The Business of Fighting Corruption and Other Ideas from the Aspen Conclave

6th Jan 2010
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A few weeks back the Aspen Institute India invited essays based on a simple prompt, Do you have ideas that could address some of India’s problems? Some of these ideas were presented a few weeks back at Aspen Institute Conference in Delhi.

Fighting Corruption

One of the highlights of the event was Mr. Shashi Mather, founder of Ambulance 1298, introducing a novel way to fight corruption. Common people rarely have the time or resources to fight corrupt officials and find it easier to give in to their demands. Mather is proposing a company that you can outsource the task of fighting corruption to. Back in November, Mr. Mather also presented this idea at the TED conference – the 13 minute video provides a great insight into the mind of a social entrepreneur with a proven track record. He has already started the process of registering Stop Bribes and Prevent Corruption Co. Ltd – and we can bet no registrar will dare to ask him for a bribe.

One of the other sessions focussed on the challenges of water management in India. Mr. Manoj Kumar, the CEO of Naandi Foundation, pointed out the irony of the current situation where we are subsidizing water to the urban areas and forcing the rural poor to buy from the water mafias. A desperate need exists for sustainable ideas that give the control of water to local bodies. An example of organizations leading efforts in this area is GRAVIS, which has numerous active projects in Rajasthan dealing with water security.

Climate Change

Prof. Amartya Sen led off the discussion on climate change and India’s role in the global talks. He stressed the importance of India’s participation in global discussions and the need for a deal that is just and fair to developing countries,

He emphasized that India is a minor emitter and must stress this fact in the global community. However, it may contribute to future emissions, and therefore it should play aleadership role in global discussions on climate change.
On climate change talks, he said that India’s thinking as a small polluter must be better clarified to the world. Believing that USA would not accept a protocol which did not includemandatory obligations from India and China, he stressed that India needs to push for a fairer and juster deal, but cannot rule out commitments based on justice. As a global voice for smaller developing countries, India should also take into account their concerns regarding development and the impact its own development will have on emissions in thefuture. “By force of idea, we have the opportunity to present to the world what should bedone, rather than what should not be done,” he stated.

Mr. Jamshyd Godrej, Chairman of the Aspen Institute India, highlighted that despite being among the lowest per capita emitters, India’s emissions intensity is among the highest in the world. Other panelists pointed out the need and business potential of R&D and new ideas focusing on solar energy. With a sustained push in that direction, solar energy could cover 20-25% of India’s requirement in the next 3 years.The Climate Change panel also recognized the green building movement in India and increased focus on reducing energy costs amongst corporates. The panel concluded that while India must work on a global agreement, there is much that India can do internally without waiting for a global climate change deal. India should create a post-industrial technology revolution. Companies should innovate in developing new products as well as new business models that would mould business objectives with climate change compulsions.

Women Empowerment

A large part of the conference also focussed on empowerment of women in India. The panel agreed that while there are encouraging signs for women, the representation of women in socio-economic system is still meager – as an example only 15% of entrepreneurs are women. Also, while women are presented with legal right, men still hold the dominant position within the family and this is not helped by the current property and transfer laws.

Enough has been done interms of laws and policies on paper. However, in terms of “nyaya” or on the ground justice, Indian society is far behind in giving women an equal footing.Some ideas to empower women include rethinking property and transfer laws; making the woman of the household as the lead figure in ration cards; building a more conducive and comfortable work environment; enhancing the reach of literacy and re-examining the content of our education; rethinking reservation structure; as a society, demanding a more constructive role from the media and being a role model in promoting fairness.

Finally, technology was also the focus of the panel on “26/11 – Is India Safer?” Mr Ajai Chowdhry, founder of HCL, emphasized the need to back up our intelligence organizations with India’s technical expertise. But as Mr. Shashi Tharoor commented on the conference – Aspen India’s Ideas Conclave a success. But in India, ideas are not in short supply; implementation is the real challenge. The business opportunities for an entrepreneur who can tackle any of these problems is tremendous.

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