Spinning Electricity With An E-Charkha

Followers of Mahatma Gandhi are familiar with the charkha, a spinning wheel that produces a type of cotton known as khadi. A new twist on this old tool is that it can also be used to generate electricity, as an article in The Hindu describes its use near Jaipur:

In a few villages near here, Charkha, promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol of self-reliance and source of income for the rural population, has started doubling as a virtual micro-power plant in each poor household.

e-charkha — an improvised version of Ambar charkha, designed by Gandhian Ekambar Nath — does not resemble a typical charkha but can be operated by hand. A battery is attached to the e-charkha, which stores the electricity generated when it is being run. Two hours of operation is enough to light up the specially-designed LED light fitted to the e-charkha for eight hours.

A great way to continue an independent source of income, while producing electricity at the same time.

Petty Corruption not petty to those already suffering

One third of people living below poverty line in India paid bribes to access healthcare, education and water among other basic facilities, says a new study which also dubs the police force as the most corrupt among the services surveyed.

This is from an article in The Hindu. Some academics have argued that in the larger scope of things corruption on this level (aka petty corruption — hand to hand bribes) while inefficient is not necessarily a negative occurrence as it enables individuals to gain access to services they otherwise would be unable to receive.

Yet one must ask how such practices are not damaging when those already below the poverty line must fork up a significant portion of their already meager incomes to obtain basic necessities?

Helping to improve the Jaipur Foot: MIT’s M-Lab

We had mentioned earlier in this space about the Jaipur Foot Organization, which has helped millions of patients in India and around as the world’s largest provider of low-cost prosthetic devices. We had also mentioned the initiative by a group of MIT students helping to improve the Jaipur Foot design and also to reduce production costs, making the technology even more accessible.

The Hindu today ran a feature on M-Lab, short for Mobility Lab, housed within MIT, whose students were behind the above mentioned innovation. The article also highlights other interesting initiatives undertaken within the M-Lab and profiles its founder Amy Smith, who is also a MacArthur Genius Grantee. Below is an excerpt:

The M-lab mantra is simple: cleverly designed, locally made mobility devices can help the physically challenged get around and do more – not become charity cases. This semester, students made prototypes of wheelchair attachments: a tow-cart to haul medium-size loads, a small fold-out table to display products at the market or, in the case of schoolchildren, the ability to do homework sitting upright.

[Photo courtesy: The Hindu]

Update: I found this interesting TED talk by Amy Smith. Check it out!

Maximizing efficiency in Microfinance: Interview with Equitas founder

The Hindu just published a great interview with Mr P.N. Vasudevan of Equitas Micro Finance, a start-up MFI based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Vasudevan is an interesting entrepreneur, having spent 20 years in the traditional banking industry working with Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Co Ltd and Development Credit Bank. Reading the interview, its easy to see that he brings a lot of that financial acumen into the microfinance sector, especially in running Equitas:

We have put in place the best software available for MFIs and were the first MFI in the country to start business after the full IT system was in place. Internet-enabled software, combined with centralised processing, ensures that all backend operations are done at the HO, leading to higher efficiencies and also releasing the branch staff fully for customer-facing activities, thus enhancing their productivity.Typical cost of delivering a rupee is about one paisa; and, for collecting, it costs about 8 paise currently. Though we are already the most efficient in our operations, the challenge will be to continuously keep raising the bar on productivity and efficiency and scale up to absorb the cost better

On the same note, here is a SocialEdge interview with Mr. Vasudevan.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how quickly Equitas can grow. Clearly, the competition in the Indian MFI space is growing, and thats never a bad thing for the BOP consumer!

Show us what you can do ArcelorMittal

The Hindu reports that AcerlorMittal, the worlds largest steel company has promised to spend US$ 500 million on CSR initiatives focussed on Jharkhand and Orissa. Its no coincidence that the company has multiple project sites within these states.

Lakshmi Niwas Mittal-promoted world’s biggest steel company has announced two steel projects in Jharkhand and Orissa of 12 million tonnes capacity at a total cost of about Rs 80,000 crore. “We will spend about 500 million dollars in Orissa and Jharkhand to achieve an appropriate balance between the Corporate Responsibility (CR) and the growth in business operations,” ArcelorMittal Vice President Remi Boyer said

By the way, Orissa and Jharkhand are two of the poorest states in the country. Half a billion dollars, if spent wisely could really improves that lives of people in these states.

India’s first Social Investment Management Firm

Philanthropic giving in India is probably still in its early stages. However, given the recent economic boom, there is significant amount of wealth being generated and giving back becomes a priority. The Interface, is a Chennai based organization, which refers to itself as a ‘Social Investment Manager’:

We are dedicated Social Investment Managers who help redefine your
reach. Our core competencies are to identify meaningful social causes
that need your support, profile them for you , help you build a portfolio, and, offer end-to-end tracking of your investment. That’s not all. We also ensure your support makes a measurable difference to the socially and economically deprived

Cutting through the jargon, Interface is an innovation in the philanthropic landscape of the country. Although its early stages, it would be good to see some serious impact in the next few years in terms of planned and advised giving. The firm till date has managed Rs. 300,000 of investments. Thats clearly a drop in the ocean.

[via The Hindu]