Tag Archives: India

The Third Billion

One of the best ways to improve the lives of people in poverty is to channel development money to them. It’s the old, “Teach a man to fish” theory. Only what has become increasingly apparent over the last few decades is that it’s actually more effective to channel small amounts of finance, usually via micro-finance programs, to women. Women, for whatever reason, tend to use the money to pay for their children’s education, cover healthcare costs, and use the money for improvements to their community, raising standards of living for everyone. (Recently, one woman in India, in rebellion against the low standards of sanitation in India and specifically her new home, took a stand for a modern toilet, and was even rewarded by an international aid agency!)

But finally, the idea that empowering women and providing them with access to finance works, is becoming mainstream, to the point where even the U.N. is recognizing this fact. There was an interesting article about this process recently, but going even further, and speculating on the enormous and untapped economic power of the women in developing countries, referred to as the “Third Billion.”

And it’s pretty easy if you want to help support women in developing countries these days thanks to traditional organizations’ increasing adoption of micro-finance as a development tool, “social businesses”  like Kiva.com, and even organizations like  Microplace.com which provide investment opportunities for people in the developed world benefiting those in the not-so-developed world.

But this is more than just a huge increase in both entrepreneurs and consumers into the global marketplace. Women have different styles of working which are often less competitive and more collaborative. In the future, we may have a very different kind of economy if current trends continue.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

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Green Jobs Everywhere?

Everyone wants jobs. People in the U.S. want them, people in the Arab Spring countries want them, people in the poorest countries on the planet want them too. But are there enough to go around? Or more accurately, are there enough jobs that people want and can do, to go around? (There’s definitely a never-ending demand for physicians, engineers, and other professionals that is not being met but that is not something that can immediately be addressed.)

People complain all the time that there are not enough jobs but if you really look at what’s available, that’s just not true. There are jobs but most people don’t want to either do the work because they don’t like it or aren’t willing to increase their skills to take the new jobs on.

Fortunately, with necessity being the mother of invention, attitudes are shifting and there are some interesting prospects opening.

For one thing, “green” jobs are increasing, the need for skilled and semi-skilled workers is also increasing, and those jobs all the politicians promised are actually starting to show up.

What is interesting is that they’re not just here in the U.S. Green jobs of all sorts and at all levels are showing up worldwide.

An interesting example of this is one of the countries with the worst poverty in the world, India. People in the city of Chennai are being encouraged to recycle by having their children take paper trash to school. This is then collected by “rag-pickers” the poorest of the poor, who will sell it on to dealers. The system is a win-win. Recycling is becoming a part of Chennai society, the environment benefits, poor people get some added income, and huge amounts of paper trash that would have gone into landfills costing the city money, is saved.

On the other side of the world, in California, as we shift to a more and more green economy, it turns out those jobs linked to that economy are proving to be more recession resistant than some others.

A lot of this may be simply due to the fact that people can actually save money by “going green.” Being environmentally conscious and responsible seems to go along well with being fiscally conscious and responsible. People are weighing the big tax breaks that oil and gas companies are getting against the tax breaks that alternative energy companies are getting, and the costs – both environmentally and in cash  — and finding the oil companies coming up somewhat short.

Maybe this green economy idea might work after all? Stay tuned.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Eradicating Deadly Diseases Forever

Something really cool is happening in India. Something that most people haven’t taken much notice of but which is truly astonishing and worthy of celebration across the globe. The deadly disease of polio has almost completely been eradicated, and India may be declared disease free within the next few weeks. This is a remarkable achievement for a country once deemed an epicenter of the disease.

Is it important that we ask ourselves: what worked? The disease is still present in three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — and the battle against will need to continue. Partly an international effort, partly a determined effort by the government itself, and a lot of money through various organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Teams of volunteers from Rotary International also made it their mission to finish polio off once and for all.

India’s intensive effort even has extended to setting up polio vaccination stalls at the closest train station to the Pakistan border. Perhaps this self-protective step may even help Pakistan in its own steps to eradicate the disease.

Uganda Man with Polio Using Flip-Flops on Hands to Walk

It would be wonderful if the world would stop and acknowledge India’s incredible feat but it seems we are too distracted with other things. However, I do fervently hope that we do not forget the dangers of this terrible disease and relax our guard. Fortunately, these brave volunteers and health workers have worked tirelessly to make polio history, and for a while, I have high hopes that we will not easily forget.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

Gauging Women’s Well-being

I checked on the indicator I’ve been using, Women’s Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) this morning and found that the 2011 numbers had not yet been uploaded. As I’ve been updating these numbers for the New Year, I’ve also been looking at the indicators I’ve chosen. In the case of gauging women’s well-being, I would ultimately like to get the figures of how much of the wealth of any particular country is realistically controlled by the women of that country. (Though I don’t believe wealth alone is the perfect indicator of empowerment, it is about as close as I believe you can get.) That measure doesn’t exist yet so I will have to keep looking and, in the meantime, women’s participation levels in their governments will have to do.

But this exploration always brings up a difficult question. There are many women who do not believe they should have the rights and privileges as men. This came home to me after seeing an article on the “honor” deaths of four women in one family in Canada. The husband, second wife (the marriage was polygamous), and son felt completely justified in murdering the father’s three daughters and first wife, because the women were acting “dishonorably” in the frame of traditional tribal Islamic laws. (They were also from Afghanistan which possibly still has the most repressive laws in the world regarding women’s rights.)

But this is what they believe in with all their heart. Who are we to impose our belief systems on other countries?

Although the above example is a very stark example, there are millions of other less-defined examples that we, as a planet face. (Consider the current French debate on headscarves for one.)

Over 100 years ago, in colonial India, a British colonel, Charles James Napier, was confronted with this kind of situation, when Hindu priests complained to him about the British ban on “sati” or the traditional burning alive of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. His response, as recounted by his brother was:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

I find myself, though I truly wish to respect other cultures’ customs, siding with the Colonel’s sentiments in the majority of today’s instances of women’s rights violations. “Culture” is not an excuse.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There aren’t too many examples on the planet today, but occasionally, the men need to have their rights respected by women. Balance, it’s all about balance!

Drops in the Bucket

As I mentioned in my previous entry on Clean Water, we’ve made some surprisingly decent progress over the last decade getting potable water to people all over the world. That said, we’ve still got a ways to go. Today’s Los Angeles Times had an article, Adding up the water deficit, on the slowly declining water resources in the American Southwest, the lack of preventative measures being taken, as well as the blunt possibility that there just may not be anything we can do about it if a natural “megadrought” comes along (which has happened in the past, decimating Native American communities living in vulnerable areas).

But sometimes people decide not to wait for the government, or anyone else, to fix things for them. I’ve come across some interesting solutions to water problems across the world recently, and thought I’d share:

We’re going to need a lot more of these kinds of solutions to get through the next 100 years or so, but I’m encouraged by the ingenuity of what people all over are coming up with. It would be great if some of our governments would follow their example.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC