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Guest post from Udai: A day at the passport office!

So much fun to have my nearly nine-year old write on my blog! Udai (and his parents) had quite an experience trying to get him a new passport at the Passport Seva Kendra in Gurgaon. You could say we spent some quality time together. I would say it is a waste of time when things could be much simpler and faster! Here is his very to the point description…

A day at the passport office

I was thinking ‘how much time it would take to make the passport?’ when we reached. When the form checking person checked our form he sent us to the A.P.O [a scary dragon lady]. She checked our form too. She said an affidavit was missing. Then we made the affidavit. We got sent to the A.P.O again. This time there was a problem with an ID. Then papa went to print it in a better way. We got our brown file at last [that got us a token number].

After some time we went to counter A [where the TCS staff verified and scanned documents]. We had it done quickly. We waited to go to B counter and we made a joke- the “bees are not buzzing”! This was because the counters closed for lunch for one hour and we had to wait. Then we cleared the B counter [where the Passport officials verified the documents as well, asking strange questions and with stern expressions on their faces]. Then we did the C counter quickly [a final check and cancellation of the old passport if new one is granted] and it was finished. The whole thing took us from 10:45 in the morning till 4 in the evening.


Done and dusted!

I must tell you though, that it has been a week today and the passport shows no signs of arriving. The status still shows it is under process even though I have a ‘granted’ receipt in my possession! I suppose I have to wait till the police bother to verify. Sigh!

Spare a thought for those who work through weekends to make ours fun! August 31, 2012

Every Friday, I am struck by the number of people sharing their joy of the anticipated weekend with the world. On Twitter and Facebook, elated office goers heave sighs of relief and announce their weekend plans. It’s a virtual war out there, a subtle but keen competition for who will have the best weekend.

How about all those scores of people, though, who work through the weekend. It occurred to me today, that a privileged lot actually get the weekend off. A whole bunch of people work through Saturdays and Sundays providing services, manning retail stores and salons, movie theaters and car parks. When do they spend time with their children, with their families? When do they shop, eat out, relax?

Being married to a pilot, weekends are an interesting concept in our house as well. The kids follow a strictly weekday-weekend routine thanks to school and my life sort of loops around that. Rahul’s availability on a weekend has always been a luxury though. There have been times when he has been out on several weekends in a row and cooling his heels at home on a weekday, when the rest of us have no time for him. When he is in, we’re all happy to plan something special or just chill at home! Because I do not work full time, weekends do not need to be cluttered with chores like shopping. I manage to finish all those at some point during the week so we have clear weekends to enjoy. But, I digress.

I’m amazed that our mindsets are so set on this weekday-weekend pattern despite the fact that many people in a modern economy work on very different schedules. It is one of those things most of us do not really dwell on and that also feeds off the fact that Indian cities are very diverse. People from varying income groups, classes and backgrounds co-exist and therefore, many of these aspects get evened out because expectations differ hugely.

For many of the people I observe who are the worker bees that fuel businesses in retail and entertainment, a day off is a luxury. These are the hard working masses that really hold our cities afloat. With varying levels of education, their assets are things like skills acquired on the job, temperament, the ability to do repetitive tasks, take orders, etc. In conversations with a cross section of people like shop attendants, security guards, waiters, chefs, ticket checkers, those who man cash counters at superstores, etc I am amazed at how satisfied they are with their lot. They are happy to have a job, to earn a decent living and be treated with dignity. A day off here and there is good for them and they seem to make the most of this day. The guy who cuts my hair, for instance, takes Tuesdays off to visit a Hanuman Mandir somewhere near ISBT and his faith is a matter of great satisfaction for him. Of course, their lives may be difficult, they may not always be treated well and jobs may come and go. But the weekend and the crazy premium we attach to it is absent from their lives. They are hugely aware of how important it is for ‘us’ though, their customers who set the cash registers ringing starting Friday night up until Sunday night! I guess we could call it a symbiotic relationship!

Businesses that target the poor need to look beyond sales figures: Learning from the MFI debacle- Feb 26, 2012

An independent probe has suggested that certain cases of suicides among poor borrowers in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 were, in fact, caused by harassment by employees of microfinance institutions that lent money to them (read related news). The microfinance industry in India has seen a rapid rise and a steep downfall as well, when malpractices that surfaced in Andhra Pradesh caused the government to pull the carpet from under its feet by passing regulations that have sort of paralyzed the industry.

Their experience serves as a grim reminder for all industries, enterprises and organizations that serve the poorest of the poor that this is a segment distinct from others in many ways; a tougher market to sell to, the toughest to serve. Many enter this market assuming that any value addition to the poor will be appreciated and therefore, their product/service will be successful and scalable. Many of these hunky dory business plans fail miserably. For many reasons.

The vulnerability of low-income households is in itself a double edged sword. While introducing a new product or technology (like innovations in seeds, farming technology, irrigation, new income generating skill training or equipment) could enhance lives; but its failure or incorrect application might push families further into poverty. The margins are so thin, that any investment that does not give returns hurls the family into a deeper spiral of deprivation, depression and hopelessness. Compounded with other issues like lack of awareness and education, over-indebtedness, social and economic marginalization by other classes in the community, low skill levels, large family sizes and no method of redress in case of injustice, the poor have a raw deal indeed. When they invest in a new product or service, they do so believing it will change their fortunes. When it doesn’t, they are driven to desperate measures, ranging from migration, prostitution, pawning valuables and assets and even suicide!

It is, therefore, doubly imperative for all organizations serving the poor to have a holistic view of how their new offering will impact their lives. Who will consume it (the new product or service), who within the family will be impacted and how, what will they give up in order to consume it, will it impact their quality of life or income generation negatively, will it cause the poor to be further marginalized or disadvantaged, etc, etc? What will be the impact on communities of poor, in the immediate, medium and long term?

For the argument that consumers always have choice and therefore the responsibility to choose widely rests with the consumer simply does not work for the poor. New products and services, therefore, must be introduced along with a comprehensive awareness generation drive among the target communities. Moreover, periodic evaluations are needed to ensure there are no negative impacts. Training of employees and more stringent processes would need to be put in place as well. All of this means higher upfront costs and M&E costs for those operating in this segment.

In the affordable housing segment as well, many loose ends need to be tied before scalable, workable models emerge. There seems to be a wide gap between what the poor perceive as their needs and what the market is offering them. Haphazard, self-built housing is, therefore, on the rise (mHS is hoping to target this self-construction market). Because housing is a particularly complex issue that involves higher costs and is deeply connected to quality of life and emotional stability, organizations in the low income housing space need to be extremely analytical about their interventions and have strong links with the communities where they work to be able to develop appropriate solutions and have a long-term positive impact on the poor.



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