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?

Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours awards 3 Indian organizations

Anjali, Azad Foundation and Samata are the winners for their innovative and outstanding work for the Girl Child in the fields of Health, Employability and Education. Here are the descriptions of each social entrepreneurship organization:

Anjali: Focusing on mental health issues of mothers and daughters in Kolkata, Anjali has been awarded top honors in Health.

Azad Foundation: Located in Delhi, Azad nabbed the Employability category by training girls from the slums to become professional taxi drivers.

Samata: Finally, Samata provides an innovative education and research curriculum for tribal girls in Andhra Pradesh.

For more information on the Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours, check out their website here.

Pizzas are good for these senior citizens

What do the words “new start-up”  and “garage” bring to your mind? The old stories about how all the tech companies started off to make today’s Silicon Valley? If that sounds a little too boring now, here is something as appetizing as a pizza. Started right here in India’s Silicon Valley by by Padma Srinivasan, 73 and Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75 (as against in The Silicon Valley by a bunch of youngsters), Pizza Haven pumps in the revenues that it earns by catering to school kids and software companies (like HP, now that is some coincidence!) to running an old age home – Vishranti.

“Granny’s pizzas are a hit among the software professionals, not just because they are delicious, but also because they are sold for a cause,” said Padma.

The profit from pizzas and generous donations from some well-wishers have helped in completing the home for the eldely, named Vishranthi (Rest), in June 2008 (news from newkerala.com)

What is there to be learnt from this story? Of course, a for-profit model makes this home’s future secure. But there is a more important lesson. Sustaining a social initiative doesn’t always need a complex innovation! All it needs is for one to look around yourself and identify what they are looking for!

With the current model up and running, is the Vishranthi executive team looking for expansion? Absolutely!

“In Vishranthi, I am also planning to start an orphanage and vocational training centre for poor rural women. And again our pizzas will come in handy to finance all our projects.”

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.

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.

Aiming for 100 Million

Many people dream, but some people dream big.  Dr. Ashok Khosla is one of those that dream big – but also puts the dream into action.  As founder of Development Alternatives, Khosla plans to bring wide-scale employment to India’s rural areas.  IndiaWest reports:

“Poor people are seeing more products, but have little access to them. The poor do not have purchasing power,” said Khosla, the 2002 winner of the United Nations’ Sasakawa Environmental Prize, and the Schwab Foundation’s outstanding social entrepreneur award in 2004.

The Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a partner of Development Alternatives, is a social enterprise focusing on standardizing “technology packages, which offer training, technical support, financing and marketing assistance to small enterprises.”  TARA’s products range from paper to textiles to cyber-kiosks.  Khosla aims to create 100 million jobs by 2018 through these micro-factories – no easy feat, considering that the organization claims to have created 3 million jobs in the last 15 years.

More importantly, the initiatives are created in a way that the villagers benefit above all.

In a typical model, the village will form a cooperative to purchase the equipment needed for the project, and determine wages for the workers, typically slightly above the area’s minimum wage. Development Alternatives’ social enterprise arm, Technology and Action for Rural Advancement, markets the products created by the villagers.

Tracking TARA’s progress in the next decade will be interesting and may provide further evidence of the impact of social enterprises and employment generating activities.

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

Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 Finalists [Updated]

This week has had no shortage of announcements of accepting nominations for some competitions and the unveiling of winners from others. Today, IndiaPRwire reports that the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, Schwab Foundation, and UNDP has picked finalists for the 2008 Social Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.

The Award recognizes individuals who offer the most innovative and sustainable solutions to society’s impending social problems. The ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award over the last few years has risen to prominence among social entrepreneurs with applicant’s immensely valuing the benefits the award brings. The steady increase in the number of nominations filed for this award is proof of it growing significance

Here are the three finalists:

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.

Spinning Electricity With An E-Charkha

Followers of Mahatma Gandhi are familiar with the charkha, a spinning wheel that produces a type of cotton known as khadi. A new twist on this old tool is that it can also be used to generate electricity, as an article in The Hindu describes its use near Jaipur:

In a few villages near here, Charkha, promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol of self-reliance and source of income for the rural population, has started doubling as a virtual micro-power plant in each poor household.

e-charkha — an improvised version of Ambar charkha, designed by Gandhian Ekambar Nath — does not resemble a typical charkha but can be operated by hand. A battery is attached to the e-charkha, which stores the electricity generated when it is being run. Two hours of operation is enough to light up the specially-designed LED light fitted to the e-charkha for eight hours.

A great way to continue an independent source of income, while producing electricity at the same time.

Bolstering Rural Industries

The comments from a previous post questioning the value of urbanization discussed the need of developing rural industries and services. According to iGovernment, the government has made a real step toward this with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and the Khadi and Village Industry Commission (KVIC), a non-profit, working together to promote the Rural Business Hubs (RBH) initiative.

Under this initiative, Panchayats and KVIC will jointly identify potential projects that can be supported under KVIC schemes and also extend marketing support through the corporate members of industry working on the RBH initiative.

Wherever required, skill development and skill upgradation training will be provided to the potential beneficiaries by KVIC through accredited training agencies.

Considering the fact that RBH has been in place for three years, I wonder how successful programs under the initiative really are. In addition, there is a barrage of other questions that come to mind: Do the MoUs actually become operational? Are the rural areas in which they enact MoUs seeing an increase in economic development? And more importantly, does the development of rural industries allow for self-sustaining local economies, or does it make them more dependent (in an arguably negative way) on global markets?

Must read for the weekend …

A feature on the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an organization aimed to create a self-sustainable ecosystem of dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, in a manner that its leader coins as being “villaged global.” My favorite paragraph:

Starting in 1999, the women of the DDS created a market with about 2,000 members, comprising ecological, self-produced food crops. The sales of their agricultural and other produce yielded a 300% profit in six years; the womens’ dividends increased between Rs 30-800 annually. A mobile van selling the produce was introduced in 2001 to provide people easier access to produce and to popularise organic food. The Zaheerabad Consumers Action Group was also formed which has brought out films on local cuisine and a cookbook using ingredients based on the crops that the women produce. It even runs Cafe Ethnic, a millet restaurant!

I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Project Shakti: Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods

A few months ago, I discussed the idea of social intrapreneurs based on a SustainAbility case study that featured Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti. This month, the World Bank Institute’s publication titled Development Outreach focuses on business and poverty, with an article written by those involved with the same project. The authors describe the project not as a CSR initiative, but as “a business initiative with social benefits.”

Initially, the project was created as a response to Unilever’s desire to tap into new markets within India. Unable to reach most small villages due to poor transport and supply chain infrastructure, along with challenges of selling products to a population with little or no disposable income, Unilever saw the need to innovate.

Connecting with existing women’s self-help groups, Project Shakti allows women to start generating a annual income of US$150 after receiving training and a loan to get off the ground.

The company decided to set up a direct-to-consumer retail operation by creating a network of entrepreneurs to sell its products door-to-door, and to produce a range of affordable products in small sizes to meet the needs and pockets of low-income consumers. These are mostly single-use sachets selling for as little as 50 paise (half a rupee) each.

As a female member of a low-income family, imagine earning an amount that would almost double the family’s household income. The impact on the woman as an individual, along with the ripple effect on the family and surrounding community, is probably unmeasurable.

Now, Project Shakti also consists of public awareness programs focusing on health and hygiene, as well as an i-Shakti initiative that allows villagers to access information through kiosks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the authors’ description is their take on lessons and challenges. Managing partnerships and balancing interests lies at the heart of these challenges, and the authors note:

Whatever the primary purpose and objectives of each partner, whether developmental or commercial, creating convergence between different activities is the key to progress. A big part of the solution to development lies in working together and using infrastructure, whether developed by the public or private sector, for the benefit of all.

Clearly, this is no easy undertaking, yet Project Shakti provides a powerful example of a business that profits while improving the livelihoods and quality of life for its customers. Originally driven by the need to diversify their customer base and increase profit, the program now reaches over 3 million households in India. When business and social good align, the collaboration can have a wide-reaching impact.

Dhristee’s Rural BPO Pilot in Bihar

We have highlighted here at TC-I the potential for rural BPOs to create jobs.  One of the more interesting players is Dhristee, the company whose primary business is franchising rural information kiosks.  Recently the company ventured into the rural BPO space, setting up pilot unit in the rural hinterland of Bihar.

CNN-IBN recently ran a story (video is below) on the pilot initiative [Via Acumen Fund]. Here is a tiny quote from the narrative:

But this isn’t about do-gooder NGOs giving villagers money and equipment – or about social organisations thrusting empowerment into the hands of people not ready for it. It’s about people in backward India who want to be a part of the e-revolution that’s painting India with the big WWW.

Interesting, I guess words like ‘market-based solutions’ are still out of sight for the mainstream media (restricted to development junkies like us!). But the story brings out the economic potential of rural BPO – for instance, the employees in Dhristee’s pilot initiative earn about Rs. 4000 a month.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Energy: Four ultra mega (super duper?) power projects have been greenlit by the Indian government across the country.
  • Education: Microsoft is investing $20 million in education initiatives in India over the next five years. Along with their current programs which focus on resources and training, the company will partner with state governments to implement national programs.
  • Employment: For technology graduates, according to a study completed by Accenture, India is the place with the most job opportunities this year (with the US coming in second place).
  • Technology: Airtel and Nokia are working together to develop a regional language fonts keyboard. This will allow greater linkages with rural areas.
  • Environment: Concern India Foundation, a non-profit public charitable trust, plans to introduce cloth shopping bags in Bangalore’s major retail stores and shopping destinations. This is just one of the initiatives from the NGO, along with a “Kachra Kumar” competition for children to capture litterers on camera. [Source: Business Standard]