The manner in which the government and the political opposition in Delhi have been guilt-tripped into this debate on the poverty line is a reflection of a broader phenomenon that has taken root within the minds of the thinking class at large, says Shashi Shekhar.
The botched debate over where to peg the poverty line, between the Planning Commission and the United Progressive Alliance Cabinet, reminds one of American author Joseph Heller’s famous fiction novel Catch-22 set in the Second World War.
The principal character in Heller’s dark war comedy is a delinquent air force bombardier Yossarian who had lost the will to fight. A riveting moment during Yossarian’s travails in trying to go AWOL is the mission over Bologna in Italy. Intense fear grips Yossarian over the scheduled mission to bomb Bologna, for he dreads not coming back alive.
The morbid fear takes a comical turn as day after day Yossarian and his colleagues stare at the ‘bombing line’ on a map under the awning of the unit’s intelligence tent. Faced with the inevitability of the mission, an irrational superstition takes root in the men’s mind that somehow the ‘bombing line’ would move itself past Bologna.
Then one fateful night Yossarian sneaks up to the intelligence tent to actually move the ‘bombing line’ over Bologna, causing a cascade of reactions leading all the way to the allied high command in that theatre to mistakenly think Bologna was captured, thus cancelling Yossarian’s much-dreaded mission.
Get Ahead reader Nadeem Taslim writes about 14 low-cost tablet PCs one must check out before buying the likes of iPads, Galaxy Tabs or Xooms.
Nadeem is a tech blogger and runs two technology blogs: techbung.com and aliengang.com.
Tablets are indeed the hottest things in technology. While the Apple iPad and iPad 2 are the big daddies of all tablets, Android tablets are giving tough competition for low prices plus loads of bells and whistles.
In fact, some Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom and low-cost models like the Reliance Tab are giving serious competition to the iPad.
If you are looking for low-priced tablets available in India that you can use for web browsing, multimedia and applications then you must check these 14 tablets that come under Rs 20,000. (Prices of some tablets may vary a bit depending on various states).
1.Sakshat aka Aakash: Rs 1,500 (approximately)
Display: 7-inch colour LCD/TFT
Hard Drive: 32GB
Connectivity: WiFi, USB 2.0 (2), Ethernet port.
Operating System: Android
Expandable Memory up to 8GB (SD Card)
VGA Port (For connecting to Projector)
The device is currently not available for sale in the market as government has decided to launch it for students in 2011.
Mining the truth … Frank Poulsen’s Blood in the Mobile. Photograph: Frank Poulsen/Take One Action film festival
We all love our mobile phones, and the smarter they get, the more we want them. There is, though, a dark side to this affair. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, our demand for phones has been helping to finance a civil war which has killed more than 5m people. There is, according to the title of Danish director Frank Poulsen’s eye-opening documentary, blood in the mobile. Minerals from mines under the control of warring factions have been making their way into our mobiles for years. The UN raised the issue a decade ago. But even though it involves more of us than, say, blood diamonds, how many of us know about it?
“I knew there was a war in Congo, but I didn’t know it had anything to do with my phone,” says Poulsen. “I think we often forget, or maybe don’t know, how closely connected we are. Things that go on in Africa seem to be very far away and have very little to do with us, but it has a lot to do with us. My mission, as a film-maker, is to make these connections.”
Poulsen arranged a research trip to Congo and successfully secured entry to the Bisie mine, located deep in the jungles of Walikale, where thousands of people, many of them children, were living and working in hellish conditions. “I have never seen anything like this,” says Poulsen. “This was really terrible.” Guards on a makeshift gate levied “taxes” on people going in and coming out. “And that’s how simple it is,” he says. “These armed groups are really stealing money from the poorest and most miserable people in the world.”
Inside the gate, conditions are “medieval”. “There’s no clean water anywhere. There’s thousands of people, and you think: ‘How do they survive here? How can they do this? How is it possible?'” Children as young as 12 work as deep as 100 metres below ground, and Poulsen tried seeing for himself what conditions were like inside the mine, but he didn’t get far. “I was simply too big and I had a camera that made it hard for me to get an everyday life atmosphere. People would just sit and look at me.”
The second – and final – time he visited Bisie, he gave a small camera to a young boy. The haunting images he captured, of men and children chiselling at rocks, grimly hark back to an age that seemed long gone, when Leopold II of Belgium ran the Congo as a private slave colony.
In an attempt to connect the dots between the mine and the phone industry, Poulson approached Nokia – as well-known advocates of corporate social responsibility, he thought they would be keen to show him what they were doing to improve the situation. They told him by email that they didn’t have the “resources” to help him. He says he rang them once a week for almost a year, trying to arrange an interview with someone in power, but found himself fobbed off at every turn. When he did eventually get access, it was to mid-level people whose apparently sincere desire to do the right thing was not matched by their ability to make actual changes.
“Nokia had the chance of being the hero of this film, if they had opened up to me. It is a mystery why they didn’t. But it also shows why this issue isn’t being solved: people are turning a blind eye.”
Blood in the Mobile arrives in the UK at a time when recent legislation passed by Congress in the US requiring more transparency in the extractive industry seems to already be making an impact in Africa, even before its implementation. Similar legislation is now being sought at an EU level. “We can’t leave it up to the companies themselves to solve,” says Poulsen, “because they have had a fair chance at it.”
The casualties of war in the DR Congo have been, he says, like a “Haiti earthquake every third month for the last 15 years. This is an extraordinary problem, a catastrophe that we have to address right now. There are too many people dying.”
Ken Egbas, managing director, TruContact Limited, the organiser of SERA Award, in this interview with Daniel Obi, says the new battle ground for organisations on profit will be corporate social responsibility. Excerpt
Why do organisations think CSR is a cost to bottom line rather than an opportunity to engage with consumers and boost profit? I think that is still a bend that organisations need to go beyond. There was the time when people could not defend before management how corporate social responsibility could aid their bottom line. But all that is changing. Now, we see organisations surely coming to grasp with the triple bottom line concept of people, planet and profit.
We are even seeing quite some organisations going a bit deeper by trying out the quadruple bottom line, which depicts commerce, community, conservation and culture. As far back as two years ago, we had quite a lot of organisations just asking questions about global standards. But if you check you will see quite a number that have signed up on those international standards, whether it is ISO 2600, GRI, global compact and the rest.
Moreover, slowly but surely, these organisaations are also getting to understand that the face of marketing or the need to reach out to consumers is rapidly changing. The future battle for the greater market share is going to be fought on a different turf. The new battle ground will be the platform of corporate social responsibility. Apart from awards, how do you correct the impression that CSR is a cost? The impact of the SERAs, the corporate social responsibility industry has been great. Six years ago when we began promoting CSR in Nigeria, not many knew what it meant or were even talking about it. But now hardly a day passes without you opening the newspapers and magazines and seeing corporations brandishing their CSR credentials… whether they are doing it right or wrong is another matter entirely.
It might interest you to know that when we put together the outlay of the SERAs- Nigeria CSR Awards, we had an initial roll out plan with a span of 10 years. In the strategic outlay, we deduced that we were going to spend the first three to four years advocating the direction we wanted organisations to move their corporate behaviour towards.
In this stage, we were just going to allow them bring all they had on their CSR plate to the table- whether it was right or wrong. Then subtly begin to show them the right way to go. In the second stage, which is where we are at the moment, we planned to move them in the direction of proper implementation and measurement.
Then from the sixth or seventh year, we hope that through the first two stages, we would then have brought corporate Nigeria to the point where we begin to look more seriously at the issues of compliance and benchmarking against the best global practices. In all of these, I will tell you what is fact, the reward for us as an organisation at TruContact is that we are currently waging and championing the biggest corporate behavioural change campaign ever in Nigeria.
We have also been involved in training CSR practitioners. In the last two years, we have organised the most impactful training in Nigeria, bringing from all over the world the very best brains to interact with our own practitioners Some organisations neglect their internal workforce on the understanding that CSR must be external, is this correct? This is very wrong. And I can also confirm to you that the corporations most guilty of this are organisations that use CSR just as white washes or window dressing. If you scrutinise them further you will discover that they are those companies that you cannot connect their CSR programmes to the DNA of their corporate value propositions. CSR is usually an expression of something that is first internal before it can be expressed externally. Is it proper to legislate CSR? Whether CSR should be legislated or not is really a tough call as those against it hold unto that very strong argument that for CSR to be CSR it must be voluntary. I don’t have any problems with this posturing. I have been involved in CSR long enough to be able to tell you very authoritatively that there are a few corporations in Nigeria who are already doing more than any bill will have them do.
The argument these companies put forward is that the bill might just make them do the basic minimum the bill might stress. I really have no bone to pick with these organisations. My issues are with the organisations who hide under this debate and have remained inactive in responding to the social and environmental negative impacts of their operations in Nigeria, and there a quite a number of them. Some of these businesses are even multinational companies. The sort of things they get away with in Nigeria they won’t even dare in their home countries without being blacklisted.
Assessing the SERAs-Nigeria CSR award in the last four years I would say to you that it has been a long, hard and lonely road to travel. I recall back in December 2008, shortly after the second edition when we could barely pay contractors and we were neck deep in debt. My feeling then was to pack it all in until one call from someone from the remote parts of the north telling me to come and see what a certain telecom company had done to make their lives worthwhile.
For an eternity, they had always had to have children trek 10 kilometres to school every day until this organisation built them a state-of-the-art school. It was after that I made up my mind to keep the project going. I was so convinced that I offered the board my continued services without my salaries being paid.
That was how convinced I was we were unto something major. I am very glad today that we persisted. The precise reason why we came up with the SERAs is that we see it as our attempt to contribute to a more equitable, just and sustainable system. The focus of the SERAs is to promote corporate sustainability and responsibility by causing corporate organisations to rethink and prioritise their corporate sustainability agenda as a way to contribute to sustainable development, which is why the theme for 2011 is – Leading Change: Building green and competitive brands.
What are you looking forward to in the fifth award and going forward? They should look forward to a very glamorous event. We would be presenting Nigeria’s very finest corporate citizens to all Nigerians. And out of those we term the finest – we would be showcasing the very best. Not only are we promoting governance in the private sector, the millennium development goals awards – the category for selecting the governors across the country who are using the commonwealth of their people to drive developmental agendas in line with the goals set by the United Nations. For the first time, we have two winners; Adams Oshiomole and Obong Godswill Akpabio – the governors of Edo and Akwa Ibom states, respectively, both will be in attendance.
Have you ever seen an autorickshaw accident? Never! We never cause accidents but I have to pay Rs 4,000 for insurance every year. Why? They eat away our earnings. Calculate how much money I must have given them (insurance agencies) since 1995, without a single accident and a single claim.