Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Friday, July 31, 2009

Asia Pacific Future 100 :Application Invited from Youth Social Entrepreneurs

The Foundation for Youth Social Entrepreneurship (FYSE) is a regional organization with the aim to inspire and empowering young people to take actions which create positive change and real impact in their communities, their countries and Asia. By providing a range of tailored support including campaigning and training that is youthful, exciting and dynamic FYSE aims to inspire youth to take actions now, no matter how big or small their actions might be.

The profile of the Asia Pacific Future 100 fellows includes young entrepreneurs and social changemakers under the age of 30 who are an inspiration to other young people.

Asia Pacific Future 100 members are young people who dared to stride out by setting up their own business, social enterprise, NGO or sustainable project. They have overcome challenges by realizing their vision and believing in themselves.

We will have two categories for the awards: commercial entrepreneurship and social Changemakers.

Commercial entrepreneurs includes individuals who set up a business in any field of commerce, with the main objective of achieving profit returns.
Social Changemakers are individuals who have set up a business, social enterprise, NGO or informal sustainable project with the main objective of achieving social returns.

The Asia Pacific Future 100 is a regional nomination process. Nominations are invited from: Mongolia, China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Applications will be open from 1st May to 31st August 2009.

Applications including all supporting documents should be emailed as .zip file named “nominee name _ country” to

Endorsement letters should be emailed by the endorser as .pdf file named “nominee name _ country” to

Selection process
We are looking for young people who dared to stride out, to realize their own vision by setting up a business, social enterprise or NGO. We are looking for young people who have a story to tell, who can inspire other young people to follow suit, therefore applicants from all industries and business scales are invited to apply.

The Nomination committee will forward applications for the Asia Pacific Future 100 program to the Jury to make the final selection for the fellowship. Our auditor will finally confirm the results before we will announce the selected Asia Pacific Future 100 in October 2009.

Selection Criteria:
The following selection criteria apply to all nominees:
• Leadership potential of the Founder
• Growth potential of project/business;
• Social impact
• Financial sustainability
• The originality of the business/ project concept

The panel also considers:
• The entrepreneur's age when the business was started; and
• Any special challenges that had to be overcome.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

China cracks down on human rights lawyers

Chinese authorities are reportedly harassing human rights lawyers and firms. Described as the country’s social conscience, the groups and individuals being targeted in the crackdown have helped families with babies sickened by toxic milk formula and raised the profile of marginalised sections.

The authorities in China appear to have mounted a sweeping crackdown on human rights lawyers, revoking the licences of more than 50 lawyers in the past week.

The lawyers handle a wide-range of cases, from families affected by last year's tainted milk scandal, to Tibetan and Uighur rights and the representation of prominent dissidents.

But the government's crackdown has now forced many of these law firms to the brink of closure.

One such firm is the Yirenping Centre, which for years has fought scores of cases of discrimination against women, gays and people who are HIV positive.

On Wednesday the authorities showed up unannounced to collect evidence and investigate supposed illegal activities.

According to officials the problem centred on the publication of the office's newsletter, which had not been given the necessary government approval.

'Increasingly restrictive'

"I suspect our anti-discrimination activities have offended many people, including big corporations, government officials, and wealthy businessmen," said Lu Jun, a lawyer with Yirenping.

Human Rights in China, a US-based rights group, said on Thursday that the raid on Yirenping showed the "increasingly restrictive legal environment under which China's civil society organisations must operate".

The raid on Yirenping is just the latest blow to the handful of organisations in China that push for social change and justice.

Last week police raided the offices of another Beijing law firm, Gongmeng, which offers legal aid specialising in human rights issues.

The raid saw police confiscate most of the firm's computers and office equipment. In the months previously, several of Gongmeng's lawyers have had their licences revoked because of their work.

'Clear signal'

Teng Biao, one of the firm's lawyers, says the crackdown appears to be a warning to other organisations to rein-in their activities.

"The fines slapped on our legal aid office, and the possibility of our closure, would be a blow to civil society," he said.

"It also sends a clear signal to other organisations fighting for human rights and the public interest to be more careful. It's very worrying."

The groups targeted in the crackdown are China's social conscience. They are the organisations which have helped families with babies sickened by toxic milk formula, or who have raised the profile of powerless groups, such as migrant workers and peasants.

Teng says the crackdown has had a devastating effect.


"Most human rights lawyers are based in Beijing. And over the last few months, I'd say the effect has been huge," he says.

"I'm guessing about 70% of rights attorneys have been harassed." In most cases the authorities are using technicalities to handicap organisations. Gongmeng, for example, has been targeted with a tax investigation.

But with the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China approaching – a sensitive date in the country's political calendar – what many suspect is that this is a concerted effort to silence organisations that highlight difficult issues.

The assault on these institutions means that after the dust settles, if the government succeeds, there may well be no one left to fight for the public interest.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Poor women turn company directors

In a unique step towards self-empowerment, a group of marginalised women in a western Indian city has set up a company to manufacture plastic bags. The objective is to provide livelihood opportunities to other poor women and not profit generation for the owners.

Chanda Bande, a resident of the industrial township of Pimpri Chinchwad near Pune in Western Maharashtra, has been trying to eke out a living by selling vegetables for as long as she can remember.

No longer. She is now going to be one of the owners of a company set up to manufacture polythene sheets, plastic bags and tarpaulin sheets.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I started selling vegetables on a handcart. I didn’t know of any other option and life for me had come to a dead end. Then I happened to meet a social activist who suggested that I should start a women’s savings group (WSG) in our locality to be able to save money and utilise it in the form of loans to one another,” says Chanda.

“We have been doing this for more than five years now. And I am proud to say that things progressed very well and today I am in a position to offer employment to other poor women,” she adds.

This unique story of self-empowerment has now taken shape in the form of a company that has been set up at a cost of Rs 10 million in Talawade along the Dehu-Alandi Road.

The 160 women who are owners of this company have come together under the aegis of the Swamini Mahila Bachat Gat Akhil Sangh (SMBGAS) – the apex body of various women’s small savings groups in the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) area.

What makes it more interesting is that even before their unit is formally inaugurated, they have managed to tie up with a Pune-based firm, which will supply these plastic bags to Dubai.

The company will provide employment to 70 members of the SMBGAS.

“We have signed a contract of seven years with a firm called Sumedh Polymers which will export our plastic bags. The raw material will be supplied by this company and we will provide them with the finished goods as per the quality specifications laid down by them, says Sulabha Ubale, President, Pimpri Chinchwad Mahila Mandal Mahasangh.

“The primary objective of setting up such a unit is to provide an opportunity to earn for poor women. It is not for generating profits for the owners,” she said.

According to Swati Mazumdar, President, SMBGAS: “A total of 11 WSGs were formed in the Pimpri Chinchwad area around 15 months ago and besides the savings generated by these WSGs, the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation’s Women & Child Welfare Department has provided financial support to these groups under its various schemes.”

The investment of Rs 10 million includes a subsidy of Rs three million from the PCMC, contribution by the women of Rs two million and a loan of Rs five million from the Bank of Baroda.

“Each of the WSGs gave at least Rs 100,000 to set up this unit. We will now pay out dividends on this investment to these women,” Mazumdar states.

Such an initiative has obviously delighted the women of the WSGs, especially Ranjana Akarse who has been selling plastic bags for 25 years.

“I had never dreamt that one day I would be the part-owner of a company that manufactures them,” she says.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

BANGLADESH: Biharis fight for their rights

For 85-year-old Hasina, whose family emigrated from Calcutta to what was then East Pakistan after partition, the wait has been long enough. Together with more than 500 other Biharis, she lives in Mirpur, an impoverished district in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, where the stench of raw sewage permeates the air.

"I'm Bangladeshi. I've lived here all my life. But where are my rights?" Hasima asks, pointing to the 40 sqm area she shares with four other families.

It is a common complaint among the Biharis, most of whom live in squalid conditions in 116 ghettos around the country.

Despite a landmark high-court ruling reaffirming their longstanding claim for full citizenship in 2008, social integration and rehabilitation remain elusive.


There are more than 200,000 Muslim Biharis or Urdu speakers in Bangladesh today, many from the Indian state of Bihar, who moved to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) both during and after partition in 1947.

The Biharis received preferential treatment from the West Pakistan-based government, while the majority of Bengali speakers were often marginalised in their access to government jobs, land, property and contracts.

A 1948 decision declaring Urdu the national language of Pakistan set the tone for further tensions between the two groups, as well as galvanizing the Bangladeshi national identity movement. An estimated three million people died in the 1971 war of liberation and much of the Bihari community sided with the Urdu-speaking Pakistan army.

While the 1972 Simla Accord, a tripartite agreement between Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, saw more than 100,000 Pakistani nationals relocate to Pakistan over the next 10 years, thousands more were left stateless.

Of these, a small number continued to demand repatriation, leading many to refer to them as "stranded Pakistanis".

But most of the remaining Bihari population wished to stay, despite the fact that their status in terms of nationality remained in limbo.

Because they lacked Bangladeshi nationality, Biharis were denied the right to primary and secondary education until 2000 and faced other discrimination, particularly in terms of access to housing.

Following the war, many Biharis, fearing retaliation, were forced from their homes and property and relocated to some 100 "colonies" or ghettos, many of which are on public property.

In some areas, the International Committee of the Red Cross provided temporary shelters while a durable solution to their status was sought.

However, that did not happen until a 2003 landmark High Court decision recognized the Biharis as Bangladeshi nationals.

And while the government agreed to implement the decision, public sentiment prevented it from moving ahead.

Landmark decision

Today the atmosphere in Bangladesh has changed significantly. There are few, if any, instances of inter-communal violence and in 2008, the decision was reaffirmed.

However, huge challenges remain.

"The court recognized our right to citizenship. This was the first step," said Sedakat Khan of the Urdu-speaking People's Youth Rehabilitation Movement.

"[But] now we need integration," he said, referring to their need for education, shelter and access, as well as access to healthcare, and recognition as part of Bangladesh society with a distinct cultural and linguistic identity.

Living on public property and struggling to make ends meet, many residents face possible eviction with nowhere to go. The government should not evict people until alternative arrangements had been made, said Khan.

According to Al Falah, the only registered NGO working with the Biharis, things are moving, but outside help is still needed. Only 6 percent are literate compared with a national average of 74 percent, limiting their ability to compete for jobs.

"This is the main barrier to their social integration," said Ahmed Ilias, executive director of Al-Falah. "But the government of Bangladesh can't do it alone," he added, appealing to the UN and Muslim organizations to step into the breach.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Salt pains

“Can’t you see water? It’s everywhere,” my guide Savshibhai joked. It was an old joke, reserved for unsuspecting visitors to the hot, dry, flat wasteland called Little Rann of Kutch in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The water referred to was a huge mirage that surrounded us on all sides. In reality, the Little Rann is a salt-impregnated wilderness, its pitiless landscape made up of cracked brown mudflats stretching out to a bare horizon without even a spot of green.

The only sign of life on the horizon is the hazy outline of men, women and children from the local community of Agariyas engaged in neat square fields of steadily evaporating salt waters. The jagged mural formed by their primitive salt-making activity and accompanying poverty completes the landscape.

Life is tough in the Little Rann -- the Kutch desert is divided into the Little Rann and the Great Rann -- with temperatures touching 50 degrees Celsius in peak summer and dropping to near-zero during the winter nights. In June, the monsoon heralds an invasion by the Arabian Sea from the mouth of the Gulf of Kutch, causing the mudflats to disappear under knee-deep water for four months and, as a consequence, become saline.

The Little Rann spreads over 5,180 sq km and is also known as India’s ‘Survey Number Zero’ because no land survey has been conducted here since the British left in 1947. The area falls under the jurisdiction of six districts in Gujarat -- Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Patan, Jamnagar and Banaskantha -- adding to the overall confusion.

It is extremely difficult to find your way around the unmarked mudflats without the help of an expert guide, preferably a local truck driver; it’s the only way one can negotiate this barren, inhospitable wilderness without getting lost.

I still remember my first foray into the desert, on a particularly hot summer afternoon in the year 2000. I had chanced upon Bhikabhai at the local salt market in Patdi town on the periphery of the Little Rann. He was busy loading jerrycans of water into his truck, though his main task was to transport salt from the pans for traders in town. I bought my favour by assisting Bhikabhai load the cans, behaving as if I was his officially assigned help. And he agreed to drive me into the Little Rann to meet the saltpan workers.

It was a drought year across many parts of Gujarat, and I had heard that the situation was very bad across the dry Kutch desert. The saltpan workers cheered our arrival for a simple reason: truck drivers invariably turn up with precious stocks of drinking water. The 20 litres Bhikabhai and I had brought were barely enough for the group of 20 or so men, women and children toiling in the midday heat (the mercury hovered above 45 degrees Celsius). It was virtual hell out there and walking just a few metres was a major effort.

A desperate woman salt worker, with only the tattered end of her sari protecting her infant from the sweltering heat, said: “There is no water, no doctor here. If somebody collapses due to the heat and exhaustion, there is little we can do except pray to god. A medical emergency at night is worse, because there is no power inside the Rann.”

Ignorant about their socio-economic situation, I asked her why the grown-up children, who looked ill and unkempt, were not in school. She said there were no schools, and no hospital. Social activist Prashant Raval, who is also a successful organic farmer from Patdi, explained: “The debt-ridden Agariyas can barely afford basic food. Most children suffer malnutrition and poor eyesight because of lack of vegetables and fruit in their diet.”

A 1999 study of 1,549 salt workers with over 10 years of exposure in working at various salt sites in the Little Rann of Kutch and nearby villages, by the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), showed significantly greater skin and eye symptoms among them. High blood pressure and increases in urinary sodium excretion are also common among those involved in the production of salt.

There is no alternative means of livelihood because very few saltpan workers own farmland at their village of origin. “There is no other work we know. During the rains, we work on other people’s farms. Besides that there’s nothing,” the woman salt worker said. The fact that most of them are illiterate does not help.

Nearly nine years later, in January 2009, with Savshibhai -- a cheerful man in his early-30s, who worked earlier as a truck driver in the desert -- for company, I found things hadn’t changed much inside the Little Rann. Across the mud and salt wilderness, there was neither power nor potable water, and malnourishment and illiteracy continued to reign supreme.

The saltpan workers still depend on their acquaintance with truck drivers to provide water and transport during emergencies.
Government tankers are irregular, they say, and individual families that procure potable water from private operators spend as much as Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 a month. Not everybody can afford that.

Leelaben, a middle-aged woman working in the saltpans, said: “Sometimes the men have to pedal miles in search of a wet hole in a dry riverbed or a small breach in the lone pipeline that carries water from a borewell in Odhu village to a handful of saltpans not far from the Rann’s periphery. We work like donkeys in the saltpans without a day off, for over eight months. We get to bathe every 15 days. That is the only luxury we can afford here.”

An estimated 43,000 people -- saltpan workers, their families and dependants -- engage in salt farming during the September-May season in the Little Rann, living alongside the saltpans in conditions that can only be described as medieval.

The nature of the Agariyas’ existence can be gauged from the fact that even today they use broken pieces of mirror to flash messages during the day across long distances inside the Little Rann; much like the native Americans and Australian aborigines used fire to send smoke signals!

Salt production in the Little Rann dates back 5,000 years. The British regulated salt-making and made Kharaghoda, a remote village on the periphery of the Little Rann, a hub of the salt trade. Local historian-writer Ambubhai Patel says: “Historical sources indicate that by the middle of the 19th century, British India derived 10% of its revenue from the salt monopoly. The saltpan workers of Kharaghoda and other villages on the periphery of the Little Rann were the unsung beasts of burden.”

After Independence, domestic salt production was encouraged and in 1953, the country became self-sufficient. Today, India is the third largest producer of salt in the world; some 5 million tonnes of its annual production of 17 million tonnes are exported. All aspects of the salt industry are controlled by the salt commissioner from Jaipur, in Rajasthan.

The country owes this success primarily to centuries of hard slog by some 150,000-odd saltpan workers in coastal and desert regions of the country.

The Agariyas migrate to the desert every year from the 107 villages bordering the Kutch desert after the monsoon. It’s a vicious cycle that begins with an Agariya family seeking an advance or loan from a wholesale salt trader who pre-fixes the price at which he will buy the salt at the end of the season, the next year. The advance or loan money helps meet the running costs of manufacturing salt and afford the family a subsistence living in a temporary shelter on a plot adjoining the pans.

The family, including children, first construct a hut over pits dug in the mudflats to protect themselves from the wind and the sun. They then prepare the fields, hardening the land surface and raising embankments with their bare hands and feet to create about a dozen evaporation pans, measuring approximately 200 feet by 250 feet. Simultaneously, they dig a shallow well and, with the help of Rajkot pumps (a locally manufactured contraption that operates on crude oil), start drawing groundwater from saline aquifers into the first of the pans.

Once the salt-making process starts, the Agariyas cannot leave the saltpans unattended because it is essential that saline water keeps flowing without interruption to allow salt crystals to form. It is a series of chores that has remained unchanged for centuries; the brine is transferred from one pan to another through narrow channels to increase the salt content before it reaches the final pan where it starts producing salt. During the four months this process takes, workers regularly scrape the surfaces of the saltpans with heavy wooden rakes to even out the salt, which is slowly captured and dried in the heat, transforming the pans into hard fields of coarse salt ready for harvest.

The salt that the Agariyas produce is known locally as ‘Badagara’, simply meaning salt produced in the bada (big) agara (pan), an inland salt in large-grain crystal form, distinct from the marine salt produced in the coastal regions of nearby Saurashtra and the southern peninsula. Gujarat produces 70% of India’s salt; inland salt from the Little Rann accounts for almost 40% of that.

Inland salt sells at Rs 3-5 a kg mainly in the markets of north India and Nepal, which does not produce any salt. But the Agariyas of Little Rann get only about 12-15 paise a kg, less than their production cost, in most cases. A chain of middlemen -- traders, transporters and retailers -- grab most of the profits, leaving little or nothing for the workers. There is a popular saying in this part of Gujarat: ‘Debt is what an Agariya never fails to bring back home,’ referring to the worker’s return from the Little Rann to the village at the end of the salt manufacturing season.

“Last Janmasthami, we agreed to a price of Rs 15 per 100 kg. Right now, our salt is selling at Rs 45 in Patdi town market,” Labhubhai Bababhai said. Labhubhai is from Kharaghoda, now a big village of 12,000 residents. It is barely 7 km from Patdi, the relatively prosperous town of local salt traders. Kharaghoda is sometimes referred to as the ‘village of widows’ because around 500 local women have lost their husbands at a relatively young age. The death rate here is unusually high, but hardly surprising considering a majority of the dead men are Agariyas.

Most saltpan workers are from the Chuvaliya Koli and dalit communities. Other backward communities like the Vaghris, Bharwads, Rabaris, Ahirs, Sipahis, Fakirs, and Muslims are also engaged in allied activities like transport, loading and unloading, grinding and packaging. But it is the low-caste Kolis and dalits who live and work in hazardous conditions, dominated and exploited for decades by the Barbas, a higher-caste community, who own the saltpans. Throughout their working lives -- they start at the young age of seven or eight years -- saltpan workers encounter serious physical and mental health hazards.

Working in extreme temperatures without any protective gear against the intense sun and the salt, many Agariyas suffer blindness and skin damage. Exposed parts of their body get covered in an abrasive coating of salt, drastically reducing their life expectancy. “Even a small cut takes months to heal,” Labhubhai said. Lack of money means they cannot afford to buy rubber boots or gloves that would offer some protection to their ravaged limbs.

According to the latest available report prepared by the Union Ministry of Labour and titled ‘Working and Living Conditions of Salt Workers in India’: “The Agariyas, who depend exclusively on salt processing, live in very poor conditions. There is a lack of basic amenities like drinking water, shelter, education and facilities like gumboots, sunglasses, tools and healthcare… Children are brought up on salty land with no activities for growth. The seasonal workers live on the pan itself… They face health hazards like blisters, burns, cuts, eye-burning, falling hair, headaches and many other ailments. Lower legs and feet develop lesions like ulcers and warts. Skin problems occur like scaling, atrophic scars, keratodermia, callosities, and fissures. This facilitates enhanced absorption of salt into the body, which could be one of the causes of high blood pressure. They also have to drink saline water most of the time. Vitamin A deficiency, night blindness, tuberculosis, infant mortality and gynaecological problems are common.”

The late Gujarati writer, Dilip Ranpara, who published a book on the exploitation and sufferings of saltpan workers in the early-90s, has described how an Agariya’s hands and legs take more time to burn than his body on the funeral pyre because a lifetime spent working in salt causes them to harden and become nearly acid-proof! Though his book, Kali Majuri, Dholo Mithoo (Black Labour, White Salt), is often quoted by social activists at public and official fora, not many people are aware of this darker side of common salt.

Salt, an “essential item”, may be a central subject under the seventh schedule of the Constitution, but the working conditions of workers also fall within the purview of state governments. The Centre set up three special committees in the years 1948, 1950 and 1958 to review the progress of the salt industry. It also passed the Salt Cess Act, 1953, which provided for the levy and collection of a cess on salt that would be utilised for labour welfare schemes and development work in the salt industry. In 1954-55, a five-year programme was prepared for development and welfare in the salt industry. A salt development fund was established in 1958, under the Act, to be operated by the Central Salt Board.

But, says a report prepared by the Union Ministry of Labour, “there is no clear separation of funds; as a result, administrative expenses constitute almost 80% of total expenditure. This, despite the fact that the Government of India gives budgetary support to the salt commissioner’s office for its running. The salt cess, at Rs 3.50 per metric tonne, has remained unchanged over these years. It is applicable only to salt works of over 100 acres; it is half for those with more than 10 acres but less than 100 acres. Salt works up to 10 acres are exempt from the cess”.

The report further points out that unlike welfare funds where, apart from welfare fund Acts there are separate Acts like the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Terms of Employment) Act 1966, there is no such Act to govern conditions of employment of saltpan workers. The Centre had formulated a code of principles under which assistance from the cess proceeds was to fund welfare works like water supply schemes, including provision of water coolers, storage tanks, water tankers mounted on trailers; construction of labour rest sheds, crèches, toilets; augmentation of medical facilities including conducting health camps; community centres and recreation facilities; educational facilities for the children of salt workers; labour housing, etc.

“However, it is observed that the organisation of the Central Salt Commission has generally been meeting the requirements of drinking water supply to some extent. For the other welfare measures, the salt workers have to depend on the governments of respective states. The thrust and major objective of the Central Salt Commission is to improve skills in the production of salt and its quality control,” the report adds.

The government of Gujarat claims to run a group insurance scheme from 1993 that offers coverage to around 46,000 salt workers across the state. Under the scheme, workers are entitled to Rs 25,000 in case of accidental death or complete disability, and Rs 12,500 in case of partial disability. It also runs salt workers’ welfare centres where activities such as primary education, primary healthcare, sports and cultural events are conducted. Financial assistance for the construction of pucca houses or temporary tent accommodation, and treatment of serious diseases, is also promised. But the implementation of these schemes is at best tardy, say the salt workers.

Thanks to the efforts of Ganatar, an Ahmedabad-based social change organisation, the Gujarat state government has, in recent years, taken some steps to make the saltpan workers’ lives a little more bearable. “The government has sanctioned schools for the Agariya children, promised potable water in tankers in remote saltpans, a weekly medical van service, and a limited number of rubber boots,” says Rupalben of Ganatar.

Ganatar has been educating the children of saltpan workers for over a decade now through a network of mobile Rann shalas (desert schools) that operate during the seasonal migration period starting October through to the month of May. Classes up to 7th grade are conducted as supplementary to the mainstream government schools running in the villages. Thus, students enrolled in village schools continue their respective grade education at the mobile schools when they migrate with their parents to the saltpans. And, at the end of the year, they appear for the annual examination at their respective village schools.

Before the mobile schools came into existence, the children of saltpan workers had to leave their schools in the village and accompany their parents to eventually join the swelling masses of child labourers being initiated into a life of backbreaking drudgery. “It was the success of the Rann shalas that enabled Ganatar to pursue the Gujarat government to replicate the model inside the Little Rann, besides other areas, for children of migrant communities in the state,” Rupalben claims.

The Gujarat government set aside a grant of Rs 4.70 crore in 2006-07 for social organisations running schools on the lines of Ganatar’s Rann shalas; last financial year, the amount was raised to Rs 11.50 crore. In 1996, around 100-odd students joined the first school started by Ganatar. Today, 10,000 children of migrants benefit from the Rann shala model. The state funds over 50 schools and 50 hostels for migrant children.

However, it’s a case of too little, too late as thousands of young Agariyas have already been sucked into the vicious cycle of salt-making and are faced with a bleak future. The Little Rann has been declared a sanctuary by the Gujarat forest department as it is the habitat of a thriving population of the endangered Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus khur).

The first set of sanctuary notifications was issued on January 12, 1973, followed by a second notification in 1978. In early-1997, the state government set up an office to survey and settle the claims of traditional dwellers in the sanctuary area, in Surendranagar. Predictably, the saltpan workers have been up in arms ever since. An assemblage of NGOs led by Harinesh Pandya of Janpath and Sukhdev Patel of Ganatar is lobbying the state government to end the uncertainty over the workers’ existence inside the Little Rann. Interestingly, while the state forest department has issued eviction notices to the salt workers, the state government has provided nearly 41,000 of them identity cards, certifying them as traditional saltpan workers.

The salt workers were finally issued eviction notices in 2007. But, sensing popular protest in an assembly election year, the state government, led by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, promised to try and persuade the Centre to reconsider dislodging the salt workers. The government is presently seeking documented evidence from the Agariyas to establish their right to produce salt inside the wild ass sanctuary. “The state forest department’s only concern appears to be to throw the impoverished Agariyas out of the Little Rann. Last year, it even blocked a government plan to lay a pipeline inside the Little Rann to provide potable water to the Agariyas because it would impact the wild ass’ grazing area,” says local activist Ishwarbhai Desai.

So far, the government continues to delay a mutually agreed settlement. The salt workers say that if given an option they would gladly give up salt-harvesting; anyway, they are treading a thin line for survival and will need more than just salt to sustain them in future. Some of them, like Kantibhai, feel their lot was better off under British rule. “From what we have heard our elders say, they (the British) took good care of our people. Those were glory days at Kharaghoda. The saltpan worker was king then.”

Historian-journalist Ambubhai Patel agrees: “Under the British, some 900 families were employed permanently in salt-making. Kharaghoda was connected by a broad-gauge line, and the railway link extended into the Little Rann. Also, they built an excellent water supply system whose remnants exist inside the Little Rann to this day.”

Savshibhai took me to see another symbol of Kharaghoda’s past glory -- Bulkley Market. This is a Gothic structure built in 1905 by a British collector of salt taxes called Mr Bulkley, who, according to the cornerstone, “interested himself greatly in the welfare of the village”. He also gave Kharaghoda an excellent hospital equipped with isolation wards for patients with communicable diseases. “If you ask me, I would give the British 90 marks out of 100, and not even 10 to Indian governments for what they have reduced us to,” Ambubhai Patel said at the end of the tour.

The saltpan workers of Kharaghoda dismissed the Agariya Kalyan Sammelan (conference for the welfare of salt-makers), organised by the state government in Patdi, in 2007, as a “political farce”.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi had announced grand plans to develop the nearby Navlakhi port in Kutch, with a special jetty dedicated for salt export so as to fetch the best prices for salt workers in the Little Rann of Kutch. “The proposed port will cut transportation costs and give a boost to the local economy, at a time when the railways have failed to provide any concession in freight charges for salt. Besides, the government wanted to develop a Rann-based tourism plan,” said a senior aide of the chief minister in Gandhinagar.

The state government also wants to promote prawn culture inside the Little Rann to create new job opportunities for the next generations of salt workers. Modi has promised that the much-touted Rs 11,000 crore scheme for the development of Gujarat’s coastal areas and fisheries will percolate down to the salt workers. But one saltpan worker stated the real problem as he looked across the bountiful hot fields of salt: “What good are these grand promises when the government cannot provide us drinking water, medical care and education here?”

The saltpan workers, most of them illiterate, fail to comprehend such grand development initiatives. All they have known is a poverty-stricken existence in the wilderness. Savshibhai, my guide who started life as a child salt worker, said: “We are destined to spend our entire lives in the company of dogs, bicycles and pigeons -- the dogs are faithful companions and security, the bicycles the only means of transportation, and the presence of pigeons protects from death due to variable concentrations of carbon dioxide inside the saline aquifers.”

As the unrelenting sun beat down on the parched desert, a small group of men gathered under a shed at the Shri Veer Vaccharaj Solanki temple. This is the centre of the Little Rann and a sacred place for the saltpan workers. Mythology has it that King Vaccharaj left his marriage ceremony halfway on hearing that the enemy had taken away cows belonging to his people for slaughter. “He saved the cows but died in battle. We expect our rulers to come to our rescue in similar fashion. But would they ever?” wondered Mahadevbhai, the temple priest.

Nobody had an answer. Outside, the desert was still and the afternoon heat felt unbearable...


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Court ruling bolsters freedom of the press

The Madras High Court, on July 20, 2009, reaffirmed the principle that public officials cannot stop the media from reporting or commenting on their performance on grounds that such writings were defamatory.

Justice K Chandru gave the ruling in a case brought by Union Communications Minister A Raja against the Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan which had been running a series of articles on the minister’s activities centering on alleged irregularities in the allotment of a radio frequency spectrum to mobile phone operators, and also on his wife’s business interests.

The minister had sought an interim order barring the magazine from publishing “defamatory news items”.

The high court initially restrained the magazine from carrying further articles on the subject. The ban lasted three months until it was overturned by Justice Chandru when it was sought to be extended.

In his ruling, Justice Chandru rejected the minister’s application and said there was no law available to pass a prior restraint order against the press. He also imposed a case cost of Rs 10,000 payable to the magazine.

The case involves the fundamental principle of freedom of expression. In the first instance, the court was expected to restrain the magazine from publishing so-called defamatory material before the material was published rather than penalising it after the material was proved to be judged defamatory, as is usually the custom.

Second, when it comes to scrutiny of public officials, as in this case, the Supreme Court has ruled that even if statements about public officials are untrue, damages cannot be claimed unless it is established that the statements were made with “reckless disregard for the truth”.

The issue of regulating or stifling the press is also playing out in both houses of Parliament. Members of Parliament belonging to different political parties on both the left and right have urged the government to crack down on what they call “increasing obscenity and vulgarity in TV programmes being shown on different channels against the cultural ethos of the country”.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told the upper house, or Rajya Sabha, on July 27, 2009, that the government was working towards establishing a Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India by way of bringing a Broadcasting Bill before Parliament.

She said she hoped the government would be able to put a regulatory mechanism in place and said the government wanted to ensure that community standards for broadcasting were established.

She added however that the issue was a “sensitive subject” taking into account “freedom of expression” on the one hand and the “concerns of civil society” on the other. But, she said, the setting up of a “regulatory body is very necessary”.

Soni said a “credible self-regulatory independent” mechanism could comprise members of the media, eminent people from civil society and government officials.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A slow-burning fuse: World Ageing fast

STOP thinking for a moment about deep recession, trillion-dollar rescue packages and mounting job losses. Instead, contemplate the prospect of slow growth and low productivity, rising public spending and labour shortages. These are the problems of ageing populations, and if they sound comparatively mild, think again. When the IMF earlier this month calculated the impact of the recent financial crisis, it found that the costs will indeed be huge: the fiscal balances of the G20 advanced countries are likely to deteriorate by eight percentage points of GDP in 2008-09. But the IMF also noted that in the longer term these costs will be dwarfed by age-related spending. Looking ahead to the period between now and 2050, it predicted that “for advanced countries, the fiscal burden of the crisis [will be] about 10% of the ageing-related costs” (see chart 1). The other 90% will be extra spending on pensions, health and long-term care.

The rich world’s population is ageing fast, and the poor world is only a few decades behind. According to the UN’s latest biennial population forecast, the median age for all countries is due to rise from 29 now to 38 by 2050. At present just under 11% of the world’s 6.9 billion people are over 60. Taking the UN’s central forecast, by 2050 that share will have risen to 22% (of a population of over 9 billion), and in the developed countries to 33% (see chart 2). To put it another way, in the rich world one person in three will be a pensioner; nearly one in ten will be over 80.

This is a slow-moving but relentless development that in time will have vast economic, social and political consequences. As yet, only a few countries with already-old populations are starting to notice the effects. But labour forces are now beginning to shrink and numbers of pensioners are starting to rise. By about 2020 ageing will be plain for all to see. And there is no escape: barring huge natural or man-made disasters, demographic changes are much more certain than other long-term predictions (for example, of climate change). Every one of the 2 billion people who will be over 60 in 2050 has already been born.

The reasons why

What is making the world so much older? There are two long-term causes and a temporary blip that will continue to show up in the figures for the next few decades. The first of the big causes is that people everywhere are living far longer than they used to. This trend started with the industrial revolution and has been slowly gathering pace. In 1900 average life expectancy at birth for the world as a whole was only around 30 years, and in rich countries under 50. The figures now are 67 and 78 respectively, and still rising. For all the talk about the coming old-age crisis, that is surely something to be grateful for—especially since older people these days also seem to remain healthy, fit and active for much longer.

A second, and bigger, cause of the ageing of societies is that people everywhere are having far fewer children, so the younger age groups are much too small to counterbalance the growing number of older people. This trend emerged later than the one for longer lives, first in developed countries and now in poor countries too. In the early 1970s women across the world were still, on average, having 4.3 children each. The current global average is 2.6, and in rich countries only 1.6. The UN predicts that by 2050 the global figure will have dropped to just two, so by mid-century the world’s population will begin to level out. The numbers in some developed countries have already started shrinking. Depending on your point of view, that may or may not be a good thing, but, as this special report will argue, it will certainly turn the world into a different place.

The temporary blip that has magnified the effects of lower fertility and greater longevity is the baby-boom that arrived in most rich countries after the second world war. The timing varied slightly from place to place, but in America—where the effect was strongest—it covered roughly the 20 years from 1945, a period when nearly 80m Americans were born. The first of them are now coming up to retirement. For the next 20 years those baby-boomers will be swelling the ranks of pensioners, which will lead to a rapid drop in the working population all over the rich world.

As always, the averages mask considerable diversity. In the richer parts of Asia the populations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are already old and will rapidly get even older. Europe is split several ways: Germany, Italy and Spain, for instance, now have tiny families and are therefore ageing fast, whereas France, Britain and most of the Nordic countries have more children to keep them younger. In eastern Europe, and particularly in Russia, birth rates are low and life expectancy has also taken a knock. America, thanks to a resilient birth rate and high immigration, will still be fairly youthful by mid-century.

Most developing countries do not have to worry about ageing—yet. Although birth rates have dropped, populations are still young and will remain so for a few decades yet, even though HIV/AIDS has killed off many active adults. But in the longer term the same factors as in the rich world—fewer births, longer lives—will cause poorer countries to age too. And even before that happens, the absolute numbers of older people there will swell alarmingly, simply because these countries are so populous. They already have 490m over-60s, and that total is due to more than triple by 2050. Since most poor countries have little or nothing in the way of a state-funded welfare net, those numbers will be hard to manage.

Alone among developing countries, China is already ageing fast. This is mainly because for the past 30 years it has been keeping a tight lid on population growth. This did not quite amount to a “one-child policy”, as it is often called (the average number of children per woman was closer to two), but it was highly effective in stabilising numbers. The population will peak at about 1.46 billion in 2030 and then decline gently. Although China has seen stupendous economic growth in recent years, it is still some way off being rich, so it will have trouble absorbing the cost of this rapid ageing. This special report will take a closer look at what it is doing about the problem, but will otherwise confine itself mainly to the developed world.

Fewer hands make heavy work

Macroeconomic theory suggests that the economies of ageing populations are likely to grow more slowly than those of younger ones. As more people retire, and fewer younger ones take their place, the labour force will shrink, so output growth will drop unless productivity increases faster. Since the remaining workers will be older, they may actually be less productive.

In most rich countries the ratio of people of working age to those of retirement age will deteriorate dramatically over the next few decades. In Japan, for instance, which currently has about three workers to every pensioner—already one of the lowest ratios anywhere—the number will halve by 2050. True, there will be fewer young people to maintain, but children cost less than old people and the overall burden will be much heavier than it is now. The OECD has estimated that over the next three decades the age-related decline in the labour force could cut growth in its member countries by a third compared with the previous three decades.

Ageing will affect financial markets too. According to Franco Modigliani’s and Richard Brumberg’s life-cycle theory of savings, put forward in the early 1950s, people try to smooth out their consumption over the course of their lives, spending more in their youth and old age and saving more in their middle years; so as populations age, savings in the economy as a whole will be run down and assets sold off. This has led to fears of an “asset meltdown” as everyone sells at the same time. But a number of academic studies have so far failed to find much evidence of this. Older people in America, for instance, do save less than those in their middle years, but as a group not much less.

James Poterba, an economics professor at MIT, says America has three kinds of retirement households: the least well-off, perhaps a quarter of the total, who will maintain something close to their previous standard of living on Social Security and Medicare, even with few savings; the richest 10-15%, who hold significant assets and may not need to draw them down; and the large majority in between, who will have to rely on their own, often inadequate, savings in retirement.

For the public finances, an ageing population is a huge headache. In countries where public pensions make up the bulk of retirement income, these will either swallow up a much larger share of the budget or they will have to become a lot less generous, which will meet political resistance (and remember that older people are much more inclined to vote than younger ones). Spending on health, which in most rich countries has been going up relentlessly anyway, is likely to grow even faster as patients get older. And because of a huge increase in the number of over-80s, a lot more money, and careful thought, will be needed to provide long-term care for them as they become frailer.

What can be done?
As the IMF puts it, “the fiscal impact of the [financial] crisis reinforces the urgency of entitlement reform.” People in rich countries will have to be weaned off the expectation that pensions will become ever more generous and health care ever more all-encompassing. Since they now live so much longer, and mostly in good health, they will have to accept that they must also work for longer and that their pensions will be smaller.

Will the recession make it easier or harder to introduce the required reforms? If people are feeling poorer, they may think that their government should do more for them, not less. Yet some say that if everything is in a state of upheaval already, change becomes easier to bring about. They cite a phrase currently much used in the Obama White House: “Never waste a good crisis.”


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mirakles do happen!

A New Changemaker is born

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead, anthropologist.

I walked into Dhruv Lakra’s office in Churchgate, Mumbai, on the morning of March 20, 2009, but was not expecting to witness an unusually quiet courier agency room. Seconds later, I saw a rapid -- almost electric -- exchange of messages in sign language between Dhruv and his team. Yes, all the employees in Mirakle Couriers are deaf or have only partial hearing and are in the age-group of 20-30 years. Questions race in my head, and so does curiosity. The imagined boundaries of core qualifications or ‘essentials’ for a job suddenly start dissolving in front of my eyes.

Dhruv Lakra flagged off Mirakle Couriers with its tagline ‘Delivering possibilities’ with a single employee in November 2008. In just five months, he has a team of 19 employees — four women and 15 men— all of them hearing-impaired.

What prompted this Oxford MBA to pursue this unusual initiative? After his undergraduate studies in Mumbai, Dhruv worked in an international investment bank for some time, but says he did not enjoy the experience. A general interest in philanthropy and an introduction to social entrepreneurship while studying, he says, were the key to his new thinking. Dhruv came up with the idea of starting a courier agency with deaf persons.

He recruited his employees after visiting various ‘deaf clubs’ in Mumbai. Word was soon out that someone in town was hiring deaf people for a courier agency, and Dhruv found many aspirants. After careful scrutiny and background checks of those he found eligible, Dhruv hired 14 people, and now that number has gone up to 19. From his own savings, and from ‘angel capital’, he managed to get going.

Mirakle Couriers is run like any professional outfit – there is no scope or space for mediocrity out of pity or sympathy. Dhruv is very particular about whom he hires. Once they are in, they have to follow the rules of the company, from being punctual, wearing the right walking shoes and clean uniforms and reporting back in the office with their delivery receipts. Dhruv pays them well and is also big on incentives.

For every task done well, there is a bonus. The objective is clear: if you work hard and perform well, you will be rewarded; if not, you quit. Currently two big business houses are clients. Mirakle delivers only in Mumbai for now. Interestingly, the courier company sends a copy of some common greetings (Hello, Thank you, Sorry etc) in sign language along with each of their deliveries.

Women employees are not sent out as delivery agents but sort the mail according to pin-codes. It’s an important job in the courier business. “How you sort is how you deliver,” says Dhruv. Training the delivery men, Dhruv says, was challenging. They had to be shown their way around town, and most importantly had to be taught the skills of interpersonal communication, like the right body language, presentation and some do’s and don’ts. For example, they must make sure that when they exit a lift, they close the door properly because they cannot hear the chime that alerts one to an open door. Dhruv says that training one delivery agent takes him roughly 15 days. The entire team uses the SMS facility on their mobile phones to communicate their whereabouts.

The challenges that this young social entrepreneur faces today are diverse. For one, there is an issue of space. When Mirakle Couriers began operations in November 2008, they worked out of the office of a big company, which encouraged the idea. They had to move out after two months and now work from another company’s office, but they need a permanent office. Training, hiring and taking orders, finding clients and publicising the company is all done by Dhruv. He needs volunteers to help out as well as resources that would allow him to increase his clientele and spread to other cities.

Larger question

Mirakle Couriers spotlights important issues for debate. Any debate on disability must start by asking some key questions. What is disability? What shapes public opinion about disability? What is the inner world of the disabled? What are the implications of our culturally shaped opinions for deaf people in particular and disability in general? Is there scope for the disabled to live a life of dignity? The issues are particularly important in India, home to the largest deaf population in the world.

Cultures all over the world have gone through exclusivist attitudes and policies towards the disabled. In the Western pre-industrialised era of the agrarian economy, myth and superstition dominated. Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) were believed to be ‘cursed’ or possessed by ‘evil spirits’. Later, with its focus on manual/physical labour, industrialisation in the 18th-19th century took this idea one step further, by stressing that only the able-bodied could perform productive roles in society and the economy. Obviously, the disabled were pushed out once again. Further, drawing on Darwin’s theory of evolution, Francis Galton in the 1880s was developing the ‘Eugenics’ school of thought which involved segregation of all those people who were perceived to be ‘abnormal’ and their subsequent elimination from society.

American functionalism and deviance theory was grounded in economics. Its foremost proponent, Talcott Parsons, argued in the late-1940s that “the normal state of being in Western developed societies is ‘good health’; consequently, sickness, and by implication impairments, are deviations from ‘normality’”. Those that are unfit to perform a function, implying those that cannot be productive, constitute deviant behaviour that needs to be corrected.

One can therefore infer that disability is a social construction. In a stratified society like India, social factors like poverty (read class), religion, region, caste and gender form the basis of this social construct—and can serve both as a reason and consequence of it. Therefore, one’s position in society, based on these social factors, determines to a large extent, the deprivation levels of the disabled.

Deafness, like any other disability in India, is often a matter of shame for families. The deaf who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds experience even more trying times throughout their lives. For one, they have one of the most clandestine and ‘invisible’ disabilities, in that no one can see a person and tell if s/he is deaf. As if the struggles at home were not enough, challenges begin at the level of schooling too— there is no sign language, only spoken medium of instruction. Further ahead, there are no deaf colleges in India (but for the plans of one that might be underway). As such, most deaf students manage to only complete their basic level of schooling in India.

There is very little access to information for most deaf persons despite computers and internet, which are out of the reach of many. This is a shameful irony given that India boasts of being a major IT hub. A large population of people with the capabilities to use these communication systems is excluded from them.

Dhruv Lakra says, “The attitude of the past 50 years or so has been closely linked to our insensitivity: for instance, it is common practice in many Indian families to go to a disability school on a child’s birthday and distribute sweets to the less fortunate.”

It is important to situate Dhruv’s entrepreneurial venture against this background. If disability is a social construct with strong economic undercurrents as illustrated above, Dhruv has set out to challenge this very foundation to build a new one based on the inherent capabilities of the disabled. The employees of Mirakle Couriers have, in their own words, “come a long way”. Ravindra, who engaged in intensive manual labour, carrying hundreds of kilos of foodgrain on his back, finds that the new job is like a new life. Vinod worked as a domestic help earlier, sweeping and cleaning to earn a livelihood. Reshma and Geeta both worked as jewellery designers for several years. They worked long hours, never saw an increase in salary, and frequently got yelled at by their employers.

Curiously, if we decide to measure the ‘Decent Work’ (1) conditions of the working deaf population in India (mostly engaged in home-based work, physical labour and domestic work), it would not be surprising to find a high level of ‘Decent Work deficit’. All of the employees of Mirakle felt that while their earlier jobs gave them money, there were high levels of discrimination, lower wages for a lot more work (as compared to not-disabled persons) and no dignity. According to them, this job makes them self-sufficient and independent, lets them use their critical faculties, gives them a sense of fulfilment and most importantly, gives them a life of dignity.

In step with the modern world

Globalisation has been truly emancipatory for persons with disability in India. Neha Trivedi of Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) in Mumbai, says that the coming of MNCs to India after 1991 has been a welcome change for the Indian disabled population. For one, Western countries have stringent policies on inclusion of PWDs. Second, the new buzzword in human resources (HR) departments of many of these companies is ‘diversity’. So ‘diversity managers’ consciously encourage, promote and hire PWDs (in addition to persons with varied diverse associations based on sexuality, gender, race, religion, ethnicity and so on). A reputed German MNC has also reported that the attrition rates in their service/support centres in Chennai were lowest among PWDs. Diversity therefore, also makes business sense.

Disabled rights movements all over the West, starting with those in the US in the 1960s, have done much to bring positive change in the lives of disabled persons all over the world. Following numerous discussions, social movements and pressure from organisations working for the disabled and change in government policies over the years, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to integration to inclusion/mainstreaming in most countries of the Western world. The question of rights of the disabled occupies a significant place in the public sphere today. There are discussions, public fora, university courses, conferences, media coverage on the one hand and mushrooming of multiple organisations working to bridge the gap on the other.

In India, however, we have only just begun. Not only is there need to expand the resource-base for the disabled and improve their access to these resources, but their issues need to be in the public sphere. For instance, sign language could be introduced in school syllabi as part of formal education, and it could help both those that need it given their disability and those able that are interested in learning it. Mass media has a major role to play. Sensitisation is required at all levels. The challenges are many and we have a long way to go. An organisation like Mirakle Couriers has shown the way.

(For any further information on Mirakle Couriers, or to place orders, please contact Dhruv Lakra on his mobile: +91 98209 75600. You could also email him at the .This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it and/or .This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )

By Indira Gartenberg is a research officer at the School of Management & Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.


1.Decent Work refers to opportunities for women and men to obtain work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Decent Work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Danone's yogurt strategy for Bangladesh

When French dairy food firm Danone ventured outside the troubled business climate of Europe and the US, it was not expecting to start a business that deliberately avoids paying dividends to shareholders.

But a meeting between Danone's Franck Riboud and the founder of Grameen Bank, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, led to the opening of a small factory in Bangladesh that does just that.

Danone made a profit of more than $1bn in 2008 and expects that to rise by 10% this year, despite a downturn in sales in Europe.

The company has set its sights on South Asia. But to succeed there, it has to learn how to sell to low-income customers, many of whom live in the countryside.

In Bangladesh, Danone has teamed up with local experts to build a yogurt factory with a difference - what Professor Yunus calls a social business.

Targeting malnutrition

The factory, which produces nutritional yogurt for poor people, is a joint venture between Grameen and Danone.

Danone's Emmanuel Marchant explains that the enterprise has to make enough money to be sustainable, but it also has a social goal.

"With a social business you ask 'what are the priorities in terms of social needs?'," he says.

He admits that Danone's priorities would usually concentrate on maximising profits and that any social impact would be of secondary importance. But the factory constructed in Bogra, 200km north of the capital Dhaka, is different.

Figures show that about 50% of children suffer from malnutrition in Bangladesh.

In an effort to alleviate the situation, Grameen's Professor Yunus says his first suggestion was baby food.

"We eventually zeroed in on yogurt and agreed that it had to be a very small plant," he says.

He maintains that local children, often poor and malnourished, benefit from the products the factory produces.

The project is further integrated into the rural community through its links with the farmers which serve the factory.

The yogurt company always tries to pay them a little more than they would receive from other customers and a farmer can earn about $60 a week - a considerable sum in rural Bangladesh.

Milk is brought in every day from local villages by a small three-wheeled delivery vehicle and is mixed with locally-grown sugar and other ingredients.

It is then poured into a tank, where it is tested to ensure it does not contain any harmful bacteria.

Nutrients are added to the yogurt, which is designed to keep fresh for up to a week outside a refrigerator, because few people can afford to chill their food.

Some of the yogurt is distributed to shops, but the unique point about this enterprise is a network of women who take bags of the yogurt around local villages.

When visiting villages for the first time, these women are often accompanied by a representative from Danone, who explains the nutritional benefits of the yogurt.

The yogurt brand is called Shoktidoi, which means energy in Bengali. One cup of yogurt provides 30% of the recommended daily intake of nutrition for children.

To drum up extra interest, the yogurt's logo, a lion, also makes an appearance - albeit in costume.

Future vision

The scheme is not designed to make a profit, but it does have clear benefits for Danone.

It is a good way for the company to learn how to market food in South Asia - a valuable lesson as it considers whether to enter the huge and lucrative market of neighbouring India.

Emmanuel Marchant of Danone is confident the company will keep funding the project, because of the support it has from its investors.

"Building a plant which is 100 times smaller than our others is a less risky way of entering a new territory and shareholders understand our vision," he says.

Prof Yunus believes other companies should start about thinking about how to run a business in a different way.

"The world has only one pair of glasses - profit-maximising glasses. You don't see the poor and malnourished people," he says.

"When you put on the social business glasses, things change," he asserts, "You don't see the money-making aspect, but how you can help people."

He is understandably excited about the project and is currently talking to other companies around the world to start up similar joint ventures in Bangladesh.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Nepal child soldiers being freed

Nepal has begun the process of freeing thousands of child soldiers from camps holding former Maoist rebel fighters.

Officials visited one of the camps in southern Nepal to brief the young people ahead of their planned transfer to rehabilitation programmes.

The release of the child soldiers - estimated at about 3,000 - is a key part of Nepal's peace process.

The UN welcomed the move as a "significant milestone" for the Himalayan nation.

Maoist rebels ended a 10-year armed insurgency in November 2006, signing a peace deal that brought them into the government.

They won the most votes in elections in 2008, but then left the government earlier this year in a row over their leader's attempt to fire the army chief.

Training and support

About 24,000 former fighters have been confined to UN-monitored camps since the peace deal was agreed.

Of these, the UN has identified about 3,000 as being under the age of 18, as well as 1,000 as having joined the Maoists after the peace process began.

In a statement, the United Nations mission in Nepal said it welcomed the government's move to begin the discharge and rehabilitation process for these two groups.

It said it was ready to provide support to the programme, and urged the Maoist leadership to work with the government to ensure it was successfully completed.

A spokesman for Nepal's Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction said a team had begun meeting young former fighters at one of the camps.

The BBC's Joanna Jolly, in Nepal, says the young people will be offered a rehabilitation package that includes vocational training and psychological support.

They will also be allowed to stay in specially-built transit camps for up to 45 days before returning home, our correspondent says.

The government says it wants all the child soldiers to be released by the beginning of November.

The question of what to do with the adult fighters - and whether to integrate them into the national army - remains a more difficult question and a key stumbling block in the peace process.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Important Resource link for Social Sector

Pambazuka News
Pambazuka News is an authoritative pan-African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa. Pambazuka News is published by Fahamu - an organisation that supports the struggle for human rights and social justice in Africa.

Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme
The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme stems from the overall aim of the UK's Department For International Development (DFID) to reduce global poverty and promote sustainable development
This website contains listings of jobs and consultancies in national and international NGOs, the UN and inter-governmental organisations working in India as well as fellowship announcements in the Indian development sector.

Indian government’s online directory
A one-point resource for all Indian government websites at all administrative levels

id21 is a research reporting service that aims to put international development policy into practice. By producing summaries of the most recent UK-resourced development research, id21 is increasing the communication of research findings and policy recommendations to policy-makers worldwide. The site provides free access to an online database of over 2000 highlights of recent social, economic, education and health and natural resources research in developing countries

Karmayog is a resource that enables you to "Improve Your World" by connecting you with like-minded people and organisations in your locality, city and world.

A comprehensive online directory of non-governmental organisations active in India , events and news on the social development sector

Indev- India development information network
A British Council initiative, the website acts as a gateway to development information on India

The Communication Initiative
The Communication Initiative is a partnership of development organisations promoting communication interventions for positive international development. The site is a source for publications, events, training opportunities and strategic thinking about communication as an instrument of change

The International Labour Organisation
The International Labour Organisation is the United Nations specialised agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights

United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Development concerned with integrating human rights in all global development activity, such as democratic governance, poverty reduction, crisis prevention and recovery, energy and environment, HIV/AIDS

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

World's largest environmental law database launched on the Web

A new gateway to information about environmental law is now available on the Internet at The World's largest environmental law database has been developed by combining the legal libraries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

ECOLEX provides online access to over 100,000 legal references and is an essential resource for developing the necessary tools to promote environmental management. The information in the system covers treaties, national legislation, soft law and other non-binding policy and technical guidance documents, judicial decisions, and law and policy literature.

One of the unique aspects of the information coverage is the inclusion of a significant number of legal references from developing countries. Currently, over 120 developing countries have provided input to ECOLEX. Ensuring adequate information coverage from developing countries will remain an important goal for the ECOLEX partner organizations.

Ever since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment there has been a rapid growth in the number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) negotiated by Governments. Users of ECOLEX can now examine any one of approximately 450 MEAs and see which governments have signed or ratifies that MEA. Conversely, it is also possible to see all the MEAs signed or ratified by any one Government.

The development of ECOLEX has brought together two UN organizations, FAO and UNEP, in a unique partnership with the world's largest conservation organisation, IUCN ? all sharing a common vision to provide better electronic access to information on environmental law to build capacity worldwide.

The partners are committed to the further development and enhancement of the ECOLEX gateway in order to respond to the ever-increasing demand for information about environmental law from a wide user base ranging from decision makers, policy advisors and lawyers to NGOs, advocacy groups, students and the general public.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

PROGRAM DIRECTOR needed by International NGO in India


ChildFund International (formerly CCF), is a dynamic global force for children, working in 31 countries, assisting more than 10.5 million children and families regardless of race, creed or gender. ChildFund International is a member of ChildFund Alliance, a global network of child development organizations.

ChildFund has been working in India since 1951 and currently assists about 600,000 children and families in 15 states through 75 partner organizations. ChildFund India’s annual budget is about $15 million and these funds are utilized for programs on health, sanitation, nutrition, education and livelihood for the communities where ChildFund India serves.


Provide Strategic Leadership:

• Provide strategic and analytical thinking, vision and commitment plus strong leadership, as part of CCF India’s Senior Management Team, to support and influence the development of CCF India’s programming and practices
• Lead the growth and development of a decentralized program approach in some of the country’s most marginalized areas.

Program Management:

Lead the development, delivery and management of quality programs in line with CCF’s Area of Excellence: “Placing children’s experience of deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability at the center of our policy and practice” through the following:

• Lead program planning and design, implementation and compliance, and ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation towards achieving the core outcomes we seek for children
• Ensure ongoing staff and partner capacity building to deliver quality programming

Strengthen and develop quality grants portfolio:

• Oversee grant management and compliance
• Actively network and collaborate with a range of stakeholders to identify relevant grant opportunities
• Develop winning project proposals with the program team to further strengthen core programs

Networking and Collaborating:

• Strengthen and build upon partnerships and networks with a range of stakeholders at the community, districts and national levels to raise CCF India’s profile and place CCF-India as a recognized leader for children.
• Proactively engage and collaborate to synergize broader development efforts, building relevant partnerships and enhancing opportunities.

People Management:

• Lead the country program team, directly managing a team of program staff, supporting their development whilst promoting the organizational values and internalizing a shared vision for children
• Act, as a member of the Senior Management Team, toward integrated management approach across all departments

• Foster positive working relationships and collaborative linkages at multiple levels from Area Offices to the National Office to Asia Regional Office, International Office and other National Offices


• A minimum of 8 - 10 years of professional experience with at least 5 years in a lead role in a reputed development organization.
• Experience in program planning and design, implementation and compliance, and Monitoring and Evaluation.
• Skills in donor management, finance and team management within an evolving organisation.
• Understanding of the ‘principles of partnership’ with multiple stakeholders i.e. NGO sector, government sector, private partners.
• Excellent communication skills and capability to represent the organisation in professional forums.


1) Experience in child participation/protection programs
2) Strong financial acumen.

LOCATION: Bangalore (for initial 3 - 6 months) / Final location is Delhi

Interested candidates can send in their CVs and 3 references at or Contact us at: +91 22 6660 3558/6660 3559.

Only short listed candidates would be contacted.

Last date for receiving applications is 30th July, 2009.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.




Third Sector Partners, a leading CxO and board search firm in the Not for Profit sector has been retained by Hazira LNG Pvt. Ltd. to recruit their Social Performance Manager.

The Hazira Project is the largest of Shell’s and of Total’s ventures in India and includes an LNG receiving and storage terminal within a newly built protected harbour. The world-scale LNG terminal together with infrastructure is laid out for a capacity of 5 million tonnes per annum (“mtpa”) of LNG. Though the initial throughput capacity is of the order of 2.5 mtpa, marginal incremental investments in equipment will enhance the capacity to 5 mtpa. In line with market expansion, the terminal is expected to achieve a throughput capacity of 10 mtpa. Representing an investment of Rs 3,000 crores, the Hazira LNG terminal project is one of the largest greenfield foreign direct investments in the energy sector in India.

The Hazira Group has a systematic approach to health, safety, security and environmental management in order to achieve continuous performance improvement. To this end, Hazira Group companies manage these matters as critical business activities, set standards and targets for improvement, and measure, appraise and report performance externally. They continually look for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, products and services.


As part of Business Principles, Hazira Group of Companies are committed to contributing to Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Programme covers Hazira and the surrounding seven villages including their inhabitants. The key activities include organization of village institutions (Gram Vikas Samities), preservation of ecology, health training and awareness, education and capability building.

The Social Performance Manager would be responsible for managing the planning and delivery of Social Performance for Hazira Group of Companies and also provide oversight of the Hazira SP team and partner NGOs.

The position would be based in Hazira, District – Surat, and report to the GM – HR at the corporate Office with a dotted line reporting to the Terminal Manager at Hazira.


• Develop a flexible annual SP plan using Group approved processes.
• Submit the annual SP budget for review and approval, as well as periodic updates.
• Execute the approved SP plan including as appropriate any special tasks or projects requested by the management.
• Develop micro-plans with partner NGOs or village committees to ensure effective implementation of planned activities.
• Issue periodic SP reports to management, investors and the SP committee.
• Participate in the internal and external audits. Follow up on the recommendations from the audits and submit status reports to the appropriate authority.
• Ensure integration of Permit related actions (implementation, reporting, audit) into annual SP plan in collaboration with HSSE, Projects etc.
• The position is also defined as a HSE Critical position in the Shell system. The incumbent is required to meet all required competency requirements by end 2009 and will be provided training for the same.


• Masters Degree in Rural Development /Rural Management or related disciplines, with approximately 10 years experience out of which 5 years should have been in a Team Leader position.
• The incumbent should be results oriented and have experience in independent design of development programs.
• Experience in implementation of integrated community development projects on the ground with a focus on vulnerable communities, social performance and sustainable development.
• Significant experience in donor reporting with a focus on measuring impact of projects
• Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to communicate with internal and external stakeholders across levels and from diverse cultural backgrounds.


• Fluency in Gujarati.



The compensation is commensurate with qualification and experience.

Interested individuals may please submit their CV, a cover note and 3 references by email to with the subject line indicating SP Manager - HLPL.

Please note that only short listed candidates will be contacted.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Words Of God Do Not Justify Cruelty To Women

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status ..." (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when th e convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.

Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in Britain and the United States. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for everyone in society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and out-dated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

Although not having training in religion or theology, I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

At the same time, I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

I know, too, that Billy Graham, one of the most widely respected and revered Christians during my lifetime, did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: "Women preach all over the world. It doesn't bother me from my study of the scriptures."

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

By Jimmy Carter,US president from 1977-81. The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.