Let Us Help The Japanese

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant seems to be at the brink of a catastrophe with the increasing probability of meltdown of the fuel in reactors and exposure of spent fuel rods in the rooftop pools. The estimated radiation risk is increasing and would have severe impact on health and safety of the Japanese people. The Japanese are still reeling under the loss caused by the earthquake and tsunami; this third hit may break their resilient spirit. They are in dire need of help from the world. I think world citizens we need to step up our efforts to give them our support and assistance.

It is heartbreaking to see children being checked for radiation. The little ones don’t even know what it is all about. I send a little prayer to God to keep them safe every time I see a photograph. I don’t know whether God is listening but it is worth a try. The Japanese survival strength and capability to recover is well known. The previous generation of Japanese suffered radiation impact because of World War II attacks and it seems that the present generation is deemed towards the same fate. Let us pray for the health and safety of the Japanese people.

The Japanese have a culture of deep respect and duty. It is society over the individual. The strength of their culture and character is depicted in this crisis. Whereas when other disasters (e.g. Haiti) have occurred, we hear stories of violence, theft, looting etc. In Japan, their discipline is showing, no person is taking advantage of another’s misfortune or vulnerability. They are going without essentials like food and water, and stoically facing adversity. Let us donate whatever we can to the charitable organizations to support them. Here is a link if you wish to donate funds

Japanese child getting radiation exposure check

The sacrifice of the emergency staff at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is heroic. I think all military and security staff somewhere know that sometime in their career they will have to put their life at stake for the wellbeing and safety of the society. To think theoretically and imagining it is different. To actually face the time when one knows that fulfilling the call of duty may result in lifetime health problems or death is victory of human spirit. Let us world over ensure that the emergency workers and all the families are financially supported and provided the best possible health care. The world should honor and respect their sacrifice and courage.

I heard the news today that countries are calling back their citizens and companies are providing safe passage to their expat employees. My question is what about the Japanese staff, who is looking after them? Globally the corporate sector and public has benefited from Japanese technology and collaborations. There will be hardly a household that does not have Japanese gadgets. Their products made our life easier. Is it not the social responsibility of the world to ensure that in their hour of need the Japanese are protected? Can the organizations not provide the Japanese a safe passage or holiday for a month in their home countries, till things stabilize in Japan. Is it not possible for Indian employees (and other countries employees) to host Japanese colleagues’ families for a few weeks? It may impact the bottom line a bit, but let us be more caring for the Japanese who are suffering.

The other aspect of Japanese collaborations and partnerships is that companies who have joint ventures or export agreements may not get the products on time. In the next month, the stock deliveries maybe haphazard or negligible. The manufacturing companies may suffer losses if they do not have secondary suppliers. Let us support the Japanese organizations by not raising the penalty clauses attached in the contractual agreements for non-delivery. With the financial losses the Japanese are facing let us not levy more charges on them. They really are not in a shape to bear them.

Lastly, with the colossal damage of infrastructure due to the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government and organizations will be looking for funds. Generally, Japan has been lending funds to other countries. Let us ask our governments to take the initiative to return those funds and give additional funds at low cost to Japan. The global markets need to ensure that Japanese financial markets and exports are sustained to give them a chance to re-construct.

I have always been impressed by Japanese “can do” attitude. I think even after so much damage, they will be able to stand up and rebuild their nation quickly. All they need from a world is a bit of support and leeway. We need to show some of the moral courage and character they have shown to the world. Let us pray that the emergency workers are successful in minimizing the damage to the reactors and give the Japanese people all our love and support.

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Microfinance Institutions- Entitled to Torture

The SKS Microfinance media coverage has heightened the awareness of government, regulators and public on the improper functioning of microfinance companies. Finally they are waking up to the issues of corporate governance and ethics adopted by microfinance institutions.

Today, in Economic Times the headline is “AP plans law to curb microfinance firms” highlights the issue. Finally the chief minister of Andra Pradesh state has said “The state government will soon bring an ordinance to control microfinance institutions” Additional excerpt from the newspaper article – “A spate of suicides in recent weeks and months has also been blamed on them. Microfinance employees and agents have also been accused of kidnapping women and children, and torturing them to recover loans. The DGP is also thinking of setting up a special cell for MFI harassment under the central investigation department.”

It is quite outrageous that government is still thinking about making laws and starting investigation cells. From the data available with National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 199,132 farmers committed suicide between 1997-2008.  In 2008 itself 16,196 farmers committed suicide. The Big 5 States (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) account for two-thirds of all farmer suicides during 2003-08.Farmer suicide account for 1 of every 10 suicides in the country.

Farmers are committing suicide due to their inability to payback the EMI’s on their loans. Rural Indian population primary source of income is from agriculture. Indian population and government are showing significant apathy to their plight. Under the circumstances, microfinance companies consider themselves licensed to kill to recover their loans.

The present foreclosure issue in USA has shown that public outrage can force government including the president to think twice before approving laws favoring financial institutions. Indians are happy to discuss the mortgage and foreclosure issue of USA in social circles and blogs. However, very few are discussing regarding the issue at home about Indian farmers. Is it because it does not add to the social image?

Aamir Khan productions recently produced the movie “Pepli Live”, a satire on the farmer suicide issue. It mocked the methods with which media and government use the issue for their own self-interest. The movie is India’s nomination for the Oscars. I am sure if the movie receives an award the Indian population will be mighty pleased and happy.

But will it make urban Indians stand up and voice their concerns on the real issue of farmers suicide. Or will they as usual have a short-term memory regarding rural poor? I apologize for being nasty, but when will we stop inhuman treatment? Are poor people less entitled to live?

Let Us Focus On Environment Risks

Environment risks are really not being given the priority they should get. The emphasis is on covering the financial risks of the country, corporate, society and individual. I do not really understand the reason for it. Is it that, as a society we are simply financially focused or it is because a natural disaster and subsequent loss is unpredictable? In recent times there is ample coverage of environment and climate change risks; however the attitude is still lax. Although, as seen in the recent case of Pakistan floods, the losses caused by a natural disaster are far higher.

The floods in Pakistan are considered the worst humanitarian crises in recent history. The human death toll is estimated at 3000. WHO is concerned and states that health of the citizens is at risk with widespread diarrhea, malaria and cholera. 200,000 cattle have died and another ten million are at risk. According to estimates nearly 20% (1.38 million hectares) of farmland of the country has been washed away, and 2 million houses, and 7000 schools are damaged. The total financial loss is estimated to be $43 billion.

In the last few years we have had a number of natural disasters- earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunami, tornados, and floods, in different parts of the world. The reason of the increased number of natural disasters is stated to be climate change. The environment risks are intellectually understood by all along with the magnitude of loss to life and property. But as Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” I think we as a society are not doing much because we do not feel the pain of one million till our life gets washed away suddenly.

I came across the video in which 13 year old Severn Suzuku, from Environment Children’s Organization of Canada, had addressed the UN Earth Summit in 1992. In this she had asked the Boomers and Gen X- “when you were children did you have to worry about environment?” I would say- “No”, as a child I never thought that the natural environment- clean air, rivers and lakes, forests and wildlife, etc. will not be available for the next generation to see and enjoy. Though the speech was made in 1992, it is still applicable in 2010, as the situation has deteriorated. According to me, the Boomers and Gen X have not been responsible environmentally.

The only hope is that finally the Indian government is recognizing it. President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, while addressing the AIMA conference said – “Even as India reaches new milestones in its economic growth that ensures sustainable development, we need to address challenges such as climate change, carbon emissions and our depleting natural resources. There should be focus on the use of alternative energy sources that produce fewer emissions. Also, investing in alternative natural sources of energy such as wind, water and sun, is a huge opportunity waiting to be harnessed.”

India is the largest democracy in the world and it has to take center stage to improve the environment. In our individual, social and organization level, let us actively engage in mitigating the environment risks. In this case each drop in the ocean will count.

I have seen in Bangalore, citizens are working voluntarily in various projects to save the environment. Some of them relate to cleaning parks, tree plantation, setting up sewage treatment plants and saving wildlife. This clearly indicates that in individual and social capacity we can do a lot. The participation needs to increase and we need to be more disciplined about it.

Write to me here on how you think we can protect the environment. Please share your ideas and let us build some momentum for it.

Mother Teresa- An Inspiration For Social Responsibility

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Teresa

This week the world celebrated Mother Teresa’s birth centenary. She lived a life of sacrifice, love and kindness. She showed a commitment to uplifting society which very few leaders have been able to demonstrate in the last century. I thought the best way to celebrate it would be by building awareness on a subject closest to her heart.

This post is dedicated to learning lessons from her personal commitment to social responsibility. It highlights that her work needs to be continued on a larger scale as a quarter of Indian population is still below poverty line.  I hope by building awareness we can encourage individuals and corporate to commit to social responsibility and do their bit for the world.

Lessons From Mother Teresa

 
Commitment to a  cause – In 1950, Mother Teresa branched out from the main church and started her own diocesan congregation which subsequently became Missionaries of Charities. In her own words the purpose of Mission of Charities was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”  She built the foundation from scratch and in her lifetime there were 610 missionaries operating in 123 countries being managed by more than 4000 nuns. She dedicated her life and energy to providing loving care to the homeless and sick all around the world.

Crises of faith – In her letters to the mentors of the church she had written about her self-doubt about her mission and the existence of God.  In one of her letters she wrote “Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

These letters show her despair on the task she had set out for herself. In India, in those times 90% of the population was below poverty line (according to World Bank estimates). After seeing so much suffering and pain on a daily basis her efforts to do good for humanity must be appearing minuscule to her. Her courage and commitment carried her through all the doubts. She despite the crises of faith continued her efforts to give relief to the poor.

Persevering through criticism –Mother Teresa was bestowed many awards in India and internationally. She received the Noble Peace Prize and Bharat Ratna (the highest civilian award of India) for her humanitarian work. Gallup polls indicated she was the single most admired person is USA for a number of years in 1990’s and the most admired person of the 20th century.

With the recognition came the criticism. Her critics blamed her for lack of transparency and mismanagement of funds, stating that the funds were used to create more convents instead of eradicating poverty. Other allegations were that she accepted donations from people with questionable reputations, did not provide proper medical help to the patients, ensured nuns compliance through punishment, etc. Some people even questioned her theology and stated that she fantasized poverty. Without doubt as any other human being she may have made some incorrect decisions in her life. She endured all the criticism and persevered by doing humanitarian work. Her actions spoke louder than the words of her critics.

Considering that Mother Teresa dedicated her life to improve the life of the poor in India, the question comes up – How is India doing now?

Some Hard Facts About India

 

 Forbes Magazine compiles an annual worldwide list of US dollar billionaires. As per list published for 2010, India has 49 billionaires. As a country India stands fifth in world ranking.

Further, the 2010 list of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy contains four Indians. India was ranked fourth in the 2009 list of Asian countries increasing importance towards social responsibility. This was released by Forbes magazine in October 2009 and the listing was done according to the social enterprise CSR Asia’s Asian Sustainability Ranking (ASR).

 Income disparities are extremely high in India. As per the 2005 estimate, World Bank has stated that 42% of Indians are below the international poverty line. In numbers this equals to 456 million Indians.   The Planning Commission of India estimates indicate that 27.5% of Indian population was living below the poverty line in 2004-2005. The discrepancy in the World Bank and Planning Commission of India is explained by the purchasing power of dollar and rupee.

The Economic Times (Indian financial newspaper) study showed that total donations by listed companies were US$ 170 million in financial year 2009. This indicated an 8% growth in comparison to previous year.

The figures clearly indicate that Indian business houses and high net-worth individuals are not contributing a significant portion of their wealth for charity and social causes.

A Recent Inspiration

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet amongst the world’s richest men are partnering to create the world’s highest funded charity. Warren Buffet will be donating to The Bill & Melinda gates Foundation funds amounting to approximately $30 billion. They are inviting more American billionaires to publicly commit more than 50% of their wealth to charity before or after their death.

A 2001 study indicated that “the assets of the three richest people in the world was more than the GNP of the 48 least developed countries, and the three richest officers of Gates’ Microsoft had more assets (upwards $140 billion) than the combined GNP of the 43 least developed countries”. In 2009, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated USD 300 million to health causes which was higher than USA’s donation as a country. This clearly indicates that people can do more than the countries since they are not bound by the political protocol. They just need the heart and spirit to share their wealth.

We need organizations and people to join hands to work towards a better world. With the disparity in incomes increasing, we need to learn Mother Teresa’s generosity of spirit. Our effort might be just a drop in the ocean, but it counts to the person who received it. So let us not get discouraged by how small our effort is. The cumulative sum total will be huge. In Mother Teresa’s words- “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

A final salute to the woman who showed the world what a person could do to improve the world if he/ she sets his/her mind to it.