Friday, February 27, 2009

Poverty Action Lab at MIT and India Police Makeover

From my last post maybe you can tell that I have been looking for crazy stories - and there is none crazier than this one - and I first found out about it in the San Jose Mercury news - good going SJM! This one is a classic case of how someone coming from the outside can spot an issue someone from the inside cannot. I spent my formative years in India before coming for graduate school in US. I don't quite know why (Bollywood movies, hearsay, just plain ignorance) since I never met a policeman in India, I was one of those that subscribed to the theory the Indian policemen are corrupt, lazy, overweight, insensitive etc etc. In short stay away from them. And in spite of all my years of management coaching, this one image I had not shed - till yesterday - when I read about a MIT Poverty Action Lab project in India. "The dominant image of an Indian police officer, etched in people's minds and embedded in movies, is that of a slothful, rude and bribe-taking constable" says Rama Lakshmi in a Washington Post article. This perception of poor performance caught the attention of the MIT Poverty Action Lab, and they found that the negative image was a barrier to effective police-work. Their study proved something the policemen knew all along - that policemen in India are sleep deprived, overworked (7 days a week), underpaid with a threat of constant transfers from political bosses which means effectively no family life. No wonder the constable is irritable and rude! MIT-Station (or MIT Thanas) trials where constables were given etiquette training and relaxation time, showed thirty percent improvement in crime-victims satisfaction with victims' satisfaction of case handling.
Seems so obvious now as I think about it - but it is not something I ever thought of before- "we are not experts in policing" says Daniel Keniston who co-ordinated the field research. Well done I say - this is not about policing - it is about good management - and it took innovative action to prove it. An interesting statistic - India has one of the lowest ratio of policemen to number of citizens (source- India Today) while Egypt - where I have been travelling recently - one of the highest at 1 policeman per 7 citizens (source - our tour guide on the trip to Abu Simbel)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Journey Across India in Electric Car

"... the world needs crazy ideas to change things, because the conventional way of thinking is not working anymore" says Fullbright Scholar Alexis Ringwald, in a New York Times Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman. What is this crazy idea? A Climate Solutions road tour, using modified electric cars from India’s Reva Electric Car Company, whose C.E.O. Ringwald knew. He was persuaded into donating three of his cars and to retrofit them with longer-life batteries that could travel 90 miles on a single six-hour charge — and to lay on a solar roof that would extend them farther. "Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, they drove the cars on a 2,100-mile trip from Chennai to New Delhi, stopping in 15 cities and dozens of villages, training Indian students to start their own climate action programs and filming 20 videos of India’s top home-grown energy innovations". Their idea was to bring awareness and spur innovation around energy solutions that are here and now - technology that already exists and can be deployed today. India Climate Solutions website documents the experience and its leadership action wing, The Indian Youth Climate Network aims to generate awareness and empower a generation of young people to take effective action against climate change, at a local, state, national and international level. India with its growing energy needs can emerge not only as the new big green market, but also lead innovation. I have blogged about the Reva car in the past and wondered why we don't see more of them in India - my nephew, who lives in Bangalore, is a 2-Reva Car family and loves them - it is easy to drive in India's narrow roads and distances are manageable. Hopefully this experiment will do something for Reva cars as well.