Books for the village – Granthayan

[Story Source: Livemint]

While browsing through a blog, The Better India, I came across this Livemint report about a bookstore on wheels. Started by Pankaj Kurulkar, the project has been kicked off in Maharashtra. Kurulkar expects to take it to more states. The article goes further and talks about the challenges that a project of this nature faces:

There could be several rough patches to negotiate. Only 59% of India’s rural population can read, according to the 2001 census, and reading material itself is limited outside the cities. Local languages have also had to face the growing popularity of English. “The situation is pathetic. People are migrating from vernacular language to English medium, and not at all passionate about reading Marathi,” says Kurulkar, who writes novels and short stories as well…

…Part of the problem, though, is that regional language literature itself is in short supply. “Printed work will have its own place, but a very small place, especially in the regional languages,” says Granthali’s Gangal, who points out that the first Marathi book was only published 200 years ago. “There was no written tradition, it is an oral tradition.”…

…Kurulkar cites labour as his biggest challenge. “Skilled manpower is too low,” he says, “those who are passionate about selling books. We are not getting quality staff.”

However, Granthayan has created a record of sorts by selling about 100,000 in first three months of its operation. The project also leverages in latest technologies like GPS to track routes of its trucks and the inventory.

Livemint, recently, also carried an article on new age reading libraries. Umesh Malhotra and his venture Hippocampus were one of the projects mentioned in that article. I had the opportunity to hear Umesh’s experiences while setting up and running Hippocampus at the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship held in December.

Lack of proper public libraries has adversely affected the reading habits and culture in India especially in rural areas and among the urban poor. Access to good books is one of the many cogs in the wheels of society that help it raise its standard of living – not to mention instilling of scientific temper among its citizens.

Buses and trains have been widely used in India to reach to remote corners e.g. Lifeline Express, Science Express, Google Internet Bus Project. We hope to see more innovative ways of using buses and trains to reach the as yet unconnected populace.

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[TC-I Call to Action]: Job Opportunity with Piramal Water

For those interested in social enterprise, water, or addressing health issues, Piramal Water is looking for a Chief Operating Officer.  A quick overview of the organization:

Piramal Water Private Limited develops sustainable drinking water solutions for rural and urban populations where the quality of water is often the cause of more than 60% of common health ailments.  Our business is designed around scalable innovations, technical/process improvements, ensuring livelihoods for local entrepreneurs, and developing customized community water filtration systems that can produce ultra-affordable drinking water for the masses.

To learn more about this fantastic opportunity, please click here: Piramal Water COO

Water Profits

WaterHealth International, a private company and Acumen Fund investee, was covered in last week’s online BusinessWeek, which also includes a video featuring the founder, Tralance Addy (tipped from Acumen Fund’s blog).  The company aims to “provide sustainable access to clean, safe water to all, including the poorest communities. ” Their work in India includes over 200 WaterHealth Centres, mostly in Andhra Pradesh, and they are expanding to meet the demand from this pressing problem.

The BusinessWeek article notes why this venture is interesting:

WaterHealth typifies one of the latest trends in social entrepreneurship. A new generation of leaders believes it can do more for poor people if they operate as profit-making businesses rather than donor-backed organizations. WaterHealth has designed both a proprietary purification process and a simple facility for housing the equipment. It sells the systems to villages, helps secure financing, and runs the plants. After eight years, when the villages pay off their loans, the money they make from sales of water goes straight to their coffers—available for village improvements.

The article quickly touches on a debate about WaterHealth’s business model, as opposed to Byrraju Foundation’s model.  WaterHealth requires its communities to invest in the system through loans, whereas Byrraju provides subsidies and the water plant is a shared investment. The debate highlights the staple question of sustainability – what is the best approach to ensure long-term feasibility? More specifically, is there a finance scheme that works better than others in achieving the intended goal?

Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours

We all know the power of prizes to motivate innovation and so this new award will hopefully do just that:

The financial services firm, Edelweiss Capital Ltd is partnering Kubera Partners, a private equity firm based in USA to launch the Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honoursthree awards totaling US$ 60,000 to felicitate outstanding innovations that positively impact the status of the girl child, through the delivery of services in three areas: education, health and nutrition, and future employability of the girl child. EdelGive Foundation, the not for profit subsidiary of Edelweiss Capital is managing the entire process of these awards.

Deadline for applications is December 1st of this year, so please prepare your applications ASAP.

For further information on the award categories, the broad selection criteria, rules and regulations and the application form, please visit – Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours  or contact us at +91 22 23675623/4 and edelgive@edelcap.com

Right to Livelihood Award Goes to Land Redistribution Efforts

The  2008 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, was awarded this year to recipients in Germany, Somalia, and India. Krishnammal Jagannathan and Sankaralingam Jagannathan of LAFTI (Land for Tillers’ Freedom) won the prize for their efforts in land redistribution for Dalits. The award’s website provides more information:

Krishnammal Jagannathan and Sankaralingam Jagannathan are two lifelong activists for social justice, and for sustainable human development, working with those who are at the lowest rung of the social ladder. They have carried the Gandhian legacy into the 21st century, never ceasing to serve the needs of Dalits, landless and those threatened by the greed of landlords and multinational corporations.

The roots of this work lie in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan (land gift) movement. According to LAFTI’s site, their efforts have  resulted in “distributing 11,000 acres of land to 11,000 landless poor families, through non-violent campaigns for the purchase of land at a reasonable price, or the lease of temple or trust land for cultivation by the village community.” It’s always wonderful to see individuals that commit their lives toward a cause, like the Jagannathans, gain international recognition for their work.

Films, Popcorn, and a Girl Child’s Education

Next time you go to a cinema in India owned by Adlabs, you can contribute to a girl child’s education, thanks to a CSR partnership between Adlabs Cinema and Nanhi Kali, an NGO that focuses on this issue. As Indiantelevision.com reports:

The company has joined hands with Nanhi Kali, an NGO which supports and spreads awareness on the issue of education of the disadvantaged girl child in India. As part of the initiative, Adlabs will introduce a special food combo called the “Classroom Combo” – a certain percentage of the sales of which will be contributed to this cause of nurturing a girl child’s education.

The initiative highlights the role that corporations of any type can play in contributing toward social issues, given a little creativity and the willingness to see a bottom line beyond mere profits. And at the same time, they may even rope in customers that otherwise may not be interested in the product. As someone who rarely buys concessions at the cinema, I might make an exception and consider indulging Rs 120 for a “classroom combo” the next time I find myself in front of a Bollywood film in India. A sucker for well-crafted corporate marketing? The lazy man’s answer to giving back to society? Perhaps. But the point is, I would become a cinema-going customer that now thinks about the girl child’s education. And that twist may lead to other contributions to the issue. Continue reading

Petty Corruption not petty to those already suffering

One third of people living below poverty line in India paid bribes to access healthcare, education and water among other basic facilities, says a new study which also dubs the police force as the most corrupt among the services surveyed.

This is from an article in The Hindu. Some academics have argued that in the larger scope of things corruption on this level (aka petty corruption — hand to hand bribes) while inefficient is not necessarily a negative occurrence as it enables individuals to gain access to services they otherwise would be unable to receive.

Yet one must ask how such practices are not damaging when those already below the poverty line must fork up a significant portion of their already meager incomes to obtain basic necessities?