Saturday, September 27, 2008

India's Future: Globalsensation?

Walking out of the international terminal in Delhi, India this past week, it was clear that we were out of our league, literally at the mercy of the second largest country in world. From all directions we were attacked by a barrage of “Taxi Sir”, “Tour guide sir”, “Cheap! Cheap!” With the exception of the kind family we stayed with in pleasant suburb of Delhi (Whom we had contacted through an acquaintance in Manila), Delhi and it seems many large cities in India can primarily be described as “extremely and persistently loud.” It was only after our first two days we spent touring the fascinating temples, forts mosques and finally the great Taj Mahal that we traveled to the West Coast of India and explored “smaller-town India” in the area around Pune. Pune, a mere metropolis of 6 million and nearly the same population of the state of Oregon is a favorite destination for over 127 large multinational firms from Europe and North America. Despite being a large auto manufacturing, call center, tech haven, Pune’s “noise level” was significantly muted compare to the perpetual traffic jam of Delhi and therefore much less stressful for making friends!

During our stay in Pune we met with the non-profit Ashoka for the first time. In short, Ashoka is a well-known supporter of social entrepreneurs around the world. Basically Ashoka inducts “Ashoka fellows” through a rigorous application process, that seeks to identify local leaders in healthcare, education, business law etc. These Fellows are selected based on their perceived ability to change national and continental policy in their respective fields within three fields. To help them along the way, Ashoka provides a three year living stipend to entrepreneurs and their families as well as an extensive network of fellow entrepreneurs, skill training and professional consultant. The evening we spent in Pune, we attended the national induction ceremony for all new Indian fellows, which allowed us the opportunity to learn about 20+ new ideas that hope fundamentally change public policy in India. For example, one fellow we visited, Asim Sarode, a “Ghandi-esk” human rights lawyer hopes to alter the reality of the Indian courts (and the US?): poor people are most always guilty. He provides completely free legal services to the incarcerated, sex workers and the homeless. Check out his organization Human Rights and Law Defenders.

After our meeting with Asim we headed to a meeting at the Pune Chamber of Commerce where city officials and a friend who is a local business leader were trying to convince the largest Belgian company in the world to open a few manufacturing facilities in the area. Walking into Pune’s Chamber of Commerce, constructed of spotless glass and white marble floors in contrast to the dusty streets and colorful stuccos of Pune we were lead to the “mission control” room of big business. On a solid wood conference table only fresh tea and biscuits sat between several optimistic Indian officials and two rather stiff and intimidating Europeans (My only contribution to the meeting was eating the entire cookie tray). After a polite exchange of introductions and a brief power point dictation about Pune’s desirable traits as an outsourcing Mecca, the Belgian execs sat and contemplated in uncomfortable silence. Just as chewing my mouth-full of cookies started to get awkwardly loud, the Belgians launched into an unexpected, but calculated attack on Pune’s record of development. One Belgian questioned: “Why is it that you have no expressways”
“But we do, Sir, just look at the new road to Mumbai” A local business leader retorted.
“Roads with cows and cross-streets are not expressways, why did you build a brand new highway without off ramps? The NEW road is practically useless” the Belgian countered.
“It is coming in the next 5 year plan, Sir.”
“The five year plan has lasted the past 30 years. What about schools for the workers, water supply for local villages and consistent power for businesses and homes? ”
Though after a brief pause the Indian representative proceeded to give a rehearsed appeal to optimism, it was clear that there was a fundamental, rhetorical question hidden in the Belgian’s interrogation: why are some countries developing and others developed? Why are some populations, ethnicities, religions, genders, geographic regions characteristically poor and other less so? Why can some developing countries time infrastructure to match growth and others not? At our meeting in Pune last week Austin and I had a rare and personal front row seat to big decisions that lead to globalization. Fortunately a multi-billion dollar, multinational Belgian company was asking questions that implied interest in INDIA’s social progress. In contrast, we later heard that U.S. firms seeking to invest in the Pune region have almost solely been concerned with property and profit incentives. I feel bad for eating all the cookies.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Micro-Financing really does work!

Hello Everyone,

Greetings from Mumbai India! Sam and I have many stories we would like to share with you, but very briefly I wanted to tell you all about our first introduction to micro-financing in Cebu Philippines.

The RAFI group took us to their micro-financing operations outside of Cebu, where they currently lend to about 10,000 Filipino women.

We went to their weekly meeting where the women deposit their repayment of the loan, their savings, and some of them received payments from the Micro-Bank. . It was incredible to actually watch these women receive their loan, especially after hearing some of their stories. Check out the video below of a women who runs an small bbq/ convenience store and is pregnant with her 8th baby. Talk about time management!

Most of these women operate at least 2 businesses and just about everyone in the room had a convenience store. The types of businesses ranged from hog raising and farming to a nail center and bakery.

Over the years of working with this bank and meeting weekly in this room the women had grown extremely close. It felt like a sorority meeting with all of the giggles, gossip, and inside jokes we got lost in. These women worked together as a team; covering payments if one of the women was not able to pay, offering advice, and babysitting each others children.

Then Sam and I asked the big question: Does micro-financing really work? This sparked a passionate response from the group. I didn’t film the entire response but check out the video below.

This women, Mary Faye, who supplies fish to local restaurants, explained to us how another women in the room was able to send her children to college with profits from her business. She was also able to purchase a vehicle to deliver her eggs not only to her village but all of the villages around her.

These women confirmed to us that micro-financing really does work! The question now is how can you take micro-financing to the next level?

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Father to hundreds of daughters

Last Monday we stepped onto a 7:30am flight to Cebu, one of the 7,100 islands that make up the country of the Philippines. Initially weary of a flight piloted by Captain “Snappy Gusto” we arrived safely in Cebu and into the what would become truly incredible week of both excitement and frustration. For our first several days we spent time touring the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation a remarkable organization in Cebu that, through their portfolio of social services to the community just seems to do everything right (More to come about this later). Then, after a few days indulging in the white sand beaches of the Philippines, we headed back to Cebu for a last minute visit to some of Austin’s acquaintances from El Paso. Hilary and David are wonderful young couple that has spent the past five years building their maternity clinic Glory Reborn to serve the slums of Cebu, and Hilary took some time to introduce us to a friend of their’s Father Heinz, a German priest from the Society of the Devine Word who has spent the past several decades of his life severing the young women of Cebu who have fallen victim to the sex trafficking industry. When Hilary and David offered to accompany us on one of Father Heinz’s nightly walks into the red light district to provide free health care to sex workers, Austin and I both quickly agreed that this opportunity could not be missed…
Standing at the gateway to Cebu’s red light district, I waited nervously as Father Heinz explained himself in Cebuano yet again to the pimp of all pimps, who stood watch at the entrance to a narrow, muddy street enclosed by tall shacks and dim yellow street lights. Father Heinz, a tall man in his late fifties, sported Birkenstocks with socks a carried a large duffle bag which he had meticulously packed with three shallow plastic boxes, each with a dozen small compartments filled with pills of every shape, size and color. Hilary stood guard at my side, armed with her own duffle bag stockpile of fruity condoms. “He’s the head pimp, he decides if we get in tonight.” Father Heinz tells me in German as we finally get an official nod. “Let’s go.” Taking our first steps past the male guards at the front of the street we are quickly swarmed by a crowd of friends. “Fahderr” one older woman calls, and Father Heinz reaches out to place one hand on her shoulder as his other hand grabs her child’s upper arm. No fever it seems but the child has a cough. Father reaches into his pack, pulling out a colorful box of cough syrup and a candy bar for the mother. It seems they have not eaten for several days he explains, she is too old to be sold to men. Not more than a minute into his conversation with the mother several more “Fahderrs” can be heard and we move towards the calls, into a circle of young women, from their looks no older than 18. Father Heinz reaches out a grabs a vanilla ice cream cone from one of the girls, takes a huge bite and hands it back to her grinning. She pouts, but quickly returns his smile along with a long hug. This young woman, he explains, is taking medication for an STD. He lovingly draws the number “2” on her forehead with his finger reminding her she must take her pills twice a day. Explaining to the young girls he has work to do, they all lunge forward, hugging him in turn and wishing him a speedy return. Further down the street we gradually enter a tunnel of young prostitutes lining the streets on display in white plastic lawn chairs. Hilary asks those who are allowed by their owners (usually older women called “mama sans“) to speak to us if they would like a box of condoms and if so which fruit flavor. Hilary explains that giving them a choice of which flavor they would like is one of the only decisions they can make for themselves in their lives. Instinctually I begin to make conversation but am quickly reminded by Hilary that my questions regarding age, family and where they are from are not allowed in the red light district. Most girls are forced to lie about their age anyway, presuming that many are much younger than 18 years old. Hearing a young cry for “Fahderr”, Father Heinz returns from his rounds of chatter and diagnosis to a young girl sitting right next to me in a weathered lawn chair. Her name is Genevieve, she is beautiful, 16 years old and I am quickly informed that her 1 year old daughter, Maria, is playing in the street in front of us. Father Heinz tells me in German about her past pregnancy, as Genvieve’s owner is standing right inside the brothel behind us and Genevieve is not allows to talk about or acknowledge her daughter while she is at work. Instead an older, “unusable” young woman must baby sit young Maria in the street while her mother works.
Walking back on the dirty streets ringing of techno music and nasty thug hip-hop Father Heinz begins to narrate the Filipino sex industry. The young girls I have met, no older than my sister, are promised opportunity in the rural provinces and then sold to middle men who transport them via boat into larger cities such as Cebu. Finally pimps and brothel owners mama-sans purchase the girls for wholesale prices and “rent” them to clients. (The word in Cebuano for renting a house or renting a woman is the same Father Heinz explains). When girls cannot buy food or fall ill they must barrow from their owners and they never can pay back. It is a never-ending cycle of debt and repayment. A form of slavery. On the last stretch of red light street, I am approached by a middle-aged client who is on vacation from a nearby country to “tour Cebu” with his friends. He is trying to pick out five girls to bring back to his friends‘ hotel, but he’s having a hard time deciding. I’d lasted two weeks in the Philippines without getting sick, and I suddenly began to feel incredibly sick to my stomach…

The picture above is map of all the night establishments in Cebu, as investigated by Father Heinz.


Friday, September 5, 2008


Stepping off the plane into the sweaty heat of Manila many doors were suddenly opened to both Austin and me. I mean this in the most literal sense. In public as well as private places in Manila we can hardly open a door, throw away a banana peal, or pour a drink without several astonished Filipino looks wondering why on earth we find it so difficult to accept their polite assistance in everyday tasks. I’ve mentioned this phenomenon of magical opening doors for two reasons: First, and most important of all, I am most grateful for the generosity of our Filipino friends who are sharing their home and family with us. We’ve had two jam-packed days of loud family dinners, birthday parties and visits from relatives as evidenced by the awkward family pictures our host mom insists on including her two, 6 ft and pale white sons in. Second, outside the wonderful hospitality Austin and I have been coping with an uncomfortable dilemma in our attempts to explore an “authentic” neighborhood in metro Manila: it’s hard to find a way to safely and respectfully enter the slum areas of Manila to meet with some of the people affected by the organizations we have visited. For example, after we had a meeting with Gawad Kalinga Austin and I were troubled by the consequences of just walking into one of their project areas. Can we ignore our host family who does not feel comfortable letting us into those unsafe areas? Should we change into shoes and pants? How do we avoid being embarrassed if we are dropped off in a nice car in front of peoples homes just like a tourist attraction? After only several days in the Philippines it has become increasingly clear that downgrading our car, changing our clothes and assuring our host family of our safety will not be enough for us to simply walk into regular neighborhoods in Manila. We showed up on an international flight at the airport to visit the Philippines for vacation, that was indication enough to expect open doors at the malls and closed doors in the slums. Luckily we’ve meet some friends who have offered to show us their great work in communities all over metro Manila very soon!