Archive for April, 2008

18
Apr
08

Topless

My blog is too dreary. Here’s a pic.

Mandawa

Taken on a recent trip to the Mandawa Desert Resort to celebrate the success of Conquest. We spent hours swimming in jeans, which feel awesome underwater and like rocks on the ground. The resort itself was pretty cool with little cottages, dung coated walls and in the middle of nowhere. This was the only time this semester when I went out of campus and had lots of legal fun. I need to travel a little more next semester.

18
Apr
08

Olympic Games 2008 and CSR disaster for sponsors.

China

The Olympic Games are quickly turning into every company’s worst nightmare. Associating your brand with violations of human rights and media freedom alongside CSR is hypocrisy at highest quarters. Beijing clearly looks like a bad place for the Olympic Games to be held.

The Olympics would have been a great opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern country to the world. The amount of money and effort that has gone into this is tremendous. Even the regular citizens have gone into a frenzy in learning English and scrubbing up their cities. But instead the focus is on the very backward attitude which has been hindering China’s growth all the while. It was shortsighted on the government’s part to have expected that everybody would have neglected all the dirty laundry and seen only the good side of China.

In today’s world more and more people are becoming concerned about social responsibility. With the internet facilitating the easy propagation of information and truth, its hard to hide anything. Only two days back Twitter facilitated rescue of an American, who was arrested without cause. An online petition for Tibet had 10 million people supporting it in just four days. Such events are uncommon, but not surprising. They are logical outcomes of essential technologies.

China’s Olympics are being held ransom and rightly so. Its high time Tibet was democratized and its now or never. The associated companies should do their bit and turn up the heat on the government. Since they are paying for the Games they have every right to question the government’s tactics and urger for positive steps. If the sponsors do not take steps to correct their image, this is quickly going to blow up in their faces. If the Olympic Games need to be saved, then the Chinese govt should agree to reason and stop its repressive policies against Tibet.

Companies like McDonald’s and GE which are among the top 12 sponsors, have some of the most admired CSR policies need to take the initiative. You cannot expect to make money and add to your brand off the miseries of million other people in this century.

10
Apr
08

My reservations on the reservations.

The supreme court has finally ruled on the issue of the OBC quota for Central education institutes. The issue of having 49.5% reservation is iconic and national institutes like IITs and IIMs truly has a lot of us angered and divided. Personally I’m in favor of the reservations, but I think the reservation makes sense in the short-term but isn’t solving any issues for the long-term.

SCs/STs and OBCs are an under-represented lot in most higher education institutes. They form a major chunk of the lower economic classes and today it’s just impossible to get into a good higher education institute without spending a lot of money on getting coached for the exams. Of course if the reservations were in terms of economic classifications, it would make a lot more sense. But the government has its own selfish reasons of favoring castes which form the major portion of the Indian population. At least the ‘creamy layer’ of OBCs is not going to be favored in these reservations.

I believe these reservations will affect the medical stream students the most negatively. They already have such few seats and now there are even lesser. I hope the government does something about increasing the seats. In the engineering and management streams, I’m a little amused to see that most people are incensed about the reservation policies being applicable to IITs and IIMs. Out of some 5 lakh aspiring engineers, 4000 will make it to IITs. Why is everybody so concerned about the fate 4000 of brightest minds? The bright guys will almost certainly do well anywhere. Now with the reservation, a few hundred out of the lakhs of OBC/SC/ST(and impoverished) students will be benefited from an IIT education. And the IITs must increase their intake of students. Already most of them are spread over such huge sprawling campuses, which is frankly a big waste of space for purely technical colleges. I mean 500 acres for just 5000 students is a little too much. Compare that to American elite universities which have tens of thousands of students on similar or smaller land sizes.

These reservations will benefit more people than not, but its a classic case of ‘Too little, too late.’ Higher education is going the private way quickly. What with so few govt seats available, it had to happen. The reservations can’t affect the private institutes, which are barely meritocratic and bastions of the well-off kids. So the problem of poor kids not getting quality education comes back again. And if the benefits are to be increased, more govt institutes must upgrade the quality of education they provide.

On a personal level though I’m a little pained. I studied in a IIT-JEE coaching institute and I know the hard work it takes to sacrifice two(or even more) years of a teenage life on the JEE altar and then be crushed because you didn’t make it and somebody else who scored much lesser makes it. And with my sister giving the JEE in three days, this is undue and unfair pressure on her.

Times like these, when I’m feel proud and lucky to be a BITSian. Merit rules here and always will. And probably thats why there are very very few SCs/STs here(my personal observation). I though sometimes wish there was a quota for girls. Frankly its unhealthy.

PS: I’m disabling comments for this post. From what I’ve seen on other blogs such posts always turn into places for useless rhetoric on either IIT/IIM bashing or IIT/IIM glorifying. Certainly NOT going to happen on my blog. If you absolutely have to vent, go to YouthCurry, you’ll find something for your taste ;).

05
Apr
08

What is the role of the Social Entrepreneur?

I’m reading ‘How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas‘ by David Bornstein. The book is a collection of stories and essays on social entrepreneurs; and a must read for anybody fascinated by social change. I’m on chapter 8, which is an essay titled, ‘Role of the social entrepreneur’. Its very well written and I wish I could reproduce it. In this post I’ve written a few of my views on the essay and have quoted Bornstein contextually.

The main motive behind the chapter was to show how social entrepreneurs are hidden behind their path-breaking ideas and rarely given credit. Actually its not a matter of credit, but also that social entrepreneurs are not as well scrutinized or researched as the case with business entrepreneurs. While business entrepreneurs have been given due credit for their role in changing the economies, social entrepreneurs are yet to be recognised as important forces of societal change. This is because sociologists consider factors driving social change- demographics, technology, economics, political processes- but do not consider the role of a ‘charismatic leader’. In social innovation, ideas are more valued than people. People are just audience and are considered to have minimal role in an idea’s successful propagation.

Such a thought would not fly for a second in the world of business, because its been proven over and over again that people driving ideas are more important than ideas. An idea with a great prospect will fail to reach its true potential if not fanatically pursued by a passionate and determined leader.This reasoning holds true in the social entrepreneurship world too.

A contemporary example will be Al Gore for ‘Global warming’ (personally, I think his picture is biased and very distorted. But thats another story.). His main role was that of an evangelist, a whistle blower or a lobbyist. He’s made the US and Europe, frantic and paranoid about global warming. Thats no mean task. I think he’s done more, than any scientist could have with research statistics.

Bornstein says, “An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter, even if it is a masterpiece. Otherwise the play may never open; or it may open but, for lack of an audience, close after a week.” Ideas need champions and this is especially true for ideas which threaten status quo and go against all traditional wisdom or norms. Bornstein quotes James O’ Toole from the book, ‘Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership’, “The major factor in our resistance to change is the desire not to have the will of others forced on us.” So if ideas need to take root as concrete realities, they’ll need an obsessive, bullheaded tyrant with motivation to drive, persuade, cajole or inspire others into accepting the idea and its prospects.

Today when we try looking at various major social change that were once revolutionary and today, seem only logical, there was certainly one leader/entrepreneur who ignited the change. I can think of dowry abolition, sati abolition, widow remarriage, etc all being pioneered by various personalities like Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Babasaheb Ambedkar, etc. The fact though is, there’s hardly any literature on scrutiny of their methods employed to reach their targets. Its probably because all the above people were praised as saints or mahatmas, one beyond any comparison with normal humans. In Christianity all the saints were almost certainly just proponents of great positive social progress and not really ‘Holy’ in the strictest terms. Since their motives were so selfless, their methods of achieving them haven’t been recorded. It so appears that even though social entrepreneurs were identified and glorified much before business entrepreneurs (who were first identified in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith in 1776), there’s hardly any popular study on their methods.

I hope you read ‘How to Change the World’‘, for essays on some contemporary entrepreneurs, who are Steve Jobs and Bransons of the social world. And if the world is lucky, you’ll decide to change the world too.

04
Apr
08

O Magazines, Where Art Thou?

Just thumbing through the latest issue of The Week and BusinessWorld had me thinking about how boring, dry, replaceable and frankly, useless, these weekly magazines have become. I agree I do not have the best examples of magazine journalism in front of me, but am I delusional to think that, once upon a time, magazines had good readable stories? I actually remember looking forward to reading the latest Outlook or India Today. Today, they are vents for their egoist and commercial editors. Where are the knowledgeable columnists and writers? Even the very writing style makes it a little painful to completely read articles. Recently one article which truly touched me was on a Chennai book fair written by somebody called T Murali. It was two pages on absolutely nothing, just a tiny book fair graced by Karunanidhi. But man, it was such a pleasure. I Googled him up, but couldn’t find anything and he hasn’t written anything for The Week since. But I’m hanging on!

I remember, when Tarun Tejpal, Sandipan Deb, Pankaj Mishra used to write for Outlook, it was a pleasure to read. They among others, were a great influence on me a decade ago. Today Outlook is rubbish, India Today more so. The internet has made them even more unreadable. If all I was looking for was news and statistics, I would read the newspaper or Google.

From a magazine, I’m looking for opinions, ideas and importantly causes. Any magazine with that on the editor’s mind?

04
Apr
08

India’s per-capita deception

Quoting Tulsi Tanti, chairman of Suzlon, from the latest issue of The Week(dated April 6th), “With over 1.1 billion people, we have a per capita use of 660kw, while it is 1,400kw for the US, and the global average is 3,000kw.” This was in reply to the argument that India was growing, hence guzzling up resources. This quote is dejavu from the Fortune Global Forum 2007, where Dr. Manmohan Singh flaunted it in his keynote to the audience, which also included Tulsi Tanti. I especially remember this quote from the PM, because right after the keynote Marc Gunther, who writes on environmental issues for Fortune, had a short discussion on this with a Fulbright scholar, who was working with TERI on energy financing. Since I was sitting between them, clueless about energy, I had a vantage view of what Americans thought of India’s energy attitude. Six months after that discussion, if you corner me on energy, I’ll quote them!

So why is the per-capita figure by Tulsi Tanti deceiving? Because half of the billion people being talked about do not have access to the energy and do not use it or waste it. So most of the energy which is being used is from the urban population aggregates of India. Divide India’s energy use by the urban population and you’ll end up with a number nearly double of the world average. Our urban cities have some of the most inefficient power management systems and unoptimized consumer appliances. Every time somebody tries pointing that out, somebody BIG shoves the 800kw statistic into their face. Thinking about it, we use the 1.1 billion number to our advantage. When it comes to stuff like sports or income or education, the 1.1 billion is immediately replaced by a more convenient number. India is like two countries, one which is as modern and wasteful as the US, the other is poor and backward like Bangladesh. Its time to come up with statistics for both these ‘countries’ so that we can really understand what is going wrong.

I certainly wasn’t expecting Tulsi Tanti, who really impressed me at the Fortune Forum, to hide behind such a statistic. I wonder where I can find more credible statistics regarding India’s energy consumption? Every data I found by Googling had 1.1 billion in the denominator.




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