Perhaps not many Indians know him, but he is widely credited to have been the inspiration for Nobel laureate Al Gore’s interest in climate change. Now, renowned environmental scientist Dr. Ashok Khosla has plans for creating 100 million jobs by 2018 in rural India. As founder and chairman of Development Alternatives, a New Delhi-based non-profit involved in the creation of micro-factories that would make basic facilities available to the village-dwellers, and enable them to generate employment. The initiative has already created 3 million jobs over the past 15 years.
Sunita Sohrabji writes in indiawest.com about the ideas and ideals of the man who is the brain behind the successful $120 million venture:
“Poor people are seeing more products, but have little access to them. The poor do not have purchasing power,” said Khosla, the 2002 winner of the United Nations’ Sasakawa Environmental Prize, and the Schwab Foundation’s outstanding social entrepreneur award in 2004. Khosla, an alumnus of Cambridge and Harvard, was recently made an Officer of the British Empire.
Development Alternatives uses a market based approach to further its cause, rather than relying on charity. Wondering how it works?
In a typical model, the village will form a cooperative to purchase the equipment needed for the project, and determine wages for the workers, typically slightly above the area’s minimum wage. Development Alternatives’ social enterprise arm, Technology and Action for Rural Advancement, markets the products created by the villagers.
The organization’s compressed earth block technology is being used throughout the country to ease the shortage in housing for rural dwellers. More than half a million homes have been built using the technology, in which villagers mix raw earth with a stabilizer to create a brick, with a mechanized or manual soil press.
The organization believes in innovating to create new opportunities for the poor, and lays particular emphasis on social as well as environmental sustainability.
TARA and Development Alternatives have also created a new-generation weaving machine that allows its user to be more productive and create higher-quality handlooms.
The organization has also created a paper-making machine, which recycles wastepaper and cotton rags into high-end paper goods, or standard paper for use in classrooms.
This is not all. Besides helping the villagers in improving their agricultural output, Development Alternatives has now started a new project – franchised village cyber kiosk. Called Tara-kendras, these centres can impart vocational training, career counseling, agricultural and medical advice, a market place for buying and selling as well as accessing government services.
“This is one of the most revolutionary things we’ve developed,” said Khosla. “It brings the village into the global economy and the global economy into the village.”
“It’s extreme value at very low cost and one of the major solutions to solving the problem of poverty in India,” he asserted. Three hundred Tara-kendras are currently in operation throughout the country, and the enterprise will become profitable when 1,000 kiosks are established.
The efforts of Development Alternatives and Dr. Khosla are laudable. He has several awards and achievements to his name, not the least of which is that as a Harvard teaching fellow, he was responsible for designing and teaching the very first class on the environment! Yes, the same that Gore took during his first year there!! In spite of all his success, Dr. Khosla’s heart lies with India’s rural poor, and his endeavors speak highly of his commitment.
Development Alternatives and TARA have taken some innovative steps in promoting rural employment.
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