Saturday, March 28, 2009

Microfinance, micro-credit and micro-entrepreneurs

Right to credit should be a fundamental right, says Nobel Peace Prize Winner, the founder of Grameen, Prof. Muhammad Yunus.

Poverty, a major barrier to the growth of the world, is no longer a problem without a solution. Poverty doesn't belong here anymore. The puzzle is over. All the pieces fit.

Every human has an instinct to survive, be one poor or rich. No human is born with money. But money is essential to survive on this planet. To attain this basic essential, to enable one's survival, every human should have access to credit which would provide an equal platform for the test of survival. This credit, to serve its very purpose of being a tool for income generation, shouldn't be a part of any charity as charity is quite contrary to what the concept of credit is meant for. Credit shows a path towards empowerment unlike charity which is but a temporary solution or no solution at all. When credit is made available to all, no one needs to teach anyone how to survive nor help anyone survive.

In this context, today, we have examples of this successful credit phenomenon in the poorest localities of the world where growth would've seemed impossible a few decades back if not for some brains who understood how credit could be used to deal with poverty. We have Grameen (Bangladesh) and its replications across the world, Casas Bahia (Brazil), Cemex (Mexico) and many more.

Micro-finance refers to the wide range of financial services provided to the low-income(or no income or inconsistent income) groups on social collateral, through which the risk of the finance extended to these low-income groups is transferred from the financier to a group of people, bound together by mutual trust and need, who then work for themselves. Micro-credit is one such service under micro-finance, which enables loans to the poor in order to help them help themselves through self-employment. This has led to the conversion of the so called poor helpless people into a force of micro-entrepreneurs who can now fend for themselves.

If democracy is the end product of the evolution of ideologies for the states, if that's what we are talking about, then the evolution of the ways in which it needs to be implemented leads us to a path called empowerment of individuals. And credit is an essential tool to empower those who have no money. It is no charity.

The credit offered is not lost on anyone. It is converted into a force of growth and employment with returns. Micro-finance has been adopted in many places across the world today and is seen as a profitable business.



For further details, refer to
-> Banker to the Poor, an Autobiography of Prof. Muhammad Yunus
-> Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by Dr. C.K. Prahlad

-> www.grameen-info.org

Or just ask me :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

LSP's campaign in a train

What a way to reach out to people! This man is a genius. When I saw the news, I was like, "What an idea Sir jee!" In a train, during a journey, passengers have nothing much to do. They tend to open up and talk to co-passengers in spite of being strangers. They are most relaxed and in a ready to talk mood. Dr. JP, a man with scientific solutions for problems and lots of ideas, along with the party members, making sure that all of them bought tickets for the 2nd class coaches of the train to Nellore, took this opportunity to reach out to people and talk to them. He sat with people on the train, listened to them and made a note of their problems. It's easier than conducting roadshows and more effective at the same time. Change is here. Change is now. You don't need crores of rupees to campaign. A healthy and effective election campaign can be conducted with an affordable budget following the rules and regulations of the ECI. This is new political culture. It's possible.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

LSP's 1st Public Meeting

Lok Satta Party's first ever public meeting was held on the shores of Ramakrishna Beach, Visakhapatnam on Saturday, 14th March, 2009. It is the first ever political meeting of its kind which attracted citizens, optimistic about a healthy political future of this country, many of them from the middle class, and young students, who eagerly waited for Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan to complete his roadshow and meet them. A young girl, you would be surprised to know, the Lok Satta Party candidate contesting from Araku, Ms. Manikyamma, came onto the stage along with her friends to present a tribal dance for the audience before the event started. Before Dr. JP reached the venue, many ordinary citizens came onto the stage with enthusiasm and shared their views on the party. They all had this message for their fellow citizens, "take active part in the politics of the country or at least encourage those who are; only then would we be providing a solution; not by refraining from voting and calling politics of India a horrible mess." Once Dr. JP reached the venue, everyone stood up and cheered him. No chairs were arranged on the stage. Everyone expected him to go onto the stage and speak. But before he spoke, he introduced the candidates contesting in the upcoming elections for Lok Satta Party and gave them a chance to speak. They were very clear about what the party stood for. They all stood together on the stage and once they all spoke, the mike was handed over to Dr. JP who spoke continuously for 45 minutes, explaining what the party stood for, its agenda and its pursuit to bring in new political culture to this country, taking examples of the great leadership India was once proud of. He also mentioned that Lok Satta Party was not desperate for power. Their mission would continue whether they won the elections or no. And if Lok Satta Party won the elections, he said, it would be the victory of healthy politics in this country. Further, he guaranteed proper education for all the children (with provision for learning English, and computer education) and good health for all the people (treatment for any disease in any hospital they chose) of the state if elected to power. LSP would establish local self-governments where-in funds would be allocated to every such local self government according to the population of the place and locally elected representatives of the people would run them. He expressed his belief in the ability of people to think, unlike other political parties who considered people to be fools. While the speech was going on, people who attended the meeting donated money to the party. Everyone from the audience reached for their pockets and took out money. This isn't a familiar sight. An old man, with a long beard, in orange robes, who hardly had any money on him, fetched some coins from the folds of his robe and donated the money to the party while a tin covered with the LSP flag was passed around. This old man sat through the entire speech. Dr. JP finished his speech saying that 2009 would prove to be an year of revolutionary change in the politics of India. Once the meeting came to an end, the national anthem was sung. Everyone dispersed with a beam of hope.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan and Lok Satta Party

A physician turned IAS officer turned president of Lok Satta party, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan is a person who's inspired and inspires all who know him through his modern ideas, logical solutions to problems, his knowledge, clarity of thought and expression. He is a personality to emulate. In his speeches on politics and governance that I recently came across, he explains the problems of our country, how they have originated and how they should be solved with a scientific and logical approach. He says, today, people complain, people are angry with the government more than at any other time after India became an independent country. India sure has made progress along the way after independence but with the potential that we have, we can do much more than that. Compared to what we can do, what we have done is very less though significant. This makes us angry and complain so much today, he says. And more awareness among us today also surely contributes to it. We are going through a second freedom struggle for a true democracy with new politics, he says.

I'd like to present some of his ideas here.

1. Local Self-Governments and decentralization of power: If the per capita amount that the government is supposedly spending on each citizen today is given to locally elected bodies, who are given all powers to use this money for their local development issues, without the interference of the state or the centre or some far away minister, the development work would happen at an accelerated efficiency. This simply means a power shift from ministers to citizens. No longer would citizens need to depend on some far away government and go through all the red tape or indulge in bribery to get things done. This is a solution that can be practiced effectively to prevent corruption or in other words, remove it from its roots. We have Local Self Governments in a couple of places in India like Kerala and Jalandhar.
2. Autonomous public service organizations: The police services or the municipalities, for example, should have autonomous powers to carry out their jobs. They shouldn't be puppets of the ministers anymore. They should only be accountable to the people they serve.
3. Participation of Industries: Industries have a role to play, to encourage healthy politics, not looking for easy short-cut solutions, he says.
4. His take on sops: He has expressed his anger against those who offer sops as if public money was their own money, making beggars out of people.
5. Education and empowerment: The poor, instead of being treated as a burden, should be empowered and given a chance to contribute to the economy. This can be done by proper facilities for education, employment and credit for farmers and small entrepreneurs. On reservations based on caste, he said, today, reservations are dividing people further and the original objective is lost. Instead of reserving seats for people based on their caste, these people considered to be backward should be made capable to achieve these positions through relevant facilities, providing proper education and training. He also suggested establishment of 10000 small towns in the villages of India with urban amenities and infrastructure.
6. On civil society organizations: Today, a large no. of civil society organizations can be found all around and they're doing what the government should be doing. The proper way of addressing the problems we have is to act from within the government and take part in the politics of our country.

Dr. JP is optimistic. He says, we need new politics for a new generation. And the party, which was actually a civil society organization, established 10 years back, was made a political party in 2006. Lok Satta Party is contesting the elections for the second time(the first time, it contested in the by-elections in Telangana) now with more awareness among people about it.
Lok Satta Party is the only one of its kind in many ways. It is democratically run. Elections are conducted at various localities for positions in the party through secret ballot. Also, within the party, elections are conducted through secret ballot. In this context, Dr. JP says, he doesn't own Lok Satta Party. LSP is the only political party in India to which one can make donations with 100% tax exemption. Recently, a Mumbai chapter of Lok Satta Party was also started. The symbol of Lok Satta Party is a blue star against white background. Its detailed agenda can be found on its website.

For more details, log onto www.loksatta.org
Also, you may listen to his speeches on politics and governance on you tube, the first part of which can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MPl-ayS-7E
Here, you can find an interview of Dr. JP: http://www.loksatta.org/images/The%20first%20completely%20customisable%20news%20site%20on%20the%20web.pdf