promises and failures of the prosperity created during the “long twentieth century”.

Courtesy of Brad DeLong

Economics Prof. Brad DeLong discusses his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia, and the promises and failures of the prosperity created during the “long twentieth century”

By Anehita Okojie

In his new book, Brad DeLong, a UC Berkeley professor of economics and the Blum Center’s chief economist, offers an extensive account of the economic history and technological advancements of the “long twentieth century” — 1870 to 2010. Slouching Towards Utopia presents a “survey of the monumental transformations — and failed promises — brought about by an extraordinary rise in prosperity.”

Released Sept. 6, Slouching Towards Utopia has already been nominated for Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times

“What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong’s masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper,” Christina Romer, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley wrote.  “Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”

“One thing I hadn’t fully realized until reading Slouching Towards Utopia,” wrote Paul Krugman, “is the extent to which progress hasn’t brought felicity. Over the 140 years surveyed by DeLong, there have been only two eras during which the Western world felt generally optimistic about the way things were going.” 

“DeLong puts together the puzzle of the past to tell a story of remarkable achievements as well as setbacks,” wrote Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics, calling the book “a great way to understand the forces that have shaped the world today.” 

Prof. Brad DeLong

The Blum Center caught up with DeLong to discuss his newest book.  

What inspired you to write this book? 

The idea that, as far as humans’ lives were concerned, the big game-changing moment in economic history was not the 1770 coming of the industrial revolution, but rather 1870; the belief that somebody ought to write a history book taking that fact as its launching springboard; and the fact that nobody else seemed to be doing so.

The cover of Slouching Towards Utopia is filled with turquoise refrigerators. What is the meaning behind this graphic? 

The artists and art director wanted something to catch the eye, and convey the message that our civilization has enormous technological powers to produce things—useful things—that no previous human civilization ever had, and that that potential for material abundance was a big deal.

You talk about a broad rejection of the status quo after the technologically innovative years of 1870–2010. What do you think is the reason for the broad rejection of the status quo? 

Well, the status quo that is being rejected is what historian Gary Gerstle calls “the Neoliberal Order.” It is being rejected because it is neither producing rapid economic growth, nor accomplishing any of the other tasks that it would need to in order to make people happy—its wealth distribution is seen as unjust, economic safety and security are seen as absent, and the difficult civilization-scale challenges we face as a species are being left unaddressed.

What is the most important lesson you hope readers will take away from this book?

That while the past 150 years have solved the problem of baking a large enough economic pie for everyone to potentially have enough, the problems of properly slicing and then enjoying that potentially ample economic pie have flummoxed us as a species.

Since the title of this book is Slouching Towards Utopia, do you feel that we are on our way toward utopia? If so, what do you feel we can do to ensure we stay on this path? 

The “Slouching Towards” in the title of the book is a call out to what has been called the most plundered poem of the 20th century: William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” The point is that you are not going to be rescued from your situation by something wonderful, but will rather have to deal with something monstrous. No, we are not on the road to Utopia.

What was the most interesting piece of information you learned while writing this book?

All of the Herbert Hoover gossip. 

Slouching Towards Utopia presents a narrative to understand why global poverty, economic downturn, and inequality exist in a world of so much technological advancement.  DeLong’s book offers opportunities to recognize how we might help ourselves and future generations. Slouching Towards Utopia is available starting Sept. 6.

Winners of the 2019 Global Poverty & Practice Photo Contest

For the past 12 years, UC Berkeley’s Global Poverty & Practice Minor has supported 1,013 students in completing their practice experience in 72 countries. The practice experience is a six-week fieldwork opportunity in which students connect theory with action by partnering with nongovernmental or community organizations, government agencies, or other development programs domestically or abroad. The Blum Center offers funding support for students’ practice experiences through a competitive fellowship.

Every Fall, students who have completed their practice experience, are invited to compete in the Global Poverty & Practice photo contest. Photos are judged based on three criteria: visual content, aesthetics, and caption. Below are this year’s winners.


First Place: McCalister Russell, Peace & Conflict Studies, Class of 2020

Practice Experience: Fundación En Vía, Teotitán del Valle – Oaxaca, Mexico

Mrs. Martinez Mendoza spins carded wool into yarn. The yarn will be used on a loom to make the tapestries traditional to her village of Teotitlán del Valle. She has been weaving since her childhood and, alongside her husband, has taught her three daughters and two sons how to weave. Fundación En Vía provides interest-free loans to her daughters, which enable them to continue this tradition and grow their business.

Second Place: Maggie Chen, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Class of 2021

Practice Experience: Maji Safi Group – Shirati, Tanzania

A young girl looks up trustingly as she brings her 1L bottle to be filled with clean water by Community Health Educators. Today, the water is free and she proudly carries it home to help her family store as much as possible. But distributing free water is unsustainable, and community residents will soon be forced to choose between paying for water or using heavily polluted surface water.

Third Place: Marbrisa Flores, Psychology, Spring 2020

Practice Experience: Voces y Manos – Rabinal, Guatemala

Climate change in rural Guatemala is causing crops to die and therefore people cannot produce enough food to sustain themselves. Here, the Maya Achi people congregate for a spiritual Mayan fire ceremony to ask Mother Nature for forgiveness for hurting her and to plead for her future abundance.


Raphael Villagracia, Political Science, Class of 2020

Practice Experience:  Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap – Quezon City, Philippines

Thousands from progressive organizations and urban poor communities rallied on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City against Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and his State of the Nation Address on July 21, 2019. The “Open Seas” effigies, referring to the President’s lack of action to assert Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea against the claims of China.

Practice Experience: Voices of the Experienced – Monroe, Louisiana

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, and many there face the racial and social control of mass incarceration. The organization Black Voters Matter and Voice of the Experienced bused across Louisiana to register formerly incarcerated individuals to vote. Here, Monroe locals show it takes power from the people to push against the criminal (in)justice system.

Anna Gallacinao, Cognitive Science, Class of 2019
Sasha Mizenin, Environmental Sciences, Class of 2021

Practice Experience: UBPC Alamar – Alamar, Cuba

Pablo casts a tired glance as he determines which can to use for his seed farming business in Alamar, Cuba. He has been working in sustainable farming for six years. People leave all sorts of containers (and trash) right outside his gate, the best of which he uses to place seeds and sproutings. His livelihood consists of eating almost all of the vegetables and fruits from his garden and selling the rest.

Practice Experience: Health in Harmony – Sukadana, Indonesia

These farmers have created a complex system of organic farming that includes goats, manure, and catfish, all contributing to fertilizer. Fire is used to keep the mosquitoes away, as smoke is a natural pesticide. Produce is given to employees, and the farming methods are passed on to locals.

Mia Plude, Anthropology, Class of 2020

Author: Veena Narashiman

From Bean to Cup: Anti-Trafficking IdeaLab Develops App for Ethically Sourced Coffee

By Chloe Gregori

Whether students are cramming for late night exams, needing a spike of energy during a 9 am lecture, or studying at a local Berkeley cafe—coffee embodies the college experience. In fact, 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. Coffee is worth over $100 billion worldwide, placing it ahead of other global commodities like gold, natural gas, and oil.

However, this massive and lucrative industry is not without social cost. The complex supply chain—from coffee bean to cup—tends to funnel money to corporations in wealthy countries from farmers in poorer countries, where the beans are arduously picked by hand. In 2016, two of the world’s biggest coffee companies, Nestlé and Dunkin’ Donuts, admitted that beans from Brazilian plantations using slave labour may have tainted its coffee products. Overall, coffee is one of the most notorious industries for human rights abuses. Workers are vulnerable to low wages, exploitative work conditions and, at worst, forced labor and human trafficking.

The Berkeley Coffee Project, an initiative under the Anti-Trafficking Coalition, which is a Blum Center-sponsored IdeaLab, is aiming to empower students to become more conscious consumers and educate them about labor practices connected to their everyday purchases. As the Berkeley Coffee Project Planning Chair Sophia Arce states, “To minimize human rights violations within this industry, it is up to us, the consumers, to demand products that hail from a fair, transparent supply chain.”
Arce, a senior Global Studies major, led a team of over 30 students from diverse disciplines to develop “Conscious Coffee”—an app that allows students to easily find ethically sourced coffee near the UC Berkeley campus. The app includes a list of 30 partner cafes sorted by distance from user’s location, sourcing certifications (along with explanations of their meaning), and links to each cafe.

To launch the app, the team hosted Coffee Festival in early April, an event for students to learn more about local companies that use ethical sourcing and get their fair share of free coffee products. The festival featured campus vendors, such as CalDining (which sells Fair Trade coffee via its partnership with Peets) and Equator and local businesses like COBA, Sweet Maria’s, FORTO, and  Rebbl. Students also learned from Berkeley Coffee Project representatives about the difference between fair trade, direct trade, USDA Organic, and a range of sustainability labels.

“Understanding the labels is a basic step, but there are so many ways for products to be ethically sourced,” Arce explained. “It’s important not to accept labels at face value and do your research.”

The Berkeley Coffee Project plans to recruit more cafes to be listed in the app and create a purchasing rewards feature.

“There is a perception that products with labels like Organic or Fair Trade are too expensive for the general population to afford, let alone college students scrambling to afford Bay Area housing costs and overpriced textbooks,” said Arce. “If the goal of ethically sourced products is to empower economically marginalized populations, shouldn’t they be accessible to consumers who also struggle financially?”

Arce said this irony inspired her to add a rewards system for future app development.

“Not only do I want to provide Cal students with the information they need to make conscientious consumption choices, I want to give them the financial resources to make these choices viable.”
Want to learn more about ethically sourced coffee near campus? Download the Conscious Coffee for Android here or on the Apple App Store.

SACEPI Poverty Action Day Focused on Student Food Insecurity

Veena Narashiman ‘2020

According to a December 2017 report of the University of California Global Food Initiative, 44 percent of UC undergraduates experience some type of food insecurity, meaning they lack consistent access to nutritious food while they are students. And 5 percent  of UC undergraduates experience homelessness, a figure that doubles when narrowed to UC Berkeley because of the Bay Area city’s high cost of living.

These problems don’t exist in a vacuum, an issue that representatives from the Student Action Committee for the Eradication of Poverty and Inequality (SACEPI) acknowledged in a March 14 event hosted by the UC Berkeley and UC Merced Blum Centers at Blum Hall. The discussion of about 70 students, faculty, and staff was moderated by Sara Tsai, program coordinator of the Basic Needs Community Program, and featured Kiyoko Thomas, case manager of the Berkeley Basic Needs Center, and Joyce Lee, a Campus Food Equity and Inclusion Policy Fellow of the Berkeley Food Institute.

Tsai, a third year student majoring in business administration, explained the Basic Needs Center was founded in February 2019 to fill a gap on campus. The center defines a basic need as food, housing, and wellness security, which collectively affect  the mental, emotional, and physical health of students. The intersection of these needs, said Tsai, provide the backbone for the success and overall well being of any student or Berkeley resident.

Thomas agreed with this description, adding, Holistic wellness is the connection of your mind, body, and spirit. All parts of our being are important—and it’s time to recognize that.”

Thomas, who is earning a Master of Social Work, said she joined the Basic Needs team last September, because she felt the the student service experience is fragmented.

“Students are expected to go to the Office of Financial Aid for one issue, Cal Housing for another, Counseling and Psychological Services for mental wellness—the efforts aren’t necessarily coordinated.”

Thomas pointed out that some Cal staff are also food insecure and are welcome to use the Food Pantry, which is located in the basement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Building. The pantry is open 10AM – 7PM on weekdays and 10AM- 2PM on weekends.

“Many workers are currently making minimum wage, but the cost of living is rising a lot,” she said. “Those who serve students also need to be served.”    

The panel also discussed how academic pressure and Berkeley’s competitive environment can affect under-resourced students and staff. Thomas argued we need to “denormalize the idea that lack of sleep or working through the night is always good and helpful.” She advocated students check in with their friends and not abet their bad health habits. ”Make the norm about health, not about finishing assignments,” she said.

Lee added: “Ultimately, what’s in your environment should be good for you. If things become too much, seek help.”

Tsai advocated that students join the Food Pantry. She said it currently has 65 volunteers and needs more, as the program is the only student-run food source open seven days a week.

“We have Pop Up Pantries every Wednesday and Thursday at Moffitt and Wurster,” she said. “Come join us!”

Autodesk Foundation CEO Lynelle Cameron on Courage, Creativity, and Critical Thinking

Lynelle Cameron (Haas MBA ’01) has over 20 years of experience helping companies capitalize on market opportunities related to sustainability and climate change. Cameron is currently Vice President of Sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation. She leads a team transforming the design, manufacturing, and construction industries to capitalize on the business opportunities of a low-carbon economy.

Under her leadership, Autodesk has won numerous awards for sustainability, climate leadership,  and philanthropy. Through the Autodesk Foundation, Cameron has invested over $15 million in entrepreneurs and innovators who are designing a sustainable world for billions of people. Cameron is proving that companies can do well by doing good—in ways that strengthen brand reputation, recruit and retain the next generation of employees, and deliver financial results to shareholders.

She sat down with the Blum Center to talk about sustainability, global challenges, and 21st century skills.

How has your perspective on sustainability evolved during your tenure at Autodesk?

Surprisingly, my perspective on sustainability has remained remarkably consistent over the years. As I wrote in a California Management Review article back in 2001 (vol 43, no. 3 Spring 2001), “Sustainability has become a strategic imperative for all businesses in the 21st century. It has become a fundamental market force affecting long-term financial viability and success.” This is as true today as it was back then.

My understanding, however, of what it would take to get the private sector toshare this view and to embrace the business opportunity that sustainability provides, has definitely evolved. I thought by now sustainability would be regarded in the way quality is—table stakes for every business everywhere. And yet, with each passing year, the stakes become higher and the urgency greater.

When I started leading sustainability teams at HP and later at Autodesk, sustainability was barely viewed as a thought leadership opportunity, much less a business driver. Over the years, this has slowly started to change. Companies like Autodesk are reporting about sustainability and climate change in their 10-Ks, embracing the UN sustainable development goals and setting bold targets, setting up board committees on sustainability, and tying executive compensation to sustainability performance. Employees are voting with their feet—joining companies or leaving them based on sustainability performance. This is all progress worth celebrating. And yet, we are far from where we need to be as a global business community.

What are the skills needed for 21st-century changemakers? How can universities best enable those skills?

In a book called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Harare talks about the four Cs that will be needed to succeed in the age of automation: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. As automation technology increasingly handles certain tasks, these distinctly human skills are vital. But there’s a fifth one that needs to be added: courage. Courage to look into the future and be honest about what we are up against. Courage to talk about climate change even when people don’t want to talk about it. Courage to be a leader willing to take risks and listen to crazy or unpopular ideas, wherever they may come from.

I am fortunate to have had mentors, advocates, and allies at every stage of my career propelling me forward and boosting my confidence despite the obstacles in my way. During my time at Haas, I benefited from an environment where ideas are explored and nurtured. As a student, I had a professor who agreed to oversee an independent study to develop a business plan for the Center for Responsible Business, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. To pay it forward, I try to pay extra attention to other nascent ideas, and create conditions for them to take root—just as others did for me.

Universities have a vital role to play in nurturing both people and ideas and equipping the next generation with the adaptability, resilience, and stamina to make the world a better place for billions of people.

At the Blum Center, we have documented that when university-based engineering projects are geared to social impact, more women and underrepresented minorities get involved. Have you seen similar trends at the Autodesk Foundation or elsewhere?

Yes, your findings are consistent with my experience at Autodesk. As an example, the Autodesk Foundation has more than 40 organizations in our portfolio and close to 50 percent of them are led by women or have a woman on the founding team. These leaders bring deep sector knowledge across a broad spectrum of industries—from emerging technologies like AI and robotics, to the architecture, construction, and manufacturing fields.

Similarly, we offer an internship program that matches students who have design and engineering expertise with impact-driven organizations in our portfolio. In our most recent cohort of interns, more than 80 percent were women or minorities. Women seem to be drawn to deliver positive impact to the world and pursue careers that allow them to do so.

In contrast, only 9 percent of the construction workforce is female, and a recent study of the top 100 architecture firms showed that only three were led by women. As more companies recognize the opportunity to align their business with solving important global challenges, I believe women will be drawn to the field and recognize engineering and related industries as wildly impactful career paths.

What are some of the most impressive impact design projects you’ve seen in recent years?

This is always a tough question because these days there are many people using their talents and skills to create positive impact. The first that comes to mind is WeRobotics. They’re using robots and drones to deliver snake anti-venom to remote villages or to drop sterile mosquito nets in the rainforest to fight Zika. They also train students on robotics and are inspiring young leaders to solve important problems while giving them employable skills.

Build Change is another one. They are adopting the latest technologies to design and build disaster-resistant homes and schools. Not only are they rebuilding after disasters like the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, but they are also working quickly to prevent future disasters by working with local communities to improve building codes in disaster prone regions of the world. Their teams of designers and architects are using VR and automation to dramatically speed up their ability to retrofit homes and help communities prepare for when disaster strikes.

Every organization in our investment portfolio from Village Capital to Kenya Climate Innovation Center is creating positive impact; I invite you to learn more about them at

For students interested in infrastructure, architectural, and engineering software and the built planet what are the bright spots of the future? What do they have to look forward to?

Despite the global challenges we face, and the increasing urgency of these challenges, I remain an optimist. I am confident that as humans we can and will solve today’s challenges, although it will take a radically different approach than what we’ve used to date. When we look out into the future, we see that in 2050 there will be 10 billion people on Earth, with most living in cities and more than half enjoying middle-class lifestyles. It will require twice as much energy to power these lifestyles. While this is daunting, it is also the most important design challenge of our time.

And the good news is that I believe we have the technology today—with ever-increasing levels of automation and machine intelligence, to provide humans with the knowledge to design and make more things for more people. With sophisticated automation technology, we can now handle complex systems to design and make everything better and with a lot less negative impact on the planet. With computers now as our design partners, we have collaborative intelligence that will be necessary to change the trajectory we are on.

But it will take a new mindset—one overflowing with courage, creativity, and critical thinking to leverage automation technology in a way that ensures we design a better future for billions of people.

-Tamara Straus

Whither 21st-Century Development? A Q&A with Brad DeLong

Brad DeLong, the chief economist of the Blum Center, has spent the past four decades researching, writing about, and influencing public policy in the areas of business cycle dynamics, economic growth, behavioral finance, political economy, economic history, international finance, and the history of economic thought. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1982, and earned a PhD in economics, also from Harvard. Thereafter, he taught economics at MIT, Boston University, and Harvard, becoming in 1991 a John M. Olin Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

DeLong joined the UC Berkeley faculty as an associate professor in 1993; however, from 1993 to 1995, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the Clinton Administration. There, he worked on the 1993 federal budget, the health reform effort, and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement. He became a full professor at Berkeley in 1997, and has since also served as co-editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Delong is a prolific contributor to both academic thought and the popular press. Among his scholarly works are: Macroeconomics (a textbook continuously in print since 2002), The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money (with Stephen Cohen), and Concrete Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy (with Stephen Cohen). He is currently at work on The Economic History of the Twentieth Century: Slouching Towards Utopia? DeLong blogs at “Grasping Reality with Both Hands” and writes a monthly column for Project Syndicate.

The Blum Center sat down with Professor DeLong to gauge his views of the future of development.

Why did you decide to become an economist?

I would say that it was a long, slow process. As I look back, some milestonesstand out. Back when I was a child, the father of my best friend, Michael Froomkin, was an economist— Joseph Froomkin always seemed to have very interesting and smart things to say that came at the world from a different and very insightful perspective than others. When I was 12, I think, at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences meeting I got to spend a day playing with the “World Dynamics” global economic-ecological model. The model, I now realize, was very wrong—we are certainly not on any of the trajectories it forecast. But the idea that you could do such a thing was very interesting. When 1982 came around and I graduated from college, the unemployment rate was heading for 11 percent: my classmates weren’t having as easy a time getting jobs, and so staying in school seemed attractive. Becoming a lawyer seemed to involve too much proofreading of documents; becoming a lab scientist seemed to involve too much moving of small volumes of liquid from one test tube to another.

How have your views on economic policy and economic history developed over the course of your career?

I do not think that they have changed that much. If they have changed, it is in the direction of having less trust in economic theory as anything other than a shorthand way of crystallizing the lessons from history. I no longer think theory generates insights. I think theory provides a filing system for insights derived from history and practice.

What did you learn during your tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S Department of Treasury?

Newt Gingrich was a real shock—that there actually was such a self-centered politician, for whom facts on the ground and what the consequences of policies would be for real people, was a shock. His electoral success did very bad things to the Republican Party. But outside of Gingrich and his zone of influence, I was impressed and gratified by how much everyone else in Washington, D.C. cared—about getting the facts right, about getting the policies right, about being good stewards for the country and the world, about trying to figure out how to bring us all closer to utopia.

What interests you most in the field of economic development today?

I am not sure if “interests” is the right word—perhaps “worries” is. There is the big question of the future economic role of “skilled” and “semi-skilled” workers. For the past 200 years, the royal road for a country or a sector to achieve successful economic development has been to use its low wage level to develop a comparative advantage and export industry in labor-intensive manufacturing. You thus borrow the middle-class of the global economic core to provide demand for the goods you manufacture and place them in global value chains. And so you can build up a community of engineering practice around which other processes of technology transfer can develop. By doing this, developing economy after developing economy—starting with the United States and continuing to Germany and most recently in China and Vietnam—have proved capable of importing necessary technologies and then nurturing the communities of engineering practice needed to raise productivity further, catching up at least partway to the global economic core.

But as Harvard’s Michael Kremer taught me fifteen years ago, it doesn’t look like there are going to be an awful lot of relatively low-wage, relatively low-skilled manufacturing jobs out there over the next 30 years. Will China and maybe Vietnam be the last countries for this kind of development? And if so, what alternatives do the structural changes driven by advancing technology open up, if any?

Other scholars to consider in thinking about this issue are: W. Arthur Lewis, the only Nobel Prize winner in economics from the island of St. Lucia. He wrote a book called The Evolution of the International Economic Order, laying out how this has worked. And Robert C. Allen wrote a book for Oxford University Press called Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction. Most recently, Richard Baldwin has written a book called The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization about the coming of the value chain world and its implications for global economic structure.

But even these three books don’t have a great deal to bear on the peculiar problems this provides for developing economies. I am planning a conference this fall at the Blum Center to get people together to talk about this question of the future of economic development.

Amartya Sen in Development as Freedom wrote: “Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development.” How would you define the unfreedoms that people in low-income regions and countries might experience in the coming decades due to advances in AI, automation, etc.?

The first unfreedom is obviously and simply: poverty.

I was reading 19th-century economist John Stuart Mill before I came here. Writing in 1871, Mills said: “It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.” In his day, he wrote, there was indeed higher productivity and there were a lot more machines. Together they had enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment; an increased number to make fortunes; and an increased number to achieve the comforts of the middle class. But they had not had any positive effects on working class standards of living. And in his description of working-class life, Mill used the word “imprisonment”.

Pause there. John Stuart Mill, founding utilitarian, founding libertarian, one of the people  most focused on “freedom” as the primary value, thought back in 1870 that the Industrial Revolution had failed. It has left the working class “imprisoned” because it had left them in poverty. “Imprisonment” is a very strong form of unfreedom: you are locked in a cage. Yet the working class John Stuart Mill saw around them had all the “negative freedom” that Sir Isaiah Berlin could have wanted.

But if John Stuart Mill sees freedom not as merely the absence of legal constraint or personal domination but as requiring enough wealth and social power to, as Sen puts it, “exercise reasoned agency,” who are we to disagree?

Lots of unfreedom could go away if only we could rearrange the process of economic development, so that the fruits of increased productivity would flow to the relatively poor in the form of income. Give people things to do that the outside world regards as valuable. But this also requires that you have to protect the property rights that the working classes have—or else rich and powerful people in your neighborhood will steal your things from you, and it does not matter much if they steal them “legally.”

Do you believe a Universal Basic Income is a feasible public policy to address growing inequality?

Milton Freedman, one of the founders of the Chicago School, was a strong believer in UBI, so it’s definitely out there. There are all kinds of worries about whether it is sociologically and politically unsupportable. There is a strong idea that people simply should never “get something for nothing.” I have never really understood this. We all get a good deal of something for nothing.

If you removed the society around me and all the gifts it has given to me—if you simply put me out in the Sierra foothills, naked, with my abilities to make tools with my own hands, I would starve to death in a month. We are able to be overwhelmingly productive today. But we are so only where we stand on the shoulders of giants, and use a great deal of stuff that has been given to us for free by those who came before us. To ignore this—it is to be born on third base and imagine that you hit a triple.

What about UBI within the foreign aid context, for example, the experiments with cash transfers?

The argument for cash transfers is that you want the people who have a strong sense of how they need resources to be able to spend their own money. The argument against cash transfers is that it’s relatively easy for local power brokers to take the cash away.

I believe delivering direct services, because you have economies of scale, has a great deal to be said for it. I have never understood the argument that service delivery or cash transfers harms people’s work ethic. People really do want to do useful and productive things with their lives overwhelmingly. Look, I had a rich grandfather. His wealth has been flowing to me to the tune of $20,000 per year since I was born until I turned 50. That’s a $20,000 UBI for me. Yet I do not see anyone wandering around saying this was a positively bad thing for me.

Do you use the term the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to talk about the economic effects of AI, blockchain, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and biotechnology?

Well, it’s not “industrial.” There were two industrial revolutions. Coal and steam and cotton textiles comprised the first one. Then there were the new technologies of the 1880s and 1890s: internal combustion engines, oil, electricity, organic chemicals—that was the second. And I have never understood what the third was supposed to be.

ICT [information communication technology] is a post-industrial revolution. I just call it the ICT revolution, because as Alan Greenspan began saying in the 1990s, the most interesting thing is that the weight of what we are producing is folly. From 1700 to 1990, every year we made more and more stuff in terms of what is masses. And then in 1990, we began making stuff that has had less physical mass.

What does the discipline of economics bring to students taking Blum Center courses on poverty interventions?

Economics is good at getting the second and third order effects rights. For example, when something changes, people will start acting differently as their opportunities change—as the prices, both formal prices and informal prices, are transformed. But as they change what they do, that will affect the environment in which others can act, and what there opportunities are. Economics is very good at tracing those consequences through. And it does so in a way that gets you to not just qualitative but quantitative answers. That is a key analytic perspective—not the only valid one, but a key one.

What is your favorite period in economic history, given your interest in development issues?

I would say from 1870 to 1900, with the advent of: 1) the submarine telegraph cable; 2) the iron-hold, screw-propelled, ocean-going steamship; and 3) the industrial research lab and the arrival of machinery that could be deployed pretty much anywhere in the world.

These three changes made globalization and development on a large-scale possible. Before 1870, the most productive machines by and large did not work outside of England and New England in a way that would make them profitable to use. Before 1870, global communications were far from instantaneous. And before 1870, transportation costs were still relatively expensive enough to keep much of what was made in the periphery from being potentially valuable to the world’s industrial core. After 1870, none of these were true.

The world, however, greatly fumbled the opportunity. Since 1870, our failures of development have arisen from things we have done to ourselves. They have not been because of the absence of usable technologies, blockages to communication, or the tyranny of distance.

What is missing in the conversations today about international development—from economists, technologists, public health specialists?

It is the blind philosophers and the elephant problem. Economists miss the sociology. Sociology miss the economics and also the politics. Engineers miss the fact that the societal systems have to have the incentives for this stuff to actually be used in a way that’s worthwhile.

There are all kinds of ways in which things have gone horribly wrong. For example, think of 1650 in Poland, along the Vistula River. Holland was undergoing an economic boom. And so it was turning its grain fields from places where grain was grown to places where flowers were grown and where cows ate grass to produce milk to be turned into cheese. Suddenly, Holland needed a lot more wheat, which was easy to grow in Poland and, with better maritime technology, cheaply shipped to Amsterdam.

Was this a bonanza for the people of Poland? No. There work became more valuable, but they did not become higher paid. The nobles of Poland took the people and turned them into serfs. It was not a good time for Poland, even if it was a good time for “globalization,” in the sense of the rapid development of ways to grow more wheat faster in smaller spaces and then ship the wheat to places where it was very valuable.

Those are the kinds of things to look out for. Those are the kinds of things to fear.

What’s worked to take people out of poverty?

Land reform, nitrogen, and access to some place where you can sell your skills. What hasn’t taken people out of poverty is this kind of scenario: When the government of Mozambique prohibits the export of cashews to India, because it wants the products of the cashew trees of Mozambique funneled through four sets of South African entrepreneurs, each of whom runs one of the four cashew processing plants in Maputo and have a cartel agreement with respect to the price they will pay to cashew farmers.

What is the role of the university in all these complexities about economic development, whether locally or internationally?

To bring people up to speed on what the issues, opportunities, problems, and dilemmas are. To keep the conversation honest. To have a place where people can think and speak, without having to please powerful people by saying what they want to hear right now.


Fighting Poverty with Big Data: A Conversation with Joshua Blumenstock

By Rachel Pizatella-Haswell, UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy MPP ’18

Joshua Blumenstock is an Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information, where he directs the Data-Intensive Development Lab, and a member of the Blum Center’s Development Engineering faculty. His research lies at the intersection of machine learning and development economics, and focuses on using novel data and methods to better understand the causes and consequences of global poverty. Blumenstock has a Ph.D. in Information Science and a M.A. in Economics from U.C. Berkeley, and Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Physics from Wesleyan University.

What can remote sensing and geographic information system data and cell phone data tell us about a person living in poverty?

Blumenstock: We have partial answers to that question. The work that’s been done indicates we can estimate very basic things: population density, household average wealth, basic indices of relative socio-economic status. Of course, there are lots of different ways to measure poverty and inequality and welfare. People working in developing countries tend to like consumption because it seems to be most closely correlate to how someone is actually doing. There has been some work looking at whether you can estimate consumption and expenditures from remote data sources, and initial results are promising here too. Aside from measuring basic welfare, all sorts of work is being done to use these data to learn about migration, social network structure and the spread of disease, to give a few examples.

What can data tell us about poverty indicators such as the incidence or depth of poverty?

Blumenstock: What these models actually spit out are sub-regional estimates of welfare. We can define welfare however we want. In general, as long as you can measure it in the traditional way, you can use these non-traditional data and models to try to estimate it. However, depending on what you want to measure, and what data source you’re using – such as phone data or satellite data – your estimates may be more or less accurate. But once you have your estimate of the distribution of wealth, you can do all of the things you could do with traditional data. You can back-out the poverty incidence, Gini curves and other constructs you derive from the poverty distribution.

In what ways are these data sources limited in their ability to measure welfare or other things?

Blumenstock: I think we have to be careful because it is easy for people to get excited at the potential applications before really understanding the fundamental and practical limitations. Nonetheless, here are several margins where this could be a major improvement over the status quo. One is cost: it is a lot cheaper to collect cell phone data, for instance, than a nationally representative household survey, which costs tens of millions of dollars. Another is geographic resolution: budgets constrain the areas and number of people that you can survey, but satellites can quickly collect millions of images from a small region. Another is temporal resolution: again, because of the costs, you can only do a nationally representative survey every few years at best, but phone data gets updated every second and satellite data gets updated every day. So, if you can update your estimates of the things that you care about – the poverty incidence or the distribution of wealth – every day, that could be really useful. We can think about all of the applications: not just program targeting and impact evaluations but also program monitoring and disaster response. All of these things need up-to-date estimates of the distribution of welfare. Those are all of the reasons why I think people can be excited, including me, but we’re just at the very first baby steps of that long pipeline.

There are basically two canonical papers out there: one that I worked on and one that a Stanford group worked on. Using the most up-to-date data, what we show is that cell phone meta data can be used to estimate relative wealth very accurately. The group at Stanford shows that daytime satellite imagery can be used to do the same thing. They also look at consumption, and find similar results. However, both of those studies include a very small number of countries at one point in time. We have no idea yet if those models that you calibrate at one point in time can generalize into future points in time. To do a lot of the tantalizing applications, like monitoring and impact evaluations, the first step, which has not been done yet, is to show that these estimates can reliably allow for inference over time.

Poverty is heterogeneous across both space and time. Some of your work highlights the ability of machine learning to provide granular spatial assessments of poverty and assessments of poverty in real time. What are the implications of this for the delivery of poverty alleviation programs?

Blumenstock: I don’t think this is going to solve any of these age-old problems relating to the shallowness of quantitative estimates. There’s always going to be trade-offs between quantitative and qualitative research. There’s the famous quote that says, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Here, it’s no different. There is a latent characteristic of people, which is welfare or well-being, and that’s what we want to measure. However, you can’t measure it directly. You can either embed yourself in a community and really get a sense for it, or, if you want to measure welfare at scale, you have to rely on these instruments that make observations about one dimension of things that we think are correlated with this fundamentally unobservable state. And what we’re doing is even one-step removed from that. We have these instruments that are already imperfect measures of that underlying state, and we want to try to replicate that using data that we get for free at true scale. At best, what we’re doing is trying to replicate those already imperfect instruments, which adds another layer of imperfection.

There certainly is nothing about what we’re doing that imposes homogeneity, though. We would never use a model that we fit on Rwanda and apply it to Kenya without knowing first how much we expect the model’s prediction to degrade by. Similarly, I would never expect a model that was fit in 2016 to be accurate in 2018. But that’s an empirical question, and one that we’re actively studying. Some of these are solvable problems, but I think there are these other unsolvable, philosophical questions like construct validity and if we’re measuring that thing that we care about. Those things are more fundamental.

Household income changes overtime due to income shocks throughout the course of a year. How do you view this as a mechanism to correct problems in real time? Could this inform programs to better smooth consumption and target across time as opposed to just one moment?

Blumenstock: I think there are some very compelling applications that look at inter-temporal consumption or changes in dynamics. For a lot of reasons, you might think that that’s a first order thing to target rather than a cross-sectional, stable measure of permanent income. In principle, this is exciting because with this line of research you can potentially get updated estimates at very high frequencies. Yet, that is a couple steps ahead of where we are now. In my mind, step one is seeing if data from a single point in time is accurate. We can sort of do that now. Step two is seeing if the estimates can remain accurate across different points in time. We haven’t quite gotten there, but we’re working on it. Step three is what you’re talking about: real-time estimates. I think those need to be done in that order. Unless we know the right way to generate dynamic estimates and, then, know the right way to layer those onto a real time streaming data set, real time estimates will be wrong. That won’t be for another few years.

You mentioned that you wouldn’t fit a model from one country to another country. What are the ways forward to potentially be able to generalize from one country to another using this data?

Blumenstock: Generalizability can mean a lot of different things. One is generalizing over space, like from one country to another or even within one country from one region to another. Another is generalizing over time. A third is generalizing from a population that you observe to a population that you don’t, even if it is in the same space at the same time.

Of the three, I think that generalizing from one country to another is the easiest. That is an empirical question. We can collect data from two countries, or 10 countries (I’m working on a project where we’re collecting data from 50 countries), and we can just see if we train the model in one country and apply it to another. Then, we need to determine if the degradation of the model’s estimates depend on things that we observe: whether the countries are on the same continent or how far apart they are; whether the ethnic composition of the two countries is similar; or if the distribution of wealth is similar or not. These are things that we can measure. So, we don’t want to just apply the estimates from one country to another, but rather, we want to have a sense for how to correct for translation errors, or at least know when and where such errors are likely to exist. We’ll hopefully have answers to some of these questions in the next few months.

We’re also actively working on this project to have a sense for the ability for phone- and satellite-based estimates to generalize over time.  But realistically, it will be a while until we have a conclusive answer.

The hardest one is generalizing from an observed to an unobserved population. That said, there are a lot of techniques from traditional econometrics that you might apply to this problem. If you know the process that governs whether someone is observable or not, then you can “reverse engineer” a statistical correction. For instance, if you only observe people from population A, you can only reliably estimate the distribution of wealth in population A. But, say you want to be able to estimate the wealth of population B, but they’re not visible in your data (because they don’t have phones, for instance). In this scenario, if you know something about how the distribution of wealth of population A relates to that of population B, you apply a transformation to the estimates of population A to get estimates of population B. These are not big data things or new data things. These are old problems with sample selection and construction, to which we have partial solutions.

What are some of the ethical concerns with using machine learning to track poverty that you’re confronting and how do you confront these issues, especially in consideration of the inherent vulnerability of those who your work is meant to serve?

Blumenstock: The thorniest ethical questions for me are more philosophical ethical questions: things like the legibility of populations and the possibility of misappropriation. Is it a good thing to make people easier to measure? What if an authoritarian regime takes the papers that I’m writing and uses them to weed out political dissenters? For these sort of questions, I try to look at the scale of negative use cases and positive use cases, and focus on problems where the positives outweigh the negatives.

Another important issue is privacy, in the sense that we often deal with data that people generate without a full understanding of how it can be used to draw inferences about them. Here again there is an ethical concern and a practical one. The practical one is easier to address: at least as far as our research is concerned, we do our work in a controlled research environment. We put in place rigid data protection procedures, like removing personally identifying information prior to conducting analysis, to ensure that, to the extent that we can, we are safeguarding the privacy of the people we study. But we can’t control the privacy practices of others, like industry or government. So, the ethical issues are bigger, and boil down to a similar calculus as I mentioned earlier – do we think the benefits outweigh the risks?

There’s an assertion that there’s tension between technocratic solutions and human-rights based solutions. Beyond the implications for poverty alleviation, in what ways does or could machine learning contribute to good governance or protection of human rights?

Blumenstock:  It could contribute in a lot of ways — both through the applications that have been developed in the last few years, as well as those that are on the horizon.

I can see why these “big data measurement” methods may seem more natural a fit for technocratic approaches. But bottom-up governance structures need data too. You need to know who your constituents are. A lot of the things that we’re measuring now are largely motivated by more of the holistic, softer things that have been off limits to technocratic fixes. For instance, we’re working on a project now that tries to quantify the extent to which violence disrupts the social fabric of places like Afghanistan — using phone data to observe the social fabric in ways that wouldn’t be possible with other methods. Technocrats are limited by what they can observe, and one of the things they have a hard time observing is community cohesion and fragmentation. If we can provide ways for people to more directly observe that then it can create a bridge between what technocrats are equipped to do and the more bottom up approaches to good governance.

Blum Center Student Instructors Receive Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Awards

soniagsiawardThis year two Blum Center student instructors, Sonia Travaglini and Julia Kramer, will receive Berkeley’s Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor award. The women were chosen for their command of the subject area, promotion of problem-based learning, and their ability to motivate students.

Sonia attests that the key to being a successful teacher is putting the students first. “My teaching style is all about supporting students to discover their own approach to learning, and to find their unique voice to communicate their knowledge. My teaching philosophy is student-centered; I help students develop self-motivated learning and apply their strengths to their work,” said Sonia.

Julia also believes in having a hands-on approach. “I work with students one-on-one to talk through what they’re trying to accomplish, and how they might reach those goals,” Julia said. “In the courses I teach, we try to give  students a variety of design tools they might use, then we support them in figuring out how to apply those tools in their own work.”

Sonia and Julia will receive certificates of distinction and a $250 stipend in recognition of their achievement.

TRAFFICKED Film Screening and Panel Discussion a Resounding Success

On the evening of November 4, 2016, students, anti-trafficking experts, community members, and professionals from a wide variety of fields filled Banatao Auditorium at Sutardja Dai Hall for the advanced screening of Siddharth Kara’s feature film, Trafficked. There was standing room only, as over 150 people attended the event sponsored by The Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Institute for South Asia Studies.


Prior to the screening, guests mingled and learned from community members about anti-trafficking initiatives on the UC Berkeley campus. Members of the student-run Anti-Trafficking Coalition at Berkeley were on-hand to provide information to attendees.

After the mixer, Director of Special Projects Heather Lofthouse kicked off the main event by giving a brief history of the Blum Center. Since the founding of the first center at UC Berkeley in 2006, there is now a Blum Center on all ten UC campuses. Collectively, these centers have offered courses to over 16,000 students, providing opportunities to engage in research or service in over 75 countries. Lofthouse also credited the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF) and their STOP Girl Trafficking initiative for helping make the screening possible.

Next, Hannah Ousterman and Kathy Brasil, co-directors of the Anti-Human Trafficking IdeaLab at the Blum Center, explained the work of their organization. The IdeaLab is an interdisciplinary think tank comprised of undergraduate and graduate students that focuses on researching sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and issues related to gender-based violence. The film screening is one of their main events this fall.

Brasil then introduced Siddharth Kara, the screenwriter and producer of Trafficked. Kara is an internationally renowned expert on human trafficking. He is a Fellow at the UC Berkeley Blum Center and Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Currently, Kara also advises the United Nations, foreign governments, and the US government on anti-slavery issues. Kara encouraged audience members to attend the Break Free Run in Oakland which takes place annually to raise awareness and funds to combat human trafficking. Kara also highlighted AHF’s STOP Girl Trafficking Initiative which was founded by Richard C. Blum and has helped 15,000 Nepali girls stay in school and avoid being victimized by traffickers.


In relation to Trafficked, Kara explained that the film was inspired by his nonfiction book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. The purpose of the film, according to Kara, is to take audiences on an authentic journey introducing them to the brutal realities of human trafficking. Kara explained that most people who grow up in the United States learn about the transatlantic slave trade and the brave campaign to eradicate slavery that was inspired by movements in Europe. However, Kara insists that the 13th amendment was not the end, but just the beginning. Kara said, “Slavery still exists here and throughout the world more pervasively and perniciously than anyone wants to acknowledge. Slavery can be seen everywhere, from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the smartphones in our hands, and to the young women raped by our friends, colleagues, and neighbors.” He continued, “Slavery strips people of what makes them human–their dignity, freedom, and even control over their own bodies.” Kara closed by saying that he hopes Trafficked will inspire people to join the efforts to end slavery.

After the film, Chloe Gregori, Program Assistant at the Blum Center, led a panel discussion with Siddharth Kara, cast member Patrick Duffy, trafficking survivor and anti-trafficking advocate Minh Dang, and Humanity United’s Investments Manager Sandy Tesch Wilkins.

Gregori started the panel off with a few prepared topics for each panelist before opening up the discussion to questions from the audience.

Panel Discussion

Siddharth Kara

“What led you to take on this project?”

When I wrote my first book, which was published in January 2009, I had the aspiration that the stories in the book could be told in a feature film format. I didn’t have any idea how to write a screenplay at first because I only had experience writing non-fiction books, but I knew that millions more people would see a film than know about me or come to one of my classes. Film is one of the most powerful tools we have to change things. Just look at films like Blood Diamond and The Killing Fields. My aspiration was to create a film that could be the center of gravity to change the narrative on human trafficking.

Given the large number of different types of trafficking, how did you choose the three types of trafficking featured in this film?

The challenge was to convey as much information as possible in a condensed film. I knew that I wanted to make a global film set in the United States. A global film because that is the reality of human trafficking, and set here because people don’t realize that side of trafficking. This country has the resources and energy to make an impact globally.

What are your hopes for how the film will help advance the anti-human trafficking movement?
My dream is that this film will capture the blood, sweat, and passion of enough people to do
whatever needs to be done to eradicate every form of slavery there is today. It is my hope that after seeing this film more people will think “Not on my watch. I will not pass this disease on to my children.”

Patrick Duffy

“How did you become involved in this film?”

I got a phone call to be part of this movie. I read the screenplay and found it intriguing and very depressing. The story is about the people next door. They are people you think are good but do the things my character did in the film. We all think of Ashley Judd with wings, but in this film she’s different. This film is another focus of what I do, which is to try to make something of value every day. For example, on our last day in Houston a woman had gone to a nail salon which is another common site for labor trafficking. The young Indonesian girl who did the woman’s nails shook her hand after the manicure and left a piece of paper with a phone number in her hand. The woman went back later on to find out if the girl was okay, but by then she was gone. Those opportunities to make a difference exist every day. I make an effort to keep my eyes open. If everyone does a little bit, we can have an enormous impact.

Sandy Tesch Wilkins

“Can you tell us more about Humanity United’s work?”

Within Humanity United, I specifically work with corporate supply chains. For example, some of the characters referenced having to pay off a debt or being recruited for a job that they thought was one thing (working on a cruise ship) but then being trafficked. Consumer products, agriculture, and construction are common areas for labor trafficking. Humanity United doesn’t have a particular geographic focus, so it does work in the US and outside of it.

“What are your reactions to the film?”
I was very impressed that they were able to weave so much into this film. It covers a lot about trafficking which is a complex problem that affects over 20 million people in the world.

Minh Dang

“Can you tell us more about your work on the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking?”

Human trafficking is an atrocity that requires our emotional connection to the issue and our best thinking. In our first report, one of the council’s recommendations was to look at representations of human trafficking in the US media. The media’s focus has largely been on trafficking outside the US. When the issue is portrayed in the US, sex trafficking is emphasized almost exclusively.

“How do you envision survivor leadership in the anti-trafficking movement?”

I am a survivor, but people often don’t think that survivors look like me and can be someone next door. People have been exposed to “disaster porn”–we are either desensitized to atrocities or are blown out of the water by how horrible it is. Survivors in leadership positions are trying to put a human face to the movement. We want to say that not only do survivors need to have a seat at the table, but they need to be leading what is happening.

Audience Q&A

From left to right: Kara, Sandy, Ming, Patrick.
Panel, from left to right: Kara, Sandy, Minh, Patrick.

1) Audience member:“How do you talk to people who are feeling overwhelmed by the issue of trafficking?”

Dang: The first thing you should tell them is that the feeling of being overwhelmed is only 1% of what trafficking survivors experience. If survivors can endure 99% more, then they can work through their emotions. Second, you should give them action steps to deal with their feelings and help solve the issue.


2) MISSSEY representative: “How do you leave work at work when you are dealing with individuals who have gone through traumatic events in their lives like exploitation and trafficking?”

Dang: Self-care is not a singular act. Organizations should be designed to have the practice built in. You need to really find out what brings you joy and seek out other allies. Be able to step back from the work, and have accountability partners that help you follow through with your self-care like a gym buddy.

Kara: Anyone who does human rights work has to be very mindful. You are never the one who has suffered as much as the person you are meeting or documenting, but it does take an emotional, mental, and physical toll. I wasn’t that good about it early on. I didn’t realize that I needed to take the time to heal. [Self-care] requires a community and some help.

Ashley Judd did a Masters of Public Policy at the Kennedy School. She did a good deal of time in war zones and refugee camps. We spent time talking about how we didn’t take the time needed to rest and repair. Since then, I’ve focused on time with family and doing simple things like going to the movies. For any of you who are considering working in human rights, make self-care part of your journey because if you break down there is one less person doing that crucial work.

Duffy: I stand in awe of every person I’ve met who is on the front lines of addressing these issues, but there are people who may not be able to do that. However, they can still do something. For those of us who can’t muster the life condition to dedicate our lives the way the rest of this panel has, we can do something that is still valuable. We can be the people who represent the average, everyday folks. I’m a voice for us “weekend warriors.”


3) Counselor and Human Trafficking Researcher: “Do you know of any avenues for the resiliency of the counseling community in relations to addressing mental health concerns for survivors?”

Dang: Research on the mental health of survivors is an area that I myself want to learn more about. There are programs around the world that have worked with survivors over the long-term, but I don’t think that there are actually very good studies on it.

Wilkins: If you’re looking for specific NGOs for models, [Humanity United] works with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking. There are a number of policies that they set forth that may be useful for you to look at.


4) Peter Bittner, Journalist: “What is the role of the media in shaping the public’s perception of issues like human trafficking?”

Duffy: It’s a tough question about the media and their responsibility for social issues. Film companies’ responsibilities are to their stockholders, but we need to hold our reporters and our network news accountable. We need to hold their feet to the fire. We have an avenue to do that: our social media networks. We make huge changes in our institutional norms through social media. I have long advocated that network news shouldn’t be rated. It should be standardized and not focused on making profit. If we did that, then that section of the media would fulfill their responsibility. However, for entertainment media, it’s a harder request. There are passion projects that have a positive effect such as Philadelphia and Blood Diamond, but they also attract a certain market. The aim is still to make profit.

Dang: There is a responsibility to stop using the term child prostitute. Not labeling survivors as prostitutes is the responsibility of the media.


5) Peter Bittner, Journalist: “Why did you choose to make a feature film instead of a documentary?”

Kara: There have been several well done documentaries on issues of trafficking, but very few commercially viable feature films. Feature films though can attract a much larger audience than a documentary ever will. Patrick [Duffy] can testify to how hard it is to make a movie and how hard it is to get people to see it. But if it can be done, you can capture a lot of attention and change the current. The current [of anti-trafficking work] is still largely trundling along. This isn’t a brisk river yet because more people need to jump in and help move it forward. If enough people get to hear about issues like this and look up various organizations like AHF and Humanity United, then something can change.


6) Audience member: “Can you comment on what needs to be done about all the men who actually go into the brothels?”

Kara: There was a conscious choice made in this film to show you the truth. It’s not just the
degenerate, perverse, unpleasant men of the world involved in this. It is doctors, lawyers, professionals, politicians, young men, and old men. But men aren’t all scoundrels. There was the quick-thinking bus driver who made all the difference in the climactic arc for two of the characters.

There are competing philosophies in this world about this issue. Is it prostitution or is it trafficking? Demand Abolition is an organization that follows the Nordic model in which Sweden was the first country to end the prosecution of trafficking survivors. They passed a law that didn’t make it a criminal offense to sell sex, but made it a crime to buy sex. The law has reduced incidents of trafficking. Other countries have followed this model such as France, but the other side [of the debate] says that prostitution must be made legal and that it should be regulated. This is not to say that people cannot make a fully informed, conscious choice to engage in sex work, but from my experience there have been factors such as poverty or hardship that has led them to this work. With these factors, how can we really know if they had a choice? The ultimate question in this debate is whose rights do we want to protect?

Dang: If we’re talking about ending demand and the people who are needing to survive
through sex work, what is our emancipation plan to help people lead a dignified life? This is a very complicated issue, and putting everyone in jail does not solve the problem.
We have to ask ourselves, “what is the culture we have that fosters the buying of another person?” Do people who grow up in the sex industry and choose to stay as adults really have viable options? What about the “bad men” who were raped as children or who were trained to treat people this way?

We need to evaluate how mothers treat their sons and how fathers treat their sons. We need to talk about early prevention. Action after the fact is not prevention. If sex work is legalized, it doesn’t necessarily decrease trafficking because trafficking just goes underground instead.

Wilkins: Partnership for Freedom sponsored by Humanity United is currently gathering ideas on whether countries should aim for decriminalizing or legalizing sex work as a solution to human trafficking. If you want to engage in this debate, you can submit your ideas there.


7) Audience member:“What direct actions can people take to help end human trafficking?”

Duffy: Have a conversation. People have sex a lot, but don’t talk about it. You can have a sex conversation with your child because then they can come to you with questions. You can have a brilliant conversation that can help change the cycle that leads to trafficking.

Dang: Google and hug somebody.

Wilkins: Look at a specific piece of clothing or product and find out where it comes from. It can be overwhelming to think of where everything comes from, but focusing on just one item will enlighten you and help you change your purchasing habits.

Kara: The focus of this film is on sex trafficking, but there were references in the film to labor trafficking. If you had done nothing else on this issue and knew nothing about it prior today, the fact that you were here tonight is already the first step. You are on the journey and are part of this community now. Maybe after this you’ll be able to go home and take that second step.

TRAFFICKED, a film by renowned expert on contemporary slavery, Siddharth Kara, to screen on campus November 4th!

The Blum Center for Developing Economies and The Institute for South Asia Studies, both at UC Berkeley, are pleased to announce a screening of the feature film, TRAFFICKED, starring Ashley Judd, Anne Archer, Patrick Duffy, and Sean Patrick Flannery. The film is written and produced by Blum Center Fellow, Siddharth Kara, based on his award-winning first book ‘Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery’.


Event details

Private Screening: “Trafficked”

Film – Feature | November 4 | 5:30 – 9 p.m. | Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

Moderator: Siddharth Kara, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy / Fellow, Harvard KSG / Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Panelist/Discussants: Patrick Duffy, Cast member; Sandy Tesch Wilkins, Investments Manager, Humanity United

Sponsors: Blum Center for Developing Economies, Institute for South Asia Studies

About the Film

TRAFFICKED is the first truly global, authentic feature film on human trafficking. Around the world, millions of vulnerable girls are being ensnared by human traffickers into the insidious world of sex slavery and exploited relentlessly to generate profits of one hundred billion dollars per year. That is more than the annual profits of Google, Microsoft, Nike and Starbucks combined. Inspired by real characters from the award-winning book ‘Sex Trafficking’ by leading slavery expert Siddharth Kara, this is the story of three such girls from America, Nigeria and India. After being trafficked through an elaborate global network of illicit human, organ, and drug trafficking, all three girls end up as sex slaves in a brothel in Texas, where they must band together to attempt to reclaim their dignity and freedom.

About Siddharth Kara

Siddharth Kara

Siddharth Kara is a Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He is recognized as an expert on contemporary slavery and is best known for his award-winning book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Sex Trafficking was named co-winner of the prestigious 2010 Frederick Douglass Award at Yale University for the best non-fiction book on slavery. The award is generally regarded as the top prize in the field of slavery scholarship, and Kara’s is the first book on modern slavery to receive the award. In addition to his books, Kara has authored several other books, academic and law journal articles.

Kara first encountered the horrors of slavery in a Bosnian refugee camp in 1995. Subsequently, he has traveled to more than sixty countries across six continents to research these crimes, interviewing over thousands of former and current slaves of all kinds, witnessing firsthand the sale of humans into slavery, and confronting some of those who trafficked and exploited them. He currently advises the United Nations, the U.S. Government, and several other governments on anti-slavery research, policy and law. Kara is a regular contributor to the CNN Freedom Project, and his ongoing research into slavery around the world has been covered by CNN, the BBC, and CNBC.

For a Blum Center interview on Siddharth’s work, click here.

Entrepreneurs Committed to Increasing Clean Energy Access Gather at UC Berkeley

By Peter Bittner

On Thursday, September 8, 2016 the UC Berkeley Blum Center and the U.S. Department of State partnered to host a day-long event focused on creating solutions to expanding global access to clean energy.

“Silicon Valley Tech Challenge: Accelerating Access to Clean Energy Around the World” convened 100 key stakeholders from across Silicon Valley — including tech companies, investors, foundations, NGOs, government, and academia — to develop new technological approaches to tackling this challenge. Building on earlier events, the day-long workshop was aimed at generating ambitious and impactful proposals to overcome barriers to entry and scale. Providing access to energy results in a variety of benefits across the education, health, social, and economic sectors.

Habiba Ali-Dare, a State Department Global Energy Entrepreneur from Nigeria, offers opening remarks at the Tech Challenge.

“Expanding access to clean energy to the over 1 billion people who globally lack access to electricity and the another billion who lack access to reliable electricity not only helps spread economic prosperity, it also helps to combat climate change,” said Melanie Nakagawa, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation in the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources. ‎

The Tech Challenge was part of the State Department’s recently-launched Innovation Forum and Silicon Valley presence, with a mission to build bridges between policy-makers and innovators to tackle the most pressing global challenges.

“This is not a one-time event, but rather the launch of a broad initiative to engage Silicon Valley on expanding access to clean energy,” said Zvika Krieger, State Department Representative to Silicon Valley. The event brought together not just experts in renewable energy but also those on the forefront of intersecting technology trends, such as expanding internet access, mobile payments and platforms, cloud storage, and data analytics. The workshop resulted in identifying expert champions to develop solutions to advance these new ideas and specific mechanisms.

Group brainstorming sessions were recorded not only in sticky-note form but by student notetakers from UC Berkeley.

“We didn’t want to have a typical workshop with panels and speeches and talking heads — this was an opportunity from experts across the energy space to roll up their sleeves and actually develop solutions,” said Krieger.

Long-time energy specialists worked side-by-side with innovators from other sectors who offered new perspectives to the challenge.

“So often conferences are a sit-and-listen affair. This truly was different,” said Dr. Sophi Martin, Innovation Director at the Blum Center.

Interdisciplinary and multi-sector working groups of leading experts focused on key challenges ranging from battery storage and energy efficient appliances to expanding business models beyond solar home systems to mini-grids and community-wide solutions.

The six solution-centric topics for the discussion groups:

· Battery storage – There is a need for power storage systems that are tailored to operate with solar home and mini-grid systems. One important criterion is that the storage systems have a low enough price point that would not prohibit companies operating in emerging economies from purchasing the devices.

· Metering, monitoring, and common standards – Smart metering and monitoring of solar home and mini-grid systems can improve reliability, build smoother functionality, improve operations and maintenance, and allow for more flexible payment options.

· Super-efficient appliances and productive uses optimized for off-grid energy systems – Most productive use appliances are not tailored for the off-grid market and draw significant energy from power systems. There is a strong need for super-efficient productive use appliances that can be powered by solar home and mini-grid systems.

· Business models for solar home and mini-grid systems – There remain over a billion people globally without access to electricity and another billion with unreliable access. Some models may be more successful in Africa while failing to take hold in other regions, such as Asia. Business models need to be able to adapt to local contexts and factor in a variety of risks from finance and technological to policy and environmental considerations.

Group discussion and cross-sector collaboration were key to the event’s success.

· Off-the-shelf and open-source technology to facilitate energy entrepreneurship – Many successful solar home and mini-grid companies exist that have developed their own systems and models, which usually contain proprietary technology. It may be beneficial for the growth of the market to create a standard off-the shelf system and open-source technology that do not contain proprietary information, which could be used by new entrepreneurs looking to enter the space.

· Driving demand and awareness – Raising awareness around the benefits of energy access for potential consumers can help build larger markets for these innovations. Other sectors, such as internet connectivity and clean drinking water, may have useful lessons around raising consumer awareness.

Action Partners, including the Blum Center, will be supported by the State Department to further develop and implement key outcomes from the event. Leading companies and organizations who participated in the workshop will be advancing ideas and solutions that were generated to address key challenges to off-grid clean energy access, including Microsoft, X (formerly GoogleX), Facebook, Orange Silicon Valley, Booz Allen Hamilton, Galvanize, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, DBL Partners, Allotrope Partners, Factor[E] Ventures, IdeaScale, Powerhouse, Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, and Haas School of Business. Additionally, students at UC Berkeley’s Foundry and participants in the Big Ideas Energy & Resource Alternatives competition will begin to experiment with implementation plans for the concepts resulting from the Tech Challenge.

“We need the brightest minds in Silicon Valley, together with energy entrepreneurs from around the world, to pursue innovative and scalable ways to help meet the drastically rising global demand for electricity,” said Nakagawa.

Kurtis Heimerl Named MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35

By Tamara Straus

August 19, 2014 | When Kurtis Heimerl applied for the PhD program in computer science at UC Berkeley, he didn’t intend to focus on technology for developing countries. But several experiences propelled him in that direction.

In Eagles River, Alaska, where he grew up, he said he “spent a lot of time in rural areas and saw how the lack of access to technology affected people’s lives, especially during emergencies.” Heimerl excelled early at math, and his parents urged him to pursue work and money at the big tech companies. So while an undergraduate at University of Washington, he interned at Google and Amazon. But he didn’t love the work.  “Computer programming is tedious,” said Heimerl. “That’s why companies like Google pay us so much.”

After graduation, Heimerl landed a job at Microsoft Research India, which took him to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in the summer of 2007. He said he went not for altruistic reasons, but because he wanted to see India. The project, called the Digital Study Hall, put him to work developing long-distance learning software for children in slums and rural schools. To Heimerl’s surprise, he said, it was “super fun. I saw the work was useful and I could help people.”

That fall when he matriculated at Cal, Heimerl went hunting for people doing technology for development. He soon found Computer Science Professor Eric Brewer, who runs a lab called TIER, short for Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, and managed to jump through the programming hoops Brewer presented him. “I came in with a strong technical background,” said Heimerl. “What I needed were stronger social science skills, ways to connect technological advancements to the needs of people.”

Heimerl related all this background from a small schoolhouse built by Dutch missionaries in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia, where he is monitoring the cellular network he installed last year for the area’s 1,500 residents—and where last week he received the news that MIT Technology Review  named him one of the Innovators under 35 in the “Humanitarian” category.

Heimerl deserves the label. He is among a growing number of top-notch computer scientists and engineers who are turning away from the big money of technology companies to pursue humanitarian tech work—or what’s increasingly being called Development Engineering. Heimerl’s graduate and post-doctoral work has focused on how to provide cellular communications to some of the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who live outside the range of cellular carriers.

At its core, he explained, the challenge is not about technological innovation, but about how to apply existing and low-cost cellular network advancements to places with regulatory and economic barriers. The highland villages of Papua are just too remote and the people too few and poor for a big phone company to have interest. As Heimerl and his UC Berkeley colleagues explain in a recent paper, the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network may be the largest communications network on earth, but it is full of “whitespaces”: places off the grid and without cellular coverage, which limit people’s economic advancement and quality of life.

To fill the whitespaces, Heimerl and his colleagues at TIER have created, with support from USAID’s Development Impact Lab and the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a GSM cellular tower that can be powered by sun or wind and that provides villagers with local calls, text messaging, and web surfing. The project, called Community Cellular Networks, is essentially an outdoor PC in a waterproof box that uses an open-source technology (called OpenBTS) to implement a GSM base station. Heimerl says it takes one to two people to set it up, and no one to maintain it. “You get a pole, run it up a big tree, rope the box into place, and it’s done,” said Heimerl.

But the community cellular network, which has been running in Papua for 18 months under the tacit approval of various government officials, is technically illegal. The reason? GSM uses licensed spectrum, and gaining access to licensed spectrum is nearly impossible for small, rural operators. “But shutting it down doesn’t help anyone, and no one is going to do it,” said Heimerl. Also, the revenue from this “pirating” is insignificant; what’s significant is the social benefit. Heimerl’s five-month-old social enterprise Endaga charges $0.09 per outbound SMS, $0.02 per minute for local calls, and $10 for a SIM card. It is making about $1,000 a month from a few hundred customers, and expects to break even on its $10,000 investment in a year. Verizon and AT&T are not calling.

Besides sitting in the school and monitoring the system, Heimerl said he deals with the network’s billing issues and interviews people about their cell phone experiences. One story from the local hospital is illustrative. For the latter part of the summer, the only two doctors went to Jayapura, the capital of Papua, leaving the nurses in charge. Starting in July, many villagers came down with a tropical disease. No one knew what to do. With Heimerl’s cellular network, nurses were able to reach the doctors using SMS to help with diagnosis and treatment. For the nurses—and the sick villagers—the savings in terms of travel costs and lost workdays were considerable.

“It’s exciting to build a system like this and to solve a problem,” said Heimerl, who also admits development work is not all travel and excitement. But Heimerl seems to take advantage of his boredom. When the power goes out, which happens from to 2 pm to 6 pm everyday in Papua, he plays basketball and mingles with the villagers, who often tell him how useful and life-altering it is to communicate with the outside world. “That’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said.

“There are so many things to love about Heimerl’s work in Indonesia,” said Professor Brewer of his student. “But my favorite is that he is delivering complex technology to rural users in a way they want and can control.”

Here Versus There: Reflections from a “Voluntourist”

(Published in the San Francisco Chronicle) By Brenna Alexander Despite the altruistic lure of international volunteering, those seeking meaningful work should look no further than their own backyard. Last summer, I taught and played and laughed with children cooped up in a Cambodian orphanage. I had gone to Cambodia to work for another nonprofit organization. …
While there is much to learn abroad, volunteering at home is different and usually far more beneficial. If you volunteer at home, you are constantly reminded of the persistence of human suffering and the incredible difficulty of generating economic and societal change. When you volunteer at home, you encounter the injustice that resides within your own community – injustices that may collapse long-held notions and the allure of simple solutions.

Microclinics International


The Challenge

In impoverished and war-torn areas, regional instability leads to ineffective health care infrastructure unable to adequately treat ailments such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

The Technology Approach

Through community-based workshops, micro-clinics leverage social networks to spread “contagious health” best practices, providing information dissemination and training in conjunction with local partners.

2013 Updates

The NGO MicroClinics International will expand and support the 1,500 established micro-clinics spanning four continents through evaluation and policy advocacy. The group also recently launched a diabetes micro-clinic project domestically in Kentucky.

Principal Investigator

Prof. Eva Harris, School of Public Health

Lead Researcher

Daniel Zoughbie, Principal Investigator, CEO Microclinic International

[button link=”” text=”Website”]

Lumina Project

LED Lighting


The Challenge

Over a billion people in the developing world lack access to an electric grid and instead rely on inefficient, expensive and polluting flame-based lighting.

The Technology Approach

The Lumina Project works through laboratory and field-based investigations to cultivate technologies and markets for safe, affordable lighting options that can replace fuel-based options in the developing world, including low-carbon alternatives, such as LED lighting.

2013 Updates

In addition to supporting various off-grid lighting projects in Africa, the Lumina Project team has recently conducted in-depth studies of the health impacts of fuel-based lighting, in addition to market analysis regarding carbon credit mechanisms in the developing world.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Evan Mills, Building Technology and Urban Systems Department, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

[button link=”” text=”Website”]

ReadyMade Impact Assessment


The Challenge

Social organizations frequently lack the resources and expertise to assess the impact of their programs to guide future growth, as the opportunity costs of assessments are high and may result in little value added to the organization unless done in a meaningful way.

The Technology Approach

ReadyMade provides social enterprises a free and effective online tool to aid in assessment of impact and costs through analysis of essential data that are easy to collect.

2013 Updates

ReadyMade will develop an online impact assessment tool that can be used by organizations to undertake assessments, track project outcomes, and create evaluation reports.  The team has developed prototypes in a variety of areas, including a cataract surgery clinic, agricultural co-ops in Africa and Asia, and at-risk youth college-prep program in the US.

Lead Researcher

Prof. Clair Brown, Economics

Field Locations

Prototypes in South America, Africa, Asia, and United States

Prototype Reports

Developing an Effective and Efficient Assessment Template for Social Enterprises
Analysis of Berkeley Scholars to Cal Program
Hospital de la Familia’s Cataract Surgery Program in Guatemala

ReadyMade Impact Assessment


The Challenge

Social organizations frequently lack the resources and expertise to assess the impact of their programs to guide future growth, as the opportunity costs of assessments are high and may result in little value added to the organization unless done in a meaningful way.

The Technology Approach

ReadyMade provides social enterprises a free and effective online tool to aid in assessment of impact and costs through analysis of essential data that are easy to collect.

2013 Updates

ReadyMade will develop an online impact assessment tool that can be used by organizations to undertake assessments, track project outcomes, and create evaluation reports.  The team has developed prototypes in a variety of areas, including a cataract surgery clinic, agricultural co-ops in Africa and Asia, and at-risk youth college-prep program in the US.

Lead Researcher

Prof. Clair Brown, Economics

Field Locations

Prototypes in South America, Africa, Asia, and United States

Prototype Reports

Developing an Effective and Efficient Assessment
Template for Social Enterprises

Developing an Effective and Efficient Assessment Template for Social Enterprises
Analysis of Berkeley Scholars to Cal Program
Hospital de la Familia’s Cataract Surgery Program in Guatemala

Village Base Station

A Cellular System for Rural Off-Grid Locations


The Challenge

Over one billion people in rural areas worldwide lack access to the transformative technology of cellular phones.

The Technology Approach

The Village Base Station (VBTS) cellular tower is optimized for rural, off-grid deployments by drastically reducing the cost of cellular coverage through decreased required power, especially when not in active use.

2013 Updates

The VBTS is deploying three towers in rural Papua, Indonesia, aiming to serve between 1,000 and 10,000 people.

Lead Researchers

Prof. Eric Brewer, Computer Science
Prof. Tapan Parikh, School of Information

Field Location


[button link=”” text=”White Paper”]

Village Base Station

A Cellular System for Rural Off-Grid Locations


The Challenge

Over one billion people in rural areas worldwide lack access to the transformative technology of cellular phones.

The Technology Approach

The Village Base Station (VBTS) cellular tower is optimized for rural, off-grid deployments by drastically reducing the cost of cellular coverage through decreased required power, especially when not in active use.

2013 Updates

The VBTS is deploying three towers in rural Papua, Indonesia, aiming to serve between 1,000 and 10,000 people.

Lead Researchers

Prof. Eric Brewer, Computer Science
Prof. Tapan Parikh, School of Information

Field Location


[button link=”” text=”White Paper”]

Darfur Stove Project

Fuel Efficient Stoves for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)


The Challenge

Since 2003, civil conflict in Darfur has led to massive displacement of people into densely populated camps. The Darfur Stoves Project provides Darfuri women with specially developed cookstoves that require less firewood, reduce pollution, and decrease women’s need to trade food rations for fuel and their exposure to violence by reducing the time needed to collect needed firewood.

The Technology Approach

The stoves team leads the development of fuel efficient stoves through user-centered design, reducing both harmful emissions and firewood collection by 50% each. For a family, the stove leads to up to $1770 in firewood savings over five years.

2013 Updates

Started at Lawrence Hall of Science (LBNL), the project is currently also the first initiative of Potential Energy, a Berkeley-based, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring life-improving household technologies to women in the developing world. Potential Energy is transitioning to a market-based approach in Darfur and is partnering with LBNL to design a fuel-efficient stove for use in Ethiopia.

Lead Researcher

Dr. Ashok Gadgil, LBNL

Field Locations

Darfur, Sudan; Ethiopia

[button link=”” text=”Website”]


Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity

The Challenge

Lack of reliable electricity results in inadequate obstetric care for pregnant mothers and their offspring in the developing world, contributing to morbidity and mortality.

The Technology Approach

The durable and portable “We Care Solar Suitcase” provides power for medical LED lighting, cell phones, and battery charging for fetal dopplers and headlamps – reducing delays and increasing capacity of providing emergency obstetric care.

2013 Updates

We Care Solar aims to expand by deploying networks of Solar Suitcases in specific regions, partnering with Ministries of Health and NGOs to enhance health care delivery. The engineering team is working to improve the suitcase design through increased battery life, higher performance LEDs, and an integrated PC board. Additionally, a recently launched Solar Ambassador program has trained women to lead installations and international trainings.

Lead Researcher

Laura E. Stachel, MD, MPH, DrPH Candidate

Field Location(s)

Western, Central, and Eastern Africa; Central America, Haiti, Asia

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Experts Discuss Insights on Poverty

The importance of anthropology in poverty alleviation and development work was showcased at a March 8 panel discussion hosted by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, where speakers highlighted how anthropology can help us understand economics, policy and the alarming rates of poverty that persist in the world.

Brittany Schell

The importance of anthropology in poverty alleviation and development work was showcased at a March 8 panel discussion hosted by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, where speakers highlighted how anthropology can help us understand economics, policy and the alarming rates of poverty that persist in the world.

The discussion, “Anthropological Insights on Poverty in Developing Economies,” was moderated by Richard C. Blum, founder of the Blum Center, and featured four female panelists in honor of International Women’s Day.

Panelists Laura Tyson, Gillian Tett, Aihwa Ong, and Clare Talwalker with Blum Center Founder and event moderator Richard C. Blum.

Tett, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology, talked about the role of anthropological analysis in economic discussion and policy creation. Her recent book, Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe, focuses on the connection between social behavior and economics.“If you want to understand the world, simply plugging numbers into a spreadsheet isn’t enough,” said panelist Gillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of The Financial Times of London.

“A silver lining to the cloud of the economic crisis is that it has indeed forced a new level of interdisciplinary discussion,” Tett said. “Interdisciplinary work is key for innovation and creativity in human endeavor.”

Laura Tyson, an economics professor at UC Berkeley and Chair of the Blum Center Board of Trustees, also talked about the power of interdisciplinary approaches in searching for innovative solutions to global poverty.

“People are now coming together, bringing serious psychological and anthropological lenses on what happened,” Tyson said, referring to the economic crisis.

There is a growing interest among her business students, Tyson said, around the idea of creating for-profit business ventures that will bring value to communities—more than just the products or services provided. Her students want to create business models that “understand the actual needs of the population we are trying to serve,” she said. Aihwa Ong, a UC Berkeley anthropology professor, said anthropologists are observing and trying to understand how things work in the constantly changing conditions of globalization, and so are hesitant to make big claims about solutions to poverty.

“We have to think of culture not as fixed blueprints of society,” Ong said. “Culture is not written in stone, but rather is a dynamic system of beliefs and practices.”

All four panelists agreed that, as teachers, they have an opportunity to show students an anthropological means of looking at problems like poverty, hunger, clean water, and other issues faced by people in developing nations, to help build sustainable solutions that work for the local community.

Clare Talwalker, vice chair of the Global Poverty and Practice minor at UC Berkeley, said she teaches her students that poverty alleviation is about listening and learning, which is where the field of anthropology becomes so important.

“The work of alleviating poverty and inequality begins by focusing on actual relationships that are formed on the ground,” she said.

Talwalker emphasized that teachers have the responsibility and opportunity to guide future employees of NGOs and multinationals. “Students can be powerful agents of change,” she said. “Our students are the aid workers of the future.”