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Twelve of the most innovative ideas to come from the University community in the past year

BY DAILY STAFF

Published September 8, 2010

“People don’t want wind farms anywhere close to their homes,” Koshy said.

A version of the underwater turbine idea is already in production in Norway and in the Hudson River in New York. The single turbine in Norway produces enough energy to fully power 37 homes, while the New York turbine powers a supermarket and parking garage.

Despite concerns that the propellers could negatively alter ecosystems, the actual impact on wildlife has been found to be extremely low. After scientists tagged fish in the Hudson River within a 50-mile radius of the turbine, they concluded that most were smart enough to avoid the underwater turbine, according to a study funded by the New York City government.

Koshy and Williams debuted their idea at the statewide Motivate Michigan competition, in which participants proposed plans to energize Michigan’s slumping economy. The pair took top honors and a $20,000 scholarship. Motivate Michigan liked the idea so much that next year’s competition will ask students to develop a business plan to implement underwater turbines in Michigan.

MIGRANT REMITTANCES

Each year, developing countries around the world receive billions of dollars in remittance funds—money that migrant workers send home to their families while partaking in jobs outside their home country. This money plays a big role in the economic development of a country, but little is known about how to best utilize these funds for maximum economic growth.

Many economists even speculate that remittances could be detrimental to a country, because many of the families that receive the money from migrants begin to lose incentive to work, or that they use the money for short-term needs rather than long-term investments that would do more for the development of the country.

But according to Ford School of Public Policy Prof. Dean Yang, these remittances can actually be used more efficiently and yield greater advancements for the country if migrant workers exhibit greater control over the way the money is spent, rather than leaving it up to their families.

To test his hypothesis, Yang embarked on a field study in which different members of a group of migrant workers from El Salvador were placed under varying financial conditions. Some were offered savings accounts that allowed for greater control over how their families were using the money, others were provided a joint savings account with their families back home to increase spending monitoring, and the last group had no financial guidance.

The results of the study proved that when migrants had more control over the money they sent home, their savings greatly increased, ultimately allowing for more long-term investment use.

“What this reveals is the first hard, scientific evidence that this idea of giving migrants more control over how remittances are used potentially can have some kind of development impact,” Yang said. “It gives migrants more control over how remittances are used, and to exercise that control so that more of that money sent home does end up getting allocated to purposes and they’re more likely to have the long run development impact.”

Yang says most migrant workers tend to want their money to be spent on more long-term investments—like schooling, healthcare and small business ventures—but that in many situations, families use the money for more short-term necessities, like groceries and household bills. Because of this, a migrant may send less money back home, ultimately bringing less money to the home country and limiting that country's economic development.

“Migrants certainly realize that even though they state a preference for the money to be used for education or small enterprise investments, they know that they can’t really control how the money is used,” Yang said.