Tag Archives: India

ICTs and Urban Micro-enterprises in Mumbai


P.Vigneswara Ilvarasan and Mark Levy have just made available the final report from their exciting and innovative IDRC funded research on the use of ICTs by urban micro-enterprises in Mumbai, employing fewer than 20 hired workers.  This is one of the most important analyses of ICTs and entrepreneurs that I have recently read.  The methodology is much more rigorous than that of most research in the field of ICT4D, which means that considerable credence can be placed on the reliability of the results. Some 329 male owners or managers of micro-enterprises, and 231 female owners were interviewed between April and June 2009, and a further 102 men and women were surveyed in September and November 2009.

Whilst I might have some quibbles over definitions – surely in general usage, the term micro-enterprise is used to refer to much smaller units than those employing 20 people – this is a really excellent piece of research that deserves widespread citation.  Its key findings are:

  • “Nearly everyone who owned or managed a microenterprise—regardless of sex—had a mobile phone.
  • Many female and male microentrepreneurs who owned or managed microenterprises and who used a mobile for business communication reported that the year-over-year income of their business had risen.
  • Urban microentrepreneurs experience different levels of economic growth depending on how they use their mobiles for business communication.
  • The positive impact of mobile phones on microenterprises might emerge only after two years of use. Microentrepreneurs who owned a mobile for two years or less saw some growth in business income; those who had begun to use their mobile more than two years earlier experienced even greater income growth.
  • Levels of PC ownership and usage at home and work were low.
  • Few microentrepreneurs frequented Internet cafés for business purposes.
  • Only small numbers used their mobiles for the full range of business-enhancing activities.
  • Consideration of a microentrepreneur’s full repertoire of ICT use showed a positive relationship with microenterprise growth, especially when other factors such as gender and motivation were also taken into account.
  • Compared to women-owned microenterprises, microenterprises owned or managed by men had much greater increases in business income, although female owned microenterprises also experience some growth
  • The more positive a female microentrepreneur felt about her status and power because of her business, the more she was motivated to use ICTs in support of her business.
  • The more that a woman entrepreneur used mobile phones, workplace computers, etc., the more her microenterprise grew, especially businesses in the trade sector of the informal economy.”

Thanks Vignesh and Mark for enriching us with this important study.

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Filed under Entrepreneurship, ICT4D

Putting the USA in its place


Am I the only one who gets infuriated when I hear citizens of the USA referring to themselves as Americans, as though the only Americans in the world are US citizens?  America is a continent, indeed for some two continents: South America and North America.  Guatemalans, Canadians, Argentinians, Brazilians, Peruvians are all Americans.  We therefore need to invent a new word to refer to citizens of the USA, and their language.

Perhaps we should all start referring to USans (as in Jamaicans but from the USA),  USish (as in English or Spanish) and USese (as in Portuguese).  The trouble is that these do not roll easily off the tongue!  However, at least it might begin to stop the rot.  Why do so many US citizens really  think that they have a natural born right to rule the world!  If we stop calling them Americans, it might make them think twice about the real place of the USA.

Britain once imposed its rule over much of the world, but most of us born here now realise the perils of imperialism. By encouraging USans to realise that they  come from a relatively small country lacking in culture and history, we might actually be doing them a huge favour, helping them to find their true place in the world – not as an aggressor seeking to impose one particular vision of so-called democracy on the rest of the world, but instead as a peaceful neighbour seeking to do good.  After all, the USA has merely 4.5% of the world’s population, and is dwarfed by China with 19.5% and India with 17.3%.  When China and India take their rightful places as world leaders, what will poor USans do then? At the very least, the next time you hear a US citizen referring to themselves as an American, do ask whether they come from Ecuador, Venezuela or Costa Rica and see what the reaction is!

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Indian biometric census – beware of the dangers!


India’s 15th census has just been launched (Times of India, newsy.com video), with the physical count of people due to take place from 9th-28th February 2011.  Over the next year, some 2.5 million census officials will be visiting households across the country, to begin the process of recording information about them.

What is unusual about this census, though, is that every person over the age of 15 will be photographed and will also have all of their fingers fingerprinted, so as to create a national biometric database, information from which will be used to issue identity cards.  The first 16-digit identity number will be issued starting in November 2010 by the Unique Identification Authority, a new state department.

The first person to be listed was President Pratibha Patil, who according to the BBC, “appealed to fellow Indians to follow her example ‘for the good of the nation’.  ‘Everyone must participate and make it successful’, she said in Delhi”.

The government expects this to bring real benefits.  As the Times commented in July 2009, “It is hoped that the ID scheme will close … bureaucratic black holes while also fighting corruption. It may also be put to more controversial ends, such as the identification of illegal immigrants and tackling terrorism. A computer chip in each card will contain personal data and proof of identity, such as fingerprint or iris scans. Criminal records and credit histories may also be included”.

This is deeply worrying, and as with other such schemes fundamentally changes the relationship between citizens and the state. Interestingly, the initiative is being headed up by Nandan Milekani, the co-founder and former CEO of Infosys, who according to the Times has said that “we have the opportunity to give every Indian citizen, for the first time, a unique identity. We can transform the country”. Does he not realise that every Indian citizen already has a unique, and very special identity – in themselves?

Just because it is possible to do this, does not mean it is right to do so.  Not only are there profound ethical concerns about states creating databases of the biometric data of citizens, but there are also real practical problems. The opportunities for identity theft on a massive scale are very real, and should not be underestimated.  More worryingly, though, is the point that this changes the balance of power between individuals and the state, very much in favour of the latter.  If governments change, and people lose trust in them – as often happens – imagine what such governments might do with biometric data on all their citizens.  Imagine if Hitler or Stalin had had access to the biometric identities of all of the people living in Germany and Russia?  Imagine if the USA gained access to biometric data of everyone in the world?

The real winners in the promulgation of such digital initiatives are the companies who promote, design and manage them!  It is no coincidence that it is the co-founder of Infosys who is now chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India! Mind you, another group of people who will benefit hugely from the introduction of such technology will be those who make fake fingerprints for sticking onto your fingers – or even the plastic surgeons who alter fingerprints, as in the case of the Chinese woman who entered Japan illegally after having had her fingerprints altered…

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Filed under Ethics, ICT4D, Politics

Indian Visa Application Centre, Hayes


PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST WAS FIRST WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY 2010 AND SOME OF THE INFORMATION IS NOW OUT OF DATE - from 23rd November 2010 a new online application system was introduced – details are available at http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/.  However, the information contained below may well still be of interest for those seeking to get to the Hayes office – for which the blog was originally intended!

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After reading some of the horror stories online about applying for a visa to visit India, I embarked on the process, and thought some tips might be helpful for others – especially about actually getting to the Centre in Hayes!

  • Yes, the online system is a bit clunky – and it crashed on me once without saving what I had done – which was a pain! But by automatically checking for completeness it did save time filling out the forms, perhaps incorrectly, and therefore having to redo them again.
  • Before embarking on completing the forms online, do check you have all the information to hand – down to the level of detail required about the place of both parents’ birth!  Unfortunately, there is not an easy to find guide to completing the visa form available in the drop-down menus!  One solution is to print out a hard-copy form from those available, and then use this as a guide.  The trouble is that not all of the questions asked are unambiguous!
  • The automatic fee charging system did indeed seem to overcharge me – as least compared with the advertised fees for visas! Watch out for this!
  • Make sure that you submit all of the relevant required documents, or have them with you (together with two photographs) when you go to the Centre.
  • For those taking the application form to the Indian Visa Application Centre in Hayes, there are many comments on the Web about how difficult this is to find!  It is actually very simple!  The Centre is accessed on the south side of Uxbridge Road in Hayes, just by the Grand Union Canal.  For those driving from the M4, take the A312 north to its junction with the A4020, and then turn east towards Southall.  Don’t take the first right down Springfield Road, but watch out for the large Currys superstore just before the Fiat car showrooms. That is the best place to park! Walk a short distance (c. 100 yards) towards the canal, and turn right just beyond the Fiat garage. The entrance to the Application Centre is then through some large metal gates  just  after the car park behind the garage. This is just by the A4020 label next to the canal on this map!
  • Once inside, you will receive a numbered ticket, and will then have to wait in the large seated waiting hall.  There are around a dozen service desks, and so the queue moves relatively quickly.  At 08.30 in the morning, I only had to wait about 25 minutes to be ‘processed’.  Opening hours for submission of passports are 08.30-14.30 Monday to Friday; passport pickup (usually withing 2-3 working days) hours are 13.00-16.30 Monday to Friday.

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Filed under Higher Education, ICT4D conferences, Politics

Can Miliband really be a serious contender for Europe’s foreign affairs chief?


Miliband 3There is no doubt that David Miliband is bright, intelligent – and on occasions charming.  However, becoming Foreign Secretary seems to have gone to his head.  He has made too many accidental gaffes, and too many serious errors of judgement, for him to be considered as being a serious contender for the post of the European foreign affairs chief.

Yet the campaign for him to get this important post is gathering momentum as the front page headline in today’s Sunday Times, “No 10 backs Miliband for Brussels”, seems to suggest. As the article goes on to say, “senior No 10 sources have revealed that Brown believes Miliband is ideally qualified for the job”.  What does this say about Gordon Brown?  What does it say about others in Europe who seem to be supporting his campaign?  Indeed, what does it say about the European Union itself?  While Miliband currently denies that he is a candidate, the Sunday Times has been told that “he has had a series of conversations with senior European politicians about the Brussels job”.

First there was the banana incident – when he was photographed smirking at the Labour Party conference in 2008.  His defence according to the BBC: “Asked about the picture of the banana on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Miliband said he was holding it because it was his Miliband 1breakfast, adding that worse things could happen and he did not take such things too seriously”.

But then there were also the photographs of him shaking hands with Gordon Brown at the conference – his face looked so pained that, although he avowed that the Prime Minister had his support, many suspected otherwise.

Whatever one thinks of the notion that a single person should represent the European Union’s foreign policy, if such a post is created it is of  critical importance that its incumbent is someone who is widely respected, who has astute political judgement, and is cultured in a deep understanding of foreign diplomacy.  It is here that Miliband seems to have failed so surprisingly in his role as the UK’s Foreign Secretary.  Take, for example, his visit to India at the start of 2009.  Underneath a headline “Miliband’s trip to India ‘a disaster’, after Kashmir gaffe”, the UK’s Indpendent newspaper commented that “David Miliband was beginning to look as accident-prone as Mr Bean last night after yet another adventure backfired. After ruining his chance of the Labour leadership by gurning at the cameras while brandishing a banana, the Foreign Secretary’s visit to India last week was labelled a “disaster” by the country’s leading politicians. He was accused of being “aggressive in tone and manner” in a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and dismissed as a “young man” by senior officials”.  Typical of comments in India was V. Isvarmurti‘s political blog: “When he was appointed as Britain’s Foreign Minister he was supposed to be the youngest to that post for some thirty years. As such he was looked upon as a man of promise and also a bit too young or too premature to that post. He now proves, once in India, he is both premature and a bit over-excited too. Considering he comes to India with the knowledge that India was Britain’s one-time colony, he must have imagined and as most, it seems, may be still people there in Britian seem to imagine they can take India and the Indians granted. Much more shocking was the conduct of this visiting dignitary. He was both arrogant, aggressive as well as a bit hectoring. He seems to have imagined that he can talk and behave as he is used to, may be at home, back in Britain where such conduct and behaviour might be appreciated and considered as a sign of cleverness. But the young man was not only brash he was also a bit crass in not knowing good manners and etiquette”.

In the light of such comments, I find it difficult to understand why so many eminent people think that he should become Europe’s foreign affairs chief.

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Filed under Ethics