Sunday, July 17, 2011

Productivity Line

When tackling any sort of problem, it matters immensely how you frame it. The construct and language you use to describe the problem will inevitably direct and guide how you formulate solutions. Let’s take a look at the economic topography of the world – there are places where a great deal of innovative products and services are created that many have access to and other places where much less is created and fewer people have access to the little there is. The medium of exchange for these goods and services being money, the issue of this global inequity among human beings has been constructed in the context of money. It has been framed as an issue of ‘poverty’, the lack of money and therefore the ability to acquire. With this framework lack of money becomes the central issue and we draw ‘poverty lines’ – how much money is reasonable to have and formulate solutions that focus on how to redistribute money and give people ability to acquire.

What if instead we had framed the issue in the context of productivity – in terms of what you give or create and not what you take or acquire? Then instead of looking at the world and wondering why so many people are able to acquire so little, we would ask why so many are able to create so little and why we are so grossly lopsided in terms of productivity. Instead of seeing people as lacking enough money to be above some poverty line we would look at it in terms of people lacking in ability to be above a productivity line. If we saw it this way we would construct our solutions profoundly differently. Rather than focusing on money – which is simply a token of exchange – we would be forced to focus on human capability and the conditions that drive it.

Microfinance 2.0

As published in The Smart CEO as part of the 'Big Ideas' series

The last decade has seen a sensational rise and fall of microfinance in India. After the crisis in Andhra Pradesh (AP) that claimed debt related suicides on account of exorbitant interest rates and high pressure collection tactics, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has finally put in place regulations based on the recommendations of the Malegam committee. With massive defaults to contend with and the new regulation that places caps on the rates and spreads, the industry is struggling to find its feet again. Many of the less efficient players are out of luck and out of business. Others are tightening their belts and getting more efficient in their operations. But, is microfinance 2.0 just about process efficiency? Or can it be something greater?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Gross Domestic Poverty

As posted on

For those of us with a memory of India in the 1980s and before there is no doubt at all that this is a country moving forward economically. From my schooldays when there were only two or three sub-standard brands of everything from soft drinks to soap to chocolate to cars, today’s India is remarkably different. It’s not just that there is every major brand available today. There is construction everywhere and sleek glass buildings are slowly but surely replacing old concrete structures. And there is a palpable feeling of change and a growing national pride. Incredible India. Every so often I get caught up in it and then I look at the numbers and I realize how easily we can distort our self-perception.

Here are the facts. India and China are often compared as the Asian giants, both with over a billion people. But China’s economy is three times as big as India’s – a GDP of 5 trillion US dollars compared to India’s meagre 1.4. According to the Global Language Monitor, The Rise of China has been the most frequent news story for over a decade across over 75000 print and electronic media publications. India doesn’t feature among even the top 20. For further perspective, Tokyo, which is the largest city economy in the world, has an economy the same size as India – 1.4 trillion. Tokyo has only 13 million people though, which means that they are pretty hard at work there. About a third of them are either kids or old folk which leaves about 8.5 million people out there getting it done each day, producing an output as large as our entire country.