Monday, April 26, 2010

Vastr Samman

"Open your cupboard at home and the first thing you will notice is a shirt of yours which you have not used for the last 1 or 2 years" says Anshu Gupta, the founder of Goonj. Goonj is working on clothing which one of the so called three basic needs (The Food, Clothing and Shelter). Goonj collects contributed clothes from all over the country and distributes them to the needy. Depending on the state of that clothing, it is processed. The clothing is used till the last inch. Some are washed and distributed as it is, some are repaired, some are converted into school bags, some into sanitary napkins, and the last inch is weaved into some products like doormats.

In IIIT-Hyderabad, a group of students ran a cloth donation drive with campaign name called Suraksha. Can you guess the numbers of contribution ?

Shirts/Tshirts - 2000
Jeans/Trousers - 1000
Suits - 500
Footwears - 100
Other Material - Bags Bed Sheets Stationery etc.

Isn't that awesome ! These 60 bags of donated cloths are being sent to Goonj.
Check out the pics. (

Congratulations to the Team SURAKSHA.

Friday, March 26, 2010

She said NO !

You don't believe that? Read the post and you will see I am not lying ...

IIIT Hyderabad is a place where the good always gets a push. Recently a bunch of students launched a "say no to polythene bags" campaign. Posters of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" explaining why polythene bags should not be used were put up all over the campus. Not just that, the alternative was also provided. Cloth bags made by students at Satya Special School in Pondicherry were procured and kept for sale at Rs 15/- each. Many bags were bought by students. Then came the question, buying is one stage but how many are able to use them. To carry a cloth bag where ever you go, to plan things in advance. Some also hesitate carrying a cloth bag because might not be considered "cool" etc. How many have actually said "NO" to polythene bags was the question that was floating around.

It was exactly then that this incident came to my notice. My friend Haritha, an MS student here went for shopping in some cloth showroom. After she was done with her selection when it came to billing, the person in the counter was putting her goods into a plastic bag. Hari says "NO" .. yippee .. she said NO ! :) .. she takes out her cloth bag which she carried along with her, asks that person to put those goods in that cloth bag. The story is not over yet. That store manager was so happy with what just happened that he gave her 5% extra discount on her purchase to encourage such acts ! .. again yippee ... definitely something to celebrate right ?!
I wanted to celebrate this wonderful incident through this post ....
But yes, not always we can celebrate saying a NO ! :D .. hehehe !

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Are you going to the party ?

This is a post triggered by a talk titled "Globalisation of Inequality" by P Sainath in 2005. (available on google videos for download) . Sainath presents bitter facts about inequality in India and goes on to prove that it is not just happening in India, but all over the world.

The Nero Story :

Following is a Roman story (supposedly a true one) of a an incident during King Nero's time.

Roman historian Tacitus writes about "Nero and the burning of Rome". Tacitus, though he hated Nero was honest enough to say that Nero in-fact had not set Rome on fire, but Nero was scared as hell, as people believed he did (set Rome on fire). So, Nero had to do something to distract the population of Rome. He decided to hold the biggest party ever held in the history of the Roman empire. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle ( as tacitus says in book 15 of The Annals). They had a problem with this party because his garden was a concave kind of place surrounded by higher spots and it was a bit dark. The problem was how to provide nightly illumination for the party to which anyone who was anyone in Rome was an invitee. The intelligentsia, the gossip columnists, certainly the political correspondents, anybody who mattered in Rome was at that party. And they had the problem of nightly illumination. How did they solve the problem of nightly illumination? .......... They solved the problem, writes Tacitus, by bringing the wretched criminals and prisoners and burning them at stake around the garden !

We now do know that Nero was mad. (Unlike some of his saner predecessors who routinely fed thousands of human beings to animals at the Coliseum!!).

The issue is not Nero. The issue is Nero's guests. Who were the guests at that party? What sort of sensibility did it require to pop another fig into your mouth as one more human being went up in flames nearby to serve as ‘a nightly illumination?’ For the party to go on, singing and dancing, as the spectacle unfolded? These were people who were the intellect of Rome, the best and the finest. They knew what was happening and they could see what was happening. They did not have the option of averting their gaze as it was happening in front of their eye balls.

P Sainath says "I was always mystified who Nero's guests were much more than any interest in Nero. In the last five years of covering thousands of suicides which need not have occurred, I have answered my question about Who were nero's guests. I guess we all are !! One more farmer goes up in flames. One more widow takes her life. One more farm goes bust for no fault of its own ..... but the party continues. Apart from many strategies we can discuss about what to do. One starting point we all could do is that in this world of inequality, we can refuse to be Nero's guests! "

How is that !?

Sounds very illogical when sainath concludes and blames each of us to be the Nero's guests. Instead of simply rejecting it as yet another “sensitiser”, and as some typical communist/socialist talk (to my surprise I realised this was highly possible), lets try to give a serious thought and analyse. Lets start that by looking at a few facts sainath mentions in the talk "Globalizing Inequality".

The In"Sensitive Index"

P Sainth: Immediately after Tsunami, when it was confirmed that the damage is devastating, the stock markets of the five worst effected countries including India reached their historic high. If stock market is the central indicator of how nation is doing, it should have gone down on such a major disaster? The people effected were mostly fisher folk and marginal farmers and they hardly had any effect on the functioning of the stock market. What soared the stock markets? It was the smell of the reconstruction dollars !!

On the other hand when the largest democracy of the world had to gone to elections in May 2004 in an orderly democratic fashion, the Sensex (Sensitive Index) collapsed ! We have completely divorced how economies are doing from how people are doing!?

The town of allopath ( though was made in another context is a very good 3 minute illustration of the kind of system we have built. We can take an example of health sector to understand sensex. If everyone in the nation are healthy and there was nothing spent in the health sector, the sensex would collapse. Whereas on the other hand if there were a lot of hospitals and they were full of patients, lots of money being spent on medicines, global pharmacy companies setting up companies next door, lots of jobs for the emergency services etc etc the sensex would soar because the market has grown. It is very sensitive to investments and transactions. I think it mainly represents the scope for businesses and how the businesses are doing and it is highly insensitive to the well being of the nation. Forget about the other aspects of the "well being", does it even capture the economic well being of the whole nation? or is it only an indicator of the economic well being of a few big boys ?

It's my generosity, not your right

P Sainath: 34300 homes were destroyed in Tsunami in the worst effected districts of Nagapattanam in Tamil Nadu and during the same period, the Govt. of Maharashtra has forcibly evicted 84,000 households out of Mumbai in a week or two. And they were stripped of their voting rights too (you know why). This mumbai demolition news stories could reach only the News rooms but not beyond that! and if Tsunami is getting so much coverage, or a devastated family is getting a new house, its my generosity towards you, its not about your right as a individual of a decent society and nation.

I can make a lot of sense out of this statement of sainath. And I am also sure he is not doubting the intent of those generous ones. But it is true and unfortunate. Different sections of a nations at any given point of time have been at different levels of economic status or social status. What is important is the response of the rest of the nation to this inequality. Currently we choose to be generous to a few where there is no conflict of interest like in case of Tsunami where the effect are located somewhere away from us, but when they are next door in the middle of the city where the land value is costliest in the world, the treatment is different. What kind of insensitivity must it take to evacuate a lakh families off their dwellings in which they have lived for generations. It definitely conveys a lot about us and our values.

The beautiful people

P Sainath: “We all remember SARS. SARS was perceived as the moving of the black death. SARS killed 0 people in India! Total number of cases identified in India was 3. From the kind of coverage SARS got, one would think that the sub continent was in danger. All over the world, around 800 people died of SARS and that is half of the number of people who die every day in India of T.B. Why did SARS get so much attention!???. Because TB kills the wrong people. SARS kills the beautiful people so it gets that kind of attention everywhere.”

Sainath predicts in 2005 that we would be seeing much more of SARS in the coming future and yes in 2009 we saw SwineFlu. I am sure when the real number would be out, we will be surprised to the disproportion of the kind of coverage that swine flu got and the number of people that are actually affected. As a civilized society, how just is it to pay so much attention to a section of people who are economically “well to do” and ignore the rest.

Sainath goes on to show that this kind of inequality is not just in India but its a global phenomenon. Countries across the global are doing things which would only increase this gap more and more.

Do we want to be Nero's guests ?

If not spoiling Nero's party, the least we could do would be to refuse to be Nero's guests. Wondering how you are a Nero's guest? Welcome to the latest form of violence! Structural violence. This form of violence does not seem so at the face of it.

Let me take an example here to demonstrate what structural violence could be like. The Express roads to Airport. There is an outer ring road to airport from all directions of the city, and recently some 10-15 KM long fly over (the PVR express way) was also inaugurated for the traffic to airport. And the most striking aspect of these express ways is that only 4 wheeler traffic is allowed on it. There is no entry for the two and three wheelers and also trucks. Adding to this magnanimous fete are some fly overs at the junctions which connect to these ring roads so that the traffic to airport is least interrupted (e.g. gacchibowli). On one end when the state is facing severe forms of inequality leading to a political crisis and on the verge of becoming a law and order problem, what kind of a mind set would result into such a bright plan. I feel handicapped since I do not have the statistics to support this extreme form of inequality where an immense chunk of state funds is being spent on the comfort of a few hundred people. After all they(we) are beautiful people.

I am sure there would be thoughts like, these people are the ones who would setup companies in our state, they would create employment in our state, they are making our city and state richer! Unfortunately that's the majority view as of today. We fail to see that these are the big boys who with their unfair advantage of having millions already in their pockets kill the many small and medium businesses here with their captivating ad campaigns and irresistible “sale“ offers. I very much remember how reliance fresh priced bananas at a price lower than that at the banana farms to attract people to their air conditioned shops destroying the lives of hundreds of small vendors.

No one does things being fully aware that it is hurting people (though sometimes we tend to justify our acts). Unfortunately, things are not so straightforward and obvious, hence I consider it as the most dangerous form of violence. One is not even aware that he/she is causing harm. I am sure each one of us is capable of understanding things. All that is needed is a little more attention.

I would like to conclude by saying that as long as we are doing things and taking decisions that would contribute to the perpetuation of a system in which violence and inequality are inherent and implicit, we are definitely being Nero's guests. What are those acts and what are those decisions by which one is contributing and what are those structures and organisations which are causing a great deal of inequality ? .... I leave it for each one of us to decide.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Magical Pots!

In a world of confusing messages, where environmental problems seem so huge that each of us feel that we cannot affect them, one of the easiest ways to have a positive impact on the world is to reduce and manage our individual wastage.

Wondering what I am talking about ? I am talking about composting.
70% of the waste from each household is organic waste. The vegetable peels, the left overs, paper waste, dry leaves all this is organic waste. Typical story of this waste is that it goes into a
dustbin along with their other friends like plastic waste and polythene waste. From the dustbin it goes to the waste collecting guy (sometimes it ends up in open areas beside houses). The guy transfers it to a bigger dustbin. The municipality van collects all these bigger bins and take the waste to a dumping yard away from the city (but closer to some village). The director of ASCI was one telling me that around 2000 garbage collecting vans operate daily to collect the waste from various parts of city. Since there are huge amounts of waste collecting in dump yards and there are no organised mechanisms to handle such huge quantities of waste, the waste creates lots of issues. The soil, water, air and health of surrounding villages is spoiled. Lots of effort, lot of fuel, lots of issues! At the rate our cities are growing, municipalities are not able to cope up with such huge wastes.

Composting helps solve lots of these issues. I came across this beautiful compost design at Daily Dump and I kept reading about it. I have seen it in operation at my friend's place. He has used it in his house and all the waste from his house of 6 people for 3 months has got converted into just a small flower pot of rich compost. Otherwise that waste of 3 months would have travelled some hundreds of kilometers and still create problems. Here it has turned into a bag of compost and is enriching the soil.

Composting is a natural process of decomposition of plant remains and "once-living" natural waste into dark soil like material which enriches soil. It has been happening for ages now, especially in rural areas for enriching the soil in the fields. Now, with invention of such beautiful, easy to use composters, it can be done at every house.

Why should one think of composting?
1) This is one aspect and possibility of living an eco-friendly life
2) My waste, so I will mange it.
3) It reduces the load on public waste management system
4) Why spend so much effort and fuel on transporting waste!
5) It is simple, everyone can do it and takes 10 mins per day.
6) Results in compost which can enrich some flower pots or garden.
7) We get connected to nature, its an opportunity to understand many things about nature.
8) All raw materials are available! (currently lying in dustbins!)

When we read this, the immediate apprehensions are like Not my job, I pay taxes ... might look like just a expensive dustbins ... it might smell ... will I have time .. will I be able to do it .. I do not have all that knowledge etc. About issue like smell, they are all addressed. Meticulously designed Dailydump website has all info. There are simple solutions for it. About time, convenience, I think its just a matter of confidence, motivation and awareness. Reading more about it would help.

I plan to try this out very soon ... will update you what my learnings are :-) ...

Monday, February 01, 2010

Social Innovation

I attended Vinsh's class in the "Social and Technical Innovation" course. It was a very interesting. After defining Social Entrepreneurship as a business idea that is more focused on social impact i.e. adding value to the community and people along with making a good livelihood for all those working for the organisation. Unlike conventional businesses where profit is what drives the organisation, in social entrepreneurship the social impact this organisation has is what matters. Even conventional businesses add value to community, but due to the continuous growth model that they are fit into, there is immense pressure on them to increase profits continuously. If I made 8% growth this year, this 8% is over the last year's. Now I am expected to grow at least at that pace by share holders. In case, I fail to do so, the company's share value falls. We have seen so many instances of manipulation just to show growth (Satyam collapse being still fresh in our memories). Anyway, the point is that in Social Entrepreneurship, focus is on how much social impact could the organisation have. 3 examples were taken

1) Grameen Bank: It started with one man's passion to help the needy. He found a few basket weavers who were stuck in a debt. All they needed to come out of that debt and earn for themselves was a few hundred rupees. So, he lent that money and they could in no time start earning for themselves. Then he pursued banks to ask why they cannot help such people who are in large numbers. Banks wanted securities and it was tough to manage such small amounts. Also, banks cannot ensure that the funds are just spent and soon the people give up. So, he started his own grameen bank which gives small amounts as loan with very less percentage of interest. They also ensured that the loans were for some productive activity and they trained people in small workshops in some skill. E.g. Making paper bags. This 2 day workshop would empower a women to make her living or stitching etc. This brought immense changes. People started repaying the loans and Grameen Bank made huge profits. The bank has given 7 million loans and 97% of these are women. Its recovery is over 98% which is more than conventional banks. Many Micro-credit organisations have started drawing inspiration from this effort. DWCRA , SKS etc. Muhammad Yunus was awarded Nobel prize for this effort.

2) KIVA: Kiva came up with peer to peer financing. All people and organisation (again small) who needed some money were listed and people could lend small amounts to these proposals. This became a big hit. Even this had 98% refund, over 3000 were funded, about 20000 people lent their money.

3) GreenMango: There were hundreds of people who wanted plumbers but did not know how to approach them and there were hundreds of plumbers sitting idle waiting for work. GreenMango emerged out of this. Small services in Hyderabad were listed in GreenMango. One can browse and look-up for services in their locality and get the work done. It seems the average income of people listed in GreenMango increased by 2000 per month! Around 30000 people and services got listed and now they are expanding to Bangalore.

Social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. I am greatly inspired by such possibilities. I see that it is packaged with a lot of satisfaction, challenge and at the same time there is no space for sacrifice. I for one would want to make a livelihood this way! :D .. lets see .. :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nampally Exhibition

The sudden unplanned visit to All India Exhibition in Nampally which happens every year has turned out to be a very fruitful one.

a) I was looking for a place where the wooden
disposable plates can be procured from. I saw this plate for the first time when I went to Adilabad Kala Ashram on Ugadi in 2009. Since then I have been enquiring now and then but I could not find a place from where they come. Finally I got a contact in the stall setup by APEC(AP Environment Connect) stall.

These wooden platets, cups are priced at Rs 2-4/- and in bulk I am sure the price can be lower. They can be a very good alternative to the plastic plates disposed in most of the parties and functions these days. The contact for the same is Mr. Suresh from Palam Packers (+91-9849364539). I have not checked this yet though.

b) There was a THRIVE solar energy solutions stall selling Solar Lights. It was designed for farmers to go into the fields in the night. The brightness is adjustable too. They had solutions for urban areas too where the person said he can give 2-3 tubelights, 1 fan and TV from solar power. The installation costs were around 20000 and it is expected to go on for long without issues. Added to the "for future" list ! (

c) The most important thing that happened was that there was a register put up in the APEC stall and I write my name and email ID to get updates related to environment. The next day onwards I started getting some very interesting mails. I am suddenly in touch with like minded people working towards environment. Many of them have already experimented things that I was planning to do. That helped a lot in getting insights into issues. is the group name and those who want to join this group should send an email to

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trees Planted and Adopted

26th Januray's tree plantation this year was a confluence of many nature enthusiasts. Sriram, Shilpi and me, we bought saplings from a nursery in Telecom Nagar. We bought some saplings of Jack fruit, Amla, Bel (Bilva), Custard Apple, Lemon. First year students from Shilpi and Sriram's groups started the work by 2Pm and it went on till 6PM. These were planted around the felicity ground(kalakshetra).

Parallel to this was another group headed by Neelima ma'am. 10-15 varieties of medicinal herbs and plants were taken from the garden between NBH and GH. These were planted in OBH lawn.

The whole show included search for gardening tools, collecting them from some faculty houses, some of them were "discovered" behind some bushes where the gardeners have hidden them.

It was great fun. Now, lets see how well these trees and plants would be taken care by the first year students.