Tipping Point


Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Malcolm Gladwell and his book – Tipping Point, which is a fantastic read btw.

Its been a long long long time since I’ve written anything – really this space is an apology of a blog in that sense.

I do have an excuse to offer though. Actually a string of excuses – the first being that I don’t have a job and went through a major phase of depression, then I got married and lately I’ve been spending time with a critically ill family member in a hospital instead of honeymooning.

Between all of this, I’ve had plenty of time (what else does one do in hospitals and beauty parlours anyway?) to introspect and more interesting observe my own behaviour during these tumultuous times.

I find that dealing with a crisis if you’re an overall efficient person isn’t very difficult. All it requires is a clear head, a larger than normal supply of patience, access to money and someone loving who will take care of you while you take care of other things.

Its the little things though that happen throughout that is truly exhausting. It didn’t matter so much for example, that I had to find 16 people to donate blood at a short notice or find ways to deal with extreme cultural shocks. It bothered me terribly though – that my favourite hair brush vanished for three whole days. It drove me to tears when I couldn’t find bathroom slippers in order to go pee when I had Mehendi on my hands.

I’m not sure what explains the complete strangeness of this behaviour – but on a completely non-original note I think I can say I’ve discovered my own Tipping Point. I hate it when I am expected to ‘be there’ and ‘take care’  — and the little things aren’t in order. Clearly working to resolve a large crisis (emotional or physical) brings out the best of ‘responsibility’ in me, but perhaps that process is so alien to me that I compensate by stressing out about the small things. Human nature or peculiar to me?

Or I love my HAIR BRUSH. And oh, I love my husband – he found it. 🙂

At any rate here are somethings to ask yourself during crisis management:

1. Are you being irrational about the little things?

2. Are you doing too much on your own?

3. Are you being a little unfair to those who are in support roles with you?

If you’re answering yes to any of these things – do what I did. Recognise that you have a problem. Find out what your tipping point is. Meditate for a bit. Change what gets you to that point. Get on with crisis management.

Why you shouldn’t fall for ‘development’…


People are often, excited and tremendously, when they find out I work in what we like to call the ‘development sector’. Words like wow, passion, doing-your-bit and such get thrown about a lot. The more I hear stuff like this, the more disconcerted I feel.

The ‘development sector’ in India is one of the poorest performing sectors ever. I can make this statement because, the size of the development sector in India has never been accurately measured, there are no meta-analytical studies that estimate its size or ROI and there are only some arbitrary anecdotal pieces of evidence that constitute ‘impact’.

Most of these pieces of evidence aren’t based on a standard framework or analysis and so there is no meaningful way to measure improvement. I can also make this statement because – in all my years (which are not those many!) I have met very few people (none actually, but I keep hearing about such people) who are uniquely qualified to work with development.

The vast majority of non-profit CEOs are either MBAs or investment bankers. Most mid-management are either engineers, doctors, journalists who decided that it was now ‘time’ to work with development. I’m a staunch supporter of transferable skills. An MBA can bring valuable information about organisational effectiveness (in theory only :P) to an NGO, for example.

However, here is my problem. To practice medicine, you need to have had a degree in medicine, to become an advocate you need to demonstrate knowledge of the law. To become an educator or a non-profit professional; you only need to have ‘smarts’ and ‘passion’. Is this the best rigour we can bring to something we consider so important?

The point is, the ‘development’ sector is a myth. There really isn’t such a thing. If there were – it wouldn’t be so under-evolved. To see what I mean, consider project management. Project management is an IT curse. It’s a great tool that has been studied and dissected and forced-upon generations of coders for years. Its documented and you can even be a certified professional at it. Anything even remotely close or institutionalised for development? No.

Interestingly, nothing has ever been developed in-house. Instead, we know, that the social-sector side of the TATAs likes logic frameworks/models (borrowed from the military), DFID has its own propriety project framework and the rest of us try desperately to capture learning achievement and gender empowerment through PERT charts and Work Breakdown Structures.

The truth about the ‘development sector’ in India (and yes I work in it) is that none of us really know what we are doing. Nobody understands what ‘development’ means, what we should measure, how we should measure, what tools we should use and if there is any point at all to doing all that we – in a coherent clear-headed manner. The arrogance is sometimes astounding. And it kills the beauty of making an effort, the process of discovery and the opportunity that those of us who work in this sector have – which is to learn first.

Housing Husbands…


I want to buy a house. I’m a single, salaried (ahem well-salaried) woman. I need a home loan. I did some research. Turns out Indian banks will give me a loan that is roughly five times my annual income. Unfortunately for me, the value of the property I intend to buy, is more than five times my annual income.

In order to enhance my loan amount I can do three things: a) find a better paying job and then apply for a loan, b) get a better degree and c) find a husband. Let’s let point ‘a’ be for the moment. I always knew MBAs had a distinct advantage in the world, but having a husband? Oh how biased is the world against the single woman.

So now I want to buy a husband.

I can’t be the only single woman in the world who needs an enhanced house loan. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there was an informal market for husbands. Imagine….

A market where one could pick a husband by his loan-enhancement capability. The MBA men will be the most pricey. The market would then be flooded with fake MBA types – enter rating agencies to certify the authenticity of house-loan-enhancing-would-be husbands. Such a rating agency would work exactly the way a credit rating agency does. When the size of the market grows and banks finally catch-on, the government will abolish the husband requirement.

Why then make husbands a housing-loan enhancement criteria in the first place?

Hmmmmph!

Monopolizing TED


This post is an opinion. It is important that I state this upfront given the probability that its likely to be taken badly. This post is an opinion. Re-Stated. Opinion. Period.

Lately, I’ve become a big fan of saying things ‘upfront’ along with becoming a fan of ‘staying in the loop’, ‘re-defining impact’, ‘being on the same page’ and the like, but all that is a story for a different day.

TEDIndia is happening. TED has been ‘happening’, in a better way – for longer. Years ago, when TED found me – I spent several days downloading mp4 (s) to my Ipod. Qualitatively, what made the videos/talks different, was the fact that they celebrated the ‘small fry’, voices that haven’t been heard before.

Now take a look at the TEDIndia’s speakers list.

If you work with development in India – almost all those names are familiar to you. Where are the new ideas? Where is the innovation? A huge percentage of the potential speakers represent the ‘social enterprise’ space, there are also the ‘microfinance guys’, the ‘development economists’ and all then some more.

Some of these guys have done great work in the past. They’ve shaped the development space into what it currently is. They’ve also run out of ideas. Not to mention the ‘legendary-ness” of Usha Uthup.

Clearly, many of these people are established ‘greats’ with good reason. They’re excellent speakers and ,yes, maybe those of in this niche ‘development’ sector do know them – but this is about Global Recognition (with G and R in CAPITALS).

I beg to differ – clearly this is about fund raising and hobnobbing. Nothing wrong with that, just state it upfront.

So here’s my quibble — the idea was for TED bring ‘inspired’ thinking to the rest of us. On this front, TEDIndia – well you’ve failed me.

PS: This post, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that boss(es) are also on the speakers list. 😛

Intrepid Steps…


This dream.

“Fingers reaching out to feel drops of rain that gather to make a pretty pattern on the window. The pattern makes the window pretty; hides the long crack across its pane. The water would be salty if you could taste it and it would sound long and hollow if you could hear it. Two of us running across the beach, falling and laughing with waves. Happy times”

This was all in a different time. Away from the hustle bustle, the money and the lack of it, far away from socializing and entertaining and studying up in order to perform.

An Encaustic Future


The summer sun beat down upon his square shoulders. The brown of skin was almost the same shade as mud after a tiny passing shower. He heard laughter in the distance, a tingling kind. Many voices laughing at different things – as though someone had uttered a string of amusing words in no particular order and each one was free to pick the mirth-worthy word. The laughter distracted him too — his hands, which were till a moment ago smoothening  the tangles in his copper hair, stopped short.

‘Sirens’ he thought. ‘I’m hallucinating’ – there can’t be any people here and definitely no children. With a loud cry that sounded rather like a bird’s ‘whoop’ he continued hacking his way through the underbush for the next minutes. This time it was a scratchy sound – a soft padding on leaves; but there were no leaves. The sound changed or maybe his mind changed it — it became more urgent, like a rabbit digging to get away from a fox. Togar turned around in surprise….

Edutainment?


A friend who works with ‘Education’ (as we in the third sector often like to put it) once told me ” In India its difficult enough to obtain an education without having to worry about its quality too”.

I like to believe in the potential of private enterprise to do do wonders for education, professor James Tooley’s new book – the beautiful tree, does a great job of pointing how this might be plausible with primary education.

I’m also a long seasoned advocate of the Friedman argument that the Government has no business being in business. In India there is no business quite as complicated (both on the regulatory scenario front and on the potential impact front) as the business of higher education.

The argument against the utility of certification and regulatory roadblocks to offering and receiving higher education more common sense than anything else.

Sadly though, when one takes sides one often (and I am guilty of this in more ways than one) — one forgets to account for the losers in the short-run. Take the ICFAI mess in the cities of Hyderabad and Jaipur for instance.

So what can you do, as a student – while the rest of us sit and pontificate about the merits and demerits of who should be in the business of education or who shouldn’t?

Take a look at this article which suggests that students’ check the following four things before committing a good year or more of their lives to an ‘institution’ –

a. Is the Institution awarding the degree, either a valid University or Deemed to be University? If yes, is it operating within its authorized jurisdiction?

b. Does the course/ programme have the approval of the relevant professional council?

c. Does the institution have valid accreditation?

d. Is the institution awarding the degree a member of the Association of Indian Universities?

I recommend everyone who is contemplating any sort of higher education (in India) read this piece thouroughly!

As the author points out towards the end:

“…it is important that students know the regulatory environment in the field of higher education in India. Knowing the legal requirements and taking reasonable care in these matters can help the youth of this country avoid losing money and precious years to well marketed, money-oriented educational business empires. It is certainly better to be careful than to be sorry!”

Because


There was a point in my life when I was a fan of ’causes’. Not the Facebook app.

Friends would remember me as someone of strong opinions, strong ideals… as someone convinced of themselves. Wholly. Fully given to a set of beliefs and someone who always wore the same lens through which she saw the world.

Now I’m a different person – I ask why, how, do those numbers stack up?

A couple of years ago when an activist organization sent me an e-mail about the ‘evil’ of big corporations — I would do pass it around to everyone I knew and all those who happened to be on my contact list by accident.

Today I chanced upon another one of those e-mails (usually deleted these days without even a glance) and it caused me to ponder just how sensationalist and non-rigourous it was and consequently how sensationalist and non-rigourous by extension I must have been. 

There is nothing very surprising about this in itself. People grow up. Intelligence arrives as do wisdom teeth.

This particular mail I got had to do with the formerly christened Swine Flu now — now known by its more austere name the H1N1 virus.  This e-mail originated from a group of ‘concerned citizens’, whose sworn mission is to oppose large corporate entities they regularly blame for damaginf the environment, perpetuating hunger in the third world, sustaining child soldiers and now also causing Swine Flu. 

If you are like me, you already smell a rat, or a pig — as the case might be. To be anti-corporate entities for economic reasons, labour rights and so on is understandable. But to connect them to Swine Flue is an example of hijacking am event to strengthen the case of cause without any established causality.

Sample these statements from the e-mail I received – wait, forge the statements, here is the title “The Truth About Swine Flu”; did you know there was a lie involved? I didn’t. Insinuation number 1.                                                                    

Now to the statements — No-one yet knows whether swine flu will become a global pandemic, but it is becoming clear where it came from – most likely a giant pig factory farm run by an American multinational corporation in Veracruz, Mexico.” Notice, GIANT AMERICAN MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION —  advocacy communications at its best.

“These factory farms are disgusting and dangerous, and they’re rapidly multiplying.” – Incidentally, bolds are all as they are in the e-mail. Notice, DISGUSTING and DANGEROUS – also rapidly multiplying; here is my question – links, footnotes, data?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) must investigate and develop regulations for these farms to protect global health.” Global health of course, is merely a function of regulating pig farms. Snort. 

“Big agrobusiness will try to obstruct and scuttle any attempts at reform” , ahem, substantiate?! 

If we reach 200,000 signatures we will deliver it to the WHO in Geneva with a herd of cardboard pigs. For every 1000 petition signatures we will add a pig to the herd” (italics my own) – This is how seriosuly we want to take global health and swine flu – not policy, not a serious study of what ‘regulations’ might work – but cardboard pigs, sure. Bring ’em on!

“Smithfield itself has already been fined $12.6m and is currently under another federal investigation in the US for toxic environmental damage from pig excrement lakes.”…a combination of increased global meat consumption and a powerful industry motivated by profit…”, and yet because there is a market for pork apparently there isn’t enough regulation! Snort. 

Swine Flu, let me state, is something that calls for serious research and action. However, what it does not call for, is hijacking of its intrinsic importance by an anti-profit, anti-corporations bandwagon that does little else than hollar about regulations and practise strategic communication games to get ints finger on the world’s issues-pie. 

Sheesh.

Wanted: A Transformative Experience


I’m going through a crisis of faith – the non-religious kind.

The ‘drafts’ section of my e-mail is overflowing with links to new jobs. I’ve even been gifted a new set of paints and a sketch-book. I was advised to use my lay-off as a break, find some time to ‘unwind’, do what I feel like…. but that is the problem.

I feel stretched, uninspired even to apply, tired to read, my ears are buzzing with music that sounds no more different from set of discordant clangs.

How does one find that single transformative experience? A little tranquility, a little less panic, a little noice, some wind, some space, a burrow, freedom? Its been eons since I’ve done anything even remotely creative, carefree, happy and just me. In fact I’ve forgotten what that ever felt like.

In two weeks I’ll be starting with a new place, a new set of bosses, a new house (not home), more brokers, bank accounts….

This is what I have been reduced to – a rag doll who hammers away at a silly machine all day with a plastic smile. And this is what I have reduced this space to — (once creative and even fun) just another scrap of digital papering to record my irrational miseries.