Monday, September 28, 2009

ISB iDiya Challenge Launched

ISB iDiya Challenge is a National Social Ideas Competition being organised by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad open to all working professionals. Closing date for submission is October 25, 2009 ( <> )
From my perspective it is great to see a management school of high calibre like ISB get involved in social issues. Tomorrow's leaders will transform the bottom line to include social impact and institutional change is required to build this new leadership.
The Situation:
49% of the world’s underweight children; 46% of the world’s wasted children and 34% of the world’s stunted children live… in INDIA. <>
456 million people below the international poverty line ($1.25/ day)… live in INDIA. That is one and a half times the population of the USA and one-third of the world’s population below the poverty line. <,,contentMDK:21880725~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:295584,00.html>
70% of the population does not have access to basic banking and financial services… in Rural INDIA. <>
41% of the population does not own any of the basic products/assets – bicycle; radio; telephone… in Rural INDIA. <>

The Response:
Some individuals have taken the untrodden path and have chosen to create companies which do good and also do business.
DesiCrew - Rural BPO delivering 40% cost savings to its clients while changing lives of rural populations. 80% of its team are women.
Dial 1298 for Ambulance - Rolling out a nationwide network of life support ambulance service.
Inclusive Planet - <> . Building the world’s largest community of differently-abled persons.

Mentoring partners for ISB iDiya: Acumen Fund, Deloitte, DFJ, Google, Intellecap, Seedfund, Unitus, Venture East.
Registration- <> . Email:
ISB iDiya Networking Platform:

Microfinance and Education: A win-win partnership

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: if you want to plan for a year, plant a rice field, if you want to plan for ten years, plant a tree and if you want to plan for the future, educate your child. Microfinance is addressing the 1-10 year scenario which is pretty great. But last year, at the Tech Awards ( I heard of a business model innovation - a partnership - that addresses the future. It is a combination microfinance plus education model. In this model, women who receive loans are encouraged to send their children to a partner education NGO for "free" or at a subsidised rate. The partner institutions decide how the finances are shared (the interest payments) for optimal sustainability of both organisations. This is a win-win model where the women are encouraged to make a go of the business, (education is a social benefit - unquantifiable through standard metrics), microfinace institutions have to do less policing about the use of their funds and education NGO gets students who's parents care.
Countries with severe poverty are also plagued with prejudice against women, poor health among children and a growing opportunity gap between the rich and the poor. UNESCO proclaimed September 8 as International Literacy Day in 1965 to highlight the role of education in addressing these issues but while its importance is universally acknowledged, the deployment of quality education in developing economies has proved unsuccessful. This is also true for India where, in spite of a great rise in economic stature of the nation in recent years, the literacy divide is as great as it was prior to the IT boom. The success stories of opportunity inclusion come from the microfinance sector. So wouldn't it be nice if we could leverage the success of the microfinance model to do more? Like maybe provide quality education to those left behind bythe current system?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Education: Ultimate Empowerment

I came to the USA in 1970. When I landed in New York I knew no one and had just 8 dollars in my pocket- since that was the govt. of India regulation at that time. But I did not see any handicap in this. For I had my education. Education is empowerment.

Mahatma Gandhi: "The spread of literacy is the most effective method to advance freedom."
Yet in India, the literacy divide remains intact or worse than it was in 1970.

“Education in the new India has become a crucial marker of inequality. Among the poorest 20 percent of Indian men, half are illiterate, and barely 2 percent graduate from high school, according to government data. By contrast, among the richest 20 percent of Indian men, nearly half are high school graduates and only 2 percent are illiterate." (Education Push Yields Little for India’s Poor”, New York Times, January 17, 2008). Consider this - About 35 percent of India’s population is illiterate; there are 100 million illiterate children of ages 6-14 years.

In the course of my work we come across many organizations devoted to the cause of literacy and education for the underprivileged and they are all absolutely amazing. The fact is the education- especially at the K-12 level- is a huge challenge as it comes intermingled with issues of hunger, health, and hopelessness.

As the bay area Pratham fundraiser is coming up on Saturday, 26th I am reminded of why I support them. Pratham stands out in three ways.
1) Scale: Existing aid models for education make a huge impact but to change the world you need scale. For education, lacking a viable for-profit business model, a change is needed. Pratham is addressing this issue through partnerships. For example- they are a tripartite partnership between the government, citizens and corporates- plus they partner with other NGOs. People say the government is impossible to work with – and it is true – but they are the ones with infrastructure.
2) Metrics: Its good to have the end goal, mission and vision – but we also have to course correct. For that we need metrics and evaluations. Pratham is a learning organization that continuously monitors itself and the field.
3) Community: No service program can work if it not owned by the community, is for the community and run by the community it serves. Pratham’s many outreach programs, cadre of volunteers as well as paid staff – all have a mission of hope. This is the leadership style as well as the distinguishing strategy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Microfinance Awards - Application Deadline Sept. 30, 2009

Awards and recognition are a great way of supporting change makers- providing emotional and (sometimes) financial support - while engendering healthy competition. So I am pleased to hear that HSBC is sponsoring Microfinance India Awards. The winners will be awarded with a cash value of Rs. 100,000 each, a silver plaque and a citation. The deadline for receiving completed nomination forms is September 30, 2009. Nominations are solicited for two categories:
1- Microfinance Institution of the year 2009 - self nominate
2- Lifetime achievement -individual - long-term, significant contribution to Microfinance sector
The awards will be presented at the Microfinance Summit October 26-28, 2009 in Delhi. Even better the awards will become an annual feature - so if not ready this year - stay tuned.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Financial Inclusion: Microfinance to Mainstream

Every year I try to do one hike in the Himalayas. It takes me back to my roots in Dehra Dun, inspires, energises and engenders hope. So in September 2008, when we did the gruelling 14km uphill trek to an elevation of 3584m (Gaurikund to Kedarnath), as usual, the mountains were unimaginably majestic but this year I saw something unexpected- man-made but equally mesmerising for me. Beyond the hike trail, on the dirt path to the last village on the India border, there flew a banner that read something like "Proud to reach 100% financial inclusion - State Bank of India". I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture (too tired is my excuse). Sure it is an ad. But look at the lofty goal. In a country largely supported by a rural population, where less than 50% bank and even fewer have access to credit, to reach the remotest corner of India with a goal of 100% financial inclusion is nothing short of ambitious. And indeed, all the huts I saw looked clean, had roofs and there were tiny, immaculate gardens with cabbage, cauliflower growing; chickens running around and nobody looked cold or hungry. For developing economies, microfinance (and micro-franchising) must become mainstream. So I am pleased to be invited to the Microfinance India Summit to be held October 26-28, 2009 at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The theme this year is "Doing Good and Doing Well: The need for balance". The summit will look at both the trade-offs and points of convergence as the sector grapples to balance between building the social as well as the financial capital; scale and soul; social performance measurement; client protection; products and services that the poor need; and issues linked to last-mile connectivity, among others. I also look forward to interviewing ordinary and extraordinary folks I meet at the conference - so send me your questions and I'll report back on what I hear - right here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Open Mind: Key to Successful Cross Cultural Communications

Without a map Columbus probably would not have "discovered" America. But a map mislead him into thinking he had discovered India. So I love maps; but I realize that they can mislead. Phantoms in the Brain, page 39- "When asked what his biological studies had taught him about God, Haldane replied- the creator if he exists must have an inordinate fondness for beetles for there are more species of beetles than any other group of living creatures. By the same token, a neurologist must conclude that God is a cartographer. He must have an inordinate fondness for maps for everywhere you look in the brain, maps abound." by V.S. Ramachandran, Professor at UC San Diego. The good thing about a brain map (unlike a physical map) is that every interaction updates our brain map. I talked about this at the recent "Successful Cross Cultural Communications" event hosted by FountainBleu in the context of understanding and overcoming stereotype biases. The human brain creates maps to classify and simplify the life around us so we can function 9-5. Stereotypes in our heads are just like maps- useful but possibly misleading. If we can accept this, we can actually enlist what we already think we know about another culture (when one thinks about ‘cross-cultural’ there’s an assumption that it’s about people from different backgrounds, but it’s much broader than that. It encompasses differences in geography, languages, generations, companies, functional areas, regions and industries) simply be prepared to update your knowledge - add to or create a new map.
And the old cliches about keeping an "open mind" or "active listening" or "suspend judgement" that leave you wondering what action to take, start making sense.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More than Money: its about Mindshare

Socially motivated organisations often get so tired of the incessant need for fundraising, that they quit or they lower their ambition and start thinking small. How then to keep your spirits up? Keep going?
Create Mindshare- A few weeks back, I attended the Pratham sponsored entertainment program put together by 8 amateur singers and one dance company. The financial goal ($10,000) was modest but the ambitious goal was creating awareness about education (and the lack of access to it) in India. The first thing I noticed was how different the event was. There were no "stars", no "egos", no agendas. Amateur talent was provided a platform, the tickets were affordable and it was a concrete forum for bringing together friends, family around a worthy cause. With a cast of over 45 people it was easy to fill the West Valley auditorium to meet the financial goal. It was particularly heartening for me to see teenagers born in the US eager to understand and give back to children less fortunate than themselves and racking their brains to figure out how.
While asking for funding is like harvesting the fruit off a tree, a program like this is like sowing a seed. Kudos to the Pratham volunteers that came up with the idea and executed it to perfection. Other organisations see the value of creating mind share. Niroga teaches yoga and mindfulness skills to at-risk youth and other under-served populations. Their model holds great promise as a low cost strategy for reducing juvenile crime and violence, truancy and dropout rates, chronic health problems and many other problems affecting children and the communities they live in. Niroga is hosting a brunch on October 3, 2009 in Oakland, CA. This benefit event promises to be a great time, with delicious food, musical entertainment by members of the Oakland Youth Chorus, and inspiring remarks by students and teachers involved in Niroga programs. There is no charge to attend the event, but most attendees do pledge to make a donation at the event.
Business is Business. Whether a for-profit or not-for-profit, sustainability and even more so, scaling the venture, requires a business model with a recurring revenue stream. But till you get to that point don't forget the power of people- everyday people who want to give but don't have a forum for it. Create mindshare and reap the benefits.