Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Settled in here now - and the weather has cooled off nicely. Working on editing the (overdue) annual report and also on a couple of proposals for small Impact Assessment studies while I am here.

I heard from several people that Hyderabad has the highest quality of life of any major Indian metropolitan area. True, it doesn't stink really and there is not too much begging and destitution visible. It doesn't have any pavements though, so walking around can get you regular clips round the elbow or ear from passing rickshaws.

I am installed in some style in fact on the very top of a 5 storey apartment block with a lovely room and ensuite which is part of, but separate from, where my boss and his family live. This is good because Banjara Hills rents are exhorbitant. As I am only really renting a room I get a reasonable rate - plus Mrs R makes breakfast for me every day which I get to enjoy with the Boss and his two cute kids.

I heard there is a staff meeting this week. I thought 'couple of hours on Wednesday'. Think again. We are all going to the residential training centre, 2 hours drive away, for 3 entire days from Thursday! One of my fellow spectators at the 4th Military World Games on Saturday remarked, as we watched the 84kg division semi-final between North Korea and the USA, that Indians don't necessarily excel at sport. This is mainly because in a country where so many still struggle to feed themselves priorities dont tend to lie in the 'making yourself a better person' column. Rather they sit firmly in the 'making and keeping yourself a person' category. So entertainment more usually focuses on food and, of course, talking.

All of which makes me look forward with (shall we say) interest to the next few days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Micro Finance, Mega Bucks

Nearby the plush houses...
Originally uploaded by jakebarne
As I sit here at APMAS (Andhra Pradesh Womens' Self Help Society) editing their annual report whilst trying to keep up with the inevitable deluge of acronyms for which the NGO sector is famous, but also keeping an eye as ever on world events, I noticed this article in the FT about the Microfinance sector. It brought to mind a discussion I had with one of my colleagues here yesterday. My question was could the current credit squeeze, or something like it in the future, impact borrowers within Self Help Groups (SHGs) here in India? The answer seems to be no. For the moment. This is because, while private sector funding is undoubtedly sizable as a portion of total capital inflows to the sector, much of the seed capital available for institution building and outright lending within the sector comes from NGOs or state owned lenders. The hope for the future, and in a few cases the reality now, is that these institutions, which bridge the gap between major lenders and the small SHGs, are self sustaining both managerially and financially. The FT article gets to the very heart of the issue by asking if a project which began as poverty alleviation - in other words a Social Capital building/aid exercise - can really remain true to its original aims if corporations (and even financial 'institutions' like hedge funds) begin to become a part of the sector infrastructure. In a future where it is hoped by some, and perhaps feared by others, that lenders like Venture Capitalists and other speculators are the primary source of capital to such a sector I think the likelihood of the vicissitudes of global capital markets directly, and harshly, impacting these extremely poor sectors of the population is high. Just because they can make a profit doesn't entitle these organisations to take over. That would be like confusing development with growth all over again.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Butter and Mashed Bananas

Originally uploaded by jakebarne
OK so now I'm in Hyderabad/Cyberabad. Staying in Banjara Hills, the wealthy bit replete with huge MALL, supermarket which would not be at all out of place in St John's Wood, Tommy Hilfiger shop and many-a-Merc swooshing about. Ya still got ya one stumped beggars hanging around and seeming whole families living under bus shelters at the foot of the stairs to the MALL mind.

Today I am traipsing around the centre of Hyd. May not do it again tho as there is even less charm than in Bangalore to this central area. Add to that the tetchy nature of the Urdu speaking community here, mid Ramadan, and you have one seething sunny sooty and very noisy city.

Got talking to Rajid at my hotel last night, a recruiter here for a few days who began trying to get me a job as an economic consultant until I pointed out that I know very little about India's economy and only a little more about economics. That said he got out the laptop and gave me a ppt presentation on Bihar, the poorest state in India where per capita GDP is just over Rs6400 PER YEAR and almost 20% of household heads have zero education. Add in the fact that the economy is 80% rural, with attendant massive year on year growth variation, and realise that 50% of the roads are unsealed and you have a kind of super-under developed state. All fairly common knowledge I'm sure. To put some of that in perspective though, Indian GDP per capita for the whole country is only Rs25000 per year. That's my budget per month.

After my customary wander around this latest city today I am going to see Butter and Mashed Banana at the Ravindra Bharathi Theatre ("...almost a landmark"). This is thanks to S, one of my yoga classmates from Mysore, who is a theatre professional and knows lots of folk from that sphere in India. I just gotta get to the theatre and 'ask for Rohini' to get my seat