Posts Tagged ‘development’

“Unlearn the past to create the future”

ckptyranny1The late Michigan University management professor, CK Prahalad, is best known for his last, and most famous publication, The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. But to MBA students, management consultancies, corporate planners, and regular readers of the Harvard Business Review, he is also known for a long and distinguished career in management thought leadership. Identifying and recognizing the Core Competency of corporations is another one of his strategy concepts.
I bring him up because today I want to start my keynote on behalf of the Inequality and Technology opening conference by BankInter Foundation for Innovation with a point he made in a speech given at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad back in 2009.

The tyranny of dominant logic, he called it. We are all socialized to believe, he said, that developing countries cannot be the source of innovation. And this dominant logic provides the theoretical lens by which we see the world. Developed country managers, consultants, academic researchers, all have been socialized to accept this notion.

Because of this, he said, we have never questioned the premise that innovation flows from the top down to the bottom; or, from the North down to the South; or, from the developed countries to the developing. But, as he pointed out with numerous examples in his speech, this doesn’t actually hold true. And this blinds us from seeing otherwise. We must unlearn, the past, to create the future, he told us.

cww7v8vwiaajeu8

Read On…

Lessons for toilet builders from the history of India’s cookstove development efforts

DSCN1589

Learning from the maker, herself. Rawal village, Rajasthan, India in January 2009.

Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar has written a superb critical analysis looking back at the history of India’s development efforts to provide viable, feasible, and desirable solutions to the myriad unmet needs of the common man. Using cookstoves as her narrative theme, she explores the challenges of base of the pyramid product development and marketing, and draws lessons for “the toilet builders of today.” A must read for social enterprises, entrepreneurs and design for impact.

Years after its big launch, India’s stove mission is going nowhere. A new government is in power, and another object meant to save the rural poor is now galvanising excitement. Companies such as Indian Oil, L&T, Tata Consultancy Services and Vedanta, among others, have pledged to build toilets to stop people from defecating in the open. Meanwhile, the cookstove programme has practically vanished from view, quietly renamed the Unnat Chulha Abhiyan and downsized.

This was not the first time a big push for clean cookstoves started only to falter. The history of India’s cookstove programmes parallels the evolution of the global development agenda, shaped by the geopolitics of each era—saving forests in the 1970s, improving women’s lot in the 1990s, preventing global warming in the 2000s. Since the 1970s, development agencies and governments around the world have spent millions of dollars promoting clean stoves as the solution for a succession of big problems. These programmes reflect a yearning, among nation-builders and international donors alike, for silver bullets—objects that are quantifiable technological solutions, but also symbolic, such as vaccines, mosquito nets and toilets.

A timely find, as the World Bank et al renew their PR push to promote toilets over mobile phones. The rise and fall of the “next big thing” for the poor is as much a trendy hip thing of the moment as any 15 minute internet celebrity. As silver bullets emerge and disappear according to donor whims and fancies, its the poor who suffer from half baked solutions and incomplete projects left behind like abandoned children’s toy in the sandbox.

Badly trained, reluctant stove-makers meant bad stoves. In one Haryana village, 67 percent of users said the new chulhas were too high, and over half said the cooking holes were too small for their pots. In Punjab, many families found their fuel consumption increased. In Orissa, chimneys were removed because villagers feared their thatched roofs would catch fire. In one village, a row of houses did burn down. “We couldn’t talk about chulhas in that area for years,” said Sarin.

There was also a more fundamental issue: the programme’s goals were out of sync with what women wanted. While the focus was on making stoves that consumed less wood, women wanted ones that emitted less smoke, or cooked faster.

As always.

As for clean cookstoves, she came to the conclusion that structural problems couldn’t be solved with single-point interventions. “Designing a smokeless biomass chulha,” she said, “is in some ways more complex than designing a nuclear power plant.”

And in India, we note the same issues that plague the  sales of “objects to replace dirty stinky kerosene” and other things that are good for you, like oatmeal.

Over the years, Karve found that even better-off rural communities were not persuaded by arguments about health, the environment, or even time saved in cooking. Women’s time and health were not valued; any family with Rs 1,000 to spare would first buy a mobile phone. She came to believe that the “aspirational value” of the stove had to be engaged. Like any successful consumer product, “the price has to be right, the benefits outstanding, and it has to look good,” she said. “It has to be cool.” That kind of hard-sell made Karve, with her “NGO mindset,” uncomfortable.

Is that women’s health is not valued, or that the rupee invested in the mobile phone brings back a greater return than the rupee sunk into a stove or toilet? What are the assumptions we are making on why people choose  to make these trade-offs, and how does that bias us so that our own assumptions end up being consistent barriers to new product introductions to this target segment? We have enough years of experience with the stoves and toilets and water purifiers to want to pause and reflect by now.

“Why must the global alliance for a developing-country problem be headquartered in Washington?” he said in an interview in his IIT office, in 2013. Besides, he wasn’t sure that the GACC’s market-driven approach was the correct one. “I’m always worried when people say there’s only one way to solve a complex problem,” he said.

Which brings us full circle to the problems of toilets and the bank.

New Delhi Notes 2015

I was in New Delhi for just over a week at the beginning of June, visiting after a period of 3 years, and so many things caught my attention that I thought I’d do a round up of my observations, just like I did 10 years ago.

smallebank
Systems implemented and working. The impact may not be visible to a first time visitor or someone living through it. Immigration at the airport didn’t need me to fill in a disembarkation card anymore. As a citizen with a machine readable passport, I was ‘in the system’ already. The bank was virtually empty. I’d never seen it so desolate until I noticed this e-Lounge next door. My request for a debit card was handled instantly and the card handed over. Yes, I can use it for internet payments too. Ooh, I’m now part of the Great Indian E-commerce boom.

smallbankSo, Sanjay tells me all about ‘those purchases you make and then they send it to your house and you can use Paytm’ – e-commerce, without ever once using the world Internet, e-commerce or speaking in English. His own commitments (the last baby turned out to be twin girls) keep him from splurging on a smartphone but he keeps a SIM with his Whatsapp and Facebook accounts to use on his friend’s phones. Sanjay is my go to “aam aadmi” or representative of the emerging Indian middle class, in the classical sense. He’s a blue collar worker in maintenance, with a motorcycle, consumer electronics and a daughter in private English medium schooling. He only has vocational training and high school equivalency certificates.

IMG_2219This startup received 9 million dollars in funding and splashed out with billboards in key neighbourhoods. Brother in law who’s head of McCann Erickson in India tells me its the classifieds they use. And yes, this ad shows one of the unique issues of going online in India.

smallcoco

Gentrification is everywhere. Even in the jhuggi-jhopdis. People’s clothes are brightly coloured and modern and cheap. I bought two excellent t-shirts for Rs 150 each ~ 2 euros and some odd cents, at least 40% cheaper than similar street vendor prices in ye olde shopping mecca of Singapore. I mean, branded coconut water kiosks, really?

smallmobilityThe Metro is bringing mobility on a scale that’s changing the landscape of the city. Another 3 years and where will we be?  What struck me was even with the worst heat wave in years, the power went off only once, that too for a couple of hours, something that had never happened before. Summer is always the time for load-shedding due to the higher consumption of air conditioning and other electricals.

smtaxiAnd if you have money, its app-driven public transportation for you. Ola is what everyone talks about. Apps are becoming commonplace. 10 years ago, when I was first told to keep an eye on the mobile phone and way it would change things, in everyday life, was this the future we’d envisioned for ourselves?

IMG_2200But for all that technology and infrastructure and systems, cash is still king with many shopkeepers laughing off mention of mobile payments and gizmos to stick to what they know. Paper and coins.

IMG_2207

The informal sector is still the provider of income and employment for the majority and the mindset of scarcity means the culture of repair, re-use, re-purpose and resell hasn’t gone anywhere. Even if its been glitzed up with spit and polish.

IMG_2210

Its never going to be “normal” or “conventional” but its definitely signs of social and economic development. India has come of age.