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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.



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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Global Voices Online has announced the first five citizen media outreach projects to receive Rising Voices microgrants.

"The overwhelming response is a testament to the global enthusiasm for citizen media that stretches from Southern Chile to rural Nigeria, from a village in Mali without electricity to urban Mongolia; from an orphanage in Ethiopia to a center for disabled HIV/AIDS patients in Kenya. The list goes on and on, but what all of the project proposals have in common is a desire to enable their communities to tell their own stories, to write their own first draft of history, to document their traditions and culture before they are washed away by the tides of globalization."

Congratulations to all those receiving the grant - I really believe this is a huge step for blogging outreach programmes!


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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Indian Express reports that a couple of Israeli geeks have set up a low-cost wi-fi network in Dharamshala, spread over 70 acres, more than 7,000 ft above sea level.

"Thirty-eight-year old David's technological expertise and perhaps even nimble athleticism (courtesy his Mossad training) proved useful in setting up the network in the mountainous terrain. Antennae were erected in the most unlikely places (in one case the tower was painted with the insignia 'Om' and served as the spire of a local temple), the Linksys routers were re-engineered to make them power-efficient(most of them run on solar energy) and the towers were made "monkey resistant" after it was found that the primates found perverse pleasure in dangling from them.

Other "sabotage" bids were similarly thwarted. There was one last year in the form of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDSA) on the website of the Tibetan Technology Centre. Says Ginguld: "It is difficult to pinpoint who did it but it started after an extensive series of scans which happened somewhere in China. The same URLs were loaded to access the database repeatedly..." In a written reply to The Sunday Express, the Chinese Embassy said it was "unaware of any such thing".

Schools, hospitals and other NGOs have benefited immensely from the service, though the network's limited bandwidth means it is not accessible to individuals and laptop-carrying tourists. Says Dawa Tsering of the Tibetan Medical Institute: "Our earlier connection would break down frequently and wouldnít be repaired for long durations. The connectivity now is more or less uninterrupted." While the vision of BPO centres coming up in the region might be a bit too romantic, the network is being used to promote trade. Dolma Kyap of Norbulingka Art Institute says they offer Tibetan art works like Thangka painting and statutes for sale on the Net. But what Ginguld is particularly thrilled by is the sight of children using the network. "Computer labs in Indian schools have lots of computers but no internet connection, which is akin to having a sleek car without petrol. Today when I see 10-year-olds logging on to sites like hi5, chatting with people, I realise we are on the right path," he says."

Cool!



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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Found at the Fast Company Blog: IFC, a World Bank Group organisation, and World Resources Institute has an interesting report - The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid. Some facts from their Executive Summary:

Four billion people form the base of the economic pyramid (BOP) -- those with annual incomes below $3,000 (in local purchasing power).

The BOP makes up 72 percent of the 5,575 million people recorded by available national household surveys worldwide and an overwhelming majority of the population in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean -- home to nearly all the BOP.

This large segment of humanity faces significant unmet needs and lives in relative poverty: in current U.S. dollars their incomes are less than $3.35 a day in Brazil, $2.11 in China, $1.89 in Ghana, and $1.56 in India.

Yet together they have substantial purchasing power: the BOP constitutes a $5 trillion global consumer market.

From the Press release:

"In its geographic analysis, The Next 4 Billion finds that the Asian BOP market (including the Middle East) is by far the largest, with 2.86 billion people and a total income of $3.47 trillion, constituting 83% of the region's total population and 42% of the its aggregate purchasing power."

BOP populations across countries:

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More countries covered here.

Income vs expenditure for India in this BOP market:

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This shows huge market potential .. probably larger than ever thought before, and really undeserved by businesses. C.K.Prahalad must feel vindicated!



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Saturday, October 14, 2006

I was delighted to read that Dr. Muhammed Yunus has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006 for Grameen Bank - some say he is an economist and should have been nominated in that category .. I can't help feeling this one is really appropriate because:

"Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life. Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development." The Norwegian Nobel Committee

"Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below serves to advance democracy and human rights." Ole Danbolt Mjoes, director of the Nobel committee. [via Washington Post]

A picture named credit_money.jpgHis model is being followed in India as well ... and the proliferation of Self-Help-Groups (SHG's), typically groups of women who are given access to microcredit to start a small business, has the potential to empower women by enabling them to make economic decisions and help increase family income. [Image from Lifeonline]. Access to credit can be a great catalyst in enhancing the socio-economic conditions of the poor. Where earlier, they were considered 'outsiders' in the world of banking, as they had no collateral, they are now 'bankworthy'.

"In one village in Nellore District, for example, women have acquired land titles in their names and taken Rs.180,000 as loans towards construction of their houses. They have said that they will not tolerate wife-beating and have forced their husbands to stop drinking alcohol. The longest-standing group in the village has rotated the revolving fund 25 times and also has a savings deposit of Rs.30,000 in the bank. In another village, a group has saved Rs.800,000. In total, the women of the district have mobilized savings of Rs.60 million.

The women have used the revolving funds for productive activities, emergency consumption, health needs, marriages and children's education. The Total Literacy Campaign launched in the district in 1991 has brought education and information, with the savings groups becoming important centres for disseminating information on health, education, water and sanitation. There are visible changes in the health and nutrition of women and their children. Women have identified sanitation as a major problem and are exploring possibilities of financing sanitation improvements, with matching funds from the Government. Women in the credit groups have a positive self-image, recognize their own health needs better and find themselves consulted by men, who realize that credit and information can be accessed through the women's savings groups."

More reactions, links and resources about the Prize, Grameen Movement and Microcredit:

Economist wins Nobel Peace Prize: "The winner is Muhammad Yunus, economist (!) and founder of the micro-credit movement, along with his Grameen Bank. Here is the story. Here is his Wikipedia entry. Here is my New York Times column on micro-credit. Here is the best piece on what we know about micro-credit. Here is Yunus's book on micro-credit, which also serves as a memoir and autobiography. It is a captivating and well-written story."

From the BlogHer blog: "You can learn more about the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus watching The New Heroes, a PBS series that profiles 14 social entrepreneurs and is available on DVD, by reading Yunus' memoir, Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty, or watching this video by the Grameen Foundation USA on YouTube"

The Fast Company Blog : "A simple business plan based on the concept of microcredit just won Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus the Nobel Peace Prize. Yunus was awarded the prize today for the bank he founded, the Grameen Bank, which provides average loans of only $200.
A pioneer in the use of such small loans, Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in an effort to help poor Bangladeshis who didnít qualify for bank loans. At the Grameen Bank, no collateral or credit history is needed, and individuals who take out loans are held to a simple standard: the honor system. As a result, anyone and everyone qualifies for a loan. A scary prospect to consider if youíre the lender. But amazingly, the bank has a 99 percent repayment rate, which is attributed to the method of lending through social responsibility. Loans are given to individuals in groups of five. Initiall, two of the five group members are given a loan, and only after they repay the loan in full are the three remaining borrowers eligible for funds. An amazing 97 percent of Grameen Bank's 6.6. million borrowers are women who need start-up capital for their own handmade crafts. An estimated 17 million individuals have received $5.72 billion in loans since the Grameen Bank's inception."

From the Bangladeshi Blogosphere: "People are delighted over at the Bangla blogging platform "Bandh Bhanger Awaaj". Drishtipat has news, pictures and more links to texts and videos on Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank. Mudhpud Chickness says Dr. Yunus has put Bangladesh on the map. The South Asia Biz says "Today is a great day for Bangladesh." Tanvir says: "I hope that this success will allow the Bangladeshis to dream big and lead the country to prosperity." Atunu says "Finally, a deserving Bangalee wins the Nobel Prize". Shahidul Alam of Drik posts an wonderful tribute to Dr. Yunus." [via Global Voices Online]

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Andy Carvin sums it up: "Perhaps what's most exciting about this Nobel selection is that the people of Bangladesh can rightfully claim that they as individuals have won a share of the Peace Prize. Approximately 94% of the bank is owned by its 6.6 million borrowers - the farmers, the women entrepreneurs, the beggars - while the remaining six percent is owned by the government of Bangladesh, which of course represents the people. No matter how you slice it, this years Peace Prize has been rewarded to the Bangladeshis themselves. Muhammad Yunus may be the one standing in Oslo this December - and rightfully so - but he will be standing on the shoulders of millions of Bangladeshi citizens, each of whom must be swelling with joy this day."

[Image from PBS's The New Heroes Series on Muhammed Yunus.]

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Sunday, October 8, 2006

Much as I hate the politics of the government running Gujarat, it was interesting to read this article in The Sunday Express this morning - Gujarat cracks BPL (below-poverty-line) code, finds way to reach the poor directly.

The creation of a database of people Below-Poverty-Line has been created .. as a result its hands off for any interference from politicians and local authorities. Couldn't find a link to the database .. does anyone know the url? The list of schemes covered is here.

From the article:

"Thanks to a new delivery system developed by the Gujarat Rural Development Department, schemes meant for BPL and poor families are now reaching the people they are meant for. "From treating the schemes as 'quotas' or 'numbers', we are giving them 'faces'. And the faces belong to the poorest," Vipul Mitra, secretary rural development, says.

"Now, instead of the beneficiaries running from pillar to post to get the benefits, the taluka development officers go in search of them. That is because the system has already generated a list, identified the names of the most needy, with their addresses. The TDO has to go find them and give what is due to them," says Mitra. In the process, ministers, MLAs, local politicians, panchayat presidents and sarpanchs have been eliminated from the system."

On the database:

"The database is on the web and almost all districts and talukas of Gujarat now have access to the Internet. The State-Level Bankers Committee which has 5,000 branches of various banks has already adopted the system, using it to disburse government co-sponsored loans for both farm and non-farm activity. J M Patel, chief manager of State-level Bankers committee (SLBC), Gujarat, says: "It is a very realistic database that is 85 to 95 per cent correct."

Over three years, 68.65 lakh rural households in the 18,000 villages of Gujarat were surveyed by enumerators who gathered details of families without revealing the motive. Then, using a selection criteria of 13 parameters prepared by the Planning Commission and using a methodology decided by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the households were graded.

Earlier, BPL lists were prepared using income as the main criteria. The Gujarat Government added more parameters to make it more comprehensive_average availability of normal clothing, two square meals a day, type of house, status of household labour force, type of indebtedness etc.

As per the 16-point parameters, families were graded_ a score of 16 points or less: very poor, 17 to 20: poor. When the list was finally ready this July, the Gujarat Government had a ready reckoner at hand: 18,706 households scored 5 or less (poorest of the poor), 1,73,388 households scored 10 or less, 8,50,413 households scored 15 or less and 10,93,534 scored 16 or less."

On how it can be free from political pressure:

"But complaints have started pouring in. An MLA who sent 200 applications of his supporters demanding benefits complained that only three persons he recommended were in the list of BPL or poor families. "He claimed our list is incorrect,í" says D M Baria, of Dangs DRDA. "But now we donít have to bend over backwards under political pressure. Whenever a politician calls me to recommend, I just show the list," he says."

Giving out money is hard. Money is power. It breeds corruption. It is why so many aid programmes fail. I hope this database ensures that the money goes to the right people. I hope.



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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rediff News has this article on the Honey Bee Network which is focussed on creativity and innovation at the grassroots level.

"A bicycle that can peddle both on water and the road, a motorcycle used to pump out water from deep wells and a cellphone that can switch on electrical appliances within a specific radius! Self-taught mechanics in India are pioneering these and many more. With such inventions, self-taught mechanics or villagers with little or no formal education to their credit are transforming the limited opportunities available to them in remote and rural areas, say experts."Formal and informal science can be linked to create new innovations and transform the opportunities available in rural India," says Anil Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, who has taken upon himself to collect and collate such traditional information scattered all over the country under his Honey Bee network."

You can search their innovation database for more grassroots innovations.

Om Malik makes a point about how technology cannot be an end in itself, in response to the media blitz around Nicholas Negroponte's 100-dollar laptop and the news item that a small village in India got itself a website.

"One gets fairly fed-up reading articles that tout such trivial things like getting a Web site as this great signpost of development or that (falsely) show technology as being the great equalizer and an end in itself. And at the risk of being considered partisan ó towards the Indian bureaucracy, Bill Gates and Intel all rolled into one ó I hold even Nicholas Negroponteís ìOne Laptop per Childî (OLPC) initiative guilty of overemphasizing technology as an end in itself. What is a kid who goes to a school with rampant teacher absenteeism, no infrastructure to speak of ñlike desks, fans or electricity to run those fans ñgoing to do with a laptop?"

And Atanu Dey has a requiem for the One Laptop Per Child project in India [link via Ethan] where he says:

"Spending a few hundred million dollars will help some children, and also enrich the manufacturers of the laptops (Chinese manufacturing), and all the middle-layers that will be invovled in the selling, maintenance, and support. Compare that to the alternative use of the same money.

Tens of millions of children donít go to school, and of the many who do, they end up in schools that lack blackboards and in some cases even chalk. Government schoolsóespecially in rural areasóare plagued with teacher absenteeism. The schools lack even the most rudimentary of facilities such as toilets (the lack of which is a major barrier to girl children.) Attention and funds need to be directed to those issues first before one starts buying laptops by the millions."

I think grassroots innovations are great when entry barriers to using them are low, and they tap real and relevant human needs that are culturally relevant and economically viable. Moreover, in the case of the Hansdehar website, its an experiment I'd love to follow, and see what transformations it makes in the lives of the villagers, whether it really gets picked up by other villages as a tool to better their lives, whether villages then will form communities and interact with each other in a manner that brings about social and economic change.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Just discovered Hole-in-the-Wall Education.
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"Forget about the $100 laptop- how about free?

Free access to computers is what Sugata Mitra, physicist and chief scientist with India's international software giant NIIT Ltd. wants for India's 200 million children. That's why he started an Internet learning experiment called Hole-in-the-Wall, where he embedded a kiosk housing high-speed touch-screen computers into the wall that separates the company's headquarters from New Delhi's biggest slum, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

A picture named hitw.jpgThat was in 1999 and since then Mitra has installed more then 150 computers - with keyboards, touch pads, and Web cameras - in some 50 locations from New Delhi slums to points in rural India.

Mitra hopes that widespread implementation of these kiosks could bring India's poorest group of children into the digital age. It's amazing how quickly the children pick up the skills they need to operate and learn from computers, Mitra says. Within nine months, the boys and girls achieve, "the proficiency level equivalent to the skills of most modern office workers." ZDNet Education

Pictures are from the hiwel website and here's a detailed interview with Dr Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist, at India's National Institute of Information Technology.



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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

A picture named raghavstation203.jpgBBC News has an interesting report on an enterprising villager who has set up a private FM channel at a cost of less than $1. From the report :

"On a balmy morning in India's northern state of Bihar, young Raghav Mahato gets ready to fire up his home-grown FM radio station. Thousands of villagers, living in a 20km (12 miles) radius of Raghav's small repair shop and radio station in Mansoorpur village in Vaishali district, tune their $5 radio sets to catch their favourite station. ....."

"Good morning! Welcome to Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1! Now listen to your favourite songs," announces anchor and friend Sambhu into a sellotape-plastered microphone surrounded by racks of local music tapes......
............ For the next 12 hours, Raghav Mahato's outback FM radio station plays films songs and broadcasts public interest messages on HIV and polio, and even snappy local news, including alerts on missing children and the opening of local shops."

It was a perfect idea. In impoverished Bihar state, where many areas lack power supplies, the cheap battery-powered transistor remains the most popular source of entertainment. "It took a long time to come up with the idea and make the kit which could transmit my programmes at a fixed radio frequency. The kit cost me 50 rupees (just over $1)," says Raghav. The transmission kit is fitted on to an antenna attached to a bamboo pole on a neighbouring three-storey hospital. A long wire connects the contraption to a creaky, old homemade stereo cassette player in Raghav's radio shack. Three other rusty, locally made battery-powered tape recorders are connected to it with colourful wires and a cordless microphone.

"Since there's no phone-in facility, people send their requests for songs through couriers carrying handwritten messages and phone calls to a neighbouring public telephone office."

Ingenious indeed. Although illegal, the report says it has become a source of pride for the villagers.

[link via ContentSutra, image courtesy BBC News]



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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I came in a little late into this session, so missed the moderator's opening comments. Moderator is Ajit Balakrishnan MD and CEO, rediff.com. Panelists :
  • Captain G R Gopinath, MD, Air Deccan
  • Madhivanan B, GM, Retail Assets Products Group, ICICI Bank
  • Sanjeev Bikchandani, CEO, Naukri.com
  • Amitabh Pandey, Group General Manager (IT Services), IRCTC
  • Sanjay Trehan, Head Broadband, Times Internet Ltd
  • Sunil Buch, Head of Marketing, Reliance Web World
  • Lav Gupta, DDG Broadband, BSNL*
  • Anupam Mittal, Chairman & CEO, People Interactive (I) Pvt. Limited

Lav Gupta - BSNL

What justifies multi-crore investments in broadband? VOIP does not really require broadband. For indiv users, the experience of browsing doesnít improve much with broadband. Egovernance, telemedicine, distance learning don't really need it so.

Then why are we building it ??? Because we are moving to video applications - IP video, network PVR etc. Voice profit is shrinking in telcos worldwide, new long term revenue streams needed, converged network offerings with data and video are being offered.

We're still at the bottom of the learning curve. Tech phase to business phase, have we even really sorted out the tech phase? Lots of gaps still in the tech phase. Business phase - what does the customer want? We need to deliver services that the customer is willing to pay for.

If all pieces sorted out - in both the tech and business aspects, it is predicted that India will have 26 mn broadband video customers by 2008.

Content owners need wider market, service providers need new streams of revenue, government needs ways to promote eco devt, customer wants more applications, ease in use.

Amitabh Pandey - IRCTC

Ecommerce in India today is a rocking business, it is real, it is profitable. They started railway ticketing on the internet - between 2003 and 2005 increase was 76% in ticket sales, and 99% increase from 2005 onwards.

The industry now needs to come forth and offer value to customers. What's needed to grow is greater connectivity, broadband - the better the customer experience the greater the reliability, the greater the profits. We also need more payment options - people fear cybercrime. Ends with an interesting observation - the learning period seems to be 19 months, growth very slow until then, then it takes off. Does your business also take 19 months?

Sunil Buch - Reliance Web World

We believe broadband is the future and it is here. India will have to RAP which is --- Retail Access Points will continue to deliver significantly to access percentages. Broadband has to be fair. Want our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters to safely roam the digital highway. 105 cities with 240 reliance webworld digital destinations exist. The future is in gaming which is the 6th genre of entertainment, distance education will be a reality

Sanjeev Bikchandani - Naukri.com

Missed a little but he seemed to suggest that unless we get out of the English trap and get into the vernacular, the internet will never really become mass in India.

Sanjay Trehan - Times Internet

Raises the issue of what is broadband ?/?? Is 256 kbps broadband ? Japan in comparison has 100 mbps, Sweden 1 GB.

How can we have on-demand media or gaming when our broadband is at 256 Kbps? The larger broadband revolution took off because of entertainment and media industries - not just the mobile ones. Access is not an issue, technology is pervasive but we need compelling content. Another issue - how do we make money out of it ? What business models?

Challenges - intellectual property rights, DRM.

Madhivanan - ICICI Bank

They are constantly exploring how the bank can look at new markets - new technologies, new markets. We see ourselves as facilitators of an eco-system that offers security and convenience to help entrepreneurs re-invent how payments are made.

Broadband access at 256 kbps may well be enough as long as it is always on. Can we leapfrog into a system where the internet can enable customers to access service and access banking? How can the bank facilitate this - by taking a PC into the home. It can become an alternative to landline - it can alter how he behaves - the customer now can use mobile devices as his payment device.

Anupam Mittal - shaadi.com


How does one go about understanding broadband growth - and what applications and business models to apply - there are more questions than answers in the Indian scenario.There will be indigenous applications specific to India (eg. Gaming in Korea). The answer is not in putting up a lot of Bollywood content alone. We need customer segmentation, it is then easier to come up with business models and applications that cater to them. Also, broadband is not video but a lot of different things -how do you assess whether it makes sense to do something or not. 4 parameters :


  1. type of content - video, data, voice etc
  2. type of interaction with content - embedded code, virtual tours become reality
  3. latency of content
  4. always-on world becomes possible - so you can deliver the content to anybody anywhere
Q&A

Should we be pushing for higher speeds on broadband, or look at always-on instead? Some form of standardization may be useful - a basic minimum speed and democratizing it may be the way out. Need efficiency available to as many people as possible.

How can we encourage cybercafe proliferation ? shaadi.com has assisted cybercafes for instance on the ground and they are doing so well.





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Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe


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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hemant just told me a little anecdote that made me smile and despair at the same time. Smile because I've experienced much the same and despair because it begs the question of who is literate in our country, and how many.

There was a discussion today among senior market research industry heads around definitions of literacy, socio-economic status, affluence etc. The Government of India in its Census reports defines literacy very loosely (see page 11 of this PDF document), in some cases translating into the ability to sign your name, while the marketing research industry defines it as the ability to read, with understanding (which is possibly ambiguous in its stringent definition!!!). The government uses one definition for projecting it's success in social development, while market research reports are used by advertisers who pour in huge amounts of money to fund publications.

They were trying to explain this difference to a client, who didn't quite know how to resolve this difference - and wanted to essentially figure what is the bang for his bucks. But he just wasn't able to grasp it (I don't blame him!). After trying all the technically 'correct' angles to this issue, Hemant says he threw his hands up in the air, and a senior industry leader took it upon himself to explain it - and was tremendously successful at it.

This is the gist of what he said (he needed 15 minutes to get his point through). He has a maid who has been with him for over 10 years now - everytime she takes an advance of even as little as Rs. 10 (less than 25 cents - USD), and this happens every other day, he makes her sign a receipt which is like an IOU. She signs it in perfect English although she can't read or write anything else in English or in any other language. And everytime she irritates him, he gives her a piece of his mind in the Queen's English, she is completely impervious to it, stares back blankly and goes back to doing just the thing that he was berating her about.

Is she literate .... or not .. or just very smart? What do you think?



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Sunday, October 23, 2005


All my notes from Pop!Tech 2005 are on this page. I will share reflections on my take-out from this conference later.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005


Solar Women engineers in Tilonia, India? Not much needs said about Bunker Roy's Barefoot College - except that he makes me proud to be Indian. 

He ends with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi : "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Testing ... i think my blog is back :).

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Santosh Desai, president, McCann-Erickson India, in an article called The Vanishing Village, for the Economic Times talks about how the notion of rural India has undergone a change, in its representation in films and advertising today. His perspectives on emergent views of villages as represented in cinema and television - and his conclusion that the village is an image we consume in our cities resonated with me.

"The village today has no voice of its own-all three discourses outlined above are all perspectives that are urban in origin. The village is an image that we consume in our cities. Our reactions differ depending on the meaning we want to extract from the idea of the village- be it fear, nostalgia or interventionist zeal. Overall then this is the Age of the City. Our reference point is Chicago and not Chikmagalur. From this vantage point, rural India is another planet with which we have at best a dim affinity. Bollywood has little patience with rural India; it no longer provides any material for fantasy."

Mr. Desai says that representations of Rural India follow one of three distinct discourses.

"- The first is of the village as the headquarter of primitive passions; a place where politicians run kingdoms and policemen gouge out eyes. The village is no longer a location but an indictment; it is today a projection of urban fears about a powerful but thankfully distant other. In other words, in our minds all of rural India has become equal to Bihar. A place where people in Laloo accents create muscled mayhem only to have their eyes gouged out occasionally by policemen in idealistic rage.

- The second discourse is that of the village seen through the nostalgia-tinted lenses of the NRI. This is the village of the zamindaars with photogenic mustard fields swaying in synchronised grandeur. The village becomes the seat of hallowed memory and is aggrandised in retrospect. Films like DDLJ, Pardes, Pyaar to Hona Hi Tha all celebrated the notion of families wrapped up in abundant fertility that overcame the potentially disruptive forces of modernity. The NRI village reeks of desi ghee not cow dung and prefers havelis to hovels.

- A third and emergent view of the village is as a project that needs urgent attention. Shah Rukh Khan in Swades typifies this new sense of the village that can be saved by the objective forces of science. It marks a new depiction of rural India as seen from the eyes of the city. The village is made to value all that the city does. Technology is seen as the change agent that can transform the village into a version of the city. This theme is echoed in highly innovative e-choupal initiative launched by ITC; the advertising shows a farmer leapfrogging into an entirely new world, leaving all the problems of the village well and truly behind."

I wonder what discourses or stereotypes the virtually-blind postmaster I met in a village recently has of urban India!!

While technology can transform the lives of many villagers, there are those without even the most basic amenities like electricity, water, roads and healthcare feel about these stereotypes (or discourses). In my more recent visits to villages upcountry, I saw cow dung still forming the basis of many village home structures and for cooking fuel. Ash is still used by many to clean utensils.

Still, talk to villagers and many say that their aspirations for their children are a more perceived urban way of life. Reasons? Greater opportunities to earn a living, a more convenient life delivered through a lower dependence on the terrain and weather, more regular sources of income, and easy accessibility to technology, products and services.

A picture named paharpur_pb_up_day_2_paharpur_022.jpgFound this neat essay - Creating brands for Rural India - which is "a plea to really stop this one-sided movement that seeks to make the rural man a consumptive animal of cornflake and dog biscuit alike!" More from there ...

"Till the wave of liberalization set in. And when this happened, Indian businesses actually steered Virtual India. What's more, Virtual India took charge of the way Real India was to be run as well. And in Virtual India, the businesses that dictate the soap that needs to be placed in your toilet and the detergent in your bathroom and the cooking gas in your kitchen, actually ran Real India. Real India is today run by Virtual India. The largest part of land-mass and the larger part of the population base is controlled in many-many ways by the way the urban man in urban India wants it run. A true blue hegemony of the Urban Indian! Remember again that all marketing men and their kin in advertising, market research and branding are mostly urban souls.

Many in disguise as well! Real India (read as: rural India henceforth) is fast morphing to the needs, wants, desires and aspirations discovered by the urban man. Television as a medium has created awareness, a raging interest in brands, a latent desire to consume and possess what is shown on the not-such-an-idiot-afterall-box! Television has spurred on consumptive action and has acted as a brand consumption catalyst in many ways. And television has continually shown us images that make everything Urban desirable and everything Rural as something that is basic...too basic!"



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Thursday, July 21, 2005

What can be better than when solutions are creatively crafted, by people who need those solutions the most. Solutions that ease the burden of day-to-day life. Solutions that make use of limited resources available. Solutions that work, despite little encouragement, aid and 'technical' know-how. Solutions that are adapted to the environment, in most cases, solutions that are eco-friendly.

While they are getting recognition, I wonder whether much is being done to nurture them and create micro enterprises out of them. Do they threaten large enterprises and governments, by the suggestion of wresting away control and power?

remya_jose_185_rural_20050718.jpg

There is a Sci-Tech special in the recent Outlook - Gram By Microgram - which covers innovators across rural India. These are stories of individuals, practitioners of rustic science that is compelling, practical and applicable. Many ideas there tailored to the environment - some of the innovations featured :

- zero-head water turbines
- amphibious cycles
- gears in cycle rickshaws
- pedal washing machines
- convertible tractors
- water pumps operated through GSM mobile phones
- cow-milking machines
- electronic sticks for the visually impaired made from PVC pipes which even has a puddle detector

GreatBong at CSF writes :

The common threads through these nine stories----

1)Meagre resources available to the inventors
2)None of them have a formal engineering background
3) Government apathy to genuine innovation

Here's the whole set of individual stories in the feature:

Balram Singh Saini & Prem Singh Patiala Haryana, Nripen Kalita Jiakur Assam, Raghava Gowda Murulya Karnataka, Bhanjibhai Mathukia Kalawad Gujarat, Sanket V. Chitagopakar & Prashant V. Harshangi Gulbarga Karnataka, Sheikh Jabbar Nagpur Maharashtra, Arvindbhai Patel Vanch Gujarat, Remya Jose Nenmani Kerala, M. Saidullah Mathia Dih Bihar.

And a link to the National Innovation Foundation which has profiles, video demos and photos of almost one hundred other such rural innovations, courtesy Suhail.

Worldchanging, where I'm going to cross-post this at had also linked to a feature in the BBC News earlier this month on some other rural innovations, including - a motorcycle-driven field cultivator, a seed-cum-fertiliser dispenser and a bicycle-mounted sprayer.



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Monday, July 18, 2005

This is promising - a report in the Financial Express on Sunday says:

"The rural economy is set to go hi-tech with promises made for internet and telecom connectivity. By the 60th aniversary of the country's Independence, on August 15, 2007, each of the 600,000 villages are promised with a village knowledge centre (VKC) based on broadband internet connectivity. There will be one million knowledge workers within this year.

A national alliance of 150 partner organisations, which consists of both foreign and Indian NGOs and institutions, has launched Mission-2007 for the purpose. The alliance says that VKCs will disseminate relevant information relating to agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, health, education, rural enterprises and disaster management. As a first step, the alliance partners have planned to connect 25,000 villages with knowledge centres (KCs).

The Union minister for communication and information technology, Dayanidhi Maran, says that the government will set up 1,00,000 common service centres (CSCs) with broadband connectivity at the remote village level by 2007 by leveraging the infrastructure at the state level. The state governments concerned, the private sector and NGOs will be partners. It will be an integrated three-tier structure - at the central, state and village levels.

At present there are about 10,000 KCs, out of which 5,000 are managed by ITC Ltd. There are, of course, a few other initiatives by government and non-governmental sectors like EID Parry's Agri-line project, Kissan Kerala, Akshaya in Kerala, Bhoomi in Karnataka, Drishti in Haryana, SEWA in Gujarat, E-Sewa in Andhra Pradesh, N-Logue of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, Gyandoot in Madhya Pradesh, Maha-Agri in Maharashtra and Tarahaat in Delhi. [links added in, bold is mine.]"

More here.

Update: Changed the title to 600,000 villages from 60,000 villages - missed one vital zero earlier - my bad :)



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Thursday, June 30, 2005

I read with interest a preliminary paper by Anikar M. Haseloff on Cybercafes and their Potential as Community Development Tools in India . From the abstract, the premise of the paper :

"Using public Internet facilities in order to access information and communication technologies (ICT) is the main model of use after the more common models of home use (individual ownership) and access at work or at school/university. Especially in developing countries, public and shared facilities help to create desperately needed access and are a main strategy in several Internet access programs. In the context of public access, cybercafes play an important role as the most common Internet access model, especially in the urban areas of India. It is often argued that cybercafes could help bridge the digital divide, as they provide Internet access to people who cannot afford to have Internet connections at their homes or who need help in order to make use of ICT."

Some highlights and excerpts from the paper :

  • While in their initial stage a mostly urban phenomena, cybercafes over the years have mushroomed throughout India, and today can even be found in small towns and some of the bigger villages. They seem to serve a crucial portion of Indian society as access points for the use of computers and the Internet, as can be seen when examining the size of this sector. As there is a lack of common definitions, regulations for registration, and authoritative measurement, the exact number of cybercafes in India can only be roughly estimated. There exist several such figures, but they have to be seen as estimates rather than exact numbers. In 2001 the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) estimated around 12,000 cybercafes in India (Achar, 2001). Since then the number appears to have grown steadily all over the country, and Caslon Analytics (2004, p. 4) estimates the number of cybercafes for all of India as approximately 50,000 in 2004. The same figure is given by Pasricha (2004). These estimates show that cybercafes are slowly becoming part of contemporary city architecture in India and may serve a large proportion of the Indian population as access points to the Internet.

  • Table 5: SECs and access place - (SEC = Socio Economic Classification which is a matrix of occupation and education used in research in India to reflect lifestyle, as opposed to mere income - A1 being the higher group and E the lowest). The table below from the report is interesting - it shows that SEC B and C uses more cybercafes than SEC A, as the latter group has greater access to the internet at home and work.

    SEC A1

    SEC A2

    SEC B

    SEC C

    Total

    Home

    37.8

    22

    12.5

    6.3

    24.1

    Work

    59.2

    47.5

    30.4

    15.6

    44.1

    Friend

    15.9

    13.6

    19.6

    15.6

    15.9

    School/University

    26.9

    25.4

    35.7

    28.1

    26.3

    Cybercafe

    67.3

    61.0

    71.4

    75.0

    67.3

  • The most frequently used service in the cybercafe was the World Wide Web (90.3 percent), followed by email (72.3 percent), phonecalls/netphone (52.1 percent), games (49.6 percent) and chat (48.7 percent). Almost half of those interviewed also used the cybercafe for educational reasons, which may be related to the high number of students. But it should also be noted that many teachers use cybercafes in order to prepare their lessons.

  • More useful stats on cybercafe use by age, gender, employment and education status

Here's a signboard I took a picture of, outside a 'computer academy' which actually turned out to be a cybercafe in a small town called Bakshi ka Talab in Uttar Pradesh, India :

A picture named paharpur_pb_up_day_2_paharpur_065.jpg

[Thanks Rajesh for the link to the article]



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Friday, May 20, 2005

Women at work in an Indian Village

Some more pictures from today's village visit - women of all ages engaged in different activities:

Girl washing clothes :

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Lady scrubbing utensils:

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Shop owner's wife tending the shop while the husband naps :

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Making firecrackers:

A picture named 20.05.05 woman making firecrackers.JPG

Old lady about to draw water from the well :

A picture named 20.05.05 old lady.JPG



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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Indian Village Images

Am in a taxi driving back from this village 60 km away from Lucknow in UP, India. I just spent the day there - the village has 150 households with a population of 1000. Approximately 4-5 children per household. Five landlines (none work I am told) and 6 cell phones. No electricity since the last three years, although it is deemed "electrified'' by the government. The wires are cut by thieves and sold they say.

Time stands still ...

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In conversation:

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The village shop:

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Where they live:

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A new well coming up:

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School teachers:

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And here I am sitting in this taxi with a laptop and my Reliance CDMA connection, being able to beam these images to the world in real time through my blog.

India is a strange paradox!

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