Monday, March 28, 2011

Abhijith Banerjee bats for DCT

Today's Indian Express carries an op-ed by economist Abhijith Banerjee on direct cash transfers.Abhijith Banerjee is at the Jameel Poverty Lab at MIT. He along with Esther Dufelo had come out with a paper sometime last year on microfinance where they challenged the conventional wisdom of microfinance being an effective tool in poverty alleviation.
In this article he talks about UID making DCT much easier. With such support for DCT, I think DCT will be a reality sooner than later!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Takeaway from IRMA

I have completed all my academic requirements last week. Unless any faculty member is a sadist, I shall receive my PRM degree from the Vice President of India in the last week of April.
So what are the key takeaways for a PRM graduate? I list down some of them. Of course each person will have his/her own takeaways. But this is my blog and hence my takeaways
1.Excellence in everything that you do- The institute expects you to deliver excellence everytime and in everything. This quality can be seen in all the institutions that Dr. Kurien built. Also, given the stupendous achievements of our alumni, excellence is a hygiene factor in any IRMAns work!
2.Ambiguity is fine- What is rural? what is the difference between rural management and development studies? Globalisation or localisation? Are most issues "either or" or "and" issues? These questions always confronts a student when he is doing his coursework. Further, he faces so many paradoxes in the field. This prepares him for the ambiguity that every manager will face in his worklife. Thus, an IRMAN develops a high tolerance to ambiguity.
3.Integrity- I am saddened by the fact many of my batchmates resorted to unethical practices in exams. But IRMA is known to produce managers of integrity. And Integrity does pay in the long run.While one might say that people with integrity will lose the race, the truth is that they are running a different and a more fulfilling race.
4.The "Sector"- I am not joining an organisation which is a "sector" organisation. But as one of the best professors in IRMA, Prof KVR told us, it really doesnt matter where we go as long as we do our work with integrity, excellence and discipline. I am not a great supporter of this sector romance.Work as long as you get the kick out of it.
5.Get on the field- I know of some idiots who believe that only the fieldwork segment should have the village stay. They prefer to do their internships in cities. My takeaway is that more time you send in rural and semi-urban areas, the more you will be able to differentiate yourself from the normal MBAs.
6. Beauty lies in the simplicity- We had this rubbish band coming to IRMA and perform for a large sum of money. Their tantrums were absolutely stupid. And then there were Magsaysay awardees, padma winners who came across as people who followed the doctrine of "simple living, high thinking". A lesson in humility is definitely a key takeaway!
Finally, after a serious illness and consequent hospitalisation, taking care of ones health is a key takeaway. I have lost precious time due to sickness issues. Hence, health is truly wealth.And in a place like IRMA, there is certainly no time to recuperate and expect to not lose out on the academics.
Of course, these are many more takeaways. But suffice to say, that these two years has been a tremendous learning experience! And I shall forever remain indebted to IRMA for this!

Prof.Bhagwati on the Yunus mess

Prof. Bhagwati has an interesting view on the recent dismissal of Prof.Yunus from Grameen by the Bangladesh Government.
What I liked about the article were the kind words used for the SEWA Bank and its founder Elaben. Since I am reading her autobiography, I strongly endorse Prof.Bhagwati's view on the bank!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two good blogs

Though I maintain a blog, I normally do not read blogs. Reading on a laptop is uncomfortable for me. However I liked these two blogs mentioned below
1.This blog of Ajit Chaudhuri makes for an interesting read.I do not think he maintains it now, but the collection of posts is very nice. Ajit is an alumnus of IRMA and is country head for a UK based donor agency. He comes to IRMA every year for sharing his experiences on monitoring and evaluation of projects, his personal experiences in relief work and making us evaluate live projects which his agency is planning to fund. I found him to be very engaging and interesting person. The best part of his sessions was the one on relief work. He had a stint with Care India set up by the India Today Group which undertook relief work post disasters. He spoke on setting up a hospital in Kashmir post the earthquake, working on an island post tsunami and being disconnected with the world for a period of two months, etc.His insights ranged from why one should never travel with security forces in Kashmir, how the Hizbul terrorist outfit will send volunteers for relief work and not the Lashkar, and how the Indian government planned an irrigation project in Rajasthan with the intent of making it the first barrier of defence in case our neighbour attacked us. The funny part was that the entire project was funded by the World Bank!

2.The second blog is again by an IRMA alumnus, Avinashkishore who is currently at Harvard doing his Phd. I had attended his presentation last July where he spoke about the causes of agricultural stagnation in Bihar. His blog is excellent for its Bihar coverage. Also, some of the links that he gives are very good and make for interesting read!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reading List for the Summer

Faultlines By Raghuram Rajan (Have gone through some chapters but never could sit down and complete it)
The Ascent of Money by Nial Ferguson.
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Fair Trade for All by Joseph Stiglitz
Standing my Ground by Mathew Hayden
We are Poor but so many by Ela Bhatt
When the Penny Drops by R Gopalkrishnan

Getting a book for a steal

I have always been a big fan of Australian batsman Mathew Hayden. Hence, I was keen to get my hands on his autobiography "Standing my ground". However the hard cover edition was available for Rs 600 at book stores in Mumbai.
In Anand, I usually order books at or They usually have great discounts on offer. This time however, flipkart was selling it at around Rs 550. When I checked infibeam, the price listed was Rs 150 and a discount of Rs 30 was given! I was shocked and hurriedly booked a copy. There was some delay from their end citing reasons of the book being out of stock. However, a phone call and a mail later, I received the book. The price on the website now is Rs 599!
I am not sure whether it was a mistake or a deliberate pricing strategy. My guess would be the former! But who cares, I got it for a steal!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kiran Karnik at IRMA

Just came back from a talk by Kiran Karnik, former President of NASSCOM.He spoke on issues of rural development and role of technology in poverty alleviation. He also touched on issues of social entrepreneurship and innovation.
He spoke of how UID would help in plugging leakages (largely through direct cash transfers) that are hampering effective delivery of welfare schemes. In the Q and A round that followed, I asked him about the role technology can play in identifying the the "poor". How do we solve the inclusion and exclusion problem that arises while preparing BPL lists. He was candid enough to admit that technology had a very limited role. In fact, he rightly stated that problem of exclusion is more serious than the problem of inclusion in the BPL lists.
I think identifying the poor is one of the biggest challenges we face.Universalisation is not the answer as it will lead to fiscal deficit issues!
However, it was an interesting and a nice talk with someone who has played a big role in building India's image as a global outsourcing hub!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Evening with the Amtes

I have been fortunate to meet and interact with two Ramon Magsaysay awardees during my time at IRMA. Last year I met Dr.Kurien who inspite of his bad health was as witty and may I say as proud as ever!
Today evening, we had the wonderful opportunity to interact with Prakash and Mandakini Amte who won the Magsaysay award in 2008 for community leadership for their work in Gadchiroli district. Son and daughter-in-law of the legendary Baba Amte, the Amte couple has worked with the tribals in one of the most impoverished district of Maharashtra for the last three decades.
Dr.Amte spoke of the hardships they faced when they started hemalkasa.They lived on rice, dal and some pickle for 12 years as other items were not available due to lack of infrastructure.They were serving a community which had not interacted with any other part of society. They lived on snakes, rats and red ants. Starvation deaths were normal.Immense personal sacrifices (though they dont call it sacrifice) were also made. Their son was educated in the same school they had started and had problems completing his MBBS.But the grit, commitment never wavered.
Today they have built a hospital, school which has resulted in the tribal community having their first doctors, surgeons, engineers, lawyers, etc and an orphanage for wild animals.Videos of the family playing with leopards and snakes revealed the symbiotic relationship the family had with the environment.
Extremely humble and simple, the Amte family won everyone's hearts. That one can remain so humble and simple inspite of so many achievements is indeed humbling and remarkable

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Testing times at IRMA

I am not talking about the silly quizzes that they take here, but about the difficult time I am having in spending these remaining days at IRMA.
In his book on Jamsethji Tata, RM Lala described the great man's ability to spot some good quality in every person he met whether be it friend or foe.
My inability to do the same with some people around me has made me start a countdown of the number of days that I will be spending here.
Or maybe its just one of the mood swings that I have wherein I detest sight of people and I start sulking about everything and anything.
I hope it gets resolved soon as I have started missing classes for the same reason.Dont want an I due to my mood swings!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

NAFED:A State owned co operative!!

Today's Business Standard carries an article stating that the Central Govt. will provide a guarantee worth Rs 1200 crore to NAFED. NAFED is an agri-produce marketing co-operative. One gets to hear about NAFED when prices of commodities rise.The govt usually depends on NAFED to procure high-price commodities and sell them through govt.channels at reasonable prices.The fact that NAFED is used largely for keeping prices in check gives one the impression that it has urban consumer interests in mind rather than interests of its members i.e. farmers. In fact the bias towards urban consumers vis-a-vis producers has a long history which an IRMA alumnus Avinash Kishore highlights in one of his blog posting.
NAFED also acts as the canalising agency for agri-products in India.
Inspite of this, it has performed very badly.And hence the 1200 crore package. What is shocking is that there is a plan for the Agriculture Ministry to own 51% of the co-operative till this guarantee is present.
The reason that AMUL has succeeded is because Dr.Kurien kept ministers and bureaucrats at arm's length. He never allowed them to interfere in the functioning of co-operatives.And today, Amul is Asia's biggest food brand!
How can a co-operative be owned by the government? It is silly and disgraceful.So much for a farmer's co-operative, as the launch page of its website states!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Andre Beteille,the wisest man in India, as Ramchandra Guha calls him, was at IRMA to deliver a talk on "The Middle Class." Suffice to say that it was one of the finest speeches I have ever heard in my life.
One quote of the renowned sociologist aptly captures the differentiating factor that IRMAns have compared to other B, R or D schools.
The Indian intelligentsia has somewhat mixed attitudes towards the Indian village. While educated Indians are inclined to think or at least speak well of the village, they do not show much inclination for the company of villagers

IRMA ensures that company of villagers in a village setting is provided to understand the issues with a sensitive and empathetic mind.

Success Stories by NGOs

If you are a donor agency, you will receive pamphlets of various types of NGOs for funding requests. The most essential component of that pamphlet would be "case studies of success stories". In fact, one of my batchmates went all the way to Indonesia to document "success stories" of ILO interventions.
In the development world, case studies are preferred over quantitative methods. This is because outcome is as important as output. So you will have "before-after" stories of distressed farmers, widows, and all those of our society who are defined with that derogatory term- "beneficiaries". My strategy Professor, Prof.DPM has a better term. He calls them "community of interest".
Anyway, I was always suspect of such case studies.Many NGOs might just exaggerate benefits provided in order to alleviate donor concerns about how their money is being spent.There are very few donor agencies (SRTT is definitely one) which have a long term approach to poverty alleviation. Most donor agencies are similar to venture capital/private equity investors as far as time horizon is concerned.
I have always been suspect of "claims" made by NGOs. Except large NGOs like BAIF (whose work in Nandurbar I have closely watched for two months), PRADAN, AKRSP and some others, I will always take the "success stories" with a pinch of salt.

Education and Rural Development: Some unintended consequences

I attended a very provocative seminar by Prof. Tripathi who has been with Allahabad University in their Organisational Behaviour Department. The seminar was based on the preliminary findings of a study conducted by him which assessed the educational impact on development indicators. The indicators were economic, social, health, gender parity and political.
The study was conducted in 12 villages in Mawana located at Meerut.The study divided the 12 villages into groups of 4 villages each-classified as low , medium and high educational levels.
The findings were very surprising.Some of them were as follows
1. Though there is positive correlation between educational level and income at the aggregate level, the SC and minorities fare much worse in high educational level villages than in the low educational level villages on the income parameters.
2.Women participation fell markedly in villages which had high educational levels.
3.Preference for male child was significantly higher in high educational level villages.
The point that Prof. Tripathi made was that the largely neo liberal policy making encouraged education for prosperity rather than education for social transformation.
It was an interesting talk, especially for those in my batch who would be joining ICICI Foundation's Centre for Elementary Education.