At Devex World 2018, author Malcolm Gladwell spoke with Devex reporter Catherine Cheney about entering the global development world and efforts to change minds and systems.

WASHINGTON — Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker writer, author of multiple best selling books, and host of the Revisionist History podcast, stood out on the Devex World agenda.

Some wondered what brought him to a conference that focused on the future of global development. But Gladwell has talked about finding “an endless source of fascination” in “attempts to apply psychological principles to complex new environments,” so his participation should come as little surprise.

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Gladwell is a trustee of the Surgo Foundation, an organization that brings private sector approaches to international development, using non-traditional efforts and integrated interventions. At Devex World, he moderated a conversation with Sema Sgaier, co-founder and executive director of the organization.

Ahead of his onstage appearance, he shared what drew him to global development and the Surgo Foundation in particular.

Gladwell said of the Surgo Foundation approach: “It’s a shift from focusing on what people do and then towards why, and why is a whole lot more complicated than what.”

He also gave an example of market segmentation, the idea that there may be a wide variety of motivations within — what might seem like — a monolithic customer group, in consumer marketing.

“It took an awful long time for consumer marketing on the for-profit side to appreciate the level of variation in individual motivation, and I think what Surgo is trying to do, is to bring that same kind of finely grained sophistication about variation in motivations to bear on some of the most impoverished areas of the world,” he said.

Watch the video to understand more about the Surgo Foundation, and why the global development community might benefit from thinking about a mother in a village in rural India with the same kind of sophistication as an upper-middle class Chevy buyer in the suburbs of New York.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Catherine also works for the Solutions Journalism Network, a non profit that trains and connects reporters to cover responses to problems.