Friday, 19 July 2013

My Entry 1 - Indiblogger, Franklin Templeton Investments present 'The Idea Caravan' - Invest For Tomorrow

Arunachalam Muruganantham's Sanitary Napkin Entrepreneurial Venture Versus Giving Women The Dignity Women Deserve

This is my first entry to the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments' The Idea Caravan Initiative.

Powerful ideas today are indeed 'the' true investments for a better tomorrow. Egged on by this, eagerly browsed through the videos. The Franklin Templeton Idea Caravan Site has all the information and of course, speaker videos from the TEDxGateway Mumbai 2012. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

The reason I pick this video first to articulate about is this line caught my attention irrevocably "giving women the dignity they deserve". 

Follow this link to Arunachalam Muruganantham's Speech Video!
Or, watch it here:

While the one line intro to this video speaks of his entrepreneurial adventures in giving women the dignity they deserve, the (approximately) 15 minute video evokes many more socially relevant perspectives and food for thought:

1.  Right at the outset, he sets us thinking with how to migrate to a 'meaningful life' from (what we think) are our 'normal lives'!

2.  Next come the 'statutory warning' about the quality of English in the speech & presentation quickly followed by his verbal salvo 'a less educated person talking to a surplus educated gathering'!  

That reference to 'surplus' catalyzes my thought in this direction:

  • What is optimal education? Is it linked to what we do with that 'education'? 
  • Is education not channelized into giving back enough to the society 'surplus'?
  • Is our education system taking us away from socially relevant existence?
  • Is modern education taking away natural, intuition based learning?
  • Do we need a particular language to be able to make an impact in life? If yes, why should it be so (regardless of what the language is and its intrinsic merits are)?
Well, I parked these thoughts so I don't have to pause the video!

3.  Letting Women take charge of Women's issues and channelizing local implementation:

At the heart of this remarkable presentation is Muruganantham's discovery of how rural and therefore, most women in India, deal with their sanitary napkin needs and how he converted this social problem in to a solution that derives from the very strata that it gives back to - without multi-million investments, without an English or for that matter, any higher education.

He makes a poignant remark about how the shopkeepers in almost all parts of the country (when one purchases sanitary napkin packs from them) wrap the pack in newspaper and then put them in carry bags - so that, when carried home - often, whilst walking - the pack as such is not visible!  In a country and society steeped in patriarchy, women's needs - be it health, hygiene or of late, safety - are seldom expressed, let alone be received, respected, deliberated or accepted!  They are often shrouded!  [Note: if one purchases sanitary napkin packs from supermarkets, of course, these are relatively upmarket and nobody wraps them separately - they are just put in to carry bags for us to carry.  But, if buying from shops - be it a chemist's shop or a grocery / departmental 'kirana' shop - the newspaper wrapping practice is very much prevalent.  All the more in my home State Tamil Nadu].  Isn't it high time we launch Nationwide campaigns and initiate grass root engagement programs to influence mindsets - to hear, express, receive, respect, deliberate and accept women's issues? 

Muruganantham has, admittedly through long and patient years of trial and error (love the joke about going to a business school for eight years to learn the 'Tee & Eee' method or just plain being natural, following one's instincts to adopt the trial and error approach to innovating) channelized the very social strata - rural women - to make a sanitary napkin - thus giving them not just hygienic solution but also respectable and engaging livelihoods. The women, thus, are in control, twice over!  This is what appeals the most to me, at the heart of this presentation - of the women, for the women - truly making them 'stakeholders' in more than one sense of the word.

Fact: Less than 5 % of Indian Women have access to & use sanitary napkins!

Whereas, Muruganantham's adventure has resulted in 706 machines producing low cost sanitary napkins in 23 Indian States benefiting almost 3.5 million women using hygienic low cost sanitary napkins made in their local neighborhood!  

This is a success beyond your or my acceptance or articulation.  It doesn't even ask for it. He calls it a 'silent second white revolution'.  True that! In the land of the Mahatma, shouldn't revolutions change the life of millions for the better - without fanfare or bloodshed (quite literally)? 

Which brings me to think - in a Country and society beset with suppressed women's issues - be it nutrition (i know of rural parts of India where the women are not equal stakeholders in consumption or nutrition), contraception (in a patriarchy, women bear the bulk of the burden of balancing their country's population), women's health (which women's health issue gets National broadcast time? When Angelina Jolie recently made a women's health related decision & I tweeted media personalities on our need to discuss its pros and cons and impact on women at large, there were no takers!) - shouldn't we be coming up with a plethora of ideas, solutions with feasible implementation that puts the very women at the heart of its execution?  Isn't this a model we ought to replicate many times over?

Other pertinent points from this presentation we better articulate and debate about:

4.  'Measurable Social Impact':

In times beset by corporate greed and a world still reeling in the aftermath of the financial crisis, its therapeutic to hear him emphatically say "don't measure your business or success by mere money (he irreverently throws away a stack of currency on the chair) - measure it by the social impact!"

As preachy as it sounds, in it, I think, lies the tomorrow - the growth National Governments are desperately seeking.  The engine National Economies are thirsting for.  Its almost 'reset' point - any further growth, almost mandated by Nature, only - and if only - it benefits society / humanity at large. 

For example, his vision statement is by far the most measurable vision statement i have ever seen "To make 100 % of Indian women use sanitary napkins".  When was the last time you saw a corporate vision statement that was measurable?  Has the much hyped 'Corporate Social Responsibility' delivered an iota of what this initiative has?

He also shows us a snippet of how tiny clusters of human habitation such as in the foothills of the Himalayas will take another 25 years to come in to the corporate radar (for marketing, distributing) while his initiative already has made inroads with local women there making their own sanitary napkins!  Should corporate India and the corporate world, at large, as well as each of us, who constitute as well as consume from it - pause, think, debate and most importantly, accept and change?

5.  He talks about his 'disruptive' foray in to sanitary napkin production, about the need to be patient for failure before success.  Do today's education system as well as social set-up reward risk-taking when it comes to giving back to society? Oh, we all know they plenty well reward risk-taking when it comes to greed, which is why an initially seemingly local sub-prime crisis catapulted us all in to a worldwide financial crisis! 

Is there enough bandwidth in our societies to support, nurture, tolerate and promote entrepreneurship, risk-taking and experimenting with socially relevant ventures?  One example that bothers me big time - in a tropical country that is India - where we have ample sunshine 80% of the year, if not more - I do not see any Government or society at large support for initiatives harnessing solar energy - be it solar panels in every building or electric cars!  Muruganantham narrates how he had to leave his village to be able to pursue his experimentation!  What can each of us - severally and collectively - do to ensure our tomorrow is not at the mercy of such a rigid and narrow present? 

6.  He contrasts his micro, decentralized model with large corporate macro, centralized models - which brings me to think, the implementation needs to be in the hands of the locals, no matter who conceptualizes and incubates the idea.  Large scale acceptance and ongoing implementation depend largely on local stimulus and participation.  No amount of marketing budgets and social media blitzkrieg could have resulted in 3.5 million rural women being in charge of their own health and hygiene.  

7.  He concludes by asking each of us to get in to a dark room and think for five minutes as to how we want our life to become meaningful!  Do it.  I will, as well.  Though I am doubtful if i will get a clear answer in those five minutes.  I guess I have to blame it on my 'surplus' education :)

Oh boy, I thought I would view at least a few videos today and one - just this one - video set me thinking on so many fronts and articulating this long!  Stopping here lest I drive readers away - we live in times of brevity, you see!  Even the most powerful idea or articulation has got to be brief - to invite, sustain and result in productive engagement! Phew!

Thanks Indiblogger and Franklin Templeton Investments, for giving me a chance to articulate for a meaningful life.  Though the prizes are attractive for a gadget junkie, I confess, there has been more meaning to this already :)