IFC to loan $25 million to WaterHealth India for rural drinking water

Clean drinking water is in my opinion the most critical issue that must be addressed in any area suffering from poverty. So any news like this one gives me hope and a smile on my face. WaterHealth India has recently received a $25 million loan to install more than 600 water filtration systems throughout India. This issue cannot be understated as, 

[m]ore than 25 percent of India’s population does not have access to clean drinking water. Unsafe water is often the cause for waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. As more villages are included, the WaterHealth project will have important health benefits as well as help generate local employment and provide training, which could significantly improve earnings for people in rural areas. [Source: Sreelakshmi24’s Blog]

WaterHealth India has already installed 200 such systems in Andhra Pradesh and so hopefully their experience will result in a significant improvement to clean water access.

HaraBara Builds Greener Pastures

In the effort to connect “green” business manufacturers and suppliers, Jagdish Amin and David Wheat launched HaraBara in October 2008.  Businessworld features the duo’s new business-to-business platform:

HaraBara’s primary objective is to unearth ‘golden nuggets’: companies that are doing great sustainable work, and getting them to talk about it.

While there are plans to create a worldwide forum, the focus right now is on India.  The HaraBara Connect India site offers a clear benefit for greening businesses in the country:

Thousands of Indian companies are dealing with environmental and green challenges. Share experience with other Connect members facing green concerns. Find out what works and what doesn’t work.  Access proprietary HaraBara databases, undertake joint projects, and establish new connections. Save time and money dealing with green issues.

The online platform allows a quick and easy way of making connections in the green indsustry, and as a result, could promote faster progress of environmental efforts.

Perhaps more interesting is the founders’ explanation to Businessworld of what prompted them to start HaraBara, when a “client wanted to sell solar lanterns in rural India but wasn’t able to develop a local distribution network.”

“We realised that companies would find it useful to have a website that gave them access to customers and suppliers, and that helped them figure out local laws and regulations,” says Wheat.

I’m sure there are other industries which face a similar challenge when trying to start up operations in a new location.  For that reason, HaraBara is a great example of turning a roadblock into a far-reaching solution.

[TC-I Call to Action]: New Ventures India Business Proposals

Anil G of  New Ventures India informs us that New Ventures is inviting clean tech companies to submit their business proposals for a chance to receive mentorship, assistance, and connections with capital and market opportunities to scale up.  Click here for further details about the call for proposals, including eligibility requirements and contact information.  Proposals are due by April 30, 2009.  This is a great opportunity for clean tech and clean energy SMEs in India.

About New Ventures India:

New Ventures India works for sustainable entrepreneurship and is specially designed to meet the needs of Indian entrepreneurs and help them overcome common business challenges to deliver environmental and social benefits in addition to economic development and growth opportunity.

[TC-I Call to Action]: SEED Awards for Sustainable Development

InfoDev helps announce the SEED Awards for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development, an award recognizing partnerships in developing countries that are working on environmental and social issues.   The approach to the award is interesting, however, because winners do not receive the normal cash prize; instead, they will receive something that many enterprises need: support services, catered for the specific need.

Note that eligibility means that at least three partner organizations are involved – a great way to encourage collaboration for social impact.

The SEED Awards for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development is an annual international competition, designed to support locally-led, innovative, entrepreneurial partnerships in developing countries, which have the potential to make real improvements in poverty eradication and environmental sustainability.

The SEED Initiative assists young and promising initiatives in strengthening and scaling up the impact of their activities. This is not a cash award. Instead, a comprehensive package of tailor-made support services, with a value of US$25,000, will be provided to Winners.

Applications will be available online soon, so be sure to keep your eye on the SEED website.

TATA NEN Hottest Startup Nominees

The TATA NEN Hottest Startup Awards recognizes high-potential startup organizations in India. Startups seems to be a dime a dozen these days, so beating out hundreds of other new ventures is quite a feat. I’ve picked out some nominees that have a social twist to their operations.

Three startups are featured after the jump, but if you are interested in voting, check out the shortlist (a login is required to vote). The five startups that win the most votes by December 23 will win. Continue reading

Moralfibre, Clothing with a Conscience

An Ahmedabad-based business, Moralfibre, is short listed for the Ethical Business award given by the Ethical Fashion Forum. Promoting khadi and making it fashionable for the modern taste, the business offers a new twist on an old practice. The CEO, Shalini Sheth Amin, recognized a market for khadi in the growing zero carbon footprint and clean technology movement. The handspun cloth is both sustainable and of high quality. ExpressIndia reports:

The group has been selling various fashion products, furnishing products and fabric—all hand-made. It is also producing products in wool and silk.

Shailini says that the principle of ‘social responsibility’ has also been taken care of in her business model where 75 per cent of the profit goes to a charitable trust, Sah-Unnati Foundation. The foundation uses the fund to train the artisans in new techniques of manufacturing khadi and to do research on improving the traditional khadi production methods.

More than a fashion statement, Moralfibre hopes to create a new model for manufacturing textiles. The entire supply chain, and the product itself, is constructed from an environmental and social point of view.

The winner of the Ethical Business award will be announced on November 13, 2008.

Update: Envirofit is taking it up a notch

Not long ago, we had written about Envirofit, a company that manufactures and sells clean burining high-efficiency cookstoves to consumers in India.

Nextbillion reports that they have already sold 10,000 stoves and are ramping up production quickly. Of course, its a drop in the ocean, but definitely a great start. Congrats!

Solar lanterns for street vendors

NGO Post has an interesting story on a solar micro-enterprise in Hassan District in Karnataka. The business operates a battery charging station powered by solar photovoltaic panels and rents out solar powered CFL lamps street vendors. On an average, the vendor pays $0.25 per day for renting out the lamps and the business services 120 street vendors.

The business is supported by Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF), a pioneering organization supporting small enterprises in India. The technology support comes from SELCO India a leader in affordable solar solutions for the poor (our previous coverage of SELCO is here)

Read the complete story [via NGO Post]

Two Cleantech Conferences to Watch For

Cleantech Group LLC, a leading resource in the cleantech space is holding two conferences this year. The first one is in Mumbai and the second is in China. Vinod Khosla, a premier venture capitalist, is the chair of the India program. Details for Mumbai conference are below:

Cleantech Forum XIX- From IT Outsourcing to Cleantech Resourcing
October 7-9, 2008; Renaissance, Mumbai; Mumbai, India

One of five international forums, the meeting in Mumbai, India,
connects Indian investors, technology innovators, policymakers and
other cleantech influencers with their counterparts from Asia, Europe,
North America, the Middle East and the globe.

Phone: (810) 224-4310
E-mail: sales@cleantech.com
Web site: http://cleantech.com/mumbaiforum08

The Size of India’s (And Your) Water Footprint

While reading an article called “Water Footprints Make a Splash,” I was immediately intrigued by the concept of a water footprint. What exactly is a water footprint? Author Ben Block uses coffee to illustrate:

If the full water requirements of a morning roast are calculated – farm irrigation, bean transportation, and the serving of the coffee – one cup requires 140 liters of water.

Water footprints measure the complete cycle and at all levels of a water’s use. The Water Footprint website explains that

the water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

And how does India’s water footprint fare? Block’s article reveals: Continue reading

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.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

The Summer Olympics takes place every four years. So does another, lesser-known event: the Copenhagen Consensus Conference (CCC). The forum involves a group of established and renowned economists discussing the world’s problems, and then prioritizing ways to address those issues. A 2005 video from TED Talks features Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, who explained the rationale behind CCC. He called the project “the defense for boring problems,” and noted that the solutions are prioritized without concern of making us, or the media, “feel good.”

Comparing the list from 2004 and 2008 shows a shift in priorities. The top four in 2004: Control of HIV/AIDS, Providing Malnutrients, Trade Liberalization, and Control of Malaria. In contrast, 2008 shows the top four as: Micronutrient Supplements for Children, The Doha Development Agenda, Micronutrient Fortification, and Expanded Immunization Coverage for Children.

The list is made with a global viewpoint – so to think about it from India’s perspective is interesting. Would the priorities still be the same for India? Also, keep in mind that this prioritization occurred from the economic mindset. I’ve always had an issue with this, since that means that a cost-benefit analysis is going to occur – which in turn means that everything must be quantified. But do the numbers always tell the full story, or is it a neat and packaged way to explain things?

In the video about the 2004 list, Mr Lomborg explains why these were listed as “good” projects instead of, say, climate change. Climate change, although picked up widely by the media, is very expensive given the little impact money has – according the video, spending $150 billion per year would postpone global warming by only six years. On the other hand, spending $27 billion over eight years on controlling HIV/AIDS would avoid 28 million new cases of the disease. Liberalizing trade would supposedly bring $2,400 billion dollars into the world, half of which would go to the Third World and help lift millions out of poverty very fast – but, as Mr Lomborg points out, movies aren’t made about trade, and it doesn’t necessarily make us “feel good.” Continue reading

World’s Largest Solar Project Proposed in Gujarat

Solar power may go on the wide-scale in the western state of Gujarat as the Clinton Foundation is currently considering an “Integrated Solar City” in the Kutch or Banaskantha region.  If followed through, the investment would create the world’s largest solar project and will involve a number of players in the private sector.

The project, tagged as one of the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) into the state, will also be a landmark project as the cost of power generation is likely to be 70 per cent less — around Rs 20,000 crore — than the conventional cost of generation, say sources close to the development.

The project envisages an integrated solar city wherein all the raw materials including glass and panels will be produced by them, bringing down the cost substantially, said a senior government official.

Source: Business Standard

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.

Dont miss this Groundbreaking TV Show

Last week, we wrote about Rohini Nilekani’s excellent op-ed in The Hindu, on the changing face of philanthropy in India. She is in the news again, Rohini will be hosting a new show on NDTV 24/7 called Uncommon Ground. The show will bring leaders of corporate India and the not-for-profit sector together to discuss challenges that India face today.

The show kicks off this Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 9:30, with Mr. Mukesh Ambani & Dr. R.K. Pachauri featured in the inaugural episode. Here is more on the show from the press brief from NDTV 24/7

Uncommon Ground’ is unique because there has never been a dialogue like this before on Indian television. Marked by lively discussions and intense rguments, each episode of Uncommon Ground will have a well known corporate head facing an equally well known social activist or developmental scientist. It aims to open up lines of communication that would spur the growth of modern India in a manner that is both rewarding and inclusive