Random Reflections May, 2013

Dear Colleagues

May Day rallies have gained fresh energy in Europe this year; signs of times to come? Here are my reflections from the month gone by:

  1. Google reported net profits of $61bn in 2012. It is also facing an investigation from European Commission for creating an integrated data base of millions of consumers of its various services, as such monopolistic concentration of information about consumers is considered ‘illegal’ in Europe. It has combined its data bases from Gmail, search engine, you tube and other applications where millions of citizens around the world navigate daily. Google can now use this enormous information to target advertisements, services and products, thereby enhancing its future streams of profits. More critically, Google may be the largest repository of human data base in the world, which can be used to control, direct and expose citizens unwittingly and unwillingly; internet as a source of domestication or liberation?
  2. India’s educational system from primary to tertiary levels is in dire need of trained, motivated and committed teachers. As enrolments at various levels of education increase rapidly, supply of teachers and educators is lagging way behind. Historically, teachers were highly respected in India, and even given a status higher than God; teachers were role models, motivators and facilitators of learning. Today, the profession of teaching seems to have lost its mission of facilitating learning in society. Therefore, preparation of a new generation of ‘teachers by choice’ by a young university (Calorx Teachers University) in Ahmedabad is a welcome initiative. Would controllers of teachers’ education in Delhi allow diversity of approaches and innovation so that the teachers can be prepared to pursue the mission of facilitating learning?
  3. In the late 1970s, one of the most innovative international development agencies was CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency). It began to support NGOs in developing countries directly much before anyone else from OECD countries thought about it (remember PROSHIKA in Bangladesh and Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka then?). It started the first funding window for international NGOs and networks, where partners and recipients were from developing countries; it launched such innovative schemes as South Asia Partnership. Under the leadership of Maurice Strong, CIDA supported the civil society movement in Rio 1992. Alas, since last month, CIDA is no more. Canadian government has merged its operations with Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A reminder that ODA as we knew it over the past 3 decades or more is now gone forever!
  4. Saudi Arabia is a society on the move. External perceptions may suggest that things are not changing there, but a walk through the streets of Riyadh would indicate otherwise. Several hundred thousand women are studying in post-secondary educational institutions; many are fluent in English. There is fascination for elegantly wrapped chocolates as gifts for all occasions. On a one kilometer street section in Riyadh, more than 50 specialty shops selling beautiful and bountiful packages of chocolates are inviting customers. Saudi Arabia may well overtake Swiss pole position in chocolates!
  5. As a rising power, India has been attracting many types of trans-national corporations in diverse sectors of economy and society. Now comes the time of Think Tanks. Washington DC (USA) based Brookings Institute has just recently opened an India ‘branch’. It is being generously supported by a circle of Indian business houses and families. Such Indian investors are willing to do so for a ‘multi-national’ Think Tank; why not invest in Indian Think Tanks? Many individuals and institutions in India have been internationally recognized for making leading contributions in diverse spheres of policy-making over the past six decades. Unless investment from Indian investors is made to support independent research and policy advocacy by Indian institutions, they will gradually loose institutional and human capacities to maintain ‘autonomy, quality and impact’, described as key features of Brookings Institute itself.

Best wishes, and sincerely

Rajesh Tandon

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