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Posts Tagged ‘Gandhi’

(Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.)

The problem was to make the sanitary pads available to rural women who didn’t have enough money to buy costly sanitary pads made by big Corporate names like Johnson and Johnson and Proctor and Gamble. Financial household budget is one constraint that drives the lives of many millions in rural and urban India. The basic necessities like food, home and earnings come first, and personal care such as sanitary pads come later.Obviously you cant buy a sanitary pad, when you have a few in your family without a meal.

But the effects of not buying sanitary pads can’t be limited to women only because women are basic carriers of nutrition to babies in a house. The ill effects of weakened health of a woman shall certainly be reflected upon children, who depend on her for their food necessities. Unhygienic conditions arising out of this problem of not using sanitary pads can result in various contagious diseases. The affected number of women were so huge, as shown in the video, only 5% of the women used sanitary pads in India. So, the problem affected a considerable 95% of women in India, and hence at-least 90% rural households in India. The solution as devised by Mr. Arunachalam, was indeed very innovative, not only in terms of technical solutions but also in terms of economic model. He invented a smaller size mechanical set to create sanitary pads , that could be assembled and run in small rural households. This was in-fact a great deal of technical innovation, as the same task was done by big multinationals in a big industrial setup and assembly lines.

 But the economic innovation is rather a much bigger achievement that Mr.Arunachalam has managed. What he did was just opposite to what the big multinational do, and what is rather a concept opposite to modern day capitalism. He has actually decentralized the entire process of manufacture, whereas the modern multinationals pursue the model of pure centralized production.The decentralized model of production and manufacture is actually not a new idea, but was first proposed by the greatest humanist of all times- Mahatma Gandhi. What Mr.Arunachalam did, knowingly or unknowingly, was that he applied the Gandhian model of development to solve a problem around him.

The Gandhian model of development and economics can cause cold sweats to big capitalistic firms. But it is the most effective approach to solve the social problems in a country where major social problems such as nutrition and hygiene persist in major part of population. With a majority in population affected by a problem, the solution to the problem can’t be centralized. A centralized solution means the solution was developed as a top -down approach, i.e, the solution is developed at the particular firm and its distribution is governed by that firm itself. This model is synchronized with profit making. This is due to this model that we have very strict norms of patents and intellectual property rights. The firms are not governed by social justice ,but individual growth. The Decentralized model is just opposite to this model. In decentralized model, the philosophy is simple- If I can’t afford it, I will create it. The solution is developed as bottom -up approach, the stake holders develop the solution themselves under the aegis of a name, that name could be a NGO, Government or an individual like Arunachalam here. The mechanical set up developed by Arunachalam is so small and handy that they are being installed in hundreds of villages now, employing more than seven thousand women, and reaching far places where the multinationals are still absent. And who are the customers? The women employed in manufacturing these low cost sanitary pads are the real customers, real stake holders of the solution. Had this solutions being developed in a big factory set up and was patented by that firm, would it be possible for it to reach where Mr.Arunachalam reached? No! This is only possible when the driving force is social justice and not profit making.

The Gandhian model was a huge success during pre- independence, when it hindered the growth capitalistic Britain, when people started making their own cloths and boycotted cloths made by foreign firms of Britain. But there were more dimension to this models. The seven thousand women who got employment as a part of Mr.Arunachalam initiative, is the greatest benefit and success of this model. It is better suited for uniform distribution of wealth and social equality. Another major success name of this model is Amul, which is the most successful dairy cooperative in India, now owned by more than 3 million milk producers of Gujrat. That means the wealth created by Amul is distributed among 3 million milk producers and not a board of directors only. Can there be 3 million owners of a capitalistic firm? Amul effectively carried forward the White Revolution of India, tackling issues like rural employment, national growth, nutrition deficit and rural education. Such success stories give us a glimpse of idea of village economy that Gandhi has ever asked for. 

The solution to third world problems is not only welfare capitalism but also Gandhian model of development, commenting about which the most famous and admired intellectual of our times, Noam Chomsky said- “Implicitly, he (Gandhi )was suggesting a model of development that could have been more successful and humane than the Stalinist model that was adopted”. The concept of self-help is the most powerful driving force in this model. This concept is the root to solutions for rural employment, education, sanitation. In fact to mobilize masses for sanitation causes, Gandhi himself started to clean and wash his latrine pots and toilet rooms.The effect of self-help is also evident from the fact that ancient Indian civilizations used to have community baths and man made,community storage lakes, wells and canals. This water storage solution is still effective in many parts of Rajasthan.This concept and Gandhian model even figured in cinema, recently being shown in Swades, as an idea of community electricity generation plant.

A centralized production system is important for growth of industry, but the profit model and distribution mechanism should be more decentralized. The profit should include the profit of customers, and distribution should be decentralized to village level , so that the product doesn’t showcase in big shopping malls only, but could reach the untouched sections of society. There are many firms which have a corporate social responsibility department but unless the social responsibility becomes a part of production strategy , the purpose wouldn’t be served. What Mr. Arunachalam did, was he made the social justice as the idea of production and hence he would never have to have a separate social responsibility wing. And this is what makes a difference between a solution and meaningful solution. What is the use of a solution which can’t be afforded by majority of population? A solution must be defined by its reachability, and in top-down approach , there is little one can do to help out with reachability of the solution. The Gandhian model is best suited for maximum reachability. Hence a meaningful solution is not one that earns maximum profit but which reaches maximum number of people. That is why the solution in form of wheel is more meaningful than invention of luxury cars using it. That is why invention of pen is more meaningful solution than invention of typewriter. To conclude, the best would be re-quote what Mr.Arunachalam said-“What you need for a meaningful life? Just a problem.” 

Entry to FT Idea Caravan contest on Indiblogger.

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