Sanitation innovator wins Stockholm Water Prize

Sulabh‘s founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, was recently named the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.  Sulabh has been working for decades to address sanitation, health, and hygiene in India and other countries.  Through inventive toilet designs, new biogas technologies, and his struggle for human rights, especially for those of the “untouchable” caste, Dr Pathak is recognized worldwide as an innovator and social reformer. A Business Standard article explains further:

The social reformer, who triggered the revolution against ‘sanitation crisis’, has been the main force behind changing social attitudes towards traditional unsanitary latrine practices in slums, rural villages and dense urban districts, and developed cost-effective toilet systems that have improved daily life and health for millions of people.

Dr Pathak will receive the award in Stockholm during World Water Week in August.

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‘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

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?

Information sharing improves earning capacity of farmers

About 138 farmers in Pune stand to gain in their productivity today thanks to their membership to Abhinav Farmer’s Club. According to a report in Business Standard, Dnyaneshwar Bodke, using his education in Horticulture Training Center founded the club to share his knowledge on farming exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers to his fellow farmers in 2004.  Funded by National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) and Canara Bank this club since then seems to have transformed into a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform in which farmers brainstorm various aspects of farming. As a result, the sophistication of their farming methods and their productivity seems to have vastly improved.

“Traditional farming compelled the farmers to wait for the required weather conditions to start farming. But, since we do our business in greenhouses and sheds, we are able to control the conditions in which the crops grow. That’s the reason why we are able to excel as we don’t have to depend on nature for the right time to begin,” adds Bodke.

How has this helped the stakeholders? Apart from earning bounties to the farmers, this has also provided employment to over 700 others in the periphery.

The numbers are there for all to see. In 2007, AFC produced 13.2 million flowers and some 250 tonnes of vegetables. Its yearly turnover is a little above Rs 10 crore. Farmers affiliated to the club use drip irrigation and operations in the farms are labour intensive. This keeps their costs under check.

The example set by Abhinav Farmer’s Club along with and the now famous e-Choupal initiative by ITC seems to support the point that access to information is probably the best way to empower the rural India – a point valued by Comat Technologies, a successful social business earlier covered by ThinkChange India.

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.

Delhi: External Beauty, Internal Suffering

Delhi has been going all out in its effort to clean-up the city, in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, to be hosted in the capital in 2010. Take for instance the goal of making the national capital beggar-free. It seems like a fairly high-tech intervention – with video cameras and biometric fingerprint scanners and all this to keep the beggars off the street [via Business Standard]

Intensifying the anti-begging campaign in Delhi, authorities have picked around 100 beggars, including women and children, in the last three days and sent them to the homes meant for their rehabilitation.

He said the beggars are being produced before respective magistrates and to prove their case the department have done videography of the beggars seeking alms. “To ensure that the beggars do not start begging again, we are taking their finger-prints through bio-metric system installed at the beggars’ homes,” he said.

However, there seems to be little information on what would be done to rehabilitate the beggars. May be some of this advanced technology can be used to help the beggars re-build their lives. I guess the external beauty of the nation’s capital matters, but at the same time, the merits of technocratic initiatives like this are quite questionable. Initiatives such as these do not address the root-cause of the problem, and actually cause more pain for people who have already been subjected to extreme suffering. Well, at least the city will look pretty!

Update: Bhandan gets featured in Business Standard

I have written on Bhandan before, with regard to its efforts to incorporate job creation into its larger loans disbursed to micro enterprises looking to grow. Well now the organization is once again pushing new initiatives as the MFI’s CEO Chandra Shekhar Ghosh is trying to both grow Bhandan’s organizational footprint while simultaneously create schools in Bengal and elsewhere. His inspiration arises from his own experiences with BRAC and their ability to create schools serving tens of thousands of people. From a Business Standard profile:

Ghosh is funding this project with the Rs 72 lakh he got from a fellowship from Ashoka Social entrepreneurship programme. He says that the children of those who take loans from Bandhan are going back to school and there has been a fall in drop-out rates.

Ghosh is also looking to expand the capabilities of Bhandan itself.

Now, next month the microfinance institute (MFI) will open ten offices each in Delhi, and then in Mumbai. The slums in the two metros are the next target for this microfinance organisation which is being eyed by several top banks for equity share.

This approach to sustainable expansion is reflected in Ghosh’s view of how clients should also prosper as well:

“Development has to be sustainable and beneficiaries should stand on their own after receiving support for three years, or our programmes are of no use,” he says. “Bandhan is now full of excitement about opening ten new branches in Delhi and ten in Mumbai. It is a totally new terrain,” he says.

A Look Back on the Week

To help our readers better digest the prolific number of posts that appear throughout a given week, the ThinkChange India team will be providing weekly recaps on what posts garnered the most interest and also we will highlight some older posts that we feel deserve to be featured again.

From Sunday to Sunday — The Top Posts of the Week

  1. Santosh wrote on the development of a new social capital exchange. (62 views)
  2. A post by Prerna on For Love of Water (FLOW) enjoyed the second spot this week. (40 views)
  3. Shital’s reporting on women barefoot solar engineers also got much attention this week. (31 views)

Highlighted Jobs, Internships and Other Opportunities

  1. SKS Hyderbad is soliciting applications for a summer intern and Program Director. (31 views)
  2. An internship for Source for Change also gained noticeable attention this week. (30 views)
  3. Another post on an essay competition on climate change and health also received some focus by our readers this week. (29 views)

Reaching into the Archives

In this section we will link back to an older post that we believe deserves to be featured one more time.

Fresh off of the launch of ThinkChange India, Vinay wrote an Op-Ed on the value of having both arrogance and humility with regard to being a social entrepreneur. The post originally was published on March 3, 2008. (106 views)

We hope that these weekly recaps will help you better navigate our site and to make it even easier for our readers to keep up with everything exciting that is going on in India. Also, as always, we encourage all of you to keep commenting and participating as that is the best feedback to make sure we are doing a good job.


The ThinkChange India Team

India’s first Social Capital Exchange to be launched (I’m serious!)

According to story today on Business Standard, M-Cril, the credit rating agency is launching a platform called ‘Capital Connect’ which will enable MFIs and social enterprises to access capital from investors looking to make investments in this space. This is seen as early precursor to a equity exchange for ‘social investments’ – in other words a social capital market (a few years back, it would be utterly murderous to put words like capital, business and investment next to the word social, increasingly these words are used together – a sign of times to come). Quoting from the piece:

An equity exchange for social investments? The country may soon have such a platform for equity placements catering to social enterprises and microfinance institutions (MFIs) that will be open to institutional investors.

The exchange has been conceptualised and is being set up by credit rating agency M-Cril, which rates MFIs.

As a precursor, M-Cril is launching a company called Capital Connect in May that will be a platform for MFIs and enterprises to register themselves to access financiers who buy shares in them.

M-Cril, by the way is most ideally suited to pull this off and the timing is just brilliant. The Micro-Finance industry in India is at the tipping point, poised to unleash a wave of tremendous growth. The investor interest has also been growing (we have covered multiple deals in this space before). M-Cril is the premier credit rating agency for MFIs, and I believe first of its kind in the world, having done 480 assessments in 27 countries. Thus, in addition to building the platform, the organization can use its rating expertise to help investors make the right choices.

The platform also intends to list other social businesses in sectors like green energy, low-cost housing and health-care. This, I assume would be a tougher goal, given the lack of scalable models in these sectors (unlike the MFIs, which stand on years of operational experience and scale). Also, the need for a ‘social investment exchange’ makes ample sense in the short run, over the long run, social businesses might just well be able to merge into traditional capital markets (under the grand and idealistic premise that ‘traditional’ investors would begin attaching some value to social returns). Clearly, I would be in the idealistic fantasy-land to expect such a change in the near future, given the recent controversy surrounding the Compartmentos IPO in Mexico.

Overall, Capital Connect is a pioneer, and given the track-record of the sector to rapidly scale innovative ideas (Kiva, Microplace), it should probably take-off. Of course, we will keep our eyes and ears open.

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