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

SME News Portal

TradeIndia launched a news portal targeted for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that will be a “one-stop information library” for the sector.

The entire business module of Tradeindia revolves around the pledge to help SMEs build a self-reliant India. To keep SMEs informed on the recent policy changes, international trends and how these changes could affect their businesses, Tradeindia comes out with its weekly newsletter, conducts online surveys and organises panel discussions and hosts a Discussion Forum aimed at creating a platform for the business community to exchange business ideas and issues.

We will definitely keep ThinkChange India readers updated on relevant news from this site that focuses on the hot topic of SMEs.

(Source: Avashya and Exchange4Media)

Evening Edition

For your reading pleasure:

  • International Relations: The India-Africa summit kicked off with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promising to ease access from the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Said Singh, “under this scheme, India shall unilaterally provide preferential market access for exports from all the 50 least developed countries.”
  • Green Energy: As we have been covering in this space, green energy is becoming hotter and hotter in India. Kenersys, a newly formed wind-energy company (owned by Pune based Kalyani Group), has received an investment from First Reserve Corporation, a leading energy-focused private equity firm [via VC Circle]
  • Business Education: XLRI becomes the first Indian business school to become a “part of a UN global initiative promoting corporate social responsibility, values and ethics”. The school is now a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), a global framework for incorporating CSR into curricula and research [via Calcutta Telegraph]

Midday Newsfeed

Some newsworthy headlines of interest:

  • Entrepreneurship: Himachal Pradesh to adopt an open door policy to encourage entrepreneurs to work within the state. In a similar effort to attract more high tech companies, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved a plan to create Information Technology Investment Regions (ITIRs).
  • Women’s Rights and Security: The Indian Border Security Force will begin enlisting the help of women to patrol the country’s borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh — initial duties will include frisking and the monitoring of drug and human trafficking.
  • Water resources: Scientists have called for better monitoring of the Himalayan water sources — or natural water towers — that provide H2O to millions of people in Asia. Locally in Tamil Nadu, the controversy over the Hogenakkal project has heated up as celebrities have started a fast in protest. The local government continues to emphasize that this project is solely focused on the provision of drinking water. Protestors have also sought the help of PM Singh himself to intervene.
  • Agriculture: Haryana Agriculture Marketing Board will setup mandi level committees to help streamline procurement. However, at a national level, an ongoing tussle amongst ministries over fertilizer may substantially hamper the ability for India to increase output overall.
  • Telecom regulation and automation: A new allocation of a telecom spectrum has begun, with Shyam-Sistem the first awarded. In other news, the government of Bihar has chosen to embrace technology through the automation of their transportation department.
  • Government compensation: An effort to have a new panel for pay of MPs has been shot down.

Midday Newsfeed

Some headlines before you head off to lunch:

  • Technology/Connectivity:  
    • Mobile connectivity will be in the hands of millions of new subscribers thanks to BSNL’s $100 million contract to Nortel for supporting GSM network expansion in the southern part of India.  The plan is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.  
    • On a different note, IBM Research Labs in Bangalore have developed specialized algorithms to “help model and manage natural disasters including wildfire, floods, and diseases.”  The program would also enable policy makers to maximize “resource acquisition and deployment decisions.”  
    • Finally, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved the creation of “Information Technology Investment Regions,” which are expected to create employment opportunity and economic growth in the target area.  The government plans to take a public-private partnership route for this scheme.
  • Research:  The Brookings Institution recently published a report entitled, “Index of State Weakness in the Developing World” that evaluates “141 developing nations based on their relative performance in four critical areas: economic, political, security, and social welfare.”  The report has found that there is a very strong correlation between poverty and overall weakness of a state.  India was ranked #67 in the report, and categorized as a “state to watch.” (read more after the break) Continue reading

India’s Affinity with Africa – A Question of Self Interest?

According to the International Energy Agency, India’s energy needs – fueled by 8% annual economic growth – are projected to double by the year 2030.  Moreover, India is expected to become the biggest net importer of oil by the year 2025, after the United States and China.   

In an attempt to secure energy resources for its buxom economy, India is courting resource-rich Africa with the long-term intent of ousting China’s influence in the region.  In fact, this upcoming April 8th and 9th, New Delhi will be hosting its first ever India-Africa heads of state meeting in the hopes of strengtening ties and heightening trade.  There is also, however, another prospect on the horizon:

But Africa offers more than just oil. Chalking up close to 6 percent economic growth in 2007, the continent could provide a ready-made market for Indian products, like Tata Motors’ ultra-cheap $2,500 Nano cars due to be launched in October.

In the words of Manmohan Singh, India’s interest in Africa extends beyond these factors as well (read more after the jump): Continue reading

Midday Newsfeed

  • Renewable Energy: The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India has announced a demonstration programme to support mega watt size grid interactive solar power generation projects, up to a maximum capacity of 50 MW, in the country. Similar efforts have been pushed by Himachal Pradesh’s CM, in an effort for more hydel power Public-Private Parnterships with entrepreneurs.
  • Insurance: A cashless health insurance program has been unveiled to target those under the poverty line. In a related story, Haryana’s government plans to invest 100RS per month per Anganwari worker for insurance through Life Insurance Corporation of India.
  • Microfinance: Lok Capital LLC, an India focused microfinance venture capital fund, has raised its fund size by about 80 per cent to $22 million from $14.5 million. Also, two Indian MFIs have received funding from Oikocredit, a Dutch cooperative fund.
  • Food supply and prices: UN report claims that Asia’s poorest being harmed by biofuels with regard to rising food prices. In a related news story, the World Bank has come out to say that the era of cheap food may be over. Bringing this problem home, one final story brings to light the likelihood of a food shortage in India. (this article was in the yesterday’s Evening Edition).
  • Human interest/child marriage: 13 year old girl stands up against child marriage.

Evening Edition

Some headlines to start your evening off right:

  • The government of Himachal Pradesh announced at a three-day international conference this weekend that they are drafting a master plan for the development of backpack tourism in the state through strategic public private partnerships (PPPs).  The government ensured that the plan will “optimise the use of natural resources while ensuring ecological safeguards.”
  • In more off-the-beaten track news, West Bengal currently tops the animal cruelty list in India.  In the past three years alone, reports iGovernment, approximately 40,000 animals have faced cruelty in the state of West Bengal. 
  • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Prices today in order to address the issue of soaring prices.  The import duty on soybean oil is expected to be cut in order to encourage imports.  India is also expected to stop the import of wheat for this year.
  • The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in collaboration with the corporate sector of Tamil Nadu, has launched long-term rehabilitation mechanisms for Tsunami victims in the state.  Services include healthcare centers, medical camps for eyes and dental health, clean water supply. 
  • The Government of India has allocated Rs. 600 crore for green energy research, design, and development (RD&D).   New schemes include awareness campaigns, incentive-based programs, and development of solar cities and renewable energy technologies for the Eleventh Five Year Plan period. 
  • Currently, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is operational in 330 districts in the country.  As of April 1st, the scheme will expand to 604 districts of the country.  Rural Development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has also requested that zero balance accounts be created for NREGA workers for the purposes of transparency and efficiency in the deposit process.

Midday Newsfeed

Weekend headlines for your leisurely perusal:

Evening Edition

  • Water from Narmada to travel to the parched lands of Rajasthan. In related news, one Mangalore institution of learning has taken an innovative approach to enlist the use of rainwater to make sure that they have supply even in drier months.
  • Would you like some genes with that? Case to allow genetically modified brinjal moves up to the HC towards a path for widespread avaialability.
  • In Karnataka, workers may now be required to sign in and out every time they want to take a break. George Orwell would be proud.
  • Although at time overly-cautious, the Dalai Lama said that India has historically been sympathetic to the plight of Tibetans in the country
  • Human interest story: girl rescued after falling into a well
  • It could be worse: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been rumored to have forced his political opponents to eat their election posters!

Evening Edition

Get your daily dose of headlines: 

Midday Newsfeed

OneRoof aims to be a one-stop shop for essential services

Operating as a for-profit SE, OneRoof through its subsidiary in Chennai (and another in Mexico) intends to build out franchises throughout the country that offer what it considers nine essential services to the world’s poor.

OneRoof's Essential Services

You can see from the organization’s website the services they plan to offer. They currently have 20 locations between India and Mexico where they are building out their business model.

Continue reading

Organic farming company gets VC backing

From VC Circle:

This could be the first venture capital investment in an organic farming business. Mumbai-based venture capital firm Nexus India Capital has made an undisclosed investment in organic farming company Suminter India Organics Pvt. Ltd.

This is an interesting investment as one does not normally associate VC funding with farming. Suminter, however, attracted the investors due to its scalability. The company actually pays its contract farmers a surplus over market prices for their goods, centralizes it and then exports it to other parts of the world.

The company works on a buy-back arrangement, in which it pays farmers a premium, typically 10-15 per cent, over the market price. The harvest is processed and packaged at a central unit and then shipped overseas. It exports directly to the US and through a Netherlands-based subsidiary to Europe. The funding will be used to expand its reach to 10 Indian states.

Midday Newsfeed: Government focus

Here are some stories on government efforts to help stimulate positive change:

The health ministry is planning to open standalone dialysis centres across the country, much like pathological labs, where patients can undergo the life-saving procedure at a minimal rate.

Khonoma, a Naga village and a site for Tragopan sanctuary in north-east India, has set an example for eco-friendly tourism. If the Centre for Environmental Education’s awareness programme was a catalyst, the real thrust came from the village council, which played a crucial role in the nature conservation effort.

A modernisation programme by the Ministry of Earth Sciences will warn farmers about weather changes well in advance. The agro meteorological service centres of Indian Meteorological Department will be responsible for translating weather forecasts into farm advisories

SAARC countries have recently launched the South Asia Food Security Programme with an estimated cost of US$ 25 million. Together Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will strive to improve crop production and nutrition in the region by pooling together scientific and natural resources.