World of Ideas…

17 05 2009

I was recently reading an interview of Mr. Narayana Murty on Rediff and decided to write this post. Mr. Murthy, in his interview touches upon few key aspects of today’s living – Education (Why half of India’s Engineering Graduates are not getting employed) and Politics. In one line, I 100% agree to what Mr. Murty is saying about Politics and Government – That the Government should concentrate on providing basic education, primary healthcare and create a conducive environment for living and the remaining would fall in place as and when required.

The aspects I would want to touch upon a bit more in-detail is about education and HealthCare with my experiences and exposure.

Education

I will not go deep into the primary education sector, but touch upon what the readers of this blogpost have been through. To begin with, let us look at our syllabus. Even though we are one country, every state has its own course structure and mode of delivery. Why? Is this not creating a disparity in the intellectual learning of individuals?

I graduated in 1998 in Economics and Computer Applications. At that time, Andhra University was offering this course and I was in the second batch. I was very clear that I am going to be in the IT field and hence choose this course. Most (well, almost everyone) of my school classmates took up either engineering or medicine. Hardly one or two of my classmates are currently doing what they specialized in their Engineering. A person who has specialized in Civil Engineering, is now a Java Programmer and if I continue my examples, I have many more. Why? Is it because working with computers is more lucrative or provides opportunities to work/live/travel abroad? Well, I would need to narrow down to this reason if I look at the bigger picture.

What I am saying here is not that it is wrong or one cannot do that, but what I am only trying to say is that the Investment of time, money, resources is going waste for learning what we are not going to use in our career.

Our education approach has always been to just study and get good grades. One gets 90%, then the person is very intelligent and elite, but the student is not taught on how to implement what they are studying, rather they are just told how to implement. We have a proven algorithm and we use that to solve problems. Is this correct? What we need to learn is to understand and articulate problems. If the student questions or proposes a new way of solving a problem, he/she is the most discouraged – “Do what is said, do’t try to act smart” is what is the usual reply.

As part of my job, I take campus interviews for recruiting members to our teams. Many a times, when I ask a question out of the text book, I do not get an answer, instead I get to hear that it is not part of they syllabus or it is not discussed in class or they are not aware of it. I interview Engineers from Tire B/C Engineering colleges and many(not all the time) a times I get to hear only this answer. Why? This is because, the student is not provided an opportunity to go out of their way and research on understanding the concepts. Engineering colleges are becoming like schools where text books are provided and students are just made to learn and complete their exams. Engineering needs a technical bent of mind and out-of-the-box thinking, which I personally feel is missing in most of the engineering graduates (please do not take me offensive, this is just based on my interaction with people). There are very few (you can count on fingers) students who go out of their way and learn something more than what is actually taught in the class. Let me tell you, these are the killers. They aspire and achieve what they want.

HealthCare

Again, we are one country, but there is a huge disparity in HealthCare infrastructure. Let me quote one of my favorite examples here. Let us consider Uttar Pradesh, one of the biggest states in India and Kerala, one of the smaller states.

Few key statistics:

Population: UP (190 Million) & Kerala (31 Million)

Literacy: UP (57%) & Kerala (91%)

The number of registered primary/secondary and tertiary HealthCare centers in UP is between 900-1200 and the same in Kerala is around 2,500. What a disparity? Do the numbers match at all?

Well, this is what is missing today. Many private HealthCare facilities are being setup across the country, but end of the day, they are either in Tier 1 or Tier 2 cities, where only 30% of India’s population lives.

Close to 50% of Medical graduates, graduating in Indian Medical Colleges, are going out of the country for better infrastructure to learn and practice medicine. Money is not the only reason, but most frequently, we also hear that the infrastructure does not provide opportunity for them to learn and practice. Where are we going wrong?

My above thoughts are mostly generalized. What we need today is out-of-box thinking in providing solutions to the problems.





Power of Cooperatives

1 01 2009

Last Friday, I was at a book shop and the first book I stumbled upon was I too had a dream. I was looking for any books by/on Dr. Kurian for a long time and finally found it. I just picked up the book and began reading. Today, I completed it.I have to rate this a 5 Star. An amazing narration and very well written and compiled.

I didn’t know what to name this post. First, I wanted to name it as “Malayalee.Milk & Movie” (Read the book and I am sure that you would agree with me on the title).

Well for those of you who are wondering what this book is all about, it is the amazing story of Anand Milk Union Limited (AMUL) and journey of Dr. Verghese Kurian as India’s Milk Man.If there was anything which is a box-office and smashing hit in the Indian Cooperative Movement, it is the story of AMUL. I am definitely not going into the details of the book, but would want to highlight the key aspects of the Operation Flood.

What made me read the book non-stop is how bureaucratic our country has been in accepting the Cooperative methodology. India is a country with more than 70% of the population living in the villages. Since the independence, we have had many Government’s which came and went and also we saw a lot of development in many areas of life. In fact, I would not hesitate to say that no other country has come this far in the first 60 Years of Independence (comparing to countries which have been ruled by some other nation). However, there is a long way to go.

During the course of this book, Dr. Kurian emphasizes the importance of making farmers responsible for their produce, marketing and returns. What this simply means is giving the ownership and the Government playing the role of ensuring appropriate avenues are available. Well, to be very honest, this is the most difficult thing which any country can achieve. But, Dr. Kurian proved that with commitment and dedication we can definitely achieve this. What you need is the Will and the Belief in your dream.

I personally understood one aspect – The Primer Minister’s are people with a dream, and believe me, only people with that commitment get to the position (there are definitely exceptions too). In this book, Dr. Kurian writes about his personal interaction with almost all Prime Ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru to P V Narasimha Rao (after which Dr. Kurian retired). The key aspect is the team which surrounds this super power of our Country.

If you are an aspiring Entrepreneur/Social Entrepreneur, I highly recommend you reading this book.

Also, in this book, Dr. Kurian jumps deep into how Operation Flood, one of India’s most successful cooperative project came into existance and how long it took for them to succeed.





Social Entrepreneurs in India – Part 1

21 12 2008

I was searching for a central repository of Social Entrepreneurs in India to understand various social concerns which are being addressed. Unfortunately, when I searched for the above text “Social Entrepreneurs in India”, I could not get the relevent links, except for one link which gives me a simple, small list on Wikipedia.

I decided to make a central repository of all Social Entrepreneurs and Enterprises in the country and highlight their work and dedication. I started with Ashoka list which is available on their site and compiled a list of 247 Ashoka Fellows. I do not want to put up the list here, but want to highlight the area’s in which they are working:

FieldOfWork-AshokaFellows





Interesting OpenSource Sites

16 11 2008

Over the period of time, organizations have evolved and changed the way they played the game. Once upon a time, organizations were masters in what they produced and most of the time played their cards well. With the growth of Internet, organizations have not only capitalized the advantages, but also working day and night to grow along with their competition.

One fine day, Sony and BMG, the leading music company woke up just to see how MP3 (a particular compression technology for music tracks) shook the roots of their empires. They knew all about the technology, but were over confident that their homes were the safest places and over-looked how the new technology was building its strength under their own homes. When they realized, they cried foul, but it was too late.

IBM was struggling with its server software, which was not a huge success in the then market. Intelligently, it was following the success of Linux and Apache, the open source Web server software. IBM did not give up on any of its hopes and understood the rules of the “Open Source” game. It quickly acted and came into an agreement with Apache and soon, IBM’s server hardware was rolling out with Apache running on Linux. IBM has dedicated teams that Contribute to Linux and Apache. An intelligent move that only bettered IBM’s market place rather than hampering it.

When the concept of Open Source initially came out, many organizations did not pay serious attention. How can people around the world write software when it is not controlled or checked by anyone?  This is an Interesting question, which cannot be answered in a line or two.

Over the series of my posts, we will discuss and share ideas on how Open Source will be the major contributor to tomorrow’s world.

Let me begin by listing few web organizations, which are built around interesting and innovative ideas.

Taking IT Global – Taking IT Global is a not-for-profit organization bringing people together to share and work on projects that are beneficial to the world. The idea revolves around people in the community listing their ideas and projects and community members come together to support and work on the projects.

SpikeSource – You have been using open source software. The key element is that the code changes every minute and new functionality keeps on getting added. How can you manage these changes? Spike Source is an open-source source code integrator. This integrator runs periodically and runs through various open source code, test and integrate the same to your base code. Sounds interesting? Try it out?

43Things – A Social Networking site with a difference. List your professional / personal goals, search for people with similar aspirations and work together. Also, you can keep updating your goals with the progress and get encouragement from your peer members.

InnoCentive – The most interesting site I came across. This is a web based innovation center. Organizations / people list their problem for which they are looking for solution and if you are a master in the subject, feel free to solve the problem. There are many chances you are paid if you provide the most innovative solution and also, you are a celeb 🙂 

NineSigma, InnovationXChange Network, Eureka Medical, YourEncore and Innovation Relay Centers are quite similar to InnoCentive. 

I really like the TakingITGlobal and Innocentive. Over the period of time, I will deep dive into OpenSource in various fields concentrating on HealthCare and Social Innovations





Banking on Social Change – Seeking Financial Solutions for All

16 11 2008

I am a bit late in writing about this project, but this is an initiative from ChangeMakers, an organization associated with Ashoka for providing Social and Financial Security for the rural poor. 

The competition is being supported by the Citi Group and there is a cash award of $5000 for the winning team/innovation. 

There have been around 280 entries from 43 countries who have sent their innovation and the panel selected 13 entries to the finals. Now, you can make a difference by voting for the best entries you think are the best innovations. 

Here are the final 13, out of which 3 are from India 🙂

1. Free Social Security to Disadvantaged and Rural Population, OASiS.

2. A Holistic approach to micro-insurance – Breaking the cycle of illness and debt, Healing Fields Foundation. 

3. Sampoorna Suraksha – Social Security for all occasions, Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project. 

You need to register with ChangeMakers first as a user and then you need to caste your vote. All project information and the implementation model is described in detail in the respective nomination description pages. 

Be a Change Maker and vote for the idea which you believe is the best and support the organizations dedicated to change the way we live.





Microplace

9 01 2008

Microfinance is a very popular term and it has become a very lucrative business for many organizations. However, there is a lot of difference between banking institutions having a microfinancing arm and an NGO working towards providing micro loans to people below the poverty line. There have been innumerable discussions on this topic and the whole practice depends on how it is utilized.
On one hand, providing micro-loans to people below the poverty line in groups, provides an opportunity for them to build up their livelihood instead of depending on bank loans (which for various reasons are more tough to get) and on the other side, there have been questions and debates on the interest rates which are being charged.
I am working on a white paper based on my understanding and will publish this soon.
Many major organizations are venturing into this business and e-Bay has recently launched their microfinance arm – MicroPlace. MicroPlace is an organization which has tie-up’s with other NGO’s who work at the grass root level to provide loans. Users can invest in MicroPlace and then the money is provided to organizations for the kind of investment the user chooses. The user has access to all profiles / organizations which are listed on the site and looking for any kind of investment and decide as to where his/her money goes. The most lucrative aspect of microfinancing is that the repayment rate is close to or more than 98% most of the time.





Social Entrepreneur of Year 2007

31 12 2007

The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation and The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in collaboration with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Confederation of India Industry (CII) give away the “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” award every year. This award is decided by nominations received from across the country. This award carries the title of “Khemka Fellow” and Rs.8,00,000 (Eight Lakhs / Eight Hundred Thousand Indian Rupees).

Nominations for this award for 2007

Harish Hande, SELCO
Climate Change, Rural Financing, Base of Pyramid Economics, Alternative Energy.
SELCO provides solar electrification solutions to the rural people in India. Around 57% of India population do not have access to electricity adding to unreliable power supply. SELCO provides solar electricity to people below the poverty line through a combination of customized home lighting, innovative doorstep financing and understanding the market need. SELCO has reached around 80,000 clients in Karnataka and Kerala and now working with people in Gujarat.

Rajendra Joshi, Saath
Public Private Partnerships, Base of Pyramid Economics, Urban Issues, Livelihood
Unplanned/Unprecedented migration is a major problem in various parts of the world and India being no different. In Ahmedabad alone, almost 40% of the city’s residents live in slums without access to basic amenities. Among this population, only 1 in 5 have private bathrooms (latrines) and only 1 in 4 have access to HealthCare and more than 50% rely on in-formal livelihood.
Saath works with Private and Government organization is creating an affordable cost model where people in these areas are not evicted and a small amount is charged for providing with amenities like roads, water, sanitation, lights etc. Saath then worked with private electric company and government to bring out charges which is a third of actual cost to get electricity and provided this to the people in slums. The companies realized a 30% increase in revenue and also the government has benefited with the tax paid. In total, Saath has worked with more than 70,000 families in Ahmedabad including 10,000 people through Slum Networking Project and 40,000 households through Urban Resource Centers.

Pravin Mahajan, Janarth
Education, Migration Issues, Labor
There are more than 30 Million (30 Lakhs) children who are taken out of school as their parents migrate in India.
Pravi has worked in creating education opportunities for these children by creating hostels for children who’s parents migrate for work and also Shakharshalas or the on-site schools for children who go along with their parents. These schools are accredited by the government and ensure that students from Shakharshalas are re-admitted into regular schools at any time. Janarth has reached around 10,000 children and proved its quality in education and also is working with Government of Maharashtra to have these schools in every district through out the state.

Chetna Gala Sinha, Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd.
Rural Development, Livelihood Development, Banking

The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd(MDMSB) and Mann Vikas Samajik Sanstha (MVSS) together develop systems that rural women need to evolve as successful entrepreneurs and build financial assets. Chetna has established the first Indian rural all women bank through equity within tribal women and also the bank runs by all rural women. The bank works in creating products from their client perspective such as micro-pensions and customized health insurance schemes. MDMSB and MVSS have collectively reached around 58,000 women in five districts of Maharashtra. Expansion plans include states of Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

The WINNER
The Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 has been awarded to Mr.Harish Hande of SELCO.

Hope to see more nominations and more finalists in the coming years.

You are read more about the above nominations at http://www.schwabfound.org/india/.