Saturday, August 30, 2008

SE-session 3: Innovations in social sector

1. Another perspective
2. Social sector
3. Examples
4. In class innovation
5. Prescription

The class began with the emphasis that Individuals can make a difference.
Before the discussion of the items on the agenda, we had a short discussion on plastics and its environmental impact in which professor Bhargava indicated (at least my perception) that recycling is not will not avoid or reduce environmental impact of non-recyclable materials.

1. Innovation: Another perspective

Answered the question "What is innovation?"

Discussed a scenario that forced innovation.

Scenario: A hotel with malfunctioning air-conditioner and an ineffective fan. The room is infested with mosquitoes. There is a 60-watt bulb. There is a mosquito mat, but no matches or any other source of fire. How to use the mat to find a solution to the mosquito-problem that lasts till morning.

Solution: One can use the 60-watt bulb as a source of heat. But it is too hot to be used directly and the mat won't last till morning. So, a one-rupee coin can be balanced on the bulb with the mosquito mat placed on top.

My inference: Innovation is a practical solution to solve a problem at hand using available resources, that need not be meant to address the problem at hand.

Innovation also the need to emphasize lateral-thinking. As an example of lateral-thinking we saw videos of ads by Coca-cola and Pepsi

2. Social Sector - Triple bottom-line
Social sector shares a lot of similarities with for-profit sectors. A list is as under
  1. Hierarchy
  2. Objective
  3. Resource management
  4. Quality
  5. Ethics
  6. Customer (beneficiary) satisfaction
  7. Marketing
However, there is one difference. For-profit organizations have a single objective of making profits, while a social enterprise should have a tripple bottom-line of People Planet and Profit

3. Examples of innovation in Social sector:
Few examples in different categories of social sectors were discussed

Amul, a mik co-operative, that mobilized individual milk-men to form a co-operative to find a way to get more returns. Karsan bhai also started a CSR initiative, by which the members of Amul invest a small portion of their earnings towards building health infrastructure.

Rural Employment
Poverty alleviation

Grameen Bank's Micro loans initiative for the poorest

Attrition reduction
The instructor didn't name the company based in Bangalore, but highlighted the innovation for tackling the attrition problem. They identified that attrition becomes a problem only when timely replacements are not available. The company studied the background of those who leave the company and found that a majority is from Bihar. So, they targeted the exiting employees from Bihar and asked them to get one person from his village and train him/her thus taking care not only timely replacement but also overlapping the training time.

Big shoe bazaar
Shoes of size 11 or above don't sell much, hence aren't stocked by many of the showrooms. connects the demand for big shoes to the supply (tie-ups will all the shoe companies) for which the latter provide a discount. This provides a winning situation for companies (big shoes are sold more), and customers (they find the shoe of their size with much less hassle!) while earning money out of it (a share in the discount!)

National Innovations Foundation: A compendium of rural innovations

4. In-class innovation
The instructor divided us into groups of two and asked us to identify a social problem, propose an innovative solution and identify the tangible benefits of the solution.

One group identified the lack of teaching talent in government school. To combat that problem, they proposed a teacher's training institute close to the locality of the school, channelize students who have completed 10th stds to the institute. That was voted the most innovative and effective idea of all the proposed ideas (for which the team got a large bar of chocolate).

5. Prescriptions
As a prescription for innovation in social sector, the instructor highlighted the importance of
  • community involvement and promote self-reliance (exit strategy for the NGOs after providing solutions)...
While NGOs can provide a solution to problems, they
can't stay forever to maintain the solution, and that the beneficiaries
need to take ownership of the solutions.
Being associated with Byrraju Foundation, he pointed efforts taken by the foundation in this direction
  • Innovation for a purpose, than for the sake of innovation
He showed a  funny cartoon in which a student shows his work to a bewildered teacher. The quote runs like this. "My name was David, but the name is old-fashioned, so I shortened by name as DVD!"

So what is the take away from this session?  

When you hit upon an idea, do some research to find if anyone has hit upon the same idea and has gone a certain disatance. It gives an opportunity to learn the easier way and introduces a potential partner.

Be open to borrowing best-practices from the for-profit sector. For-profit is not necessarily against non-profit. Just the purpose is different. So there is a lot of scope for common interest.
Note about the Instructor:

Prof.Harsh Bhargava,

Harsh is an Engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and M Tech from IIT, Kanpur besides MMS from Osmania University. For over three decades he was involved in institution building, outsourcing management and indigenous design, development and implementation of embedded real time systems in various capacities in Indian Navy. Widely traveled, Harsh is a keen environmentalist who gives his time for social causes. He has edited 7 books in the areas of Business Process Outsourcing, Rural Transformation, NGOs and Virtual Leadership.

Harsh is currently a Professor at The ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad and has also served with Byrraju Foundation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A "win-win-win" idea for education

This idea about improving education at the bottom of the pyramid (every one uses the phrase these days!) came to me in a flash when I was in the middle of a class when I wasn't even thinking about it consciously. But the more I thought about it ,the more I realized its win-win-win potential not only in education, but also in social integration. Doesn't it sound awesome?

Ok, no more beating around the bush, here is the idea. Its simple. Private schools strive to improve their students' performance. Government schools just can't get their kids to cross the pass mark since they don't have good teachers and labs. Private school students don't get out enough to have a good community-activity-based learning at school. To strike all these with a single effort, I say, get get all these students from private schools, to a government school to teach there.

- Government school kids get "access" to private school teaching (lets say the kids teach under the supervision of the private school teacher). Further, kids approach their friends first when in doubt. So, better learning prospects for government school kids. If teaching is in the form of a demo, even better!

- A student learns better when he/she teaches. So, potentially the academic performance of private school kids is likely to improve too!

- Kids get exposed to other kids of different economic background, hence get a feel on one anothers' lifestyle early on. I feel this would help moulding them into socially aware and sensitive adults who understand the "other side" better.

If the private schools involve all their kids and count this activity as a replacement of, say a couple of class tests, they can count it against their internal (or call it externals!) while giving a breather to their students from those mundane class tests. I think this idea lends itself to easy validation. All one has to do is observe the medium-level performers in private schools (say students who score 75%-90%) to see if tihis exercise helps them close in on the rank-holders.

Since private schools constantly strive to improve academic performance, if the school prinicpal is an "experimenting kind" this idea should attract her. I guess from here on a lot of implementational problems may arise. How does this strike you as an idea?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

First serious stab at Social Entrepreneurship

I have joined a certification course in Social Entrepreneurship in an "NGO B-school" called Centre for Social Initiative and Management. The center is run as a non-profit initiative to attract professionals into non-profit so that a social problem can be solved permanently with "problem-solving" mentality rather than temporarily "philanthropic" mentality. The course lasts for 18 sessions which include classroom discussion, home works, case study, field project to find a solution to social problem partnership with one of 30 NGOs. The best part is it costs not in lakhs, or tens of thousands, but a mere Rs. 5000. and you get a copy of "How to change the world". How is that?

Talking about philanthropy and non-profit, it only makes sense to share the spoils with everybody. Free of cost. In this series of post, I will go through the proceedings of each session so that it helps socially inclined readers (if there are any) with some ideas or inspire them to take up this course, or just with plain boredom! :)

Today's session saw an introduction to two broad topics
1. Social Entrepreneurship and its criteria
2. Leadership

1.Social Entrepreneurship
We watched an hour-long video on Aravind Eye hospital and Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy and discussed his and the hospitals characteristics with relevance to social entrepreneurship. We identified
  • Human welfare as priority
  • Targeted social vision and area of intervention (Eye care)
  • Sustainability (those who pay for care, also cover cost of treating the poor)
  • Innovation (Indeginous low-cost lens production facility)
  • Partnership with government, poor people, other non-profits and for-profit businesses

Also discussed about various know social entrepreneurs like Vikram Akula (SKS microfinance), M.S.Swaminathan (Green revolution in India) and identified keen social acumen, leadership, aspiration, social impact, and ethics like abiding by the law as criteria for social entrepreneurship.

2. Leadership
This topic was handled by a retired officer of The Indian Army and he had a lot of anecdotes from the his life in the Army training camp, Siachin glacier and Srinagar. He discussed about different shades of leadership starting from an autocratic leader at one extreme and a laissez-faire leader at the other of which Servant Leadership would be the most suitable for a social entrepreneur.

Further we discussed several characteristics that differentiate a leader and a manager. In short, there were too take-aways as per my understanding.
  1. A manager implements an already identified solution using a known way. A leader finds a solution to a problem and implements it in an innovative way, if need be.
  2. Management is a sub-set of leadership
We also discussed briefly about Leaadership Pipeline, a concept introduced to address the dearth of indigineous leadership in companies. Apart from the book recommended (as given in the link) for this quite a few other books and website were recommended. Here is a list.

Leading from the edge: By N.T. Perkins
Shackleton's way: Margot Morrell and Stafanie Capparell


My overall, my first impression is very good. I mainly like the variety and the enthusiasm in the class which is about 15 strong. Though the majority are software engineers, it is also represented by people from educational field of which one is a school principal, two chemical scientists (and professors) and one foreigner (His name is Tahir, and I think he is an African!).

The faculty so far seem to be very knowledgeable and experienced. Prof. K.L Srivastava, the director of the center, had been a scientist in ICRISAT specialising in water management for agricultural irrigation and has been active in social forums like Social Edge.

However, there could be some improvement in the presentation of the lecture
1. Powerpoint was used through out the lecture, but a lot of the lecture was read out of the slides. This was followed up by elaborate discussions which brought out the expertise of the lecturer, but the "reading out" part took the interest out of the lecture.

2. Such course should encourage classroom discussions at every opportunity available. Though fair amount of classroom discussion did take place, there were also instances in which a student added a point to the slide, but the lecturer seemed to have moved on to his next point without addressing his point. This should be changed.

Finally, I felt that I have already recovered my Rs. 5000/- and it is just the first class. Very good start.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Profile - Amy Smith, MIT D-labs

Ms. Amy Smith is an instructor MIT's D-Lab which offers courses in Mechanical Engineering. But unlike the conventional engineering course or lab, Ms. Smith along with Ms. Bishwapriya Sanyal offer a course in which engineering students don't just learn the concepts of mechanical engineering, but go all the way to complete a product that addresses need of the under served communities of different parts of the world.

In a four-part course, the students start out ( in the "Design" part)learning about specific sectors of development that need to be addressed and the appropriate technology that can be applied. The second ("Development") part, is a combination of
  • lecture, which talks about various aspects of design like affordability, sustainability, design for manufacture and assembly,
  • Labs that offer experience on fundamentals like welding, circuit-boad design, CAD etc
  • Case studies and field trips to understand the needs of the people to who this product will eventually be useful
  • design review discussions to present and refine ideas of the product
The third ("Dissemination") part of the course focuses on brain-storming ideas to make the product that conceived by part-two to be "ready to roll", which includes making the product scalable, affordable and marketable. The fourth part executes what was conceived in part three.

In the process, her team has been successful in providing local solutions for local yet, problems local to a specific region as against trying to find a generic "one-size-fits-all" solution. The best example for this is offered by the following video of her presentation outlining a method of using sugarcane waste and biomass to produce a clean and efficient fuel thus providing a solution to the worst killer of children under five - household cooking smoke, but also to make the fuel at home using the abundant agricultural waste (this avoids cutting trees and cuts down on expenses in buying fuel) Truely amazing...and this is just one of the projects in MIT D-labs.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Laptop for school kids

A recent post in ThinkChange India made me squander much of my work time into this post. But what the hell!

When the news comes out, it sure does come out in bulk! :) This is not the only laptop for education story I came across within the last week. Here is Classmate from Intel and ICT's research initiative on a computer for Rs. 400. This sure seems to be another emerging trend that will change the future forever. But is it for good or for the worse? Here is my take.

1. The three laptop initiatives put together, laptop should reach the bottom of the pyramid faster. I have my doubts about XO and classmate, but if ICT's initiative is a success, Rs.400 laptop should be affordable to anyone who is rich enough to afford school books.

2. "meant for education", probably means that it allows parents worried about the darker side of the internet such as adult content to breathe easy.

3. About "expensive laptops vs. reading, writing", I think reading and writing wouldn't suffer a loss that can't be compensated by improved creativity, skill and understanding that current book-oriented education suffers from.

The idea of bringing technology right into classroom sounds amazing, but I wonder if this initiative is taken because of a clearly identified necessity in the academia that such laptops can address (looking at it from the govt's perspective rather than OLPC or ADAG). It is one thing to use a laptop for an academic purpose and it is another to modify the academia for using a laptop! Currently, I don't see any resource that talks about this. So, while I don't see this as a definite negative, I doubt if the state cares enough to architect an educational model that includes the laptop to serve its purpose rather than model itself for using the laptop.

Another concern is, cheaper laptops is likely to translate into more laptops, quicker obsolescence and more wastes...and that with already bad waste management system and a proven slow and reactive (as against proactive) government, the future of waste management doesn't look too good. But, this may be the catalyst that pushes the govt. to do something about wastes.

On the whole, I find that the negatives such a improving the curriculum, waste management are a few things that have to be done regardless of the"laptop for education", but a computer with the purpose of making education entertaining, creative and productive would be a big leap forward at best and a small leap forward at its worst. So, Go laptop!