Archive for June, 2012

The exodus from farming

“On average, close to 2,000 people a day abandon farming in the country.”

Says P. Sainath in a recent article based on his analysis of recently released 2001 Census numbers.

This article reminded me of a very simplistic calculation I had done during a debate with a NGO friend who was insisting that migration is bad.

Let’s imagine a village with 100 families. Let’s assume that the village is doing “well” economically and that all 100 families earn enough for their needs from their farming activities.

Since rural Indian families have an average of 3.4 children, assuming no male-child selection in an ideal world, they will still have 1.7 boys on average.  So the next generation will have 1.7*100 = 170 families to be supported.  However the village farmland is large enough to only support 100 families, so the remaining 70 must find employment in non-agri professions either within the village or outside it.

So unless we figure out a way to either create manufacturing or service sector jobs in the village, these families must migrate elsewhere for employment or accept a reduced standard of living (by dividing the farm-land into smaller plots for each son).

The above simplistic calculation leads us to the quite believable conclusion that we can’t just label migration as “bad” without doing something to increase the ability of the rural economy to create jobs and income for every new generation.

So what options do these migrants have?

“For instance, take those from the Bolangir or Nuapada districts [in Orissa]. Typically, they might spend a month or two in Raipur pulling rickshaws. Then work two or three months at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. Then serve as construction labourers shuttling around Mumbai or Thane for a few weeks each (where they are often used on the higher floors in risky scaffolding; local labour would demand more for that).”

What happens to these migrants?

“The migrations of these past 15-20 years are overwhelmingly distress-driven, footloose and often disruptive of the lifestyle, roots and family bonds of the migrant,” says economist Dr K Nagaraj, professor at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. “Very few of them gain in terms of acquiring skill and capital unlike those from the middle and upper classes. When the latter migrate, they usually make big gains in skill, capital and mobility in the jobs ladder.”

“And yet, this great outflow of human beings from their homes in the villages is not spontaneous. A massive chain has sprung up of middlemen and labour contractors who gain heavily from this exodus and thus seek to organise it to their benefit. They supply labour at cheap rates to a variety of patrons — from town and city contractors and builders to corporations, including multinational companies. This not only helps depress the local wage, but also offers the patrons a pool of cheap labour that is desperate, unorganised, and thus relatively docile.”

With the prevalence of such exploitation, it is inevitable that some NGOs see migration as “bad”. But unless the rural economy is able to support natural population increase, the migration will only strengthen in numbers which is what the 2011 Census is most likely to show.

  • Richa Govil

(Richa shares her thoughts on rural businesses at ‘Stirring the Pyramid’)

June 27, 2012 at 11:36 am 4 comments

Jagriti, Boyie and PiggyMojo

I recently heard about an interesting example of an innovative communication vehicle used to convey social messages to an audience. The messages were of the sort that could be boring for the audience but were important for them, and needed not just to be understood, but to spur them on from understanding to action; hence the communication needed to generate a high degree of involvement and engagement with the audience.

The solution adopted by Phicus in their work with Grameen Financial Services – a South India based MFI, was the creation of a character that the audience of ladies from low income households could easily identify with – a woman called Jagriti. Jagriti is a member of an MFI and writes letters about her experiences which cover topics related to financial education such as opening a bank account, various government schemes and how they are useful to her etc., to social topics such as the evils of drinking or not allowing children to defecate in the open. These letters are read in the MFI members’ meetings and the women have come to associate themselves closely with this character. Phicus found out that this was a great way of teaching and the recall rate of the concepts by the member women was very high. This link connects to a video about this program and its results, watch from 3:00 minutes onwards if you only have time to see the snippets from the meetings.

In case you found this example interesting, you can read about another such example in this article, this example is from Kenya and describes a cartoon character called Boyie created in order to reach out to young adults. This article gives several examples of efforts towards financial education, one of which is a program called PiggyMojo. No, I’m not going to describe this one at all, I’m confident the name is enough to make you click on the link and read the article.

    • Zenobia Driver


June 11, 2012 at 7:09 am Leave a comment

Turning Medical Services Upside Down

When I buy a book on Amazon or Flipkart, I can see the ratings and comments by hundreds of customers. But when I need to choose a doctor, I have to rely on the inefficient and inadequate method of asking friends, with whom I may or may not want to share my ailments. This is true whether I am trying to find a GP or a surgeon. And, after seeing the doctor, there is no way for me to rate him or her even for mundane things like whether or not he shows up on time to the clinic, let alone more important comments regarding his or her approach to medical care!  In contrast, I can easily find gigabytes of information about whether the keypad of a particular laptop model becomes sticky after use.

Another point to consider: Different people look for different things from a doctor: some may want the reassurance of the (imagined) old time family doctor, while others may prefer a “just give me the facts, I’ve brought my own sugar coating” approach. Why assume that we have the same expectations from doctors while we have entirely difference preferences for the texture of our cookies or the settings on our Facebook accounts?

Much of the discussion about modernization of medicine gets stuck in technology discussion (digital versus human interface).  However, what we need is a thorough modernization of medicine inside out, seriously thinking through which aspects of medical care would benefit from more information (including customer feedback) and which aspects would benefit from more customization and personal preference being taken into account.

Industry experts focus on customer segments and behavior for FMCG consumer products, but what about customer segments for the ultimate consumer product – medical care — the one that determines our life and health?  Isn’t it about time that the medical services industry starts thinking beyond the simplistic considerations of digitization of patient records, or focus on specialized clinics versus primary care, rural versus urban customers?



Richa Govil

(Richa shares her thoughts on rural businesses at ‘Stirring the Pyramid’)

June 4, 2012 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

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