Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acts of Kindness and a competition.

“When you come upon a path that brings benefit and happiness to all, follow this course as the moon journeys through the stars.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama

Benefit and happiness to all! Hindu philosophy, I have been told, hinges on the concept of ‘Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu’ (May the whole world be happy). It even goes on to include living beings, other than humans. While I would like to believe that we are all working towards a goal of happiness for all that you see and hear in the news is rather discouraging.

I think partly because the media loves sensationalizing things…. and by its very definition ‘man bites dog’ is what will get more eyeballs (and activists) than ‘dog bites man’, and partly because we ourselves feel that nothing small counts. If it has to qualify as important it has to be on a big scale. Teaching one child who needs help is not important. For it to matter we feel, we have to open a school and who can do that?!

Recently, writing for a publication I had a free hand to write ‘positive stories’. Used as I was to the daily news feed, I was not sure if I would get any real stories to tell. What began as a rather skeptical exercise gained momentum very fast and soon I was seeing all the good people were doing. These were ordinary everyday people. Often they would be on a modest salary and would be doing something extraordinary that began small but made a huge difference to the world today. A railway employee who has set up an online blood donation portal and phone message and call service, that puts donors and receivers in touch instantly, in any part of India. A young woman with a three year old who is teaching blind people to braille visiting cards and encouraging entrepreneurship. She also has created a large library of online audio books in many Indian languages that can be accessed for free by anyone who wants to. There are many more such unsung heroes and maybe someday they will all find a place in a book.

Of course it is great if we can set up a school,and some of these people now run schools and hospitals on shoe strings, but teaching even one child does count. And most of the people I spoke with said that they started small. You have to start somewhere! They also learnt along the way what they should or should not do. The most important common thread that emerged was that they were practicing acts of kindness. They were not waiting for any agency to come and help or the government to step in. They extended a hand and someone grasped it.

My skepticism melted away at their kindness. I now believe that we must do what we feel like to help others. It may be just a random act of kindness, helping a person across a busy street or baby-sitting a neighbors child so they can have a bit of time off. It may sound insignificant but as Aesop, 550 BC, had said “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”

Post script - Inspired by all the people I write about, I have taken up a project which is keeping me engaged these days. We have made it the finals of an international competition on social good.  I am learning what fun it is when you can do something that combines social good with your everyday existence. You can read about it here. Or my previous post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World bank blog asks....,

A Question Going Global: What Will It Take to End Poverty?

As is the case with such questions, there are as many opinions as there are readers. Almost everyone agrees on the basics and I quote from the post ‘They have talked about education, food security, health, jobs, child care and many other issues. Here’s what a couple of people have had to say: “Countries need to put in place the critical infrastructure in the rural areas like roads, market stores etc and then work direct with the rural poor” and “make secondary education free for all children & increase access 2 domestic water.”

The blog post by Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank group, invites everyone to be a part of this effort and you can participate with tweets, comments and ideas. I love the idea of having everyone answering a question that should concern all of us. In fact we should all care about such questions and where the answers lead us. It may even lead you on a path of self-discovery. Inconvenient truths like poverty, female foeticide, a fast detetiorating forest cover, pollution etc cannot be swept under the carept and forgotten.

Like many others I too believe that a lot can be done in fields of education, women’s health and the like. We all try to do our bit in whatever way we can, however we can fit that into our busy everyday lives. But once in a way we get an opportunity to do something that can make a concrete difference to people who could do with some help.

So in answer to the question ‘What will it take to end poverty?’ I believe that while there is a general overall need for education, health, food for all and along with that each of us should do whatever we can, big or small. Each one can teach one to fish so he can feed at least himself. Here is my chance to do something a bit bigger than what I have been doing so far.

With 3D printing all set to take the manufacturing industry by storm, it seems fitting that there should be other aspects of our life that it should touch. 3D printing lets you print your designs in any material you want and translates your drawings into a touch and feel reality. The raw material is often plastic.

With a rapidly emerging consumer economy, plastics are pervasive in urban India. In fact, urban areas are characterized by plastic bottles and bags which litter the sidewalks. It is estimated that 12.5 million tons of plastic are consumed per annum by India. Unfortunately, environmental preservation is not high on the list of priorities and littering is rampant. And while over forty percent of the total plastics waste generated is recycled, almost all the segregation occurs at the dump site.
In the city of Pune, India where this project hopes to take flight, there is a system of waste pickers cooperative that collects garbage at source and sells it to scrap dealers.  The team at ‘Just 3D printing’ has conceptualized a three pronged collaborative approach that takes into account all this.
Just 3D printing will source recycled plastics procured from local waste pickers. This will be a three-step process that will in fact provide opportunities.

Step one, which has been called ‘Flakerbot’ will provide opportunities at the waste picker level. It involves transforming the waste plastic products into ‘flakes/ grounds’ using low tech mechanical means. It requires almost no investment or skills but will raise the price of the product and will fetch the waste pickers more money. It is also easy to store and transport, thus cutting costs.

Step two, or the ‘Refilbot’ will convert these grounds/ flakes into filament that can be used for 3D printing. This will also need very little investment and easy to learn skills and will provide opportunities raising the level of the unskilled to semi-skilled to add even more value to their product thus raising their economic and social standards. The filament thus produced can either be sold to ‘Just3Dprinting’ or to other users of filaments.
Step three, involves 3D printing machines, which traditionally have been too expensive to be available to smaller businessmen. The 3D printing machines that are used by this group are low cost DIY printers that can be replicated in developing countries like India. They will be placed in kiosks that will print 3D objects for a small fee.

These kiosks will be geared towards young entrepreneurs and students and will be fairly priced and subsidized so as to allow rapid and low cost prototyping. The hope is that the access to these resources will encourage small business owners to invest in indigenous product design and development while simultaneously serving as an important education tool to the country’s youth. The kiosks will be staffed with local employees, trained to use computer our ‘3DPrinterBot’ equipment

The Flakerbot and the Refilbot can be placed even in homes of those who wish to use them, those creating many micro-entrepreneurs. This will ensure that the plastic is recycled as well as more employment opportunities are created, thus resulting is a socio-economic- environmental collaboration that augurs well for all concerned
Just3Dprinting also plans on taking the ‘Cradle to Grave’ approach that will recycle its own products, ensuring a responsible approach to business. Using materials sourced locally will be also good for the environment. While the business plan is very simple, it will solve several problems facing the developing world today.

Now we have an opportunity to transform this concept into reality and a step in this is the worldwide competition being held in London in October this yearYou can read about it here. We do need the support and help of many people in this as there is also public voting at the contest. Also I believe that there are many people behind every success story.

We may not be able to end the poverty of the world, or have a complete solution to the problem, but this and projects like this may be a start, along with education, health care and infrastructure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy endings all.

Happy endings are wonderful,
but exactly what are they?
Is all very well that does end well,
just because every fairy tale ends the expected way.

It may sound strange, but could be true,
not everyone wants the very same end,
While some may want to wake with a kiss,
maybe sleeping beauty would have preferred the snug bed.

Who knows what the frog prince left behind,
when he turned into a man?
May be a family he had left somewhere,
saying he'd come back as soon as he can.

And what of the dwarfs in Snow-whites case,
who loved her and took the greatest care?
Maybe one of them was just biding time,
to lay his very heart and soul bare.

There is more to each story than what we see,
so the end may not be so perfect,
its just that in so many ways,
the standard things we've come to expect.

We feel that princes best suit pretty girls,
than the not so handsome dwarf,
and that frogs who turn into handsome men,
have no reason into a frog again to morph.

Maybe we should look beyond,
the standard happy ending,
and know to take Snow-white away from the dwarf,
may be for him was heart rending.

So may be not all is always well,
that looks like it ends well.
If each could try out different ends,
there would be a unique story to tell!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A thought for free

I wonder what happens to thoughts,
once they are out of your mind and  free?
Do they just hover around,
or  float away ever so gracefully?

Do they  fall to the ground with a thud,
ungainly and so heavy?
Or do they flit about like butterflies,
as light as light can be.

Might they be even taking flight,
like homing birds unerring,
reaching that special someone,
to whom your mind does often spring.

And what if the thought  you have,
is just a bit unkind,
does it take the other by surprise,
sneaking up from behind?

Do the others catch our thoughts,
do they spread from one to the other?
the good ones making all feel better,
while the bad causing them to smother.

And the thoughts, do they see another,
a thought from some one else?
Do they collide in mid air then
as their number swells?

Do similar thoughts just gang up,
and stay all together?
or is it opposites that attract,
and meld with one another?

These and many other questions
often go through my mind.
But since these are also thoughts like others
would in them I an answer find?

So if this word or thought reaches you,
do pay heed to my plea,
Do tell me what happens to thoughts,
once you set them free!!!

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