Good friend Bala in Singapore sent me the link to a HT (Hindustan Times, India) article which covers the outcome of the third Copenhagen Consensus led by Bjoern Lomborg. A panel that included four Nobel Laureates picked ideas that deal with diarrhea, worm and malnutrition as the best ones that delivered the maximum value for the money spent on social good. I have to agree.
Both at the institutional level and at the individual level, it is important to remember this dictum that Lomborg proposes: we need to focus on what works more than what makes us feel good. Projects that tug at our heart might not be often the most effective ones that our monies can address.
If our goal in doing social good is to remove miseries of the maximum number of humans so that they can then develop the capabilities or be enabled to find their own solutions, then for example, de-worming is a great idea. Many children in India do not come to school because of diarrhea, stomach pains, etc. If only their stomachs are de-wormed twice a year, their digestion capabilities improve. They attend school regularly. A host of other good things follows.
I am proud to say that I know of both the individuals who have set up InkludeLabs in India. Check out the website here. It is in the making. But, you can get an idea. Their first big nation-wide project in India is de-worming.
Another idea with a similar potential is the provision of safe and clean toilets for girls in schools. That is an important factor in girls dropping out of school. The late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran’s mid-day meal scheme was another inadvertent, serendipitous smart welfare idea.
The idea to provide simple, safe and smoother cotton napkins for women to go through their menstrual cycle has immense benefits. Anshu Gupta of Goonj is a pioneer in that field. Many have entered that area, even commercially. All for the good.
Rainwater harvesting is another. Many organisations are involved in it. Tarun Bharat Sangh, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, Dhan Foundation and the Centre for Society and Environment, etc. Provision of clean water goes a long way in boosting rural productivity, cohesion in families, allows women in the households to spend time on their children, on their food, nutrition, etc., instead of trekking miles to find water.
Teaching life skills to children from the primary years to higher secondary years is a great idea. Many of us find it difficult to cope with problems thrown up by others and that life throws up. We grope in the dark, unable to cope. We inflict pain on others in the family, consequently. The negativity spreads. Being aware of ourselves and our minds and knowing some simple rules of the game leading to that awareness can create millions of more stable humans in their adolescence and in their prime years. That is what Aparajitha Foundation tries to do (I am a Trustee of that Foundation). I am proud to say that I am a good friend of the founder and the man behind the idea.
I am sure there are many examples outside India too. I wonder if there is an organised way for these ideas to be shared, cross-fertilized, etc. Perhaps, there is. If so, I would be grateful for pointers from readers of this blog.
To reiterate, the motto in giving and doing is: what works than what feels good