Archive for February, 2009

Popsicles and Drip Irrigation

February 27, 2009

The 3 months that I have spent so far in the world of low cost drip irrigation has been educational. In this video, I share with you a little bit of the history, manufacturing and impact of affordable drip irrigation.

Faces of Pakistan

February 25, 2009

The Pakistan that I see in the media and the Pakistan I see on the ground seem to be two very different worlds. I don’t delude myself into thinking that they are not both realities of the same country, but I wish that people could see what I am fortunate to witness here on the ground. In that vein, this video is a collage of the faces of people I have met in my travels…

Is it safe to blog in India?

February 25, 2009

Last couple of days there has been an issue that has been raised about a blogger being sued by a political outfit for defamation. And apparently the blogger has lost the case.

Here is a link to the article:

What do you think about this issue? Should the blogger be spared?

I think he should be spared – this is about expressing your views.

A Dying Industry – India’s Traditional Silk Weaving Craft

February 23, 2009

The center of India’s silk weaving  industry is in Varanasi. Recently I had the chance to visit one of the local shops myself, and to see the traditional loom weavers working on the premises. We were taken through the small factory floor by Mr. Mehta, whose family owns and operates the shop upstairs and likely has for generations. He spoke proudly of the quality of silks and that he ships around the world… and while I half listened I videoed the tiny, frail older men working on the looms and as is often the case in India wished I could communicate with them easily to learn their personal narrative. Noticing my interest, Mr. Mehta boomed, “They get breaks whenever they want, one sari takes 10 days to make….” and went on to say that they are highly specialized workers, the only ones left who know the craft. I couldn’t help wondering that if they are so highly valued why are they working on a dirt floor in a smelly back room, with poor lighting (as an aside, all wore spectacles). Knowing how much Mr. Mehta was charging for his wares, I wonder how much money these men and their dependents ever see.

A recent article in the Economist called ‘Looming Extinction’ highlights the decline of the traditional silk weaving industry in Varanasi, sighting Western-style dress influence as one of the causes in falling demand, and the fact that women often now prefer the cheaper, brighter machine-made sari. Although Mr. Mehta did not speak about waning demand, his shop was empty except for us.

So what will happen to these men, who in my home country of Canada would be retired long before now? The article talks about their inability to purchase a power loom and adapt to the changing times, so they are often taken advantage of by exploitative middlemen (Mr. Mehta perhaps?). He was an impressive businessman, I’m certain if his margins are squeezed he will not absorb the pain alone.

Mahatma Gandhi fought against the ‘craze of machinery’ in his lifetime. I don’t think he objected to machines as such, but to the thousands of men that labour-saving machines put out of work and onto the street. No government re-training schemes, not then, and not now it would seem. Although these men and their sons are not ‘out of work’ they are part of an industry that is in decline and their skills are not transferable. There is no easy answer here, except I think Gandhi was right when he said the supreme consideration is man.

LifeSpring as a private company turned 1 year old

February 23, 2009

On Feb 16th, LifeSpring Hospitals celebrated it’s one year anniversary as a private entity. As a part of the celebrations everyone was expected to wear pink shirts. We also prepared a video where the CEO, Mr. Anant Kumar spoke to all employees and reminded everyone about the LifeSpring mission.

Here is a link to the video.

“Be Patient With Yourself”

February 16, 2009

This month I want to share with you not about the investment that I am working in but about myself and my personal experience in the first few months of the Fellowship.

Before flying to India I was part of many conversations in which the common theme was that in order to really make a positive social impact in the lives of the poor we need to slow down… Extend time lines, think in terms of processes not tasks, take into account the infrastructural limitations of the countries when designing a business plan, etc. All of these conversations, plus the many hours in the classrooms at LSE discussing the failures of development efforts in the last few decades, helped me prepare to transition to a work environment that would require a large quantity of patience. Patience with the external circumstances that would shape the way I worked. What I did not foresee was that I would need even a larger quantity of patience with myself and the impact that my personal transition would have on the work I was ready to do.

Find out why by watching my video.

Ethical Hurdles at the Base of the Pyramid

February 9, 2009

Micro Drip is a company that is committed to demonstrating the highest level of ethical behavior. Unfortunately in Pakistan, that makes our job even more difficult than it already is.

Besides the obvious benefit of helping farmers earn more with less, Micro Drip’s work has the added benefit of helping Pakistan address its impending water crisis. Currently, Pakistan is under a severe threat of water scarcity, according to the current level of per capita water availability, which hovers just above 1,000 cubic meters of water per person. The World Health Organization has set 1,000 cubic meters of water as the minimum amount of water necessary to satisfy basic needs for food, drinking water, and hygiene. At the current rate of decline, Pakistan is projected to reach 886 cubic meters of water availability per person in the year 2020, well below the minimum threshold. In light of these issues, the Pakistani government has enacted a number of programs designed to increase water efficiency, including a US$ 1.3 billion program for subsidizing drip irrigation. On the surface, this seems like it would ideally suite Micro Drip, but the proposal was written primarily with the highest quality orchard drip irrigation systems in mind. Micro Drip’s innovation is being able to reduce the price of drip irrigation so that it is more accessible to poor farmers, but this same innovation is making it much more difficult for us to qualify for the subsidy.

Recently, we had a discussion with a government representative who asked us why we had flagged our products in the beginning as not meeting certain government specifications. He questioned why we did not simply forge certification documents and place fake labels on our material in order to qualify for the subsidy. This same representative also alluded to the fact that other drip irrigation companies are doing just that. By doing what is right, we have made the path before us even more complex, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.