Friday, August 29, 2014

The Volunteer


It's fine to have people working in development sector with degrees from the elite colleges. But even if they are good at statistics and analysis, they cannot be decision-makers without a grassroots experience. Problem with today’s education is that it doesn't have any relationship to the real world.Images get reinforced over time with newspaper, media and cinema. Innocent Villagers, Shrewd Businessmen, Corrupt bureaucracy and Selfish Political leaders become stereotype. Such perception breaks with each intersection and performance in the field.

Living in the village with no other business but to follow native life in the present day of social media buzz and 24*7 connectivity seems bizarre. But one sees the traditions, ceremonies and transactions over and over again. What it leaves one with temporary chaos in the beginning. In addition to fostering mutual understanding, perpetually curiosity and occasionally confused volunteer start to see the way of living of a community. A long stint of month or more can create less-domineering, nonjudgmental volunteers who are not obsessed with the pursuit of the emotional highs (and photo ops) of the altruism they put effort for. It makes volunteer adapt to the culture, to be flexible, relevant and realistic. Even the long times doesn't alter you so much as the people you meet along the way shape you.

True development cannot be heralded without market, intellectual, cultural and scholarly liberalization. The very best mainstream economists/scientists were the radical youths who questioned authority when they were students. An exposure visit can give limited understanding but volunteerism/internship grooms a different aspect of personality. Our rural side has survived without services of elite rich throughout ages. They will survive but a youth needs mixed dose of idealism, activism and academic expertise. The volunteer takes more than what it gives. Giving back can be very good for career. Most of the volunteer/interns end up as consultants in international aid and lending agencies. The opportunity cost seems high in short run but benefits individual and people around.

Some people volunteer because they want mentoring while other for the sake of different experience. Even volunteer experiences work for different people from frustrating to fascinating, depending on their goals and organization policy. Too often, volunteers are thought of as a “nice to have” rather than a “necessary” resource, and facilitating agency / NGO's apply little or no rigor to evaluate their impact. They are not paid due to budget constraint and then termed as priceless instead of unpaid . Communities can mold the young as future change agents and social entrepreneurs.

There are bigger question involved in the business of volunteerism. Is voluntarism ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the local communities they visit ? Does an intervention of a volunteer make the cure worse than disease ? Are volunteers/interns unpaid contract labors of NGOs?  An article in Onion ( 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture) mocks volunteers with a hard hitting sense of humor. There is also a  good article showing the narcissistic side of global volunteerism. The articles are full of sarcasm but looking on the positive side, it reminded me of a line by Professor Peter Hayes: "Live somewhere else, on the terms of the people who live there, for six months. It will change your life."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cash Transfer Scheme

Government is so agile to implement e-governance solutions for improving its tax collection system, but prefers neolithic methods for cash disbursal decisive and purposeful governance.  The government’s budget is a mess. Subsidies have been overdone and not properly targeted. In the current year, total subsidies will be over 2.8 trillion rupees. Instead of making the direct cash transfer, all of the welfare scheme has been turned into a giant procurement exercise. That is why, Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan made a strong pitch for direct cash transfers to the poor, saying this would help reduce corruption by breaking the "cycle of dependence".

A cash transfer is a development project stripped of any active management costs, and its performance tracks the success or failure of the individual recipient. Cash Transfers are examples of certain transfer payments include welfare (financial aid), social security, and government making subsidies for certain businesses (firms)  into the bank accounts of beneficiaries, cutting out intermediaries. Cash Transfers: Sorting Through the Hype puts a balanced light on the whole exercise.

There are pros and cons attached with Cash transfers. The popular myth that “the poor people don't know what is good for them”. That, in my opinion, is derogatory. We should stop worrying that the poor are going to spend (or “waste”) their transfer income on alcohol and tobacco. They aren’t. They might buy some chocolate, though. A proper study can has been done : Do the Poor Waste Transfers on Booze and Cigarettes? No. The cash transfer is taking away discretion of government officials on taxpayers money spent in the name of welfare. Financial cost of social justice and and their concerns that the poor can't be taken without economic freedom. See more at Whose money is it anyway? to understand another side of the debate on welfare state and individual freedom.

There are two major school of thoughts under Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) - CCT and UCT.  Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCTs) consist of cash grants with means testing to ensure funds go to the intended recipients, but without extra requirements on recipient behavior. The downside of unconditional cash transfer (UCT) is in distributing money without increasing the productivity and skills of labour force in rural india. But we can see the partial benefit of Economic Freedom associated with the “distributor of welfare funds”  through cash transfer. The economic freedom to utilize funds in an unique and distinct way by each beneficiary is an important aspect of building better markets.

CCT always have strings attached of a certain criteria to be fulfilled.  The advocates of CCT pitch for skill transfer with money as sustainable economic growth cannot be created by simply distributing money or as some economists like to put it by “dropping money from a helicopter”. Both CCTs and UCTs require the beneficiaries to be linked to bank and can access financial services. But there are reports that the government’s much-hyped Direct Benefit Transfer programme has hit a roadblock. In the current situation, the current electronic system and incentives are structured, the agent has not been incentivized to offer financial services.

Only government can offer reach to the poor that is effective nature of state. while market will always go for person with better information and resources for efficiency. The social transfers together with the wages and pensions form the Government- to -person (G2P) payments. Could this ecosystem of government-to-person (G2P) payments enable or lead to financial inclusion? Even working one year  in the field of development, the blatant  truth is, I don't have solid clue of what the poor need. Sometimes its cash, sometimes skills. As per me,  DCT can serve both purpose as a seed capital in a business for enterprising individual or as a social safety net of whole family

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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