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Jyoti Singh was India’s daughter. But is that all? She was also India’s student, India’s citizen, India’s future… a young girl with a sharp mind, fierce will, working hard towards a better tomorrow. India has many such daughters, and not everyone’s gruesome story makes headline news. Jyoti, her parents, you who are reading this piece, and I – we are most likely exceptions to the rule, the minority. We hope for a safer, progressive and equal country. But while we champion India Shining – how do we shape a society that remains shrouded in gender inequality and a culture of patriarchy?

India claims that its well on its way to being a global super power by 2025, but does our everyday reality reflect this narrative? The real India is a country where 93 women are raped every day, 3.8 every hour; where 500,000 girls are lost every year to female foeticide; where 1 in 3 girls are sold in child marriage before the age of 15. A country where a young girl is raped and brutally killed by 6 men on a bus in our capital city. Where we think twice about wearing shorts and a tank top when we leave home. Where each of us can share several stories of being groped, harassed or molested by uncouth men in public places. The next super power? I don’t think so.

I’ve been a victim several times
, and I’m sure you have too – from having a filthy man feel me up in a dark room while getting my photograph clicked as an 11 year old, to being hit out at and groped by passing motorcyclists on the road while waiting to be picked up from my tennis lesson. The memory still makes me cringe, I feel ANGRY that I was emotionally and physically VIOLATED, and I let them get away. That’s why I feel the need to speak out. Not because of a filmy documentary, and not to tell people what they already know about the many violations against women in our country.

Some say that the horrific trauma that Jyoti and her family went through was worth it, and are enraged that the documentary telling her story was banned – seriously? Will 1 documentary, and 1 horrific story open our eyes and drive change? We have seen million such stories go by with silence. I disagree – it was NOT worth it. And India will NOT change because of the rape and death of one girl. I hear you SCREAM, and I feel the anguish. Believe me. I would have each and every rapist tortured and killed. But that won’t change the dangerous course our country is on, either.

Maybe then, we need to find Who is to blame…Blame it on the girls – why must they wear provocative clothes and roam the streets? Maybe its the fault of the parents – they should know better than letting their daughters go out after sunset. Blame it on the police or the corrupt Government for taking a feeble stance on women’s safety. Blame it on the monstrous men who believe it is their right to violate women.

The blame game begins, and we realize that while one finger is pointing at someone else, 4 are pointing inwards. The blame is ours to take. We, generations of men and women, parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts have shaped a society that creates India’s Sons – smart, ambitious, intelligent, lovable, protective, respectful, dutiful. And the sociopaths, perverts, monsters, villains. Men are not born rapists – not anywhere in the world, and definitely not in India. So many Indian men have grown up hearing that sons are more valuable than daughters, watching their fathers beat their mothers, seeing the girls in the family go hungry while the men eat… until they BEHAVE in similar ways, because its NORMAL. And so many of India’s Daughters experience and propagate this inferiority their whole life, that they start ACCEPTING it as normal. It seems like India’s Children are to blame.

The path to a more equal society is long and complicated. After giving it much thought, I believe that the way forward for India is Change by Generations. The most effective method of changing the way an organization thinks and performs, is to infuse it with a new generation of people who are molded with the right attitude and skills to shape the future. Replace the old with the new, and keep going until the new becomes normal. I’ve seen it work before. While India is way more complicated than an organization; its younger generation has the numbers, vision and attitude to make this possible. Men and women, together, shape a new generation of Indians who believe in equality, freedom and respect. Poverty alleviation, globalization, vocational training, education and employment are all part of this movement; but so is a mother treating her son and daughter as equal; so is the documentary, India’s Daughter; so is a manager who promotes a woman over a man based purely on merit; so is Javed Akhtar screaming in the Rajya Sabha; so is a wife when she reports her husband for physical abuse; and so is this article.

India’s Children, shaping a future in which our sons and daughters enjoy mutual respect, freedom and equality. 

Part II with more thoughts on executing Change by Generation coming soon. 

There are clear differences between the approach of previous generations towards sustainable development and that of today’s youth. The old model of people making money and waiting till the end of their lives to give it away is not acceptable to the new generation. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy as concepts are less appealing to today’s youth, while profitable business models that inherently address social challenges are gaining popularity.

Although the growing role of youth leadership in sustainable development is a global phenomenon, young Indians still have some way to go. The highly competitive environment, educational system, and social pressure to build a successful (i.e rich) life, are some of the reasons that we see fewer young people engaging in sustainable development in India when compared to the more developed countries. The situation is similar in other emerging markets such as the BRIC countries and South East Asia.

While there are young people in India that choose to pursue a career in social enterprise, the space is primarily dominated by Non-Resident Indians and people from the more developed regions. This trend is clearly reflected in educational programs – while most Business schools in Europe and the North America include social enterprise/sustainable development in their curriculum, this trend hasn’t caught on in India. The Indian School of Business is pioneering certain initiatives in the social enterprise space such as iDiya; however the IIMs and other management institutes are still to follow.

Another point to consider while comparing perspectives on sustainable development across generations is that the field of strategic sustainable development requires a multi-disciplinary approach, since the challenges being addressed are intricately linked together. So while the past generations focused on specializing in particular areas and excelling in those, today’s generation has the opportunity to draw linkages across disciplines and find integrated solutions to challenges, for example in the context of climate change.

Access to information through the internet, the social media revolution, global exposure through technology and travel based learning allow our generation to engage in the complex issues of sustainable development. Today young people are more sensitized to development challenges and risks, and they have the opportunity to collaborate through social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter.

A small percentage of Indian’s today are able to take greater career risk, instead of following the traditional path. However, when compared to the number of young people in India, this number is still very small. To create this change, we need to focus our efforts on youth attitude and perspective. Education, extra-curricular activities, travel and other diverse experiences shape the world-view of young people. We need to provide experiences that develop responsible young leaders who work towards a sustainable future and in the process create a meaningful and successful life for themselves and their communities.

One such program is the AIESEC Ser Mas Program run in Latin America that offers businesses and young people the opportunity to be more competitive, increasing their knowledge and expertise in the areas of social and business entrepreneurship. Through international exchange programs, team and leadership experiences, and learning activities, the program develops talented and globally minded Ibero-American leaders whose knowledge and skills enable them to support and build social enterprises in the region.

I come from a family of well-educated engineers, doctors and civil officers. I grew up in a sheltered environment, learning about the significance of a credible education, of stability, and of planning as far ahead as possible. Most of my extended family relocated to study in the U.S, and have built comfortable lives there. If I was writing this a decade ago, I might have had a similar story to share.

But I have grown up in the “new” India, and in this land of expanding opportunity, I chose the road less traveled.

In my 26 years I have traveled the world, started a not-for-profit, spent a month in the Antarctic and have chosen a career that attempts at “good” business. Turning down several opportunities to continue working abroad, I chose to return to India. The emergence of a pulsating, dynamic new India has triggered a reverse brain drain. Indians living in different corners of the world, who had gone looking for opportunity, chose to return to a vibrant, exciting land of promise. So did I. I came back to an India ‘whose faith in success was far greater that her fear of failure’. An India that was poised as the fastest growing free-market democracy in the world. Globalization with all its challenges and opportunities had created a country of paradox, success, failure and hope. The development of a young, new India in the face of a globalized world economy has greatly influenced my thinking and life choices.

India opened its doors to the global economy, transforming the lives and aspirations of its people. This evolution came to life with A.R Rehman winning two Grammy Awards, Kalpana Chawla being the first Indian-born woman to fly in space, and Slumdog Millionaire winning an Oscar. The world was looking at India with curiosity, and inter-cultural connections multiplied exponentially. Consequently, my dream of traveling the world became a reality. I worked with an international team in Rotterdam that led a global organization to achieve 45% growth in results. Our mantra was ‘Connecting to Deliver’, and we leveraged technology that supported people across the world to learn, share and achieve. I developed programs that mobilized youth to experience new economies and cultures. Recognizing these successes, I was awarded a scholarship to participate in a sustainability leadership program in the Antarctic. This would have been unheard of for a young woman in the India that was. The world had literally become my playground, and these experiences completely changed the way I viewed my country, my future and myself.

Today, India is riding high on its so-called “demographic dividend”. While India’s youth hold significant promise, the lack of education, inadequate infrastructure and skewed employment prospects present a daunting task. Young India needs empowerment, training and access to livelihood opportunities. Being a young Indian, my work has focused on youth mobilization for social impact. Recognizing the need for ethical and sustainable leadership, my work in AIESEC was directed towards exponentially increasing the quantity of leadership experiences the organization provided young people in India and globally. While leading the Global Entrepreneurs Program, my team trained aspiring Indian entrepreneurs and gave them a platform to develop business skills by interning with growing enterprises. Today my work leverages India’s demographic dividend through social enterprise. The enterprises I support are transforming the lives of unemployed youth through door-step business training, providing technology-based interactive education to disadvantaged communities, and generating employment in rural India through BPOs.

India’s entrepreneurial spirit is being harnessed in whole new ways. The world is attempting to learn from Indian innovation or ‘jugaad’ in Hindi, as a tool to find uncommon solutions to common problems. Earlier this year, a business acquaintance from Accra experienced Dharavi, Asia’s largest ‘five-star’ slum as part of a global initiative on Urban Poverty that I managed. He reflects that ‘Dharavi’s future is different from the slums in Ghana because Dharavi has the ability to grow organically through the entrepreneurial spirit that is being nurtured there.’ This observation isn’t limited to Dharavi, but is the energy that drives India. The deep-rooted ambition, innovation and risk-taking ability of my people set them apart. As an actor in India’s entrepreneurial story, the traits that define the country, define me. I’m an innovator; I practice the art of lateral thinking, of resilient creativity and of improvisation in the face of adversity. I enjoy trial-and-error and making things work with limited resources. I’m excited by opportunities with an element of risk, which I believe is critical to unraveling the complex challenges of today’s world. India’s tryst with ‘jugaad’, as one part of its entrepreneurial success, has deeply influenced my development in recent years.

My connection to India’s complex growth story is best described in these lines – ‘There are 2 India’s in this country. One India is straining at the leash eager to spring forth and live up to all the adjectives that the world has been showering upon us. The other India is the leash. One India says give me a chance and I’ll prove myself. The other India says prove yourself first and maybe then you will have a chance….’ The two India’s are slowly drifting apart – one rich, the other poor; one living in luxury while the other struggles to sustain itself. The future of our country depends on closing this gap. My work in social enterprise aims to increase conversions from one India to the other side. I co-create sustainable solutions with grass-root innovators to transform the less advantaged to assertive customers, thus contributing to build a more sustainable growth curve for the country. I support enterprises that provide low-cost sanitary napkins to rural women, deploy easy-to-use water wheels in villages, and empower rickshaw pullers to be owners. Choosing social enterprise has been a natural career path. With all its challenges, I draw immense satisfaction and learning from my work. The India phenomenon and my choice to return to it, has been a profound influence on my thinking, learning and actions.

Recent allegations against Indian microfinance institutions (MFIs) by the media and the State have thrown sector stakeholders into a crisis. Accusations against MFIs include coercive practices, lack of transparency, and “usurious” interest rates. These accusations have resulted in the passage of an Ordinance by the State Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP). Intellecap, an India-based social business advisory firm and publisher of Microfinance Insights, has released a White Paper in response to the crisis. Thought-provoking and informative, the White Paper analyzes the buildup to the crisis in AP, attempts to revisit some fundamentals of the business, and questions the effectiveness of radical approaches to multiple bottom-line business by the State and the media. We welcome your comments.

Download Intellecap’s White Paper here.

(Credit: Microfinance Insights)

“While we will not forget the brutality of Apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against against the forces of evil. A triumph of of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.” – Ahmed Kathrada, imprisoned for 26 years at Robben Island.

A short walk through Robben Island left me reeling from the blackness of oppression, despair and death that the place holds. Emerging to impart such generous wisdom after living in that environment for 26 years, fighting for dignity & life every hour of every day, is an indescribable legacy. Nine years later looking back, I realize that I still have a lot to learn from my experiences in South Africa.

‘a·part·heid’
Afrikaans : Dutch apart, separate (from French à part, apart; see apart) + Dutch -heid, -hood

Srijan

“The media does not understand the sector,” and “the media tends to sensationalize news,” are two of the most frequently heard comments when you ask Microfinance leaders what they think of the media coverage the sector receives. The reports about the state of microfinance and its practitioners in India have been unflattering, to say the least. ‘Carpet bombing’, ‘palming profits off the poor’ and ‘killing interest rates’ are the more common accusations flung at leading microfinance institutions.

On its part, the media believes that it is doing its job by bringing to light facts about the sector while institutions bristle at the apparent negativity, and believe that the media is reporting on an industry that it does not yet fully understand. However, the sector freely admits that reforms are badly needed and the media are in fact working to gain a better understanding of nascent industries such as microfinace.

Recognizing this disconnect, Intellecap, a thought leader in the sector, and host of the Srijan Financial Inclusion Forum 2010, aims to bring together the media and microfinance leaders in a candid face-to-face discussion. The aim is to narrow the gap in understanding and communication that currently exists between the two sides and find middle ground by thrashing out the differences. The aim is to enable the two sides to work together in building a better future for microfinance in the next decade – one that is transparent, client-centric and scalable.

Srijan is a two day action based Financial Inclusion Forum for top decision makers to define the 2020 roadmap for Indian Microfinance for the next decade, and assess innovative technology interventions to catalyze greater financial inclusion. Scheduled for October 7-8, 2010 at the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, Srijan aims to create a platform that sets the stage for an Advocacy Action Agenda for greater financial inclusion in India.

Intellecap is a pioneer in providing innovative business solutions that help scale profitable and sustainable enterprises dedicated to social and environmental change. The company’s unique positioning at the intersection of social and commercial business sectors, allows it to attract and nurture intellectual capital that combines business training of the commercial world with passion and commitment of the social world to create distinctive solutions that include best practices and principles of both cultures. Intellecap operates in multiple capacities in the social-commercial space: facilitating investments, providing strategic consulting and business advisory services, supporting operational planning and implementation, and developing information-sharing and industry-enhancing platforms that promote and build SUSTAINABLE, PROFITABLE and SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE enterprises.

For more information please visit http://www.intellecap.com

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