Saturday, October 31, 2009

Economics lesson from the local kirana storewallah

High inflation has been the order of the day in our country since past few years. The other day I went to my local grocery store to buy some rice. The grocery store by the way has a very funny name - Jai Gurudev Chana Bhandar. :) He offered few variety and I narrowed down to the one being sold at 44 Rs/kg. (almost 1$/kg)

I felt like chatting with him for a while and got to learn that the owner of the kirana store came to Mumbai in early 80s from Uttar Pradesh. One of two states from where maximum immigrants come to Mumbai on account of low economic growth and also poor quality of life that the largest state offers to its people. I told that person that 'yeh bahut mehenga hai' (this is really expensive). He said there is no way that the price would come down.

On poking a bit further about the basis of his assertive statement, he started explaining his understanding of economics. He mentioned that when he came to do business in the city, the cost of toor dal (a popular variety of pulses) was Rs 3/kg and since then the price has always risen and today its being sold at 90Rs/kg. He said that people are fools to say that its because of Congress that the price is high. Using an interesting swear word he states that irrespective of which government comes, the price just can't be low for the simple reason that the interest in farming as a means of occupation is losing popularityin the villages now. When they go home every year, they get to meet villagers who want to see cities, work there and ensure that their kids get a good education.

When there are no producers, prices are naturally going to shoot up. There is nothing to get surprised about that. That was the crux of that few minute conversation.

The interesting part was that, this person has not completed his formal schooling and in his conversation, you can get a light understanding of a basic principle of economics, trend towards urbanization and the limitation of public policy in certain food prices.

Though there was nothing to bank upon but its really nice to see how each individual despite his limited formal education, tries to develop some understanding of the reason why things happen in a certain way.

I found it really interesting. This also points to the fact that we can never take for granted the opinion of the common man on political matters. No wonder his vote wins at the end of every election.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

PKK returns to Turkey

Kurds have been fighting against the government of Turkey for a seperate state and their rights since long. Recently in a historic development, the people from Kurds who have been involved in guerilla fight with the Turkish army returned from Iraq after several years. You can read about it here
The interesting aspect is that, this gesture by the Kurds is aimed at not adopting a seperatist stance but they are now extending their hand towards the democratic government of Turkey. This surrender may lead to immense advantages for the Kurds for generations to come. Atleast we should pray for that!
But why am I writing about this all of a sudden?

In my recent trip through the IVLP program, one of our colleagues (now a friend) was a Kurdish social leader who is working for the rights of Kurds in rural Turkey. We received a mail from her and realized that it was a matter of extreme joy for her since she never anticipated that this development towards conciliation would happen in her lifetime! The challenge for her was to the extent that she could not give a Kurdish name to her son and expect him not to get discriminated in educational institutions. When she would excitedly speak about politics in her country, it would be evident that some day she might be able to enter into the corridors of power and take her efforts towards the rights of Kurds to the next level. Not seen a lot of women speak so passionately about local politcs backed by understanding of history.

I was so happy to share this joy with her for the simple reason that now the development was no more a political event in some distant corner of the world. There was a person who was happier because of that development and hence that news becomes even more valuable to me.

I always feel that for us who are part of groups whose rights are well defended, it gets very difficult to relate to situation of people who are marginalized and are reeling under the battle for political space or personal freedom. Be it Maoists, Ultras from North eastern part of the country, erstwhile Punjab militants, Tamils in Ceylon, Kashmiris in PoK etc. Its just so important to have an understanding of the legitimacy of these demands and may be even try to see is some support can be mobilized at any point in time.

Whats so unique about Silion Valley?

A thought provoking essay on what it takes to create a hub for entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yess. We surely can't afford to fail in Copenhagen

Powerful speech by Gordon Brown in the wake of the Copenhagen Summit slated for December this year.

"We cannot compromise with the Earth; we cannot compromise with the catastrophe of unchecked climate change, so we must compromise with one another. I urge my fellow leaders to work together to reach agreement among us, recognizing both our common and our differentiated responsibilities, and also recognising the dire consequences of failure."

and also

" There is no Plan B for the Planet"

This statistic was also startling

"98% of those dying and otherwise seriously affected live in the poorest countries, and yet their countries account for only 8% of global emissions. This is the great injustice of climate change: those being hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done least to cause it."

This meet is going to be a tough field for Leadership at National as well as International levels. On one hand we have a democracy where probably 90% of the population may not get an inkling of what India's stand is and its rationale, while on the other hand the discussion would be driven more by the fate of planet in decades to come. How to manage the short term interests with long term benefit of the nation and planet rhymes well with the regular challenge of meeting quarterly results with long term growth of corporate groups.

I guess it all boils down to vision of the leader at the end of the day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Returned from the IVLP program

It has been a while since I blogged last time.

Just returned for a very learning and fun filled tour of three weeks to US under the IVLP program with another 22 people from other nations. There was another colleague from India.

The theme of the program was 'NGO Management and Civic Activism' and under this theme as a group we were taken through five different places in US starting from Washington DC, San Diego, Charlotte, Boston and Vermont.

The idea was to introduce us to the best practices of NGO managment and to show how the trinity of Government, NGOs and civil society interfaces successfully to bring about social change. The participants in general were from developing countries and the challenges in each of the country was very unique, though common at certain levels.
For example gender discrimination is there in India as well but the condition in a place like Quetta in Pakistan is much more difficult. Similarly places like Serbia, West Bank offer different challenges altogether.

It was great to understand how US has been able to create a truly Federal Democracy and also the philosophy behind it. The freedom to connect with the politicians came as a complete surprise to me when we interacted with the City Council Commissioner of Charlotte.

On an overall basis we got to see the sunny side of the NGO sector in US and it was really amazing to see how the organizations try to work harmoniously with the civil society both educating it and also drawing its resources for its mission. Some of the organizations like 'Year Up' have clear parallels in India.

The idea of a healthy relationship with the government and the NGOs has tremendous value in terms of the potential for problem solving that can get unlocked. Not sure how much time it would take in some of our nations to learn these practices.

Along with the scheduled agenda, the 'unplanned' component of meeting and interacting with the participants from such diverse nations like Israel, Slovania, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sudan, West Bank , Jamaica etc was an altogether unique experience.

When we get to understand the internal struggles of working in specific countries, we realize that the world is really far from flat. The challenges of low economic growth leading to unemployment amongst youth, corruption, political upheavels, hostile neighbours, environmental degradation, violence based on identity, human rights violation, gender based discrimination, AIDs are some of the common pain areas. The role that NGOs can play in the face of such massive issues calls for serious introspection.

I consider myself privileged to be part of such a charged up gathering of people in a nation which surely understands what human potential is all about and how our institutions need to be organized to make the best of our time and resources.

As a group, we are now trying to understand how to take this international network of experience to add value to our local efforts towards critical issues. I am sure something of value will emerge out of this collaborative effort.