Archive for the ‘Sensible Governance & Politics’ Category

Getting youth to work is not just about offering skills-development programs

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Inclusive growth!

There has been considerable public discussion and media coverage in recent times about how ’skills development’  is the magic wand that will create millions of jobs for unemployed youth. The underlying assumption is that as the Indian economy makes a transition from rural to urban, farm to non-farm, and from other traditional to non-traditional methods, our youth are hampered by lack of skills to cope with this changing world. Very true. However skills development, while a necessary condition, is by no means a sufficient one to ensure that our teeming millions live happily ever after.

Based on our own experience at Growth-For-All, and validated by a study we commisioned earlier this year, it is clear that the issue is indeed very intriguing and complex.
The first community that we got involved with - Savda Ghevra, N.W Delhi-  has several thousand unemployed youth. Looking at this, we went in with am ambitious skills-development( & job placement) offering free of cost. However, only a few hundred of them signed up and completed the courses. It’s been a struggle to make headway beyind these numbers. To understand this better, we commissioned a study which validated what we had suspected for a while:
a) that skills development was NOT an answer by itself. Low motivation & aspiration levels ( even in a city like Delhi) were the fundamental softer issues that needed to be addressed. Programs that build motivation & aspiration need to go hand-in-hand with ‘hard’ skills-development courses.
b) while focusing on skills development for youth is important from a short-term standpoint of providing livelihoods, the longer-term approach requires that we ‘work on them’ when they are much younger, say between 12-18 years. By the time they are 18, its too late to build motivation & aspiration. We have used music for girls( & are contemplating sports for boys) to build this connect with them so that other messages like education & careers find a receptive audience.
c) in a city like Delhi, with its distances, the youth - even after they have been trained for skills - have an aversion to commute for 1-2 hours by bus to get to their place of work. They are willing to settle for less if its closer to home( a Jhuggi-Jhopri colony or resettlement colony in most cases).
d) finally, the whole discourse on skills development seems to want to move youngsters into ‘jobs’, while ignoring self-employment as a route, which is both an opportunity and a necessity. For the self-employment route to success, it needs to get tied to related aspects like mentoring, microfinance, etc. In private conversations, I have been very surprised to find policy advisors summarily dismiss self-employment as a something not worth pursuing.

All this suggests that the government, in all the euphoria and optimism surrounding skills-development should not ignore related, and softer issues like motivation/aspiration, urban distances, as well as possibilities of self-employment.
If you’d like a copy of the detailed report, drop me a mail at

Growth-For-All helps CII anchor a hugely-successful CSR ‘Best Practices’ Meet

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility!

When Growth-For-All was invited by CII Northern Region to be the Knowledge Partner for the CSR ‘Best Practices’ Meet, one of our key recommendations was focus! Focus on the specific needs of the ‘home’ states of a majority of the delegates, viz. Punjab, Haryana and HP. And, more important, focus on some real action, instead of just listening and discussions.

We were delighted when other CII members agreed to go down this path.

That brought us to the real question: do these ostensibly-prosperous states have any real challenges at all?  After all, Punjab, HP & Haryana are ranked 1,3 and 6 respectively in India Today’s 2008 ‘Ranking of States’. We spent time talking to NGOs and government officers to debate this. Simultaneously, we also commissioned a researcher to scan through all available published information.

Growth-For-All at CII’s CSR ‘Best Practices’ Meet

A closer look revealed that Punjab itself had real problems. Its economic development is now the second-slowest, while its human-development indices for health and education are comparable to backward states. Livelihoods is a real challenge: while Punjab and Haryana face unemployment and underemployment on account of crisis in agriculture, HP’s problem is to meet the aspirations of its educated youth. The gender challenge is serious in all three states.

We now had our direction. And set about creating three highly-focused Panel Discussions: on livelihoods, gender and CSR. These, we knew, would provide delegates with ample food-for-thought on the real challenges facing their states. At the same time, we wanted to ensure that delegates ended the day with a clear, actionable CSR plan. So, we invited Mumbai-based Green Kettle Consulting to do a workshop-format session which would provide delegates with a framework within which to plan their own CSR.

I am delighted to announce that everything went as per plan, and we had a very-successful CSR ‘Best Practices’ Meet.

Growth-For-All’s ‘Knowledge Paper’ released by Union Minister Meira Kumar; gets great reviews

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Inclusive Growth!

As many as 113 books, papers and articles were reviewed in order to take stock of the entire body of knowledge available in the public domain. The result is a comprehensive ‘Knowledge Paper’ focused on the challenges faced by Punjab, Haryana and HP. Union Minister, Ms Meira Kumar, released the Paper at CII’s ‘CSR Best Practices’ Meet recently.

Knowledge Paper being released by Union Minister

Having been through a common, lived history, the three states have somewhat common trajectories of growth as well as challenges faced.

Meira Kumar addressing the audience

An important focus of the Knowledge Paper is on Livelihoods. It would come as a surprise to many that Punjab & Haryana, considered as the grain-bowl of India, are actually faced with a serious crisis in agriculture. Consequently, both unemployment and underemployment are big issues. There is an urgent need for crop diversification and agri-business initiatives, as well as rural, non-farm options. HP has a different problem; with big success in education, the challenge is to have livelihood opportunities keep pace with the inflow of educated youth into the workforce. At the same time, balancing industry, tourism & ecology assume importance.

The ‘gender’ issue, on the other hand, is a problem that cuts across all three states. The most common manifestations being declining sex ratios, poor health, insufficient women in workforce, as well as the deserted NRI brides of Punjab. The Paper analyses failures and successes closely, looks at legislative interventions tried out, as well as other interventions and case-studies.

Beyond ‘livelihood’ and ‘gender’, the Paper looks at a host of other issues in these three states.

The Knowledge Paper got a great response, and the general view being that it would be a good ready-reckoner for any Corporate looking at CSR in these three states.

Some fascinating encounters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Remarkable people!

I’ve met some very interesting people in recent months, who opened my mind to a range of issues and ideas.

Mrs Anjaly Duggal Chib( IAS), Punjab government’s Resident Commisioner in Delhi spent over an hour describing the various dimensions of the gender issue in Punjab.  While the outward manifestations of the gender issue - in the form of dowry and female foeticide - are well known, I understood well, for the first time, how basic cultural upbringing  perpetuates this inferior status further. Whether it is to do with women not taking a share of family property, or women eating after the men have eaten, or the fact that boys are taken to hospital faster, or how a ‘get rich fast’ attitude leads to dowry demands, these are facets of the gender issue that were put across very lucidly.

Around the same time, I also met Ena Singh, who heads UNFPA, and tackles the gender issue with the same vigor and passion. She emphasized how it was critical for everyone to get women in Punjab into visible, non-conventional jobs like driving a crane, a tractor, or a taxi. This, in her view, would be an important step in changing society’s perceptions of what women can do, or should be doing. She  gave the example of the newly-started Azaad Foundation in Delhi, which is a ‘by women’, ‘for women’ NGO that aims to train poor women in Delhi to become drivers, besides organising them into a taxi service.

I was also introduced to Niranjan Khatri, who drives CSR for ITC Hotels’ Sheraton and luxury brands. Niranjan told me about their tie-up with the Ministry of Social Justice to train 400 destitute women in aspects like hygiene, cooking, housekeeping, and safety, which would prepare them for careers in hospitality or as domestic help. For instance, the Eva Floor at ITC hotels, meant exclusively for lady guests, is staffed only by women.

Then there was the conversation with Manish Sabharwal of TeamLease, who is on the PM’s Skills Development Mission. Manish broadly described the Mission’s attempt to create a supply of  range of skilled and semi-skilled talent for the job market simply by making available a vast array of vocational training options. It ended on a strong note of disagreement because I felt strongly that the approach would falter on two counts. One, because it appeared to be too much of a simplistic, cookie-cutter approach which fails to take into account the executional complexities. The bigger disagreement was on account of the Mission’s assumption that bulk of India’s unemployed should be directed to job-based employment, as opposed to self-employment. In fact, the Mission’s bias seems to be against self-employment. To me, it seems not just impractical, but a wrong objective to aim for. A large proportion of India’s unemployed youth- for reasons of education, or mindset - will not be the right match for the vocational training options offered.  More important, because they don’t want to commute long distances, or be dislocated from their communities, many are happiest being in self-employment. While I completely agree that inadequate or sub-optimal self-employment is undesirable, but any employment generation policy simply cannot discount the value of creating a vibrant self-employment culture and eco-system.

Finally, there was young Sumant Dubey, an executive at TERI, who reached out to me. He spoke about a range of innovations that various people and organisations were exploring. Apart from TERI’s own ambitious Solar Lantern project, he told me about the Water Purifiers’ project run by Nandi Foundation, and an Eco Tourism project in Maharshtra.

The idea of Growth-for-All is now a year old

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Inclusive Growth! 

It was on August 15th 2007, as India turned 60, that the Growth-for-All movement was launched.

In an email to several friends, I had shared my thoughts, “ GROWTH-FOR-ALL will be a significant development-sector initiative  which will involve a large number of individuals & organizations( corporates, NGOs, CII, etc) to see how our collective efforts can achieve a lot more. Over the next year or two, we hope to run some key ‘pilot projects’ focused on urban & rural poor communities.”

A year later, this collective effort has blossomed. The core idea of individuals, corporate and governments working together to focus on inclusive growth and integrated development has taken off. The first ‘pilot’ project in Delhi’s Savda Ghevra resettlement colony is now almost 8 months old. 

When Delhi CM’s office pointed us towards Savda Ghevra a year ago, they knew that they had a problem on their hands. Several thousand slum dwellers had been hastily relocated to a barren patch of 256 acres on the outskirts of Delhi. Growth-for-All’s household census also revealed the other problems. Among the 11,381 residents of Savda Ghevra, there are hundreds of people without livelihood. 655 kids don’t go to school for myriad reasons – admission problems, perceived cost, lack of interest, etc. Almost 1400 adults can’t read or write. No water supply; over 1500 families don’t use the community loo. Only 262 families throw waste in the dumpster. Just one doctor in a 3-hour shift.

Since the Growth-for-All initiative began,  over 100 youth enrolled in a 3-month vocational training by Dr Reddy’s Foundation, and now work at places like Pizza Hut & Spencer’s. 20 women are about to start carpet weaving for Jaipur Rugs Co. Over 2000 patients visit the 3 Suraksha Clinics each month… supported by Samir Arora. Health camps & ambulance service about to start.  15 women enrolled into TCS’ designed Adult Literacy Program. Almost 100 youngsters( mainly girls) learn music and dance over week-ends, at Hasmukh Kala. Computer classes are on the anvil, thanks to PCs contributed by my friend Deven Taneja’s company, PC Solutions. So, that’s the integrated model of Growth-for-All at work, with multiple partners & individuals chipping in what they are good at.

Lot more remains to be done. 468 people want to start their own business, ranging from general stores to tailoring shops & beauty parlours. Over 400 want jobs. 1500 adults want training in areas ranging from computers and English, to construction skills and tailoring. In the absence of running water, arrangements for Rain-water harvesting need to be made so that water becomes available. Kids who can’t go to school need to be nutured via non-formal education; likewise, those who are enrolled still need supplemental education.

Where can individuals & organizations help?

Individuals can help in many ways – either with their ideas, time or financial support. In teaching kids for a few hours each week-Maths, English, computers, Science, etc.. By mentoring adults who want to start their own business.
Corporates and other organizations can help with Rain-water harvesting, Strategies for waste management & sanitation, or by supporting other programs like sports.

The power of Growth-for-All’s collective model lies in large-scale participation. Big or small, everything helps. Ideas, time or financial support.

As the idea of Growth-for-All becomes a year old, and the successes are visible, we look forward to active participation from many more.

Bill Gates writes on ‘Creative Capitalism’; Delhi government adopts Brazil’s Bolsa Familia project; and Kalam to teach at IIMA

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Weekly Review

The week started with Time magazine’s cover story, “How to Help Those Left Behind”, where Bill Gates expounds his views on how a new creative capitalism can make the world better for all.

Midway through the week, Indian Express reported Delhi government’s plans to implement Brazil’s Bolsa Familia project( search for a link), which apparently brought down poverty by 27%.
And fittingly, the week ended with an announcement that Prof Kalam would teach a new course at IIMA, “Globalising a Resurgent India through Innovative Transformation”

In their own way, each of these developments have the potential to make a huge difference to the way India runs its development and anti-poverty efforts.

Gates firmly believes that corporations can use market forces and innovations to complement what governments and non-profits do. Apart from tailoring products & services that reaches the poorest( think C.K. Prahlad!), he believes that corporations can do a lot more provided the right incentives are offered, e.g. recognition, fast-track approvals.
Gates’ heart and wallet are certainly in the right place, and he is already making a difference with his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; but, I reckon that capitalism’s participation in social development will always be controversial. After all, where do you draw a line between a “Buy One, We’ll give the poor a Free One” promotional offer, and a genuinely participative effort.

Be that as it may, I certainly see – and have seen( in Gates Foundation-supported Khushi Clinics)- the impact of importing professional business best-practices in the social sector. So, if creative capitalism causes controversy, we can live with that, as long as it makes a difference. At Growth-for-All, we have already seen this while working with Dr Reddy’s Foundation & TCS.

Likewise, the Delhi government’s effort to provide a single-window access to beneficiaries who want to access 42 social schemes run by various departments, will certainly make life simpler. While the revelation that Brazil’s Bolsa Familia project- which is the inspiration for Delhi- achieved 27% reduction in poverty, seems like hyperbole, I can imagine how much simpler things would be, if a single window were available. Just recently, Growth-for-All has been witness to the utter confusion and opacity that Savda Ghevra residents face, while grappling with school admissions for their kids.
Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Ex-President Kalam’s course at IIMA aims to fill this gap beautifully. By getting B-School students to think about issues of governance and policy-making, we will hopefully have a cadre of business professionals who can inspire Creative Capitalism, besides driving ideas like Bolsa Familia indigeneously.

Real evidence that infant & mothers’ health issues can be turned around in India

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the Road!

This was a trip where I really got a close look at how primary healthcare is structured in India.
There seems to be a 3-tier structure at work. Primary Health Centers( PHCs) cater to population of around 30,000- with 2 doctors & 6 beds. There are ‘Sub-centers’ for every 5000 population, and this comprises a building with Auxiliary Nurse-cum-Midwife( ANM), and a Multi-purpose Worker( MPW). For smaller populations- 1000 nos.- there is the Anganwadi Worker( AWW).
I met Anganwadi worker, Usha tai, now in her 11th year, at Village Mahunale( 137 H/H). She tracks births/deaths/immunization/deliveries, and her persistent efforts are now achieving 100% hospital deliveries.( Incentives are also helping: 700/- for hospital delivery). She is certainly well-regarded for her good work.

Lalita Ghote & Pangave Baburao at Tirthwadi’s Anganwadi 
I found similar evidence at Tirthwadi’s anganwadi( population 1000). AWW Lalita Ghote & Helper Pangave Baburao ensure great care for 47 kids( aged 3-6). They gave me a beautiful demo of how an entire community is now familiar with the importance of tracking growth indicators( height, weight, etc) for infants and kids.

Tracking growth indicators at the anganwadi

At Sub-center Jagalpur, it was immunization day when we landed there, and a constant stream of families was coming in to meet ANM S.S Kudi Metha, Health Asst N.A Tripati & MPW P.M Tripati. (This Sub-Center won prize for best sub-center in ’07).

Jagalpur’s ‘Sub-Center’

I suspect that these locations I went to are among the better ones you’ll get to see. The 3-tier structure; the committed, motivated delivery of services; the interfacing with Unicef and NGOs- its all so robust that it appears fail-safe.
If only, this model- which is truly sound, on paper- were executed with equal thoroughness elsewhere in the country, healthcare would not be a big issue any longer.
Growth-for-All’s task will be to benchmark other locations against this seemingly near-ideal situation.

India’s demographic dividend on display: how 4000 youth have taken charge in Latur district.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

On the Road! 

When one reads or speaks about India’s demographic dividend, it is usually in the context of a large BPO or software work-force, or booming consumer markets, i.e. an engine for economic growth. Often, the flip side is also presented by worried social observers when they ponder over disgruntled, unemployed youth fueling Naxalism or extremism.
But, there’s hardly any talk of how youth can totally transform the social landscape of India in a substantive manner.

In this context, what I encountered during my Latur trip was simply mind-boggling. No less than 4000 volunteers( 3200 males & 800 females), spread across 1000 villages, are engaged in solving real problems in their neighborhoods.
After initial training by Unicef, in which 4 volunteers from each village participate, they go back  with confidence.

List of youth volunteers in a village

One of the volunteers, Amar Jadhav, narrated this story to me: when he and others heard about an impending adolescent marriage in their village( Kishorigarh), two volunteers – accompanied by the Sarpanch & few villagers – descended on the house.

 Amar Jadhav narrating his story to me

After initial resistance, the family relented and waited till the daughter turned 20!
The scale and impact of such efforts is truly breathtaking, as is the manner in which volunteers have neatly meshed with the local Panchayats, village communities, as well as the government.
I was curious to understand what really motivated these youngsters to volunteer, and be so committed, and asked several of them. The simple answer is that they get respect and life skills. Going forward, some hope to become Panchayat members themselves, while others have ambitions to join the police, or even politics!
If only we can replicate this story across India, then India’s demographic dividend can truly become a powerful engine for economic and social growth.

The government works… when people start owning their own future

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Remarkable people!

Often, NGOs are most required when the government has gone to sleep, and there’s a vacuum. So, I was curious to find out if that was the case in Latur district, too.
So, when Zia took me to meet Block Development Officer T.K Navale, I was half-expecting a mixture of disinterest and cynicism.
I was wrong. Navale actively helps the NGOs and their volunteers, not financially, but in several other ways. Sometimes a pat on the back; certificates & medals to volunteers on other occasions.

Recognition for volunteers

 Block Development Officer T.K Navale

He certainly doesn’t feel threatened or feel that his role is being usurped. On the contrary, he actively offers his co-operation because, as he says, “ the NGOs are volunteers are doing my work. They help us reach a large number of people with information regarding government schemes”.
One measure of success in his Block is the fact that this kind of co-operation has resulted in eight Gram Panchayats now proudly declaring themselves “ Zero Open-defecation”. And, word is spreading fast to other villages, which will soon follow suit.
More power to the people… and enlightened souls like T.K. Navale!

Mobile Phone wins over PC, but the PC needs to catch up…. For all our sakes.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Inclusive Growth!

 ET readers, CNBC viewers and Business School students know it well that India is mobile-phone country. Penetration and sales of mobile phones far exceed those of personal computers. It is literally as though the mobile phone has tapped into a deeply latent need of Indians to chatter away with their dear ones. On the contrary, the serious PC- while indeed making headway in the Indian market- lags far behind in terms of its impact on the lives of Indian families, especially lower-income and rural ones.
Consider this: during my two days in Latur district’s villages, I barely came across anyone who used computers or saw schools where kids had access to PCs. BUT: every youth and woman volunteer I met had a mobile phone, whose numbers were well publicized, and were the accepted means for fellow villagers to reach out to them.
However, as a result of this dichotomy, there is a great deal of spoken communication among the volunteers, NGOs and villagers, but the programs are overall weak in terms of documentation, information access, tracking and reporting.
To plug this key gap, the PC needs to catch up with the mobile phone… for the sake of development.

Growth-for-All will soon embark on an ambitious program to get corporates and others to chip in with used PCs which can be deployed in village schools and community centers. Watch out for more information.