“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Morpheus in The Matrix, 1999
Albeit what Morpheus was referring to while addressing the curiosity of the protagonist in the movie, Neo, might seem fiction ostensibly, but, the very existence of a novel, all pervasive Matrix cannot be denied. The nexus of various technologies and businesses hitherto unknown slowly coming together is symbolic of the convergence of ideas and breakage of silos. Just like Morpheus plays the role of Loki, the mischievous inventor God of the Norse, today’s entrepreneurs have realised the need of amalgamating various technologies producing an efficient kaleidoscopic product.
The idea of convergence is sometimes mistaken to be a recent one although its comprehension and significance in today’s world definitely is. This phenomenon has been with us since antiquity right from the time when the ancients devised ingenious water clocks to tell time, combining fluid mechanics and buoyancy to regulate Buddhist meditations, to the epistemological development of democracy in the ancient city of Athens- an ideal system of governance. The evolution of convergence is a remarkable area of study and we have been bandying about it over the last 25 years.
Computer networks, the central nervous system of any modern enterprise, are rapidly evolving to meet the needs of the organizations they serve. This technical evolution focuses on the merging of many dissimilar networks into one. Also, the integration and synergy of four technologies namely nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognizance of all the above technologies have resulted in the creation of a smaller world. Convergence is driven by the declining cost of information processing power, and by the development of open standards.
The primordial effect of this upon market structure is not to encourage market consolidation and vertical integration but rather to break up the varied markets into more or less specialised horizontal components (content, conveyance, packaging of services, software, and terminal equipment). Harvard’s Anthony Oettinger, coined the ugly neologism “compunications” to express the growing overlap of computing and telecommunications.
French writers Nora and Minc independently came up with the more graceful “telematique” to express the same idea. Neither term ever quite caught on, and to this day the world is still struggling with awkward combinations of terms such as “telecommunication”, ”information” and computing to label the basic technology of the information economy. But should this apparently abstruse phenomenon be controlled and comprehended by a chosen few or should it percolate to the lowest levels of human life, especially in India, where the proletarians still struggle to make their ends meet?
Brands leading to convergence: The Dark Side of the Moon?
The development of a “corporate consciousness” in organisations in the late 1940s, which led to a burgeoning awareness of the fact that the brand was not just a mascot or a masthead but the entire organisation as a whole which could have an indistinguishable identity was a phenomenon like no other. Entire corporations could themselves embody a meaning of their own and could have a single, well defined purpose. Therefore the brand transcended from being an intangible, inanimate object to a thriving organism with far reaching tentacles of opportunity and corporate hegemony.
These brands brought the peoples of the world closer based on the thought that the organisation can be a vehicle which uses up natural resources in the form of people and materials, harness cheap energy in the form of labour and pronounce it as corporatization of the underdeveloped world thereby leading to convergence. The modern convergence of all such technologies is thus mostly a direct function of an organisation’s aspiration of being lean and mean on the inside but bloating itself out of proportion to the outside world in terms of size. The travels of Nike sneakers have been traced back to the abusive sweatshops of Vietnam, Barbie’s little outfits to the child labourers of Sumatra, Starbucks’ lattes to the sun-scorched coffee fields of Guatemala, and Shell’s oil back to the polluted and impoverished villages of Niger Delta. The question is how do we end this inequity in distribution of dispensation of wages for services rendered in the creation of a particular brand and its furtherance.
Cashless money transfer – A way to reinforce financial inclusion in India:
In the recently released movie “Peepli Live”, Hori Mahato, an apparently inconsequential blip in the movie commits suicide when he is unable to till his arable land and provide for his family, leading to an avalanche of events and the development of a whole new consciousness in the other characters. Taking a cue from celluloid and mostly from the trials and tribulations of the rural folk, financial inclusion has slowly started settling on the collective psyche of policy makers.
Financial inclusion although being the order of the day is a topic of deliberation amongst most individuals who propound business ideas and economic theories. India stands 50th on the ‘Financial Inclusion Index’ wherein 70 % of the 1.1 billion people live in the rural areas and the rest live in densely populated urban areas. There are 600,000 villages spread out over the Indian landscape. The average population per village is about 2000 per village and about 200,000 individuals per block and 2 million people per district. The average size of each household is 5 individuals and there are approximately 200 million households in the whole country. More than 70 % of the total working population are dependent on agricultural activities.
The world is rapidly urbanizing and India is no exception but the existence of slums remain a reality. Although the level of urbanization has been rising gradually, and the decadal increase in urban population remains quite high (although slowing), there is still potential for enormous increases in India’s urban population. Within urban India, between 1981-2001, there was a 45 percent rise in the number of people living in urban slums. The roots of rural-urban migration can be traced to the fact that agriculture could not provide a livelihood for the entire rural population. Urban (industrial) employment was expected to absorb the surplus rural labour. With rural population growing faster than the increase in opportunities, many people migrated from the rural to urban areas. But the influx was larger than what the urban industrial sector could absorb. The migrants consequently landed in the slums and squatter settlements and worked in the informal sector. The end consequence was poverty in slums, rest of urban areas and rural areas.
These staggering numbers suggest that the proverbial and elusive fortune at the ‘BOP’, widely propagated by the late CK Prahlad is a reality and will soon be passé if something is not done about it. The villages and the slums are areas which comprise unskilled workers, skilled workers and petty traders represent a large chunk of the Indian population which is capable of not only developing goods and rendering services, but also participating in the increasing consumption patterns of India.
In most of these areas, there are credit cooperative societies to which people flock for their banking services. Though the network of commercial banks and RRBs (Regional Rural Banks) has spread rapidly and they now have nearly 50,000 rural/semi-urban branches, their reach in the countryside both in terms of the number of clients and accessibility to the small and marginal farmers, other poorer segments such as slum dwellers, is far less than that of cooperatives. In terms of numbers of agricultural credit accounts, the Short Term Cooperative Credit System (STCCS) has 50% more accounts than the commercial banks and RRBs put together. On an average, there is one PACS (Primary Agricultural Credit Society) for every 6 villages. These societies have a total membership of more than 120 million rural people making it one of the largest rural financial systems in the world. For the slums in Dharavi, there are countless such credit cooperative societies which function solely on the basis of trust between the consumer and the service provider.
A long while ago Aldous Huxley signalled the fillip to a ‘Brave New World’ where man shall be relegated to a mere number, where he shall lose his identity and will be “incubated” and not “procreated”. I beg to refute with him on such an account and I believe the need of the hour is to provide a unique individuality to a consumer, especially from the society with less favoured parentage.
The idea here is to integrate mobile technology and information technology to develop a smart card which will detect and record the daily transactions for such people belong to SEC E1, E2. Keeping ourselves in an external frame of reference, if we carefully observe an individual of such a slum he deposits a meagre sum of money on a daily basis to any of these credit cooperative houses through an agent who comes and collects it at the end of the day. And then the person accrues interest on that sum of money deposited from the co-op society. Rather than paying cash which increases the risk of it being stolen or misused, a smart card can be integrated into mobile phones (taking into account the penetrative ability of mobile phones in society) which can be swiped for any transaction in a day- while dispensing change after buying vegetables from the local market, paying money for the bus ticket or buying a cigarette at the local paan kiosk. The amount of money that a person will collect, for example, the owner of an auto rickshaw, will electronically get registered onto the smart card when the consumer swipes his card onto the service provider’s. This sum of money keeps getting collected the entire day on a dedicated e-account and when the rickshaw waala goes home, he can deposit a definite sum of money depending upon his own discretion to the representative of the credit co-operative society, who also has a smart card to record the same.
Cashless transactions will not only help in making life more transparent for an individual, but more importantly, if the cooperative society, which is generally affiliated to a private bank (which is trying to make inroads into such consumers), can directly take part in their financial inclusion. Some sort of a cashless e-credit policy can be instituted in such credit cooperatives so that the process can be seamless and even the smallest amount of change tendered can be accounted for.
The UID project can be a parent or an overseer to this operation and provide information about all such consumers. By achieving the same, the ghettoisation of such people will be allayed and they will start trusting the financial machinery of the nation and also take avid interest in participating in the goings-on of the government.
Drug delivery systems in the form of liposomes combined with ICT:
The basic question right now is interoperability of technologies. Let us take the newly launched British Telecom phone as a precedent wherein the user can choose whether to use the same phone as a mobile or a landline. An innovative mix of biotechnology and nanotechnology delivered seamlessly through the channels of ICT will herald a new era in the field of drug delivery systems amongst rural India. Drugs can be ingested either orally or intravenously. But, a novel method of administering drugs to village and slum folk could be packaging drugs into “magic bullets” known as liposomes. Designing bio-stable liposomes and their higher versions offer potentials of exquisite levels of specificity and drug targetability. Just like most ideas that have a high shelf life and are ahead of their time, liposomal administration of drugs to patients has also not been delved deeper upon.
The challenges are aplenty. Implementing a change in the thought processes of the village folk to adopt a new way of treatment is the first and the seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The price of liposome aided drugs are a crucial decider of this technology. Pharma companies have to take a stand against the normal tides of collectivistic multitude in dispensing such formulations at a cheaper rate.
Bill Gates, the first widely propagated, wealthiest man on the globe, talks about the idea of creative capitalism in today’s society the crux of which is – if companies thriving on their profit making ethos can shift their paradigms, then a lot of change can be brought about into the ailing healthcare sector of India.ICT can intervene here and distribute CD-ROMs in dispensaries which educate the villagers about the efficacy of the new form of drug. B Schools should start institutionalising the need for young managers to visit villages and address their ills, comprehend their woes and educate them about the need for a transmogrification into the new system of things. Easier said than done, but, the seed of such transformation have to be set in this generation itself.
All grumbling is tantamount to “Oh , why is a lily not an oak?” :
Convergence is omnipresent in its appeal to our senses. A classic testimony of the convergence of technologies is the display of yet to be released movies and soap operas on the bodies of buses, thus combining 2 highly segregated technologies (or services) in a subtle manner and impregnating itself on the psyche of the consumer. Such an ethereal mix can resolve issues hitherto unaddressed. But the chasms in the road of convergence are many, especially in a country like India, which has a habit of idolizing billionaires and squashing down entrepreneurial ventures coming out of middle class homes.
Cognizance of the fact that the village and the slum is where life needs to be shaken to improve it, the fact that convergence can aid in bolstering their lives in whatever minuscule way possible is the order of the day. Also finding a mean path in preserving the Indian way of life – its civilisation, tolerance and spirituality against the onslaught of passing fads also have to be taken into consideration. John Lennon, who has mostly been touted as a Marxist sings one of the most impactful lines in the history of mankind , wherein he propounds the idea of a ‘global village’ with a single consciousness, although serendipitously. Such should be our ideal, to converge, to be ‘glocally (globally and locally) available’ to serve the right purpose in people’s lives.
An engineer by profession from Vellore Institute of Technology, with an experience in the IT sector, he is pursuing an MBA from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research. Always been interested in philosophy, uncanny cinema and the myriad forms of metal music. An observer and a thinker who has sent many a wishful smoke rings in the air brooding over “the what could have been” and the rising cynicism in himself and society at large. Writing gives him a vent to extrapolate his thoughts into something that can be retrieved for posterity.
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