information and stories about India.

Parveen Rehman: Honorable Aid WorkerParveen Rehman, an influential aid worker in Sindh, was killed recently when she was shot twice in the neck while traveling through the Orangi area of Karachi. Rehman was the leader of the Orangi Pilot Program and her funeral was attended not only by friends and family but national officials and members of the development community.

The Orangi Pilot Program was founded to help the inhabitants of the region’s largest squatter settlement to escape from severe poverty. The program helped locals maintain their own sanitation systems, build suitable housing, and keep contact with regional micro-finance banks. While no armed group has claimed responsibility for the killing, many believe that Rehman may have been killed because of her involvement in efforts to study and record illegal land grabbing by large corporations in the area. Rehman had reportedly received death threats in the past and was even kicked out of her offices once by armed men.

This story should really serve to remind us that there are people working around the world to make it better. Rehman’s story is really one of bravery and is more than honorable. After the two attacks in the last year on aid workers in Nigeria and Pakistan we should truly honor the work that these people do and the risks that they take in order to help others. Really, lives such as their demonstrate the meaning of “heroism”. Hopefully we can all take a moment to think about Rehman and the amazing people like her working in the field, in the offices, and in government to work toward real change.

Kevin Sullivan

Source: BBC
Photo: The Nation

Indian Version of USAID Bodes WellThe United States Agency of International Development (USAID) claims that they are very pleased to see the development of India’s own international aid program that is modeled after USAID. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah has just returned from a visit to Myanmar and India.

India, which has one of history’s fastest-growing economies, will stop receiving foreign aid from the United Kingdom in just a few years and they are already working to distribute their own aid dollars to neighbors near and far. At this point, India has become the perfect example of what a developing country can become; India is less and less dependent upon international aid each year and they continue to grow their domestic economy. Unfortunately, the country’s massive population still suffers from some serious issues. About 20% of the world’s children that die of preventable disease before the age of five are from India. Nonetheless, USAID plans to work with their Indian counterparts on a number of important issues while focusing on health, energy-creation and industry, and agriculture.

Some may think that India isn’t ready for such a step, but the country boasts the world’s ninth-highest nominal GDP, a giant workforce that is becoming increasingly better educated, and one of the world’s biggest food surpluses. The impressive growth of the country over the last decade along with their expansive resources and close cooperation with USAID and the United Nations will help to create a well-organized series of programs that will be able to assist countries such as Afghanistan, where the Indian version of USAID is already working with a group that aims to create job opportunities for women.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Economic Times, United Nations,

WorldHaus Provides Homes for the PoorA for-profit business with non-profit principles, a growing trend in compassionate capitalism. WorldHaus is a great example – they have a mission to help the world’s “unserved housing market.”

In India alone over 500 million people, almost half the population, want and need better housing but the average cost of materials and labor makes it impossible to attain. There is no financing for the rural poor, or collateral to put up against a mortgage. WorldHaus is trying to fill this gap by manufacturing and building quality homes at a tiny fraction of standard costs, specifically developing a model that can be made affordable to the global poor.

Started in 2011, in India, WorldHaus makes customizable, weatherproof homes that can include amenities like clean-burning stoves, toilets, and solar electricity systems. Using a modular building system, families can build to any size and configuration they want. The base model – a one-room, 220 square foot home – can be built in about 10 days at a starting cost of below $2,000. Using local materials and on-site construction stimulates local economies through purchasing and employment, and cuts cost as well.

Additionally, they are working with mortgage providers to make homes available at $40/month, well within the reach for people making even $3 to $10 a day. They are setting up partnerships with governments, NGOs, and landlords to try and make homes available to families making less than $2 a day (through subsidies and rental programs).

A video from the Gate’s Notes website shows Bill Gates visiting Idealab and interviewing WorldHaus President Daniel Gross. WorldHaus was generated inside Idealab – a think tank and development project for innovative products.

– Mary Purcell
Source: WorldHaus

World Bank & India's Most Impoverished StateAkhilesh Yadav is more than just a cool name; he’s the Chief Minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh and has recently sought monetary assistance of more than $3.5 billion from the World Bank Group over the next three to five years.

To illustrate India’s need more clearly, Minister Yadav took World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on a tour of Uttar Pradesh. Home of the Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh is also home to the largest number of impoverished people in all of India – a country that has an estimated 37% of people living below the country’s poverty line. With India’s urban population expected to grow by 10 million each year, states such as Uttar Pradesh are in dire need of assistance.

After seeing the poverty in India’s most impoverished state firsthand, Kim agreed that helping Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states are in line with the World Bank’s mission of eliminating global poverty. Among the goals the World Bank supports is the national mission to clean the Ganga River. The World Bank will be contributing $1 billion. The money is to be dispersed through five of the basin states. This contribution supports an existing Indian program: the National Ganga River Basin Project. The Ganga River’s basin community supports more than 400 million Indians, about one-third of the population, and is India’s most important river.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: The World Bank

A single NGO and India’s foremost energy research institute, Teri, has single-handedly provided solar-powered lights to over 500,000 homes throughout rural India.

No less than five years ago, much of rural India had no access to electricity, instead using kerosene lamps that were not only dangerous but also bad for the environment. These 400,000 people had no access to any form of electricity, and another 100,000 had only an inconsistent and unreliable connection.

In the last five years, Teri has provided these people with a much better alternative – solar-powered, LED lamps using solar panels and batteries.

As part of the Lighting One Billion Lives initiative, started in 2007, the NGO coordinates the distribution of lamps to some 2,000 villages, works with vendors and manufacturers to lower the price of lamps, trains personnel and provides tech support, and works with various other organizations to help run the charging stations. Each charging station provides around 50 solar-powered LED lamps that also double as phone chargers.

Teri has already seen a huge improvement in the cost and efficiency of the lamps. When started, the lamps costed around $100 each, however, the price is now down to $15-30 per lamp, and the battery life has tripled.

Teri, other NGOs, Bollywood stars, and individuals sponsor villages to provide the lanterns initially, after which a local villager becomes in charge of renting each lantern, for no more than the price of kerosene, on a daily basis.

The benefits of the program have been huge, including increased health benefits and cleaner air, more light for children to continue their schooling after dark, benefits for medical practices and shops, and entrepreneurship that villagers learn by manning the charging stations. At the current rate that Teri is coordinating villages to receive charging stations, soon almost every Indian village may have a clean, renewable light source.

Although India has been aiming to improve and increase its energy grid, the priority has been on cities and businesses, with rural villages not expected to receive electricity infrastructure for years, if at all.

Teri plans to expand their system of charging stations and LED solar lamps to various other countries including Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

Energy Poverty Key in Healthcare DeprivationAccording to this year’s “Poor People’s Energy Outlook,” published by the NGO Practical Action, more than 1 billion people have been left with inadequate medical care because of energy poverty. The report cites such circumstances as emergency surgeries performed in the dark, lack of proper sterilization of supplies, and health centers being unable to store temperature-regulated vaccines.

The report states that over half of all health centers throughout India have no access to electricity – these centers are responsible for the health care of over 580 million people. The situation is similar throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 255 million people are serviced by healthcare facilities that lack power.

The report also highlights that even if health facilities do have access to electricity, it can be unreliable and frequently cause blackouts. In Kenya, only 25% of facilities have consistent energy services, making it extremely difficult for staff to aid patients at night, and putting emergency patients and mothers giving birth and their babies at risk. The Kenyan centers experience blackouts on an average of 6 times per month. “It can also lead to wasted vaccines, blood and medicines that require constant storage temperatures,” the report says.

Although the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), sponsored by the UN, has pushed energy access for all people by 2030, the report warns that health and education should be the top priority, not simply energy development and efficiency. The report states that the program has put too much emphasis on energy “mostly on domestic use and access for enterprise,” ignoring the critical needs of huge numbers of medical facilities and clinics.

The report also addresses the need for consistent energy access in schools, and asserts that over 291 million children throughout developing countries attend schools with no access to electricity.

The report suggests that attaining numbers on poor people’s access to energy will be much more efficient than examining solely large-scale energy development, and has proposed a new system for doing so with World Bank and UN cooperation.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Belinda Otas

Finance Minister Proposes Women's Bank in IndiaIn a provocative move by India’s current Minister of Finance Shri Palaniappan Chidambaran, government finance officials have proposed the transformation of their underutilized Indian Post Offices into the first-ever women’s bank in India.

The women’s bank in the country will receive an initial start-up investment of 4, 909 crore in order to help modernize the antiquated Indian Post Offices, including the refurbishment of facilities and the implementation of ATMs and electronic devices necessary for banking. The hope is that the newly created banks will inspire more competition in the Indian banking industry, adding both greater market segmentation and opportunities for growth, especially amongst women entrepreneurs.

The women’s bank in India will be run primarily by women bankers and loan officers, with each branch receiving 1,000 crore for loans and local investment. Furthermore, the banks overall goal will be to lend to women business owners, promoting greater empowerment and social mobility through local financing of projects led by women. When asked about a women’s bank in India, Bank of India CMD VR Lyer stated that, “Women in rural areas will be comfortable going to an all-women branch. It will accelerate inclusive growth and recognize women’s power in society.”

– Brian Turner

Source Economic Times
Photo Beyond Brics

This video of environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva explains how a seed monopoly in India creates poverty and destroys farming’s previous self-reliance on seeds.

First, a big corporation comes into a community and tells the local farmers that their seed is no good, “primitive,” and that they offer a better option. Companies even pay farmers to try the new seed – thus seed replacement starts. Gradually they go to every farmer in the area and do the same. The farmer no longer uses their own seed, the local small companies that did sell seed no longer have customers and go out of business, and now the corporation has a monopoly on providing seeds for an entire region.

Monsanto, the cotton seed supplier in this one case, then increases the cost of the seed by 8,000%. Of course a small farmer cannot afford these prices. The corporation then promises to provide seed that will make the farmer rich by producing huge harvests. The farmer barrows the money from the corporation to buy this new seed, mortgaging their land against the loan. And when the crop does not produce as promised, the farmer goes into debt and eventually loses her/his land – no income, no assets, no home, extreme poverty.

This is why Dr. Shiva started Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers, spread across 17 states in India. They have set up 111 community seed banks, trained over 5,000,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades. They have helped set up the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country, and run a learning center on biodiversity conservation. Navdanya is a women-centered movement actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. They keep the power of self-reliance in the hands of the farmer.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Vimeo, Navdanya


Indian TREAD Program Empowers WomenThe government of India introduced the Trade Related Entrepreneurship and Assistance Development (TREAD) plan to help women in rural areas of the country. The intent is for greater economic empowerment of such women through financing, training, information and counseling activities, all related to the trade of products and services within the marketplace.

Their research has shown that one of the main barriers for supporting women out of poverty is that distribution and access to credit are next to impossible without an intermediary. So the TREAD plan will work with community NGOs to make sure funds are actually placed in the hands of women. Then, additional infrastructure will be provided for counseling, training, and assistance in selling goods in the market.

Obviously, impoverished women do not have the collateral needed to secure a loan through traditional lending institutions, so this project, with the support of the government, takes down that barrier. Government grants will fund 30% of a project within TREAD, and the rest will be loaned from banks that are participating.

Additionally, NGOs can receive state government grants for undertaking activities aimed at the empowerment of women, such as field surveys, research studies, evaluation studies, designing of training modules, and more. TREAD is a holistic approach to development, identifying what is needed, what works, using real-world solutions to implement change, offering support, and bringing together various institutions to work together.

– Mary Purcell

Source: DCMSME
Photo: ecouterre


Drought in India Brings Villagers TogetherThe villages around Dungarpur in India’s northwestern state of Rajasthan have a natural beauty that is characteristic of many rural hillside towns. There are rolling wheat fields, eucalyptus trees and luscious neem trees that contrast the colors of the red-tiled houses. However, this area is not without its natural problems as well. The region suffers from a chronic lack of water and faces the common problem of drought in India. Between rainy seasons, the men of the village often have to leave their farms to pick up work in surrounding cities.

This year, half the men are staying closer to home. The village is structured around a pond that provides water to surrounding farms. Normally, the pond dries up by this time of the year, but thanks to the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR), the lake has enough water to last until the next rains come months from now. The pond has suddenly turned into a lake after tractors deepened it by 15 feet last May to drastically increase the size of the reservoir. Now, the lake is not only filled in a time of year when it used to be dried up, but there is enough water to irrigate fields that are farther away, allowing the villagers to plant second crops. This drought in India is benefiting the villagers.

EFICOR’s work in the region has not come easily. The organization has been in this area of India since 2008 trying to gain the trust of the locals and figure out how best to serve them. The villagers in the area are marginalized Bhil people that are distrustful of and unconnected to state government. EFICOR worked with them to make use of the government aid programs that they are eligible for. One of the most important breakthroughs for the villagers was forming community committees. The formerly disconnected families came together under these new committees to decide which ponds to deepen and which families needed the most urgent attention. The committees even tested the power of the village chief that formerly based these types of decisions on favoritism.

In addition to their community committees, EFICOR has set up savings groups for women in the villages. One group saved enough money to consider buying a small grinding mill. The goal of the project is to build confidence among the marginalized communities and show them that they are entitled to just as many government services as any other citizens. The plan seems to be working, but it will be a long time before we can tell if the newfound solidarity among the villagers will last.

 – Sean Morales

Source: The Guardian