Archive for 'Business'

A Hive of Productivity

Posted on July 27, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

Nearly a billion people worldwide live in slums. Hanna Ingber Win visits Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the world’s largest slums – and a functioning economy that exports goods all over the world

Published in The Times of London July 25, 2011

From a distance, a slum’s haphazard collection of huts piled on top of one another, corrugated metal roofs and makeshift windows looks like a disaster in the making.

And yet, step inside and the picture changes dramatically. Many slums in the developing world, in particular Mumbai’s famous Dharavi, are hives of productivity and ingenuity.

Walk down one of Dharavi’s main thoroughfares or through the zigzagging lanes, and one finds snack shops, restaurants, tailors, bakeries, welders and barbers. In an area called Kumbharwada smoke billows forth from brick kilns as men sit on the floors of their adjacent homes sculpting clay pots on a wheel. In another area, a woman squats in front of a deafening chilli pepper grinder as a boy sits across the lane selling watermelon by the slice. Dharavi swarms with the activity of business.

As the world undergoes rapid urbanisation, more and more people are moving to cities to find work and then – unable to afford proper apartments or houses – creating temporary homes nearby.

As the slums grow, it is time policy makers and urban planners view them more accurately, says Aneerudha Paul, the director of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies in Mumbai.

A slum such as Dharavi, one of the world’s largest, is not merely a residential area for Mumbai’s poor and downtrodden. Dharavi has a well-established, complex economy and in some ways operates like its own nation state.

Dharavi imports items such as food staples and raw materials, and it exports small-scale, labour-intensive manufacturing like the assembly work of cheap sunglasses. Its massive population – estimated between 700,000 to 1 million people – also becomes a market for goods and services produced there.

What stands out most about Dharavi’s economy is the high level of entrepreneurialism among its residents. Poor people who move into a city like Mumbai do not have the ability to fall back on the state if they cannot find a job. Instead, they must find a way to make do. They might start by selling bananas and eventually open their own shop. The area has more than 5,000 informal businesses, according to a report by the Harvard Business School.

Dharavi’s economic scale has enabled it to become both a producer and consumer of goods, according to Vinod Shetty, the director of the ACORN Foundation India. Businesses within Dharavi serve the population food, goods and even entertainment services. One afternoon, a group of young men gathered on wooden benches in a one-room theatre to watch a Tamil movie.

The nature of a slum like Dharavi also enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to operate with low costs. Many work out of their homes, keeping rent costs down. The congestion enables businesses to sell in volume plus have a constant supply of both skilled and unskilled labourers. Employers avoid the time-consuming bureaucracy involved in setting up formal businesses in India.

However, an informal economy also has drawbacks. Government services like sanitation are rare. Businesses regularly flout labour, environmental and safety regulations. Employers often do not provide safety gear, and employees have no recourse for compensation. Furthermore, informal businesses cannot get bank loans and therefore must rely on expensive moneylenders.

In countries without safety nets or enough formal jobs, slums like Dharavi have become places the poor rely on for housing, services and – most importantly – work.

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Lessons from India’s Largest Slum

Posted on June 2, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Barefoot children chase each other around large brick kilns billowing out smoke. In another area of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, girls in oversized dresses wander onto piles of garbage. And in a third, a boy chases a goat with a cricket bat, near an open sewer.

Developers and some political figures look at Dharavi, centrally located in the increasingly congested city of Mumbai, and see a goldmine. They want to tear down the eyesore, move the current population into high-rises with electricity, water and sanitation and turn the bulk of the area into profitable housing and commercial property.

The architect who is behind the latest redevelopment plans, Mukesh Mehta, says the new Dharavi will benefit the current population as well as India’s economy as a whole.

“If 33 percent of [the] urban population lives in slums — they may live in sub-human conditions, but still, they are a drain on the economy,” he told CNN. “Tomorrow they start becoming contributors to the economy.”

Many of Dharavi’s residents along with activists, journalists and urban planners agree that the area needs redevelopment. They welcome the idea of bringing proper infrastructure like water and sanitation to the shanties and other informal homes there.

But they also say that Dharavi is much more than merely an unhealthy, polluting, trash-strewn slum. It is a self-sustaining ecosystem that in many ways operates quite well and serves needs not being met elsewhere.

Dharavi offers important economic, development, environmental and social lessons for Mumbai and India at large.

Continue reading and watch the video at GlobalPost.

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India’s Poor Cry Foul Over Fuel Prices

Posted on July 5, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Kids played cricket on empty streets and motorbikes easily zoomed through normally congested intersections in Mumbai as opposition parties pulled off a nationwide strike Monday to protest a fuel price hike.

The strike, called by the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the leftist bloc, closed businesses and schools and disrupted ground and air transportation. Police made thousands of arrests and sporadic acts of violence were reported in cities across the country.

The one-day strike represents a protest by the opposition parties and the nation’s lower and middle classes against the Congress-led government’s policies that have led to spiraling food and fuel prices.

While India’s economy, one of the fastest growing in the world, is expected to increase by more than 8 percent this year, much of the country’s poor are left out. India — where one in two children is malnourished — accounts for a third of the world’s 1.4 billion poor people, according to the World Bank.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Health Food Booms in India

Posted on June 1, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, Health, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — As I devour a (delicious) frozen yogurt, store manager Ankush Chopra tells me that Indian celebrities frequently visit his Mumbai shop. He rattles off names of Bollywood stars and then pulls out his mobile phone to show me proof. He turns his phone to me so I can see the photograph he took of one such actor, Jackie Shroff, wearing sunglasses and sitting in his car in front of the store.

“He has taken the ‘berry blast’ flavor, one medium, one small,” Chopra tells me. “With all the berries [as toppings] – strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry.”

Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon prefers the original flavor, Chopra adds.

As we chat in the store’s outdoor seating in Mumbai’s relatively posh Pali Hill neighborhood, a deliveryman from the nearby market walks up to the shop, carrying a two-foot wide basket of fresh strawberries on his head.

Cocoberry, India’s first non-fat premium frozen yogurt, opened a year ago in an effort to capitalize on a rising demand for health food among India’s growing class of wealthy consumers. The health food market, measured at $92 million in the end of 2008, is expected to nearly triple in size by the end of 2013, according to Shushmul Maheshwari, the chief executive of market-research company RNCOS.

The beginning of an organized, formal market for health food began a few years ago when big retailers began offering health products in their stores, Maheshwari wrote in an email. This developed as a result of a rise in education level and the emergence of strong advertising channels by which retailers could reach consumers.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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India: The Pimped Out Rickshaw

Posted on May 28, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — I tell the driver where I’m going and then duck into the auto rickshaw’s passenger compartment. I rummage through my purse, looking for my iPod to block out the honking on Mumbai’s busy streets. I put on PRI’s “The World” and settle in for the bumpy ride ahead. But as the news begins to play, I notice something is off.

In front of me, attached to the back of the driver’s seat, a pouch made of sparkling red and black faux snakeskin holds a selection of the day’s Hindi newspapers. I glance down at my seat — matching snakeskin. I slowly look around the rickshaw and notice a first-aid kid, a small fire extinguisher and containers holding tissues and a notebook and pen. Red and blue floral fabric with rug-like fringes decorates the top. An angle statue holds up the meter, speakers line the back and two silver vases with plastic flowers sit on a built-in dashboard above the steering wheel.

This is one pimped out rickshaw.

“Very fancy,” I say to the driver, Aresh Ghatge. He laughs and nods his head.

“This is my BMW,” Ghatge says a month later when we meet in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb. Ghatge’s wearing loose white cotton pants, matching top and traditional leather Kolhapuri sandals, named after a town about 400 kilometers south of Mumbai. A brass triangle-shaped badge reading, “Mumbai Cab Driver 144702,” attached to his keychain hangs from a buttonhole near his collar. “I treat my rickshaw like it’s my first wife,” he says through a translator. “I want to make it comfortable for my passengers, like a home.”

India’s financial capital is a booming, fast-paced city that — despite its overcrowded trains and exorbitantly expensive housing — attracts much of the country’s hardest working and most innovative young people. Aspiring actors and dancers leave families behind, rent out tiny rooms in far-flung suburbs and scrounge for auditions as they hope to become Bollywood’s next biggest star. Young men with little to no education set up their own mini shops selling the palate cleanser paan or the local snack pani puri.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Fair Trade in India

Posted on March 29, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

AMRAVATI, India — Rajendra Panja Kadu lives with his family in a small, humble home in a farming village in central India. He works three jobs — farming his two acres, milking his water buffalo and working as a laborer on others’ farms — but Kadu, like millions of other Indian farmers, can barely make ends meet.

Kadu earns about 60,000 rupees ($1,300) a year and must rely on government ration cards to help him buy food, he says as he sits on his wooden bed. Mounds of cotton puffs waiting to be sold peek out from under the bed. Large sacks of soybeans lean against one wall. Paintings of Hindu gods adorn another.

When Kadu is low on cash, he must borrow about 10,000 rupees a year from moneylenders, who he says charge him a 5 percent monthly interest rate.

The farmer, who lives in Ghodghwan village in Amravati district, says he continues farming despite the difficulties because he has no better options. “It is my business. It is my job,” he said. “I don’t know anything else.”

Continue reading here.

Follow me on Twitter: @HannaIngber

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Drinking and Driving in India: Party On

Posted on March 25, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Paras Turakhia, 26, earns enough money in Mumbai to have bought his first car — with his own sound system, iPod dock, “the works” — and employ a full-time driver.

But every Saturday, when Turakhia gets ready to spend a night on the town, he leaves behind his driver.

India is a land known for its nosiness, and Turakhia’s driver is in “constant contact” with the young man’s family, neighbors and business relationships. If Turakhia or his friends get a little sloppy one night, his driver is likely to spread the news around, the young man says.

Enter a new market opportunity in New India.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Rebate Checks, Keep ‘Em Coming

Posted on April 28, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Business.

My husband and I will soon get $600 from the U.S. government in tax rebates. The IRS will start sending rebates via direct deposit today and via snail mail May 9. Unlike 82 percent of the public, as determined by a Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll, we will spend our money. We are both students, both broke, and both determined to use the money on more groceries, gas and even clothes. Therefore, we are clearly good Americans (well, I’m a good American; my husband, Aung Moe, is a good permanent resident).

Unlike all those rebate collectors who want to pay off debt or save - read “hoard” - their new cash, we promise to spend it. We will pump it back into the economy, exactly what the rebates were intended for. President Bush said in January: “Letting Americans keep more of their own money should increase consumer spending.”

In exchange for our patriotism, I for one think we should be given more money. President Bush and Mr. IRS, if you would like to help the economy even more, if you are serious about pulling this nation out of a recession, go right ahead and send us another check. (1917 Rodney Drive, Apt. 203, Los Angeles, CA 90027). You have our word that we will spend it.

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