Enabling ICT for Rural India

While looking at the proceedings of FIRe (Future in Review), found the web-page for Rafiq Dossani who is doing ground-breaking research on IT as it relates to South Asia, and India in particular. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of the project Enabling ICT for Rural India:

Some findings from the review were expected, such as poor infrastructure, high deployment and maintenance costs and the lack of content for eGovernance. Some less expected findings are that eGovernance services are overwhelmingly the most needed; that content is largely irrelevant to needs (itself indicative of wider problems of user and operator capabilities); but that user interest rises significantly when services can be delivered regularly and efficiently; that NGOs play a key role in understanding user needs and increasing awareness; and, finally, that rural capacity is not being enhanced through ICT.

Some problems exist because the strengths of the different stakeholders are not being used optimally. Thus, NGOs, which are strongest in understanding user needs and in increasing awareness, have diverted considerable resources to accessing bandwidth and paying for kiosk infrastructure. Organizations that are village-focused have missed the opportunity of maximizing coverage through Internet-based provision. All providers must deal with infrastructure problems outside their control, such as power problems. Partnerships in content provision are rare though greatly needed.

Our proposal for a new ICT model is based on separating the infrastructure from content provision and recommending that deployment of the infrastructure upto the block level be provided by technology specialists using universal service obligation (USO) funds. We also recommend the establishment of a data center at the state level in order to use content more efficiently. These approaches recognize the public-good character of the technology infrastructure. The Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Institutions should create a framework of rules to enable state management of this process.

Can India Overtake China?

In response to a comment on an earlier post on China vs. India, I was doing some research on this topic. There is no doubt that China outperforms India currently, as visible in the macro-economic indicators in China & India: A visual essay by Deutsche Bank Research.

However check out the Foreign Policy article “Can India Overtake China?” where the authors write:

“… statistics tell only part of the story—the macroeconomic story. At the micro level, things look quite different. There, India displays every bit as much dynamism as China. Indeed, by relying primarily on organic growth, India is making fuller use of its resources and has chosen a path that may well deliver more sustainable progress than China’s FDI-driven approach. “Can India surpass China?” is no longer a silly question, and, if it turns out that India has indeed made the wiser bet, the implications—for China’s future growth and for how policy experts think about economic development generally—could be enormous… In a survey of 25 emerging market economies conducted in 2000 by Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia, India ranked sixth in corporate governance, China 19th.”

Also worthy of attention are some fundamental weaknesses in Chinese policies/actions which will manifest themselves in the longer term, as brought about by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse and summarised by the CIA Factbook:

“One demographic consequence of the “one child” policy is that China is now one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world. Another long-term threat to growth is the deterioration in the environment – notably air pollution, soil erosion, and the steady fall of the water table, especially in the north.”

Finally the best approach for both economies would be not to compete but collaborate and gain on each other’s strengths, as aptly pointed out by Stephen S. Roach in Morgan Stanley’s Global Economic Forum:

“Interestingly enough, as both of developing Asia’s largest economies look to the future, they do so with an eye toward emulating the other.

India currently has over 25 world-class companies, well-developed capital markets, a modern banking system, and a deeply entrenched rule of law. China is lacking in all of those key respects, and very much wants to move in those directions.

At the same time, India very much aspires to match China’s progress on the manufacturing front.”

Using Google to find stereotypes and prejudices

Based on the idea of The Prejudice Map of the World, I decided to localize it to India, specifically two of the vibrant castes within India – the Gujaratis and the Punjabis. Here are the findings (as of May 3rd 2006):

Gujaratis are known for:

  • grit
  • entrepreneurship
  • Dandiya and Garba
  • pickles and chutneys
  • hospitality
  • business and trade
  • entrepreneurial skills
  • sweets

Punjabis are known for:

  • hard work
  • carpentry
  • creativity
  • boisterous humour
  • rich foods
  • loud, opulent and flamboyant weddings
  • extroverted nature
  • incredibly laid-back, blase demeanour, but steely resolve

Another very interesting website to find out what Google thinks of someone is Googlism.

Original idea for this post by Google Blogoscoped [via Napsterization].

Fortune’s view of the world in 2080

Fortune published a special insert "How the World Will Work: People, trends, and ideas that are shaping the next 75 years". I had made a clipping of this article and was re-visting it today. Here are some of the interesting forecasts / predictions:

  • Babies are often tweaked by their parents through gene therapies –either to eliminate problems (e.g., Down syndrome, alcoholism) or to implant desired attributes (intelligence, pole-vaulting skill).
  • Toilet. The seat of modern health. It measures body fat and temperature, analyzes urine and feces, and automatically confers with your health providers to spot problems early. [same concept shown in the 2005 movie "The Island"]
  • In 2040 oil consumption begins to fall in absolute terms, and by 2060 oil is a boutique fuel.
  • Other than a handful of new nuclear plants, large-scale power projects are rare. Instead, micro-turbines fueled by a variety of sources provide on-the-spot power. One big beneficiary: Africa. No longer reliant on corrupt politicians to extend the grid, many communities finally have reliable power. And the civic organizations that made it happen gain force. These two trends bring new spirit to the continent.
  • Global warming brings more and worse weather disasters; a melting polar ice cap raises sea levels. The low, flat, sparsely populated islands of Micronesia are swamped. Their people are resettled. Population centers that are uncomfortably close to sea level, such as Venice, lower Manhattan, and Egypt's Nile delta, struggle to cope.
  • In 2059, with falling birth rates and increased intermarriage and immigration, Italy becomes the first European country to have a nonwhite majority. By 2075 all the traditional large centers of white skin–the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Oceania–have followed suit.
  • Today's toddlers will have to figure out how to cope with the social problems caused by China's urban-rural inequality and the huge disparity between the number of men and women (caused by two generations of parents who favored the birth of boys over girls). Another challenge: how to close the gap with India, which in 2068 overtakes China as the world's largest economy.
  • David Laibson, Economist. The emerging discipline of neuro-economics says that economic decisions are the product of interactions between different brain parts that evolved at different times and for different reasons. Armed with this insight, scholars like Harvard's Laibson are beginning to reconstruct economics from the prefrontal cortex up. That might take us to a far better understanding of why consumers buy, why investors buy and sell–and how everything from 401(k) plans to marketing strategies to tax policies should be put together.

Interesting McKinsey article on Pratham, an Indian educational NGO

The McKinsey Quarterly had an interesting article on Pratham the Indian educational NGO. I have been keeping myself updated on Pratham’s activities through its website at http://www.pratham.org. They are indeed making great progress on the educational front and especially getting visibility internationally. Pratham recently came out with the landmark Annual State of Education Report (ASER 2005) has also launched library initiatives in various places.

Also worth checking out is the Education World website.

What does it cost to have a celebration?

A nice forward I received a while back:

A winter evening.
Four friends.
One barsaat.
Four glasses of chai.

Hundred bucks of gas.
A rusty old bike.
And an open road.

Maggi noodles.
A hostel room.
4.25 a.m.

3 old friends.
3 separate cities.
3 coffee mugs.
1 internet messenger.

Rain on a hot tin roof.
Pakoras deep-frying.
Neighbours dropping in.
A party.

You and mom.
A summer night.
A bottle of coconut oil.
A head massage.
Gossiping about absent family members.

You can spend
hundreds on birthdays,
thousands on festivals,
lakhs on weddings,
but to celebrate
all you have to spend is your Time.