Excerpt on Empowerment

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for my school newspaper:

Empowerment occurs when someone is given the means, either through new responsibilities, economic independence or other ways, to take a greater ownership in the actions of their everyday lives. Empowerment of individuals who were previously marginalized is one of the fundamental tenets of the social entrepreneurship movement.

Do you all agree or disagree? Please post comments below.

Nokia poised to help farmers to expand its rural base

Nokia is about to launch a set of “Life Tools” to be embedded in its mobile phones in an effort to expand its base into rural India. These Life Tools cater to the needs of the rural community with information on three different sectors namely Agriculture, Education, Entertainment. On agriculture, the Life Tool is likely to offer updated information on weather and market prices for the farmers produce on the mobile phone in the farmers native language.

As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nokia’s datasheet on Life Tools provides an easy-to-understand picture. Evidently, this tool is developed not just to penetrate into rural India, but rather to the “rural world”.

If my everyday observation is any testimony, Nokia seems to have a wide user base at the lower economic sections of India, and this tool can be an excellent vehicle for informational empowerment of the rural Indian community. However, given that the rural buy is likely not going to buy these phones off a Nokia Priority Showroom, how Nokia is going to market this tool so that the buyer buys a low cost Nokia phone for its Life Tools rather than its ruggedness, ease of use or longer life would be an interesting point to observe. This may also be the crucial factor that may determine the tool’s success.

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.

Amartya Sen encapsulates why we should care

One of the ongoing discussions that is linked ot the field of social entrepreneurship is the very nature of what this concept truly means. In a talk held at Stanford University this week, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen eloquently and concisely spoke to the issues of empowerment and enlightenment, and I feel as though his words form a great basis for our own conceptualization of our purposes here.

1- If you feel threatened it makes intelligent discourse impossible
2- For creating a just society: Empowerment is not enough. You must to ensure “enlightened empowerment” which can only come from public discussion and giving a political voice (to those who are not being heard)
3 – Recognition (or fame) can useful unless it becomes a substitute for doing anything useful

These points were summarized by Neerja Raman on Digital Provide: From Good to Gold.

Kanavu – Where Dreams are Built

In the words of Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator, activist, philosopher, and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Self deprecation is … characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them.  So often do they hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything – that they are sick, lazy, and unproductive – that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness. 

They call themselves ignorant and say the ‘professor’ is the one who has knowledge and to whom they should listen… 

Almost never do they realize that they, too, ‘know things’ they have learned in their relations with the world and with other women and men.

Such is the nature of the battle for Kanavu, a non-traditional school for Adivasi children in the Wayanad district of north Kerala that, according to its founder, K.J. Baby, aims to “not only educate [Adivasi children], but also cultivate a sense of pride in themselves.”  There is no official curriculum for this school, no classrooms, no syllabus, no rote-learning, no memorization-driven exams.  The teachers are the students, and the students are the teachers – quite literally, as the school is now run by graduates of the program, who do everything from managing the school to teaching.  Inherently, the school is, in Freirean terms, liberatory in nature:

More after the jump. Continue reading