February 26

Scott Anderson / Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup: Ending India’s Economic Caste Calcification and Gates Superpowers

“(Abolishing caste) is not going to happen in the near future. We will have at least two more centuries of labeling.”

That’s a quote from Ashok Bharti, chairman of the National Conference of Dalit Organisations , in an article entitled  “‘Hidden Apartheid’: How the Marginalized Are Leading India Away From Casteism.” Bharti is just one of many Ashoka Fellows focused on easing tensions among castes. And believe it or not, although he belongs to one of the lower castes, he’s one of the more hopeful voices.

The cultural, religious, racial and political implications of India’s complex caste system continue to roil many parts of the country. This week saw protests in Haryana State that killed 19 people people and crippled parts of New Delhi’s water supply. Demonstrators with the Jat caste, one of the more prosperous classes, were deeply angered because it was not included among more than 2,000 “backward classes,” with greater access to government jobs. Protesters and politicians demanded “reservation” and the Indian government has since capitulated. The Economist lays out some of the elements in play:

“Increasingly castes are clamouring to be recognised as lowly in order to reap whatever benefits accrue from being counted in the bottom half. It has been a boon to a certain kind of politician. The rapid economic growth of recent years, accompanied by growing social mobility, has taken castes from the places or professions that first defined them. Yet caste persists as a source of identity and as a locus for various ill-defined grievances.”

As an American and absolutely nothing of an expert, I wouldn’t dream of prescribing a solution for India’s caste dilemma. But the reality is for anyone in the business of, say, creating a social enterprise, expanding a supply chain, developing worker training or educational resources, caste system dynamics are unavoidable. With that in mind, I read many columns and analysis pieces this week that offer both perspectives and pathways toward a more equal economy. Here are portions of a few:


“So, what the Jat and Patidar protests seem to show is this: Using quotas as a sticking plaster over the wound of inequality is no substitute for real policy to end discrimination, including the will to invest in education for all of India’s 1.2 billion people. Otherwise, religious and social issues of inclusiveness will hobble India’s progress.”

– Krittivas Mukherjee in The Hindustan Times.

“The whole reservation system is one of the primary motors for mass migration of talented young people from India to the United States and other developed countries. How about creating an income-based economic scholarship system which supports children of all castes and religions whose parents do not have enough money to send them to schools and colleges? This affirmative action would not create a sense of alienation among those students who have high grades and yet cannot make it to the colleges they aspire to join.”

– Mrutyuanjai Mishra, Times of India Blog


“What India needs annually is not just 23 or 24 million jobs but livelihoods,” said economist Ajit Ranade. … Ranade said job opportunities would come only with new investments and enterprises. “If we need to create two million jobs every month, then we need to also create 20,000 to 50,000 new enterprises every month,” he said. “At this stage of our business cycle, we need a big push in the form of investment in infrastructure.”

– Himadri Ghosh and Nikhil Babu, IndiaSpend


“The crucial question is why reservation and not something else? A possible answer is that ruling caste demands for reservation are actually an expression of repressed impotent rage against an economic system that has stoked expectations but done little to enable fulfilment. Perhaps these state-centric agitations point to a deeper global crisis in political language that disables us by treating the economy as though it is a force of nature rather than a human creation. If it invites attention to this crucial question, the Jat agitation may yet offer a silver lining to an otherwise dismally dark cloud.”

– Satish Deshpande The Indian Express


– Scott Anderson


When super-powerful people add superpowers

What happens when people with super power start toying with the idea of superpowers? The world gets a new hashtag and, hopefully, a renewed interest in development priorities.

Bill and Melinda Gates are already comic book heroes come to life. They’re crazy rich and smart and bravely tackle the world’s biggest problems. Bruce Wayne only wishes he had the oomph that the Gateses have.

So it came off a bit like humblebrag when, having been asked by a bunch of Kentucky schoolchildren what superpowers they’d like to have, the Gateses graciously overlooked their current capes and took the request seriously, to the point of writing about it in their annual letter (complete with superlative graphics).

Bill wants “more energy,” writing, “If I could have just one wish to help the poorest people, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power our world. … In short, we need an energy miracle.” Then he points out that he and several other really rich people recently launched a multi-billion dollar clean energy fund “aimed at delivering energy miracles.” That’s what’s known as super-smooth marketing.

Melinda wants “more time.” Especially in developing countries, she writes,  women spend far more time on unpaid work than men, and the opportunity costs are staggering.

The upshot is that #SuperPowerForGood has become a big deal as the Twitterverse opines on what one thing would super-powerfully change the world for the better. It’s a worthy discussion to have.

So, let’s play along. My wish would concern education – somehow having the world’s leaders have an epiphany about what might be possible with a better-informed planet. Yep, the world needs an Education Man … or, better yet, billions of plain old Education Men pulling in the same direction. Come to think of it, that wouldn’t even require any superpowers.

What’s your take on #SuperPowerForGood?

– Kyle Poplin


In case you missed it … This week on nextbillion


NexThought Monday – Lean Research: Introducing a Movement for Change

Necessity Breeds Lifesaving Invention – and a Hub to Launch More Innovation

Microfinance Clients Make Their Voices Heard: New research reveals their thoughts on how they’re treated by providers

The Hard Facts on ‘Soft Data’: Determining risk for loan applicants without credit scores is more than a numbers game

Building a Collaborative Social Impact Measurement Operating System


Top image: From a 2013 protest by the National Alliance for Dalit Land Rights. Image: ActionAid India Campaigns/Flickr.

financial inclusion, renewable energy