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.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Rewarding Good Governance through Gram Panchayat Puruskar

Calling all gram panchayats in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – Google.org‘s Inform and Empower Initiative wants to know the top five panchayats in each of these two states that are using innovation and good governance. According to the Google.org blog,

The prize will be awarded in one of six areas: education, health and nutrition, water supply, rural infrastructure, rural electrification, and resource mobilization. The winning panchayat must include a wide variety of social and income groups, share information with villagers, respond to citizen feedback, and track the quality of programs.

The competition is an opportunity to recognize good, effective governance and encourage quality public services. And if that’s not reason enough, the winning panchayats will receive a cash prize of Rs.5 lakhs (approximately $10,000 USD).

The contest is open for entries from December 12, 2008 through January 25, 2009. For more information, please see the FAQs and Rules.

NComputing starts its account in India

TC-I readers might remember that Vinay had interviewed Stephen Dukker, Chairman & CEO of NComputing a couple of months ago. At that time Dukker was raring to make a mark in the Indian market. Last Monday, NComputing started on its Indian journey by announcing a deal with Government of Andhra Pradesh to supply 50,000 virtual desktops to schools in the state. The company is also trying to enter into agreements with other state governments.

NComputing works on the premise that current desktop computers are powerful enough to support multiple users simultaneously. To achieve this, it has developed a virtualization software that turns a single computer system into 5 or 10 virtual machines, thus ensuring “efficient” utilization of a system. This brings down the effective cost of a “computer per user”.

It is heartening to see governments realizing the need and advantages of using computers as part of school education. We, at TC-I feel (and we are sure readers would agree with us), that sourcing the computers is only a job well-started. The real work lies in developing a proper curriculum centered around computer based learning. Also, NComputing technology can be used for low cost cyber cafes – something really required in developing countries especially rural areas which have abysmal levels of computer penetration.

It would be great to see a project like ITC’s e-chaupal working with NComputing to take benefits of the computer and internet to many more Indian villages.

NComputing’s acceptance by many organizations also brings forth an inevitable but interesting debate – comparison with One Laptop Per Child’s XO, Intel’s Classmate PC and other similar projects. A few months ago OLPC too had entered India. There are lot of discussions on cyberspace on the pros and cons of one in comparison with the other. You can read an informative article on the debate on forbes.com

These really are exciting times.

Lending “name” to a school

[Story source: Business Standard]

Corporates, non-profit organizations and individuals are helping re-build government schools in Andhra Pradesh by adopting schools under the School Adoption Scheme – started around three years ago by the state government. To summarise the scheme:

Private companies or philanthropists build schools or additional classrooms in the existing government schools. Some extend teaching and learning material, uniforms, furniture or bear the salaries of teachers and other activities. In return, the government allows the companies or philanthropists who donate Rs 5-10 lakh to name the schools or the block they build after someone they love.

The article cites a number of instances where schools have benefited and also gives a stark comparison of the schools before and after adoption – which ensures that it is not only the name of the school that changes. The number of schools benefited thus far is 14. A number which pales in light of the high level industrialisation in the state and the number of corporates having operations here. Also, the current beneficiary schools are located in and around Hyderabad.

We feel that the School Adoption Scheme (which in itself is part of the Sarve Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)) holds a lot of potential not just to improve school infrastructure but also to ensure relevance of the school with respect to the society today. Reason being, the school children and the staff interact with the so called other part of the society and thus ensure that they do not exist in isolation.

Public Private Participation in SSA: The link here broadly outlines the public private model in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Do read it.

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.

SKS looks to educate its members’ children

Partnering with Career Launcher, SKS Microfinance will be opening 10 school in Nalgonda, Khammam, Rangareddy and Medak districts of Andhra Pradesh that will be English medium institutions for primary school education.

The SKS-CL Academy, in the pilot phase, will provide primary education till third standard using the national open school syllabus with special emphasis on technology. While Career Launcher would manage and run the schools, SKS Microfinance would support the marketing of the schools and provide education loans.

Recognizing that there exists a need beyond only loans to assist individuals in breaking free from the shackles of poverty, SKS is now looking to provide the actual means for such people to acquire the knowledge to improve their own situations.

SKS members can opt for an education loan of INR 3,100 (USD 72) to provide quality education to their children. The school will run at a fraction of regular fees and the monthly fee for KG and Class I is INR 175 (USD 4).

The schools are also open to non-members as well. TC-I along with the community at large will be anxiously watching this program hoping for its success and its subsequent replication across the board.

[Source: Microcapital.org]

Sorry Mr. Edison, looks like your time is up!

The global community is focusing a tremendous amount of attention on the potential role of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) in significantly cutting down household energy use. Given that CFL bulbs use only 20% of the power of an equivalent incandescent lamp, the benefits are crystal clear. The only problem: cost of these bulbs. In the US, Wal-Mart has begun aggressively pushing CFLs on their shelves and are also working hard to make CFLs more affordable. However, the bulbs are still prohibitively expensive for most Indians. Well, that could change soon [Via Businessworld]:

Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation (UPPCL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two companies on a deal that involves the companies funding the entire cost of a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) above Rs 10. The condition: UPPCL distributes about 22 million CFLs in exchange for existing incandescent lamps and at a cost of Rs 10 per CFL. “This is to mitigate the more than 2,000-MW per day gap between demand and supply of electricity in UP,” says a director in UPPCL.

So, I guess the burning question is how these companies which signed the MOU with UPPCL will actually generate profit. The hope is to monetize the certified reductions derived out of CFL use by selling them in the international market:

The financial model is attractive if the CFLs reach households instead of the grey market. CantorCO2e expects the cost of a CFL to be Rs 70 and an additional Rs 30 in the form of administrative and processing costs. As per the company’s estimates, each CFL that is successfully installed and gets certification from CDM is expected to earn 0.09 CER per annum as it will result in an annual saving of roughly 0.09 metric tonne of carbon dioxide emissions (one CO2 metric tonne is equivalent to one CER).

The business model is cutting-edge – and the companies involved are early pioneers. If it works in the pilot states, the model could be replicated nationwide and could help offset the power shortage in the country.

[Image Credit: Businessworld]

Note: Looks like Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) is also involved in a similar pilot project. TC-I had covered the story here.

TC-I Tidbits

Here is your daily dose of headlines about innovative or anti-innovative ideas from around the country:

  • Microfinance
    • ACCESS Development Services and Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development will work to build cooperation between Europe and India to assist 20 MFIs in the country.
    • SKS Microfinance and Bajaj Allianz will form a partnership to provide clients with insurance products.
    • Standard Chartered expects to ramp up its investment in Indian MFIs.
  • Global Trends
    • The lure of high salaries and chance of returning home has encouraged many non-returning Indians to become returning ones.
  • Central Government
    • Power Generation and Transmission
      • In order to address load demands between the two countries, India and Sri Lanka will build a power line between them to help each deal with supply shortages.
      • The centre’s support for private initiatives to produce and provide hydro-electric power has come under scrutiny for whether only the wealthy have enjoyed access to the energy.
      • The government also presented its report on the safety of its proposed civilian nuclear program at the Convention on Nuclear Safety.
    • Climate Change
      • Pushing forward on the way the country will tackle global warming, the federal government looked to split up the effort into three parts.
  • State and Local Governments
    • Andhra Pradesh
    • Maharashtra
      • Education: Proposed rules will prohibit private school teachers from providing tuitions outside of the classroom, in order to eliminate the chance that these teachers favor these tutees over their own students.
    • Pune
      • Health: A NGO here utilizes pets to bring about emotional stimulation in autistic children.
    • Visakhapatnam
      • Housing: The ‘Rajiv Swagruha’ scheme has finally become a reality — promising the ability to own housing for over 10,000 applicants has begun, with the first acquisition of land by the city.

A New Software that Keeps Politicians As Honest as Possible

Starting April 1st, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which provides at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment to every household whose adult members volunteer to work on labour-intensive public works annually, will be implemented in all 604 districts across India.  Unfortunately, though the program looks good on paper, even its most vociferous proponents will admit that it is riddled with potential for corruption and further exploitation of the rural poor it intends to serve. 

To further complicate the situation, because the population the scheme intends to serve is largely illiterate, holding local panchayats or district officials accountable for misappropriated government funds is difficult.  The process is bureaucratic and entirely in the hands of the local panchayats (village-level governance) and district officials, which subjects rural recipients to the vagaries of human error and (mis)judgment.  Essentially, here is how the process works:

Adult members of rural households submit their name, age and address with photo to the Gram Panchayat. The Gram panchayat registers households after making enquiry and issues a job card. The job card contains the details of adult member enrolled and his /her photo. The registered person can submit an application for work in writing (for at least fourteen days of continuous work) either to panchayat or to Programme Officer.

If employment under the scheme is not provided within fifteen days of receipt of the application daily unemployment allowance will be paid to the applicant.

Can you imagine how susceptible this process is to fraud in the 330 districts it is currently in operation?  Even the government understood the NREGA’s shortcomings prior to the implementation of the scheme, as confirmed by an evaluation conducted by Tata Consulting Services of a similar scheme in Maharashtra:  (more after the break…) Continue reading

Mid-Day News Feed

  • Oneworld South Asia highlights that India’s strategy to combat Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) might be failing to stop the spread of the disease. There are 2.2 million new cases of TB every year.
  • The CGAP Microfinance Technology Blog picked up a story from Business Standard on Andhra Pradesh government’s plan to provide rural pensions through the mobile phone network
  • iGovernment reports that BSNL, the state owned telecom provider, plans to roll-out broadband connectivity to Community Service Centres (CSCs) and other e-Governance locations in 25,000 villages across India

ACCESS to PureIt

A joint effort by ACCESS Development Services, an Indian microfinance technical services non-profit organization, and Hindustan Unilever is providing water purifiers to poor families. Unilever’s PureIt does not require any electricity or running water and so is perfect for rural use.  Nextbillion.net highlights the benefits of such a partnership through an anecdote.

Yakalakshmi lives in Nekkunda village, part of the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, with her husband and two children. Though she has water piped to her house by the village panchayat, her entire family fell ill for a month last monsoon season by drinking water directly from the tap. “We all got high fever and severe diarrhea,” and as a result, “we had to spend around Rs. 4000 ($100) on health care, which was very difficult for us.” So, when Yakalakshmi got the opportunity this past January to buy an effective water purifier through her Self Help Group (SHG) on an installment basis, she was one of the first to sign up.

The venture also shows two points. One that simply making people aware of a problem will not address the situation unless they can afford to do something about it. And two, that such an effort can be done on in a sustainable fashion.

Based on a public-private partnership model, this exciting tie-up is financially sustainable. The project has already been extended to 11 of ACCESS’s partner MFIs in Andhra Pradesh. HUL and ACCESS are now looking at expanding the initiative countrywide through the ACCESS Microfinance Alliance, which has a 110 partner MFIs across India, potentially bringing safe drinking water to a large proportion of the 2.4 million clients served by these MFIs.

Sex Education in India Subpar

There are two aspects of sex education — one straightforward the other complex. On one hand we have the biological nature of sexuality and gender, which for the most part, can be effectively explained within schools objectively and without too much controversy. The other issue, the one dealing with the physical impulses and feelings associated with sex pose much greater problems especially in a still sexually restrictive culture. This conflict leads to a state where students become adequately educated to what hormones are and how they work without getting guidance on how to deal with them in everyday life.

A recent study has shown that less than one-tenth of young men and women in Bihar and Jharkhand have ever received any kind of sex education. The rest of the country isn’t far behind, either: only 12 percent of young men and 25 percent of young women in Maharashtra have any knowledge of family life and/or sex.

My India Report attempts unpackages this disconnect briefly

Despite the fact that the youth wants sex education, and wants it from their teachers, states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have banned it from the curriculum. The problem isn’t that sex is considered dirty, it’s that only married people are allowed to get dirty. The study reveals that even people who are supposed to provide sex education prefer to talk to married couples and are uncomfortable dealing with queries from unmarried people. The socio-cultural taboos run deep.

Mobile Banking May Get Watchdogs

Looks like mobile banking has hit the critical mass where bureaucrats feel the need to regulate it:

RBI Executive Director R B Barman said this week that a central bank committee is examining the regulatory challenges raised by mobile banking. The committee is expected to report recommendations next month, leading next to RBI drafting the requisite changes to the country’s regulatory framework.

In addition to regulation, RBI is also looking at new ways to use mobile banking to reach greater users. Mark Pickens of CGAP writes:

RBI is also closely watching several pilot schemes using mobile connectivity to improve access to financial services among low-income Indians. As the Economist reported earlier this month, one program in Andhra Pradesh is testing how to deliver pensions and unemployment benefits to around half a million people in villages, via specially-equipped mobile phones in the hands of local payment agents and smart cards issued to recipients. A parallel POS-based system is also being tested. So far, 40,000 cards have been issued.