Vol-XCIV : March 1, 2012

Dear Colleagues

As we enter Ides of March, there are some ominous portents for our futures:

1. The big news from this end is that the Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world accuses foreign funded NGOs as being anti-national and anti-development. He goes on to specifically mention the source of foreign funding from US and Scandinavian countries in this regard. Fisherfolks protesting against their displacement and radiation threat from the forthcoming nuclear power plant in Tamilnadu ‘seem to have been instigated ‘ by some NGOs. Similar language was used when people in tribal belt of eastern India galvanized public protests against mining operations(specially Posco in Orissa) . The state is becoming intolerant of dissent, and is dealing with people’s movements and civil society mobilisations with an extremely heavy hand. I am not sure how far and wide this conflict will spread?

2. Social innovation, social entrepreneurs, social business—- these are the buzz words in the new lexicon of market-linked social development. In essence, it implies delivery of basic social services—education, health, water, food— to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’in a manner that those households pay for it. It is not always clear what is ‘social’ about it? Social seems to imply that socially relevant services, programmes and innovations are co-financed by the users themselves. The latest addition to this body of knowledge isacoffee-table style glossy book on Social Innovation from McKinsey;who else can do so socially?

3. In backward and poor regions of rural Uttar Pradesh, efforts to organise and mobilise women are beginning to show some very interesting results. Women’s leadership in villages around the city of Kanpur has been acting in some very progressive and inclusive manner toaddress household level issues of livelihood and community-level issues of infrastructure. At the heart of their success is their collectivization, sharing of their resources and engaging with public institutions to access their rights. Simply put, good old story—organise, build leadership and engage with the state; repeatedly the same story—women do it better!

4. In a recent conference of Chief Secretaries in India, the focus of deliberations was on transparent and accountable governance; allthe official speakers—from Prime Minister to everyone else—prisedthe efforts on innovation and e-governance—the two ‘magical’ pillars for solving all our governance deficits. I was asked to speak from the civil society lens—my main submission was the urgent need toreform the system, processes and structures of working and decision-making in all tiers of government; without such basic administrative reforms, supra-structures of e-governance and citizen charters would have no sustainable impact on ordinary citizens.

5. Should all of the above sound very depressing, there is also somehope around the horizon; Two recent books I have perused seem to suggest that we are living in best of times in human history, and that things would only get better in future. ‘Non-Zero’ is a book thatanalyses basic human tendencies towards cooperation and trust—across households, communities, institutions and nations; innovation in technology and socially complex structures would sustain such cooperative tendencies in which the outcomes are non-zero sum. The second tome is from Pinker which suggests that we are living in most peaceful of times, and that violence of all forms has actually been declining over the centuries, and would continue to do so in future.

6. Such support to us optimists brings hopeful cheers!

Thanking you

Rajesh Tandon