Thoughts Sans Boundaries

From non-profit to profit

Posted in Uncategorized by Aditya Moorthy on February 13, 2009

My brother forwarded me a link – www.kiva.org and after I looked at the site it struck me as to how closely it was related to an idea of mine, which I wrote about a few days ago. Of course I don’t claim to be first here but it is nice to see that I could think of something original which has materialised elsewhere even though I wasn’t the first.

I think KIVA is a great initiative and it seems like it is a natural extension of my idea. I wanted to build a portal that will bring the charitable organisations and volunteers together in a seamless way and generate huge man hours at the disposal of these organisations. And as in any charitable activity everyone recognises that the people receiving the charity would eventually like to stand on their own legs (no pun intended). There are of course exceptions such as old age home, tree planting etc which would have to be a continuous effort. But where there is effort to help people rebuild their lives, we would want them to start managing their affairs by themselves at some point. That is when a service like KIVA kicks in where it takes my idea one step further by allowing people to “loan” small amounts of money to small entrepreneurs around the world through micro-finance institutions with which they partner. The micro-financing institutions ensure the proper disbursement of money and collection and eventually pay it back to KIVA who then disburses the money to the original lenders. So in effect someone requiring a loan of US $500 in Cambodia could be getting the loan from 20 different people who would have donated $25 each. The Internet ensures that the money is collected properly, accounted for and handed over to the financial institution with which the borrower is associated with and it works in the reverse when the money is paid back by the borrower. There will be tons of nitty-gritty issues in managing bad debts, lead time for collecting the loan money, service charges by KIVA and the financial institution etc. But I think they can all be ironed out with minor compromises.

Micro-finance is a powerful tool which was popularised by Muhammad Yunus through his venture called Grameen Bank. He jointly won the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his efforts to bring people out of poverty through small credit facilities without collateral. Many agree that this is one of the most powerful tools we have today to uplift people from dire straits. There are also criticism levied on this process since the micro-credit scheme levies a higher than normal interest due to the risks involved and the cost of managing several accounts in the place of few. But nevertheless it is still a wonderful way to provide capital to small and micro businesses by cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape.

Coming back to the main argument, that Internet can and does indeed change lives in several ways. In fact, KIVA can then be further diversified to offer investment options for medium to large business – but then I am getting ahead of myself. The core argument that I am trying to put across in this blog is that we can and must do something to change lives of the peoples of the world. We face numerous problems today from different dimensions – religious, political, economical, natural etc., and beyond a certain stage we lose track of what we are trying to solve as one resolution seems to fuel as a cause for another problem from a different dimension. An example would be a political solution to resettle the Jews during the Second World War has caused a religious problem in the Middle East post that event. If one takes a step back and has a holistic perspective, I am sure we would be able to see a cause-effect outcome in most of the solutions to problems. One of the best ways to have the right lens to see the larger issues is to get most people in the world into some sort of a common platform so most of those people see the problem with similar variables attached to it. We have divided this planet into different countries, different races, religions etc and all this has disintegrated the fabric of a common human society. We should all be seeing each other in the same standard and the way we can achieve that is by ensuring that everyone has access to all the knowledge about the other. If only I understand the sentiments of a particular race, I would be careful not to upset it and it works vice versa. And this works in all levels like if I can understand the role of a scientist then I would be sensitive enough to provide them the space and tools necessary to continue their work or at the least not do anything to upset them.

The only way we are ever going to do this to ensure that there is free and fair access to knowledge, structured, malleable and willing to grow as and when it learns of more and more types of people. This should be some sort of an intelligent Internet organism that feeds people with what they want, learns from them and adapts to their needs. I am not talking about Wikipedia but something that is more structured as an University course but provided free with no strings attached.

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Knowledge is free

Posted in musings by Aditya Moorthy on February 12, 2009

Wonder if there is a study which talks about how many people would like to have education but cannot afford it; especially in a developed country where education is not subsidised by the government. I think most of Western Europe is out of this equation.

Now, why would such a study be interesting? To start with, it tells how much the government is lagging in laying the foundation for a better future. The way we measure success and economic prosperity today is primarily through how rich the people are. Although I strongly disagree with this approach, I can’t do much but live with it. The way people can become rich is by producing more and the society consuming the production at an every greater volume so we see a constant increase in production and consumption which leaves people with enough money, employment and security. But the biggest flaw in this approach is the concept of consumption itself. What we are consuming is this planet’s resources and the more we consume, the lesser the available resources are and it will deplete if not immediately but at some point in future. We would have accumulated so much of garbage that we would have to colonise another planet just to dump them!

Anyway, back to my core point of this post, fundamentally we need to shift the focus of economic prosperity from wealth to knowledge. Of course we would still be a consuming population but the shift in focus in terms of how prosperous a person is will be from money to knowledge. And I think this is imperative we recognise this if we need to save this human species from self-destruction. Unless we understand the workings of the Universe and constantly create conducive environments for the people to live, we would disappear like the Dodos. Ancient India had recognised this as an important aspect of life and the economy was never around how someone can make money but rather how knowledge, education, art and literature could be fostered and opportunities created for the peoples of the society. We are living in a world were everybody wants to be a trader. It is not practicable and it will only lead to a collapse which we are seeing now.

For a nation to be advanced from a knowledge perspective, it needs to give opportunity for every person to be able to seek that knowledge, try them out and see if they are able to acquire it and find a suitable niche where they can shine and where they feel contented simply because they have physically seen their own limitations. This does not leave room for any anguish and jealousy and retarded complaining that one did not get enough opportunity to survive in a better way. And the only way it can be done is to ensure every person gets free and fair access to knowledge and facilities. I think governments everywhere should recognise it and start preparing for a platform to meet its needs if it wants to be a knowledge leader in this globalised world.

Use the Internet – Change a life

Posted in musings by Aditya Moorthy on February 11, 2009

I recently discussed an idea with my brother about building a portal that would connect non-profit and voluntary organisations with people willing to volunteer for short periods in a week thereby amassing a significant number of man hours towards a social cause. The way the idea works is like this. The website would dedicate a page for any organisation that requires volunteers or donations for a social cause – could be in nursing, education, animal welfare etc. Each of these organisations would first need to register and they would be invited to write about them in that page which would be sort of a wiki controlled by that registrant. Once they describe enough for someone to get an idea as to what the organisation is involved in, then they can create ‘Events’. Events are those activities conducted by that NPO which calls for external volunteers or donations in order to run it. An example for an Event would be volunteers required to spend time in the old age home entertaining the old people. Every Event would have several attributes which describes the Event, specifies what is required – volunteers, cash etc., what kind of skill set required – nursing, no skill etc, date and time of the Event and so on and so forth.

This portal would also invite Volunteers – any kind of people, non-skilled people to professionals to register themselves and generate a unique identity in the portal, sort of a social networking structure. You could also make friends with other registrants. Each individual who registers would also have a set of attributes – times they can volunteer, skill sets they possess etc.

What the portal does is it enables NPOs to search within the list of Volunteers as to who matches to the Event created by the NPO and access their profile, free times available for volunteering and invite them to participate in the Event. It also allows the Volunteers to search for appropriate Events where there is a match between the times they are available to the times when the Events are conducted and register themselves. It would be a simple process similar to booking a sports hall to play an indoor sport! As this is voluntary and given that many of us could easily spend couple of hours in a week volunteering for a social activity, my gut feeling is that there would be a point of inflection when there are more people actively available to volunteer than there are social projects existing. This would in turn drive a new initiative to create new social projects – A tennis coach could volunteer to teach tennis to under privileged kids for couple of hours in a week etc.

This has to be highly localised given that the volunteers have to be within the same city where the Event is taking place but I don’t see why this can’t be scaled up to large projects as well such as earthquake relief etc. I haven’t seen anything like this on the Internet although there are many sites – more vertical for specific projects such as blood donation sites etc.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this idea and one last thing; the site can support itself with advertisements or donations similar to what Wikipedia is doing thereby releasing any financial commitment on anyone’s part.

Sewers in India to social support in Singapore

Posted in musings by Aditya Moorthy on February 10, 2009

Couple of things prompts me to write this post. When I asked my brother as to what did he thinks of my post yesterday, he said that it was fine but there wasn’t much value for him in it since it did not have continuity to it and it was just random thoughts. Today he shared one other post from another blogger called Mr Wong Says So who commented on a news item in Today newspaper and went on to explain how the Singaporean government thinks that $330 is enough for the needy and poor to survive for a month. So I decided to write more along those lines.

Thankfully, I am not in the business of determining the amount of money to be dispersed by the government to the needy. I am sure Dr. Vivian has trouble bridging what he believes and what he is expected to do and convince a parliament and the people at large. Now, in a country like Singapore where the concept of poor is very different from what the term means in a country like India, it is easy to point the finger at a person like Dr. Vivian and say how he could be so insensitive and expect a person to live with $330 a month. But if you are a little bit read and travelled, you understand that everything is subjective and relative. Perspectives drastically change with just adding or removing few variables into the equation.

What do I mean by that? In yesterday’s post, a complaint about a complaint by a reporter about squalid working conditions of under privileged people, we see that things are much worse in a country like India where a huge number of people are living on less than a dollar a day. When Dr. Vivian says that people should learn to be self-reliant and / or depend on the immediate family for support rather than the State, as otherwise we cannot run an efficient and lean government, he is stating what is rational and what is expected out of every citizen. But what about those people who do not have a base to begin anything to become self-reliant and how could an immediate family support when they potentially are in same or similar conditions. Naturally they turn to the State for support but then again, the government cannot be feeding everyone as that is not its function.

I define the function of the government as a facilitator for every citizen to become self-reliant and as an arbitrator of open issues and a guarantor to the weak and under privileged ensuring they get a level playing field. If this definition is adhered, I believe that every government irrespective of how rich or poor the country is, would be able to do justice to its people. In order for the government to do this, the most important thing to offer to the citizens to create level playing field is to offer education to one and all irrespective of whether they have to resources to study or not. Now, if a person refuses to acquire knowledge or skill and chooses to be lazy, then he / she deserves to be poor and under privileged. No amount of money from anyone is going to solve that problem. In fact the Dr. Vivian could declare that $330 is more than enough without doubt or guilt if he promises free education to everyone in the country who is willing to study. So goes in India. If the government steps forward to such people who clean sewers in hazardous conditions and tells them that they can acquire a skill (to clean sewers in a safe and hygienic way) or knowledge to pull themselves out of the rut they find themselves in to improve their lives. Governments who don’t do that will have sleepless nights and so would the needy and poor people

Space program or Sewers?

Posted in musings by Aditya Moorthy on February 9, 2009

I just read an article on BBC. I have read many such as these where I hear an emotional voice of a reporter voicing out for the voice-less people of the society. It is an amazing feat to speak for others who find it impossible to speak themselves. Kudos to their effort. But I don’t understand why such articles are being written. Of course, I am not trying to be naive, I can think of few reasons:

a. The reporter is venting his / her frustrations when the press (or website) allows the content to be published simply because it comes from a qualified reporter
b. The press thinks that this article would generate enough clicks or readership that will warrant some revenue for the company
c. The reporter and the press are trying to create awareness among the larger public on the plight of many under privileged citizens who are suffering
d. The reporter and the press are hoping that this would elicit some responsible citizen to take up the cause with the authorities and do something about changing their lives
e. The reporter is giving voice to the voiceless and hopes that this would give them strength to take up their cause themselves and seek justice
f. The reporter wishes to shame the authorities / people responsible for making others suffer
g. A combination of the above and so on

What I fail to grasp here are few things:

a. The comparison called by the reporter on the government spending on space program vs. sewage improvements
b. The reporter feeling guilty about the plight of another human being
c. Indirect criticism of the authorities and calling all economically developed people to feel guilty through his / her article

Now, since I don’t understand the true intentions of the reporter my comments can be way off what the truth could be. But I persevere since I would like my thoughts on paper (or blog) as you interpret. I think the reporter is venturing into areas where he / she has very little knowledge, expertise or information about. A reporter’s job is to state facts and not write articles laden with facts and suggestive ideas as the reporter see’s fit. By comparing the investments on space program and calling attention that sewage infrastructure could use some of those funds the reporter has demonstrated poor knowledge about the functioning of governments and tried to spread misinformation and perceptions that the Indian government has misplaced priorities.

Secondly, why is the reporter feeling guilty? Because the reporter is contributing to the sewage fluids that another human being is cleaning or because the reporter has not done enough to uplift that person from that state to a better one or because the reporter has not challenged authority to change status quo or is it because the reporter has written a poor article on a so called prestigious news agency’s website. It leaves me wondering where the reporter’s priorities are when he / she states – “How can our so-called civil society be so indifferent to the millions like him? I, for one, am left feeling guilty.”

Thirdly, there is no direct accusation or information about any municipal office responsible for such affairs. There is no link between the so called middle-class and upper middle-class as to why they should feel responsible for the sewage cleaner’s state of affairs. I am not a heartless man to ignore another man’s suffering. But I am not that naive to put the blame on someone who is working hard to make a living with a middle-class, upper middle-class or rich status. There is clear accusation on the government not doing anything about the lives of such people but instead spending the money on space programs. India is a country where the majority are poor, majority among the poor are below poverty line, lack education, opportunities, suffer caste discrimination and work in the most squalid conditions a person can imagine, work more hours than most people with a decent life and yet earn less than they can afford to eat a decent meal. Now they are the ones electing the government. They are the ones who believe that the leader they elect will change their lives for ever or at least attempt to. The so called economically comfortable people who wash off their responsibilities by expressing their altruistic thoughts in such articles on BBC are the ones corrupting the same government elected by the majority of the poor people. Given that there is such a symbiotic relationship between these factions, and the ‘poor people’ not willing to take things in their own hands by seeking knowledge, we are not going to eradicate such living conditions.

What people need is facts stated on a certain situation. These facts might call for the necessary authority to take action with enough information provided by the reporter and hopefully bring about at least attempt at bringing in change. It should be left to the reader as to what is justified and what not. There is no point in stating that the country should be stop spending in space programs and spend on sewer. A society needs to go on and which means a lot of activities must go on. Sometimes, changes are slow in happening and people suffer in the process. Nothing can be done about it. Instead of pitying them and having a false sense of guilt, the responsible journalism should ensure that the facts and facts alone reach the audience. If opinion is required, the readers would naturally seek the opinion section of the site and not intermingle it with factual journalism or News.

Me and my first Marathon

Posted in endurance story, life, musings by Aditya Moorthy on February 2, 2009

I ran a marathon last December and completed it in about 8 hours. I never really prepared for it although I thought I was reasonably fit to complete it in 5 hrs 30 mins. Running a marathon is a funny thing. There is lot of excitement and optimism at the beginning that you will meet the target you have set for yourself. As the run progresses and you become tired, you tell yourself that this is an incredible challenge and that you are attempting something that many don’t. And when you cross the mid-way point and your legs start to cramp, you develop thoughts that it is better to give up than to damage something in your legs and that it is not shameful to give up and try next year. But if you somehow convince yourself to carry on and reach the 30-34 KM range, you start to ask in your mind some profound philosophical questions about life and pain and the meaning of our actions; most questions for which you never get an answer. But if you still manage to drag yourself towards the final few kilometres of the run, then you get to a stage where there is nothing in your mind. It is blank with no thoughts, all you feel is a dull lingering pain that seems like it will stay with you for ever and you are no longer bothered about anything. There develops an insensitiveness that you have never experienced before or thought that you were never capable of. And then the finish; for one glorious moment, you feel at the top of the world, elated, as if you have been the first ever to attempt something like this and that you are the One. But this feeling vanishes as soon as you begin to revel and it follows by an incredible amount of pain that you have never experienced before. Pain you thought that human body was not capable to withstand and that you are probably going to have some permanent damage to your body. You start to look for a corner to sit and then just pass away.

At least this was how I felt during my ‘record’ 8 hours run. But I did finish. Right after I finished I looked for my brother who ran the same marathon and he finished just under 6 hours. He seemed to be doing quite fine except for some pain in his legs and here I was completely hopeless and wishing that life would just stop there. After a couple of days, I started to get back my usual spirit and the pain started to ebb away. I am now getting ready for my second attempt at the marathon called the Sundown Marathon in May. I hope to be better prepared this time and I am still aiming for that 5 hr 30 mins finish.

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