Recent stories

Sweaty in Delhi: India’s Power Woes Are More Than Just An Issue of Generation Capacity

As a (now infrequent) resident of Delhi, I’ve sweltered through my share of power shortages. Trying to find that sweet spot between fanning myself fast enough to stay cool, but not over-heating from the action while waiting for the lights to turn back on, was one of the more troublesome equations I wrestled with in my childhood. I’d like to say I bore these episodes with equanimity but that would be a lie. Luckily, I live(d) in an area of Delhi where power outages are rare and if they do happen, they are of short duration. The liberalising reforms that rolled through the country and down the corridors of the Ministry of Power in the ‘90s promised that a change was coming.

Solutions at the Base of the Pyramid

A new call to action is rising from the corporate world. “If we wait for a policy enabling environment, we will be waiting a long time,” says Stuart Hart, Professor at Cornell University and Director of the Indian Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. “It is our job as innovative entrepreneurs to design and develop new models. The problem with the government is that it can create incentives; however, it cannot create new models.” The world’s problems are social and environmental and they are mostly centered in the developing world.

Impact Investment or Philanthropy – a Case for Both

Impact investment is receiving increasing attention. It is seen as the financial sector’s answer to inclusive business to benefit the poor in developing countries. More and more capital is flowing into this sector due to popular demand. However, as for any incubator, the step from blueprint to scale is big and for social entrepreneurs, the step is even bigger as they are embarking on a journey that in most cases is truly innovative and hasn’t been done before. The solution, according to Acumen Fund and the Monitor Group lies with philanthropy, to use grants and donor aids as catalyst to get these social enterprises to the stage where they can start scaling up, the stage where impact investors come in.

Sustainably Managing Water in India’s “Land of Death” Marwar Region

Student Reporters Iliana Sepulveda and Arjun Bhargava contributed equally to this post. Imagine living in Marwar, an area in the Thar Desert that translates to the “Land of Death” in the Sanskrit language. Imagine being part of a village which does not have a single source of safe drinking water within a radius of 1.6 kilometers. This area of high temperatures, low and erratic rainfall, saline groundwater and sparse vegetation also happens to be the most densely populated desert in the world. These are the conditions under which Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has successfully brought clean water and sanitation through sustainable water management techniques and community participation to the Marwar Region.

Supporting Small Farmers: Working Toward the Goal of Food Security for All

Why do small farmers need our support and how do they fit into the global conversation about water and food security? Smallholder farms are small plots of land typically supported by a single family growing a mix of cash and subsistence crops.  These farmers make up 40% of the word’s population, and in sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farms make up more than 90% of agricultural production. In a world where 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used for agriculture, smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries play a key role in water management and food security. Most smallholder farmers are women, live in rural areas, and when water and weather crises occur, are the first victims of malnutrition.  The Women’s Collective of Tamilnadu, India organizes women at the village level to create self help groups around socio-economic issues.  Seeing a need for more climate friendly approaches to agriculture and water use, the Women’s Collective gathered local women farmers and reintroduced the practice of using traditional seeds for agriculture. Traditional seeds were replaced during India’s green revolution with high-yield seeds and increased use of irrigation and fertilizer.  The widespread switch from millet (which has a high nutritional value) to rice during this time also led to a decrease in nutrition.

Water in India and the “Curse of Democracy”: a Conversation with Asit Biswas

I was lucky enough to sit down over lunch with renowned environmental scientist, professor and political commentator, Asit Biswas. We discussed the state of water management in India, his home country. India is facing a huge water and sanitation shortfall, which will become more severe in the near future as pressures from population growth and climate change surmount.  The federal system is beset by inter-state conflicts over trans-boundary river waters.  Farmers engage in unsustainable mining of groundwater even as aquifers in the western part of the country begin to dry up.  In areas that do experience heavy rainfall, floods cause widespread destruction. Biswas said that India’s democracy, which he argued is the developing world’s most robust despite its tumultuous character, makes managing water nearly impossible.  He proposed a plan to overcome this obstacle. The current state of Indian politics is lamentable, says Biswas, because increasingly fragile multiparty coalitions govern not just the central government, but also many of the states.  Water management entails the coordination of multiple stakeholders.  This is difficult in the Indian political system, which has often been characterized as decidedly adversarial. Under these conditions, it is nearly impossible to address water quality and coverage.  Multiparty coalitions are often an assemblage of a diverse set of stakeholder groups;  they are often barely large enough to maintain parliamentary power.  When issues arise that require the delineation of winners and losers, any coalition group that would lose out on the deal will play spoiler and threaten to bring down government unless the terms are changed.  Thus, water issues, which often require some stakeholders to sacrifice, are rarely resolved. There are some highlights of strong governance within India, however.

Pakistan Water Partnership: IWRM in Action

Pakistan Water Partnership is a corporate body registered with a large number of key stakeholders from government organizations, public and private sector, NGOs, women and youth groups, and civil society who impact water or are being impacted by water and its uses in the country as its members/partners. This interview includes a discussion of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 ratified by India and Pakistan. The Treaty allowed Pakistan unrestricted use of the western rivers and India exclusive use of the eastern rivers. Two leaders from Pakistan Water Partnership are playing an active role in ameliorating Pakistan’s water issues by creating awareness related to water. They are also sensitizing various stakeholders on key issues of water development and management in the world and in Pakistan.

Building Inclusive Business brick by brick

Dominika Czyz reports from the oikos FutureLab 2011, 14-15 November, St Gallen Switzerland. Have you ever seen the Great Pyramid of Giza? Impressive, isn’t it? Would you believe it consists of almost 2,5 mln blocks? Striking though the number is, the 2,5 million pales by the comparison with 2,5 billion.