BR Co-Editor Joshua Cohen on Mobile Tech and Global Development in Kenya

Stanford GSB: How can academic research best be used to help alleviate poverty in the developing world?

Joshua Cohen: It’s easy to think that, with the right technology or the right design method, we can solve lots of problems. I think that view is seriously misguided. In our course, all of our projects are relationship intensive. We have worked hard to build partnerships at the University of Nairobi, where we now have friends and colleagues. And we have also worked hard to build collaborations with the Nairobi-based organizations that make it possible for our students to do these projects. Our idea is that if we can build and strengthen these ties, maybe we can help the organizations address challenges they have not yet been able to tackle. In the end, the projects will only work if they are owned by the partner organizations. You have to approach these issues with lots of humility, with an appreciation of why the challenges are so hard to overcome, how the best intentions go astray, how important it is to be persistent and committed, and how essential it is to increase the capacity of existing organizations, which are filled with smart, serious, dedicated people.

From an interview of BR's Joshua Cohen by Stanford's Graduate School of Business