Archive for December, 2007

Three days of mourning?

December 31, 2007

Wangari was the first to call me and tell me that Benazir Bhutto had been killed.¬† I did not believe her (thinking she misunderstood the urdu news ūüėČ )–because usually the suicide bombers miss the target and kill innocent civilians!

Once the news was confirmed, I felt sadness in my heart that a fellow member of humanity had lost her life unnecessarily.¬† I felt sad because she was a mother to someone…a sister…a wife…a daughter.

However, I did not feel sad for the loss of a politician in Pakistan or the loss of a ‘voice of the people’–as the media is touting.¬† Pakistan has been deprived of a leader that is sincere to the people for many years.¬† Benazir had been part of a legacy of politicians that have¬†taken turns to loot the country¬†for decades.¬†In the history of Pakistan, whenever a person has¬†come into power, they have¬†done whatever it takes to further their personal interests–disregarding the interest of the ‘people’.¬†

Politics in Pakistan is a get-rich-quick scheme for the elite–and an opportunity to manipulate the masses.¬† Asif Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto–and now party (co)chairperson(!!!), had been imprisoned for several years on corruption charges (also accused of¬†laundering $1.5 billion¬†while his wife was the Prime Minister)¬†and was widely thought to have mudered the brother of Benazir (while she was ruling).

I am not a supporter of¬†any political party in Pakistan(as they are all the same) and have no hidden agenda, but am¬†really frustrated on how the media conceals the truth to create a more newsworthy story.¬† Yes–Benazir has died, and I feel sadness for her family–but many innocent people have died in the last few days in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, etc—head of households barely making ends meet are dead now,¬†their families¬†have no where to go for help—but I suppose their blood is cheaper(?)

Looking Within

December 31, 2007

As 2007 draws to a close tonight, I reflect back on my SIPA graduation last May, which already feels ages ago.¬† I still remember the Dean’s parting words:

“I hope your life is truly satisfying, but that you are never fully satisfied…

May you take great risks to do what is right…

May you be accepting without being complacent…

And above all, before you go out and make the world a better place, may you have the wisdom to first look within and start with yourself.”

And I guess that’s what New Years is all about — a time for reflection, deeper introspection, and hopeful resolutions.¬† One of the best parts of Acumen Fellows training was the time to reflect on the difficult questions we each must answer for ourselves: How much is enough?¬† Why am I doing what I’m doing?¬† What do I want my legacy to be?

And while I still don’t have all the answers, it’s amazing how much of an impact only a month and a half in the field has made on my worldviews and life goals.¬† I already can’t wait until the Skoll Conference in March to revisit these questions with the other Fellows.

Happy 2008 to everyone!

A voice silenced

December 30, 2007

I get home and as my norm I switch on the TV to watch CNN news since all the papers in the office are in Urdu and its only evening time when I can catch up with whats happening in the world.

I expected to watch news about Kenya elections but am in shock as I watch what had happened after Bhutto’s party meeting near Islamabad.20 People have¬†died and she is hurt and in hospital in a critical condition.The CNN news correspondent is interviewing Nawaz Shariff and he poses a question to him: What if Bhutto dies?

Everything else happens too fast because just after 15 minutes they announce her death and the whole of Pakistan is filled with anger and rage.She had just come back home in October and she was so determined to become PM for the third time.She once said that the Gandhi family and the Bhutto families were cursed;because they all die in the struggle.

The next hours are horrible not knowing what will happen next.The Government issued a 3 day mourning period and beacuse of the chaos many people have to stay indoors.I guess this will be my most memorable time in Pakistan;to be here to witness it all and am also sharing in their pain and loss and just pray for peace within the coming weeks as they make decisions about elections.

“We are prepared to sacrifice ourselves but we are not ready to sacrifice our great nation”some of her last words and her promise if her party came into power was to be focused on the 5E’s: Education,Energy,Environment,Empowerment and Equality.

Her legacy lives on;Pakistan must strive to achieve democracy.

Channel factors prevent follow-up

December 27, 2007

In the paper A Behavioral-Economics View of Poverty, Eldar Shafir explains:

“Minor situational details, referred to as channel factors can have great impact.¬† The opening up of a channel (such as an a priori commitment, or a first step) may facilitate some behaviors, whereas other behaviors can be blocked by closed channels.¬† In one classic study, college seniors were given persuasive messages about the value of an inoculation against tetanus.¬† While the messages were effective at changing the students’ beliefs and attitudes, few actually took the step of getting a tetanus shot.¬† By contrast, when other students received the same messages but were also given a map of the campus with the infirmary circled and asked to decide on a particular time, the percentage of students getting the innoculation increased by an order of magnitude.”

At our¬†village eye clinics, more than half of the people who are screened and who need glasses fall in the category of “will purchase soon” (which is different than “needs but does not want”).¬†People want to buy glasses “later”.¬† Perhaps they need more time to think about it, need to consult a spouse¬†or don’t have money with them.¬† Regardless, between now and later, Shafir’s channel factors will get in the way – for the buyer and for the seller.¬† Other parts of life become more pressing as time goes by.¬† One of the things I’m working on¬†is creating ways to reduce the barriers that prevent these prospective customers from getting their new glasses.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2007


‚ÄėTwas the night before Christmas, and all through our flat,
Tons of creatures a-stirring, but at least not a rat;

The stockings are hung outside our rooms with great care,
Gifts FedEx’ed from home, since I cannot be there;

Four Acumen fellows sleep tight in their beds,
While visions of winter dance in their heads;

Spending Christmas in Hyderabad, where it’s warm as can be,
Sharing stories of the fellowship for each other to see;

‚ÄėTis the season for everything, not just Christmas here,
There‚Äôs Eid and Hindu festivals — general seasonal cheer;

And while it’s sad to be far this holiday season,
We’re being exposed to new cultures and traditions;

From New York we have scattered all over the land,
To Nairobi and Mumbai; Hyderabad; Pakistan.

And no matter what religion each of us individually follow,
We all reflect with joyful hope for a better tomorrow;

So to our friends and our family all over the earth,
Happy Holidays to all ‚Äď lots of merriment and mirth!

Live,Love,Learn and Laugh

December 24, 2007

Yesterday I watched the movie Last holiday;Queen Latifah who is misdiagnosed as suffering from a rare disease and the doctor tells her she has only 3 weeks to live.She had been working in a retail store for 10 years just keeping her head down and hustling and when she raised her head up; her life had passed her by.So she clears her lifes savings and ventures into her world of “possibilites”which included all the things she had ever dreamt of doing nd after all this they become “realities”

This reminded me about a workshop we had in the office which started with a video on Life is short. The main questions paused:

Love – how do I know love?

Live – how do I live?

Learn – what do I need to learn or unlearn?

Legacy – what will I be remembered for?

After this fellowship I will make certain changes to my life because it is too short: I will live,love,learn and ;laugh more

Christmas is for everyone

December 24, 2007

The cars here play little songs when they back up –¬†sort of like some greeting cards do when you open them.¬† I just got distracted at work because someone’s car-backing-up song down the lane was playing “Santa Claus is coming to town”.¬†¬†In a city where only 3% of the population is Christian, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here too: Sellers at stoplights¬†have replaced their stocks of mosquito-killing-tennis-raquets to hawk red furry hats instead.¬† The children at the orphanage across the street are hanging decorations.¬† Giant inflatable santas loom large over the¬†bustling streets.

This evening, Chris, Catherine, Tricia and I are headed to the City Center mall for the 6 PM event: FEED THE SANTA.  We are so giddy we can hardly contain ourselves.  Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Local people dancing local dances

December 23, 2007

Acumen talks a lot about the importance of listening to the poor. One of the reasons they believe in a markets-based approach to development is that the fear of going bankrupt is a pretty good incentive to listen to your customers! But what if a market-based approach can’t work everywhere? At dinner the other night a new Kenyan friend who works for a local NGO said something that brought to life how difficult ensuring the poor are listened to can be:

“Donors preach to us a lot about involving local people. But they make our deadlines so tight that all we end up with is a spot at the opening ceremony where local people dance local dances in local dress. What worries me most is that I’m not sure that anyone really minds.”

Election excitement

December 23, 2007

Nairobi traffic is always bad; the difference at the moment are the matatus and buses decorated to campaign for Presidential candidates. The race continues to be close between current President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity, and his main opponent Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement. The campaign is colorful ‚Äď with the PNU’s red & blue and “Kazi Iendelee” (“keep working together”) competing with ODM’s bright orange hues for space on billboards, hats, scarves, and matatus.

Kibaki has the benefit of the backing of his Kikuyu tribe (the largest in Kenya) and 6% economic growth under his leadership last year, but he is criticized for his failure to address corruption and tribalism during his first term. And at age 76, he has a hard time keeping up with Odinga’s charisma and energy in the campaign. Odinga’s billboards picture him holding up a small baby to the clouds and read “Giving hope to the next generation” and “The People’s President.” Odinga is well-liked by young voters ‚Äď it is common to see crowds of young men running around with oranges and chanting his name ‚Äď but he seems to unsettle many (he is accused of involvement in a planned 1982 coup to topple President Moi, and of having ‘authoritarian tendencies.’)

14 million voters are registered for the December 27 election – so keep your eyes on the news from Kenya. This would be the first time in history that a President has been voted out of office.

In a “Maximum City”

December 22, 2007

I‚Äôve been reading ‚ÄúMaximum City,‚ÄĚ by Suketu Mehta, an account of modern Mumbai (aka Bombay) written in 2004.¬† It came highly recommended, and it‚Äôs been an excellent read so far.¬†

In the first paragraph of the book, Mehta writes, ‚ÄúThere will soon be more people living in the city of Bombay than on the continent of Australia. ‚Ķ With 14 million people, Bombay is the biggest city on the planet of a race of city dwellers.¬† Bombay is the future of urban civilization on the planet.¬† God help us.‚Ä̬†

Mehta goes on to elaborate on the population density here:¬† ‚ÄúSingapore has a density of 2,535 people per square mile; Berlin, the most crowded European city, has 1,130 people per square mile.¬† The island city of Bombay in 1990 had a density of 17,550 people per square mile.¬† Some parts of central Bombay have a population density of 1 million people per square mile.¬† This is the highest number of individuals massed together at any spot in the world.‚ÄĚ (p. 16)¬† I now find myself one of the 14 million densely packed people here‚ÄĒa humbling feeling.

Everywhere I turn there are people and cars and rickshaws.¬† It‚Äôs dangerous to stop while walking in many places‚ÄĒinvariably someone will bump into me when I do so, and I bump into someone else if I turn without looking in all directions first.¬† Moving around here brings to mind a former US ambassador‚Äôs description of India as a ‚Äúfunctioning anarchy.‚Ä̬† There are cars moving in every conceivable direction without regard to any traffic rules, but they get where they‚Äôre going and people seem to work with the flow.¬†

I just wonder what will happen as India’s economy continues to grow and the expanding middle class continues to aspire to owning a car.  In the U.S., the rate of car ownership is almost 500 vehicles per 1,000 people.  By my rough calculations, if the people living in that square mile of central Bombay with a population density of 1 million had the same rate of car ownership as the U.S., their square mile would be entirely paved in cars parked bumper to bumper, with a few cars stacked on top of each other.  Of course the people who live in that square mile are likely to move out before they purchase a car.  But the rising rates of car ownership on crumbling Mumbai roads that are already packed with vehicles is something to think about.