The heart of NYU Wagner's programs is our faculty. An amalgam of full-time, clinical/research/visiting, and adjunct professors, they are outstanding teachers, expert researchers and committed practitioners.
Leda DeRosa, who is pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning (MUP) at NYU Wagner, has been selected as a recipient of a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. She is one of 30 winners of the 2013 national competition, chosen from more than 1,050 applicants.
New Americans Fellows are selected on the basis of individual merit and promise - individuals who seem best-positioned to make a distinctive contribution to some aspect of American life. Clearly, Leda fits the bill.
Born in Korea, raised in Connecticut, Leda has a keen desire to work in underserved communities. This, she notes, arises from her complex immigrant and minority identities.
Leda graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College, and was supported with scholarships and part-time jobs. She subsequently worked as a corporate legal assistant for a major New York-based international law firm and as Associate Director of an African-American think tank affiliated with Columbia Law School.
Each Fellow receives tuition and stipend assistance of up to $90,000 in support of graduate education in this country. The full slate of immigrant and academic stories can be found in all of its remarkable diversity here: 2013 Fellows' Bios.
Three NYU Wagner students won the $50,000 Social Venture Prize in the 2012-13 Entrepreneurs Challenge held at NYU Stern. Their winning idea, called Kinvolved, is a digital app that aims to reduce truancy by providing real-time data on classroom attendance to teachers, families, and students.
Kinvolved is the brainchild of Miriam Altman (MPA ’13), Alexandra Meis (MPA ’13), and Barrie Charney Golden (MBA/MPA ’14). Since December 2012, the Kinvolved program has been piloted in a public elementary school in Harlem. The Kinvolved team is now working on sales and distribution for the 2013-14 school year.
The Entrepreneurs Challenge, a university-wide competition held by Stern’s Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, selected four winning teams in all, composed of students, alumni, and faculty from seven different NYU schools. These most promising innovators were chosen after pitching their ideas and enduring a rigorous Q&A by judges from the venture capital, technology, design, and social enterprise sectors.
The U.S. Department of Housing Preservation and Development has announced that a consortium including NYU Wagner will serve as the first National Resource Network Administrator under the White House Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative. The SC2 Network, funded with HUD technical assistance resources, will provide cities with targeted technical assistance to help support locally identified priorities for economic growth and job creation.
In addition to Wagner, the consortium includes Public Financial Management, Enterprise Community Partners, HR & A Advisors, and the International City/County Management Association. Wagner’s lead professional for this endeavor is Neil Kleiman, who heads the NYU Wagner Innovation Labs.
Click here to read the HUD announcement.
Half of the adults in the world (about 2.5 billion people) are “unbanked”—meaning their money is not housed in a secure institution. That’s the central concern of a new book, Banking the World: Empirical Foundations of Financial Inclusion, co-edited by Jonathan Morduch, a professor in the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
To reach those billions of people, Morduch argues that we need to think about banking in radically different ways. Promising solutions involve using new technologies like mobile phones, as well as re-imagining ideas such as self-governing, village-based saving groups. Understanding those possibilities is a focus of the Financial Access Initiative (FAI), the NYU center that Morduch, an expert in public policy and economics, founded with colleagues at Yale and Harvard.
NYU Research Digest recently sat down with him to discuss old perspectives and new ideas.
How does your research connect two typically incongruent issues like banking and poverty?
Let’s start with poverty, rather than banking. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not poor, but you may have ideas about what it’s like to be poor. Over the past decade, I’ve come to see that my own ideas about poverty were wrong. Elements that I had thought were very important, I now believe are much less important. I had been locked into a logic that was shaped by the available data—large surveys designed to test formal hypotheses, but that turn out to give a very blurry sense of how people actually live their lives.
Rather than surveying thousands of households, a group of researchers started with just a few dozen. Rather than collecting data only once, the researchers visited and revisited the same households many times over a year. Everything bought and sold was noted—all financial transactions, whether at a bank or with family and friends. The intensity of the engagement allowed us to see and understand activities that had been out of view.
This is the data from India, Bangladesh, and South Africa described in your previous book, Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day. What did it tell you?
The evidence showed that a vast problem for many poor families is not low incomes per se, but the fact that incomes are unreliable and often unpredictable. We often talk about the 40 percent of the world living on under $2 a day per person, but we lose sight of the fact that people don’t literally earn $2 a day. They earn $10 one day, for example, and then very little for a few weeks. Those ups and downs mean that families spend a lot of time figuring out how to borrow and save and deal with risk. We also see people often borrowing to pay for health emergencies, school fees, and simply getting food on the table. But their financial tools are often expensive and unreliable—if they even exist.
You’ve written a lot about microfinance over the years. Is that the solution to “banking the world”?
Microfinance centers on small loans for small-scale entrepreneurs, mostly poor women, who seek capital to grow their businesses. The idea is associated with Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, but the sector has grown quickly, now serving 200 million customers globally, including some here in New York.
Microfinance is an inspiration, but it can also box us in. The starting point of Banking the World is that we need to go beyond the kind of entrepreneurial finance celebrated by microfinance. More fundamental is access to basic money management tools. A huge group of the 2.5 billion unbanked adults are not entrepreneurs. They have jobs, but they still need financial tools—a safe place to save, a convenient way to make payments, short-term loans for general purposes. Entrepreneurs too have needs beyond business. In these ways, the poor are not so different from the rich. It’s been a hard message for some people to hear, but conversations are shifting.
Banking the World collects empirical studies that point to viable solutions, and push us to take a critical look at popular ideas like financial literacy. The chapters also draw new links, like those between finance and under-nutrition. All that, I hope, takes us another step toward solving a problem that is huge—but solvable.