Zero Rupee Note: Dev Blogosphere Meme?

For several weeks the “zero rupee” note made its way around the development blogosphere. The 5th Pillar, an Indian non-profit, started distributing these notes several years ago to “shock & awe” bribe-seekers in Tamil Nadu. The note is an intriguing idea for battling corruption (impact evaluation anyone?). However, what interested me was why prominent bloggers picked up the story now, whereas the note itself has been around for a while.

In fact, Ethan Zuckerman and Chris Blattman mentioned the zero-rupee note back in 2008,  after picking it up from the Great Indian Munity. The Mutiny post in turn quoted a news story published in an Indian English daily shortly after the launch of 5th Pillar’s campaign in Tamil Nadu.

In late 2009, the World Bank’s CommGAP blog highlighted the “zero rupee” campaign, after the 5th Pillar presented at a CommGAP-UNODC event, held during a UN corruption conference. After that many others, including Oxfam’s Duncan Green, wrote about it. Then in late January this year, the Economist ran a report about the note, using many of the same stories in the World Bank post:

One official in Tamil Nadu was so stunned to receive the note that he handed back all the bribes he had solicited for providing electricity to a village. Another stood up, offered tea to the old lady from whom he was trying to extort money and approved a loan so her granddaughter could go to college.

Those links only provide a brief timeline of when the story moved between different blogs and finally into the Economist, not why. Well then, what is the moral of the story? When you produce an interesting idea, be sure to dazzle people from some important organizations, especially the World Bank, and your efforts will end up on the (web)pages of the Economist. Sweet!

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