mKrishi – More power at farmers’ hands

The Hindu reports about mKrishi (mobile Krishi) a mobile agro advisory system launched by Tata.  It can help farmers get personalized advise and updated information on their mobile phones about factors that may affect their crops such as weather.

Prima facie, this looks very similar to Nokia’s LifeTools that ThinkChange India reported a few days earlier.  However, there is one critical aspect in which mKrishi goes one step further. mKrishi mobile phones, that run on Tata Indicom’s network, are equipped with sensors that can read and send data about the current status of their crops.  This combined with an on-phone camera, should help agricultural experts provide specific advise experts understanding the on-field situation correctly.

According to K. Ananth Krishnan, vice-president and chief technology officer, TCS, personalised information and advice are given after farmers submit the soil nutrient and farming pattern data (The Hindu)

Further, it is also usable by illiterate farmers to make a query from a cell phone using voice-specific functions and get a response as an audio message.

This initiative has fetched TCS Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008. As I researched further to form my own opinion, I came across Ramesh Jain’s post on mKrishi.  He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Michgan, Ann Arbor and an entrepreneur.  I suppose his testimony should have better credibility than mine!

This project is truly revolutionary — it goes farther than most similar projects do.

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Why you should CARE about microinsurance

We have written about microinsurance before, including SKS’s Vikram Akula’s decision to develop a product for his customers. Now, Bajaj-Allianz and CARE India will be developing a product of their own. In an interesting partnership between the charity and a commercial company, this venture will aim to help individuals substantially improve livelihoods through the safety net insurance can provide. On Allianz’s site there is a great interview with RN Mohanty, Chief Operating Officer, CARE India, speaking to this new partnership. Here is an excerpt:

The biggest challenge was definitely educating people that risk protection is an important part of their lives. We do this because we want to inculcate a culture of savings with the community, not just insuring for the time being. The general mindset in rural India is that unless you get something out of it immediately it is not worth investing. If you look at our client list, close to 90 percent are first-time insurers.

The rest of the interview can be read here.

Ruminations on Empowerment within MNCs

Yesterday in my Leadership in Organizations class we discussed the concept of empowerment up and down the organizational chart — basically giving even the ‘lowest’ rungs on a corporate ladder the ability to make their own decisions and take control over their jobs. I could not help but think about my visit this January to the Kanan Devan Hill Plantation, a major tea grower in Kerala that used to be owned by Tata.

What is truly unique about this company is the fact that when Tata sold it, it did so to the employees themselves. Now it is almost completely owned by the very people who plow the fields, oversee the factories, drive the trucks, and so forth. This sort of particapatory ownership can at times seem to be almost like Marxist capitalism, but the corporate stewardship that such a structure promotes existed long before the sale. In fact throughout its history, the owners of the plantations continually built and provided services that the workers and managers required in the valley — including schools, clinics, railroads and so forth.

In modern captialist theory, we have often tried to fully separate the roles and relationships of management and labor — a tension that Marx no doubt ‘capitalized’ on when developing his manifesto read round the world. But one anecdote that my professor mentioned yesterday which I found particulary interesting was that of what Lee Iacocca (former CEO of Chrysler) did to pull the company out of bankruptcy. HE PUT THE UNION LEADER ON THE BOARD OF THE COMPANY.

This act flew in the face of all management theories of his day, but was critical in making the car company’s turnaround a success during the 1980s. Let us hope that similar unconventional ideas that actually promote inclusion and greater holistic approaches to management-labor relations will actually be given the time they deserve as we look to rebuild the global economy today.

Cutting-edge initiatives in Punjab

The government of Punjab has been in the news this week, unveiling cutting-edge efforts to boost the local economy and build knowledge capital in the state

The government announced a partnership with Bharati Wal-Mart, a national retail chain to set-up skill training center for youth [via PR Newswire]:

The Punjab government has tied up with Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt Ltd to set up ‘Bharti Wal-Mart Skill Centre’ in Amritsar, a vocational training institute for the unemployed youth of the state.

‘This skill centre will provide training to the youth to hone their technical skills regarding modern retail and allied sectors like logistics, supply chain and other support services

Continue reading

Access to Safe Drinking Water, the Sustainable Way

PepsiCo Foundation has awarded two grants, totaling $76 million, to sustainable water and sanitation efforts by WaterPartners and Safe Water Network. The PR release describes each program. WaterPartners will use the award to implement their WaterCredit program:

The WaterCredit program in India has two main components: first, to provide traditional grant funding directly to local non-government organizations to install pipes, faucets and storage cellars in impoverished communities, reaching some 60, 000 people. The second component is to establish a loan fund that will empower communities to expand access to safe water for an additional 60, 000 people over the course of the three-year project. This model produces a “multiplier effect” for impact based on a single source of funding and is the first time PepsiCo Foundation has applied micro finance as a strategic vehicle to advance water and sanitation improvements.

The idea of building community-based water supply projects through a combination of grants and loans is new to the water sector. Until now, nearly all water projects facilitated by other organizations have been funded entirely by grants, even when the individuals served by the project have the means to share costs.

Bridging microfinance and water is a topic that NextBillion.net covered earlier this year, so this is a connection that is working well in some regions and with the support of different organizations, such as ACCESS Development Services and Hindustan Unilever Limited. The vision behind this is that communities may not be able to afford methods that purify water and make it safe for drinking, but using microfinance models allows them to collectively take a loan and repay until they eventually purchase the system. Continue reading

TC-I Call to Action: Dell YouthConnect

The computer manufacturers Dell is now calling upon motivated individuals to “develop a generation of young people across the globe prepared to connect.” In order to accomplish this goal of producing a new wave of customers for its products, Dell has started the Dell YouthConnect: India, a program intended to support individuals with ideas and plans to help connect India’s youth. The criteria are as follows:

Promote education, and incorporate math, science, literacy, and/or technology skills development for young people (ages 0 through age 17) in urban areas of India who might otherwise have limited access to or be excluded from access to such education and skills training.

Here are the dates of the initiative:

  • Grant applications deadline: October 24, 2008, 5 p.m. Central Time, (GMT -6 hours)
  • Selection of Grant Awards: by January 8, 2009
  • Public Announcement: no later than January 16, 2009

Go here to find out more about this new endeavor by one of the largest PC makers in the world.

[TC-I Call to Action]: NASSCOM Foundation Social Innovation Honours

NASSCOM Foundation, the CSR branch of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies), is launching a Social Innovation Honours award.

The annual Honours aim to showcase projects that demonstrate best practices through exemplary use of ICT in areas of social transformation. This honour is a celebration of innovations that bring about social change and development through the application of cutting-edge technology.

There are categories for non-profit, for-profit, and government organizations in India to enter their projects for consideration. If you have a project that uses cutting edge technology to affect education, health, employment, or the environment, this may be a great opportunity to share your success. Applications can be submitted from now until October 20, 2008. The winners will be announced at NASSCOM Foundation’s Leadership Summit in February 2009. You can find more details here and download the application here.