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.

[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?

Man vs. Water

An article in The Economic Times blames India’s water woes on human activity, as detailed in a report released by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham). The secretary-general of Assocham, D S Rawat, said:

India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch.

Not to mention poorly construction solutions, such as dams, and controversial approaches with privatization. Water woes are also linked to many other issues:

Conflicts over water mirror the most vexing changes the country is facing. The competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide between rich and poor, inter-state differences and the balance between the needs of a thriving economy and a fragile environment are just a few examples

As this article suggests, mankind’s struggle with progress and development (and the exploitation that occurs in the process) often leaves necessary resources like water in danger. To learn more about water issues in India, check out the country profile at WaterPartners International.

Pedal Your Way to Clean Water

Stories on water are either on the rise or are more likely to catch my eye – either way, another interesting design innovation to contribute to water issues is critiqued by NextBillion.net. A YouTube video on the site also explains the Aquaduct, a tricycle that aims to provide a means of transportation and simultaneously filter water.

Developed by Ideo (an extremely successful design company), the cycle uses energy from pedaling to filter two gallons of water from a 20 gallon tank- supposedly enough for a day’s worth of water for one family. Derek Newberry points out:

As with any shiny new BoP innovation, it’s important to remember that just because the product is inarguably cool doesn’t mean it will actually be applicable in the specific context of local consumers. Has research been done to confirm that the Aquaduct would be cost effective and functional for the BoP in different regions as compared to other available means of water filtration and transport? And I didn’t understand the idea of storing 20 gallons of water but having only two gallons filtered – is this really enough for a family? Does the user have to pedal around every time they want an additional two gallons of filtered water?

All insightful questions. I personally also take issue with the design itself. When I used to bicycle to my project every day in India, I realized that cycling was no simple joy ride – I needed to utilize the basket installed in front and the small clip in back to carry my daily necessities with me or throw in some fruits and vegetables I might purchase from the street vendor on the way home. With that removable tank put in the front, the Aquaduct might have to be a separate purchase for a family, in addition to their other bicycles.

At the same time, the creation of designs aimed for the developing world can be really useful social innovations, once they have been properly priced and adapted. The Aquaduct is another one to watch and see if it moves past the prototype phase.

From Basic Elements to Useful Technology

Raja Sekhar Malapati shares a piece on water technology that is not as popular or known in the quest for safe, accessible drinking water everywhere. A company known as Aqua Sciences developed a way to extract water not from the ground, but from the air – even in dry regions. According to a Wall Street Journal article published last year, “the technology uses a blend of salts to collect water, then employs a combination of heat, chemistry and mechanics to extract the water from the salts.” Employing a 40-foot trailer, the generator can produce about 1,200 gallons of water a day from moisture captured in the air.

Currently, the company’s products are in use by the U.S. government for emergency situations and troops in Iraq. Malapati wonders if this technology could be implemented in India, with its vast dry regions and serious water issues in rural areas. The 40-foot trailer may be a bit of an eyesore, but the technology is nonetheless exciting and certainly one to watch and see in which ways it can contribute to solving water challenges.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

Agriculture: The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in conjunction with academic institutions will begin providing district-specific agro-weather advisories to assist farmers in better managing their crops.

Basic Rights: Amnesty International has called the administration of the death penalty in India as being caprcious and arbitrary. The report claims that no real guideline exists upon review of Supreme Court cases.

Government: The Bangalore state government has established a Truth and Accountability Commission to give businessmen the opportunity to root out corruption occuring in business deals.

Microfinance and Food Rations

In the latest edition of Pragati, the Indian National Interest Review, Ankit Rawal proposes a new approach to the public distribution of food and the use of microfinance institutions. Since the Public Distribution System (PDS) in India has its share of flaws and is not always able to meet the needs of the poorer families, bringing in MFIs or NGOs may be a useful supplement to the solution.

One of the issues arising in the PDS pipeline is that poor households often have irregular cash flows. This irregularity is one of the reasons that microfinance works so well – loans help smooth consumption. With irregular cash flows, a household may or may not be able to purchase goods when a shop has them in stock.

This is where NGOs already engaged in microfinance can plug the gap. They can provide funds to the poor families to buy their allocated rations from the fair price shops.

Such a project would involve identifying poor households from their existing client list. They would then be required to identify the fair price shops in the area from which they procure their rations. Loans would be distributed to the selected list of families. One way of disbursing these funds is by introducing a “credit card”. Households could buy their rations from the fair price shop on credit while the NGO pays the amount directly to the shop using this card. This loan will then be returned by these poor households—in daily, weekly or monthly instalments—over the period of the month from their income. If the NGO charges interest to cover transaction costs, the households are likely to enjoy substantial savings.

The proposal is an interesting one, but the question arises as to whether this solution is just another stop gap and whether solutions should focus more on improving the leaks in the PDS pipeline rather than coming up with a whole other system. India has already tried to implement a better targeted PDS system, with few successes. Is the solution introducing MFIs and NGOs into the mix, or do we need to take a closer look at the implementation of the delivery networks?

Global Water Challenge Winners

I previously posted about voting in the Global Water Challenge – well, the winners are in, and all three are from India! (There must be something in the water there… ) The projects are highlighted below for their groundbreaking work in water and sanitation.

The water and environmental sanitation infrastructure in turn stimulates massive community investment in its own shelter. We have demonstrated that the `poor’ can, in conducive circumstances, mobilise huge resources, especially when coupled with constructive partnerships with the government and the private sector. This latent strength is tapped to remove aid dependency. The knock on impact on health, education and incomes is substantial and rapid.

  • Naandi Foundation: Their project uses a public-private partnership model that focuses on behavioral change, technology, and user fees to stimulate community buy-in.

Naandi Foundation has developed and is implementing a holistic model that recognizes that demand for quality water and sanitation services exists and that by capitalizing on communities’ willingness to pay, accountability can be enforced through a contractual relationship between service providers and the local government.

  • Swayam Shikshan Prayog: This work is based on grassroots and participatory mechanisms. Through capacity building of community members and working with local leadership, the organization is able to empower communities to enact change themselves.

SSP’s work follows a grassroots participatory development model, whereby grassroots rural communities, especially women, are mobilized and given tools to develop their own as Total Sanitation Communities.The innovation is in the approach which SSP takes to achieve the goal of ensuring safe and reliable access to water and safe sanitation standards for all.

Congratulations to all three winners for their innovative approaches to a pressing crisis.

Transporting Water the Traditional Way

A human interest story by InfoChange India puts the spotlight on tribal women in Orissa who decided to take water woes into their own hands, rather than waiting for the government to finally recognize them.

Over a hundred women from the five villages embarked on a project to cut, polish and join bamboo pipes that would transport water from the stream to the villages. The plan was successful. Soon, water began to flow to the villages through the pipes and the arduous trudge up the hill stopped.

Government projects often focus on large development infrastructure, like dams. These projects do not always reach interior tribal areas, leaving rural needs neglected. On their own, these women were even able to take this initiative a step further:

During summer, however, the bamboo pipes could not supply enough water to the villages, even though the stream had sufficient water flowing in it. The women then began on the second phase of their project. They collected dry wood from the forests, cut the pieces into two equal halves and carved them into the shape of a boat. After joining the logs together, they were able to divert all the water from the stream to the villages. They built tanks in the villages to collect the water, and then transported it to their homes using bamboo pipes.

Social innovation does not always need technology – sometimes, all that is needed is a new take on a traditional approach, determined initiative, and a collaborative effort.

Vote in the Global Water Challenge

The Global Water Challenge, a competition put on by Ashoka Changemakers, is taking votes right now on their selected finalists. Titled “Tapping Local Innovation: Unclogging the Water and Sanitation Crisis,” voting for the projects is open until Sunday, May 11.

Ashoka’s Changemakers and Global Water Challenge have partnered to open a worldwide search for ideas and projects that, when scaled-up, have the potential to transform the provision of sanitation and water.

We have covered the lack of access to safe drinking water in India before. There are three finalists out of nine from India – Naandi Foundation, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, and Himanshu Parikh Consulting Engineers. This is an issue that affects many countries, and the project finalists are working on some innovative approaches, from community based initiatives to leveraging technology to working on mechanisms that encourage behavioral change.

Three winners will receive $5000 for their projects. Go here to cast your vote.