Training programme on “Governance and Management of NGO’s and NPO’s

An announcement in NGOpost calls for application for a six-week full time training programme on “Governance and Management of Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs/NGOs)”, scheduled between 6th July 2009 to 14th August 2009. The training is offered by Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII).

The training cost including accommodation is free for participants belonging to countries listed  in Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC). But participants from countries not listed can attend the training programme for the cost of $1500. Strangely, though the training programme is offered in India in partnership with the Indian’s government, India is not enlisted in ITEC. As a consequence, the fee applies to participants from India too!

Interested people can get more information on applying and information brochure here at EDII’s website.

Another failed development policy in the works?

A few headlines regarding the World Bank recently caught my eye, mostly because they are not the usual development headlines I am used to reading.  In the Business Standard‘s “Migration to urban areas is good, says World Bank,” and domain-b.com‘s “India’s rural job schemes are barriers to development: World Bank news,” the focus is on a new World Bank report that encourages a population shift from villages to cities.  More than that, the World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography says that current schemes to improve rural life are contrary to development, as pointed out by domain-b.com:

The central government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA) scheme and other poverty alleviation schemes act as policy barriers to economic development and perpetual alleviation of poverty, according to the World Bank.

In short, the report encourages the process of rural-urban migration.   This approach seems to be the  opposite of the upswing of efforts to address rural poverty and improve rural life so that the majority of India’s population has the same economic opportunity as in urban areas.  Instead of focus on rural schemes, the report advocates improving infrastructure in cities to boost economic activity.   Here is a quick look at the reasoning, as quoted by the Business Standard article:

“The world’s most geographically disadvantaged people know all too well that growth does not come to every place at once,” said Indermit S Gill, director of the World Development Report (WDR) and chief economist, Europe and Central Asia. “Markets favour some places over others. To fight this concentration is tantamount to fighting prosperity,” Gill added.

What does it mean for India when an international force such as the Bank supports a shift from rural to urban areas?  Will improving basic infrastructure in urban centers really address the pressure of large increases in city population?  While I’m not against migration as a whole, I remain skeptical about putting emphasis on encouraging rural to urban migration and discouraging rural schemes for poverty alleviation.  This debate also points back to an earlier post I wrote on urbanization.  Is this another development report gone bad?

E-governance Gaining Momentum in India

A few weeks ago, Vinay wrote about the growing business opportunities in the e-governance sector. An exciting recent development in this area has been the announcement by the Government of India of knowledge kiosks being set up in Panchayats. The project is sponsored by the E-governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (e-PRIs) and is projected to be completed in three years. Such a large-scale introduction of information technology at the Panchayat level opens up the rural market for entrepreneurs. There are a number of possibilities for public-private partnerships in delivering solutions within sectors such as education, healthcare, micro-finance, etc.

The progress of e-governance models has been slower than expected in India. Some of the challenges facing this sector were discussed at the Lok Sabha panel on e-governance. At this panel, Prof. Bhatnagar of IIM-A discussed the flaws in the strategy on e-governance: Continue reading

Laptops and Local Trains

When I first heard the news, I was reminded of chaiwalas on local trains who chant, “chaiiii, chaiiiii, chaiiiii” and sell just the right amount of delectable tea in earthen cups for a very sweet price. Has the day come? Will a new army of “laptopwalas” soon be chanting, “laptopppp, laptopppp, laptopppp,” on local trains and markets, especially given the recent media flurry that the Indian government is getting ready to launch a $10 laptop as part of its e-learning campaign?

Admittedly, the idea of laptops being sold on local trains is somewhat preposterous. Unfortunately, the amount being quoted through the media – $10 – seems equally as preposterous. First, some background, courtesy of the Guardian:

The computer, known as Sakshat, which translates as “before your eyes”, will be launched as part of a new Rs46bn “national mission for education.” This envisages a network of laptops from which students can access lectures, coursework and specialist help from anywhere in India, triggering a revolution in education. A number of publishers have reportedly agreed to upload portions of their textbooks on to the system

There are plenty of skeptics, however, including Atanu Dey:

So what’s wrong with a $10 laptop? What’s wrong is that it flies in the face of all reasonable expectations about the world. It is disconnected with reality. The reality is that Nicholas Negroponte’s OLPC project tried desperately to build a $100 laptop and despite having access to considerable talent and expertise, the best it could do was a machine that costs around $200. What this tells us is that hardware costs, though they have fallen dramatically over time, are still high enough that it is virtually impossible to produce a laptop for around $100. If it were possible, they would have done it.

Regardless of whether this innovation is as cost-effective as it claims to be, which is doubtful, it is still important to keep in mind that technology is simply a tool, not the ends itself. I can’t say emphasize this point enough – should the Indian government roll out a shiny, new, cost-effective laptop with Wi-Fi and 2 GB ram (which I highly doubt), I hope they also have plans to actually implement the technology effectively. Most difficult is not the “what,” but rather, the “how,” which is, in this case, unclear in both respects.

[Check our previous coverage on the topic: Prerna’s Op-Ed on the Logic of Laptops in Education, Story featuring affordable PC maker NComputing, OLPC’s entry into India]

The Emergence of GovTech?

This is an excerpt from an email from Gunjan Sinha of SiliconIndia. He sent this to me the other day, and one part triggered some of my own feelings and thoughts that arose as a result of Obama’s recent inauguration.

In this new era, I see a strong role for entrepreneurs in reinventing our governments, and opportunities galore for those who are brave to take the plunge. Many here in Silicon Valley talk about mammoth opportunities in CleanTech, BioTech, and NanoTech; I personally see an equally substantial opportunity in what I would call ‘GovTech’ – the confluence of Government and Technology. The time is now to retool the government with creative entrepreneurial genius. Examples of business opportunities in this trillion-dollar market are abundant.

What Gunjan speaks of is even more important today, where we have witnessed the election in the US of a president who is in effect a social entrepreneur. In running his campaign, Obama utilized the power of community activism and grassroots organization to reach an astounding 1.5 million donors across the country and world. With initiatives like transparency.gov, he hopes to extend this new approach to governance beyond just his pioneering campaign.

IIT alumni plan social fund

[News Source: Business Standard]

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni  plan to create a social fund aimed at supporting various projects that will create job opportunities for rural youth and transform India’s Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs).  PanIIT Alumni, which conducted the PanIIT 2008 Global Conference from 19-21 December, is working on three important projects in India – Indo-US collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE)IITians for ITIs, and Reach 4 India.

Quoting from the article about IITians for ITIs:

Ranjan Kumar, coordinator (India), IITians for ITIs project said the project was initiated by IIT alumni in association with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII’s) Southern Region and academia to push for sustainable excellence in technical/vocational training in India by creating institutions similar to the IITs, but focused on vocational education and highly-skilled workers.

As part of the phase I, over the next two years, around 40,000 students will be trained from around 300 government ITI institutes. It has also decided to set up a 24X7 call centre in one of the southern states to connect the workers with the experts and the industry.

This piece of news comes at a time when I have come across two interesting articles. One article published in Businessworld carried the byline “As IITians bring global glory, bright engineers from lesser-known institutes build the country.” Though the article was more about how engineers from “second-rung” colleges were the ones actually contributing to India’s infrastructure, it does bring questions related to contribution of IITians towards their nation’s growth. The second article is about a survey conducted by IIT alumni.

The brain drain has stemmed to a great extent, even leading to claims of reverse brain drain. I feel that the social entrepreneurship sector in India has just started gaining momentum and could benefit a lot by the entry of experienced IIT alumni and also of socially concious new passouts. In this context, I find initiatives like E4SI (Engineers For Social Impact) and MADD (Making A Difference Differently) trying to ensure that social development space gets the top talent it requires.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Rewarding Good Governance through Gram Panchayat Puruskar

Calling all gram panchayats in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – Google.org‘s Inform and Empower Initiative wants to know the top five panchayats in each of these two states that are using innovation and good governance. According to the Google.org blog,

The prize will be awarded in one of six areas: education, health and nutrition, water supply, rural infrastructure, rural electrification, and resource mobilization. The winning panchayat must include a wide variety of social and income groups, share information with villagers, respond to citizen feedback, and track the quality of programs.

The competition is an opportunity to recognize good, effective governance and encourage quality public services. And if that’s not reason enough, the winning panchayats will receive a cash prize of Rs.5 lakhs (approximately $10,000 USD).

The contest is open for entries from December 12, 2008 through January 25, 2009. For more information, please see the FAQs and Rules.

Inching towards ending polio

The Final Inch is a documentary funded by Google.org and produced by Vermilion Pictures, chronicling the final stages of the global fight to end polio. A large chunk of the movie was filmed in India, given that the country is the final frontier in the global effort to eradicate polio. There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in 2008 in India, accounting for 35 percent of all cases worldwide.

The documentary profiles the real heroes – the foot soldiers who are mobilized to deliver the doses of polio vaccine to young children.  India’s progress towards eradicating polio also highlights the relentless effort of the Indian government in undertaking the largest vaccination program in the world.

The Final Inch will be screened on HBO in 2009, and you can expect the DVDs to be out soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

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

Market-Driven Vocational Training

The concept of vocational training usually brings forth images of ITI classrooms filled with relevant machinery for learning technical skills – with the one catch that those technical skills may not be relevant for the Indian market. A Livemint.com article reports on an encouraging development in government that will create new courses that are actually market-driven.

Sources in the Ministry of Human Resource Development said that the fresh programmes range from ‘refrigeration´ and ‘applied psychology´ to ‘foreign trade exchange´.

Foreign trade exchange? Definitely relevant in today’s globalized world. The new programs will be rolled out under the Eleventh Plan, and may be worth looking into if an organization works on employment or education initiatives.

If you are interested in learning more about the government’s plan, take a look at the report from the Working Group on Skill Development and Vocational Training, published in 2006.

Lending “name” to a school

[Story source: Business Standard]

Corporates, non-profit organizations and individuals are helping re-build government schools in Andhra Pradesh by adopting schools under the School Adoption Scheme – started around three years ago by the state government. To summarise the scheme:

Private companies or philanthropists build schools or additional classrooms in the existing government schools. Some extend teaching and learning material, uniforms, furniture or bear the salaries of teachers and other activities. In return, the government allows the companies or philanthropists who donate Rs 5-10 lakh to name the schools or the block they build after someone they love.

The article cites a number of instances where schools have benefited and also gives a stark comparison of the schools before and after adoption – which ensures that it is not only the name of the school that changes. The number of schools benefited thus far is 14. A number which pales in light of the high level industrialisation in the state and the number of corporates having operations here. Also, the current beneficiary schools are located in and around Hyderabad.

We feel that the School Adoption Scheme (which in itself is part of the Sarve Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)) holds a lot of potential not just to improve school infrastructure but also to ensure relevance of the school with respect to the society today. Reason being, the school children and the staff interact with the so called other part of the society and thus ensure that they do not exist in isolation.

Public Private Participation in SSA: The link here broadly outlines the public private model in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Do read it.

To hell with the markets

It sounds like a mandatory social responsibility order on profit making public sector enterprises (PSEs) in Gujarat. Below is the brief from Times of India:

In a controversial order, the Gujarat government has asked all profit-making public sector enterprises (PSEs) in the state to contribute up to 30% of their annual profit before tax to Gujarat Socio-Economic Development Society (GSEDS), set up to support weaker sections of society.

What adds a twist to the story is that many of the companies are listed in the country’s leading stock exchanges. How would the investors react? Well, the PSEs have lost hundreds of millions in market valuation:

‘‘It’s a retrograde step from the capital market point of view. A better way to implement CSR is to ask PSEs to increase the dividend payouts so that the Gujarat government receives higher sum to donate to any society of its choice,’’ said V K Sharma, the head of Anagram Securities.

To hell with the markets? Maybe not. It’s a little bit of an irony that Gujarat is arguably one of the most market-friendly states in the country with strong captialist idealogies. In fact, Mr. Modi recently won the state elections running on a platform of economic growth and prosperity!

Smart Cards for a Smart Nation

[Story source: Business Standard]

Recently, Business Standard carried three articles under the Smart Cards byline. The articles – “Smart choice, sloppy plan“, “Andhra villagers now have pension on their fingertips“, “From Dhenakal to Bellary” – track the introduction of smart cards in various states of India.

The first article mentions how the people of Rajasthan are caught up in the problem of plenty. Rajasthan government issued around 100,000 health cards to people in its state for health insurance – but in the process it stopped issuing the smart cards issued by the central government under the National Health Insurance Scheme(NHIS). The central government scheme holds many strengths. It is valid across all states. A lot of research has gone into designing the smart card under NHIS – for example, it will help the migrant labourer since it is acceptable at establishments across the nation. It was also an effort at national standardisation and would have also been an effective tool to collect statistics.

The second article narrates how smart cards have given a boost to financial inclusion efforts in Karimnagar and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh. The state government, in a bid to inclucate “banking habits among the poor”, distributed around 200,000 smart cards in the two districts. At the same time, it gave the list of receipients of the cards to the banks who agreed to be part of the project. The banks, consequently appointed Zero-Mass in Karimnagar and FINO (Financial Information Network and Operations Limited) in Warangal to disburse cash from social welfare schemes using the smart cards. This simple chain has helped in reducing chances of corruption and at the same time, drawn in people who were hitherto uncovered by traditional banks.

A FINO smart card

A FINO smart card

The concluding article talks about similar efforts in the Orissa and Karnataka. This time, Zeromassa and FINO are replaced by the ubiquitous postman and banker. Smart cards are being used to disburse money under the Social Security Pension and NREGP schemes. The project is expected to roll out in December 2008 and BSNL’s assisstance is being sought for connectivity.

The overall picture is that of optimism though the Rajasthan episode calls for eschewing populism. In a country like India where the budget for social welfare schemes are sizeable, smart cards will not only ensure that entire welfare money reaches the intended beneficiaries but will also help in reducing the delivery costs of such welfare schemes.

Small Steps, Big Possibilities

In the past week, I’ve come across several stories that highlight isolated successes or intriguing ideas that are being implemented on a small scale. Here’s a quick recap:

  • In the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi, iGovernment reports the introduction of greener rickshaws, run by solar batteries. Obviously such vehicles can only go short distances and for short periods of time, but in an congested area like Chandni Chowk, greener autos may make a large impact on the surrounding environment:

It would be run by a solar battery, which would suffice for a journey of 70 km. The battery would take five hours to be charged with the help of solar panels in the charging unit which will be functional above the Delhi metro stations, an official of the city government said.

  • A waste management system (an issue we’ve covered here and here) in Maharastra shows a PPP at work – a privatized system in a city named Latur requires residents to pay Rs 20 per month for garbage pick up. This case shows that the involvement of both an NGO and a private system can result in efficiency:

Of the 183 who have been employed, around 75 per cent are women. Rather than a monthly salary, the women are paid per tonne of garbage collected. As an added incentive, they can sell the recyclable material of the garbage in the market.

But is the system fair (especially to the rag pickers)? The article paints a rosy picture, and it would be interesting get a sense of what the reality is on the ground.

  • Community radio has been making waves in Jharkhand with a program called “Chalo Ho Gaon Mein,” which is narrated in the local language and touches on a number of issues. A project manager at the NGO AID (Alternative for India Development) explains in this article by The Hoot:

We realized that all these problems were stemmed from the fact that the people of the region were unable to express themselves and speak freely about the problems that they were facing. So, setting up a radio programme seemed like a good way to give a voice to the voiceless. A programme for the villagers and by the villagers that would not only address their issues and make them more aware, but would also reach out to other people who could make a difference to their lives.

As with many solutions to social issues, these approaches are taking place as pilots or for specific regions and populations – but all are encouraging and may shed light for the bigger picture.

Who let the Dogs out?

The folks at LiveMint have a radical idea to address the stray dog problem in the Indian cities – Privatize them! [Via India Uncut]

The fundamental problem is that stray dogs are “public property”, which creates what economists call “negative externality”. Those who feed and pamper the dogs while benefiting from wagging tails and warm cuddles are not held responsible for the nuisance dogs inflict on other citizens.

What is the way ahead? Privatize stray dogs. The municipalities of India’s metropolises should put stray dogs on sale. Animal rights activists and dog lovers are free to buy and own the canines as pets. They shall be held legally liable for damages their pets inflict on others

Very intriguing and compelling argument. I’m just worried about enforceability of such an idea. But, I’m sure its worth a try.