Attendees: Prashanth, Venky, Ashish
Prathap Kasina gave an excellent overview of the work being carried out by J-PAL. J-PAL stands for Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Basic idea is to have a rigorous evaluation of any program intended for the benefit of the masses. The underlying theory is to use randomised control experiments to evaluate a particular program. Two groups are randomly selected from the population to be evaluated - a control group and a test group. The test group is administered the program and the control group is not. At the end of the study the effect of the program is evaluated based on the results. The strength of the program lies in the rigorous evaluation and J-PAL boasts of high quality data collection and evaluation. Many important programs such as the deworm the world program by the Gates foundation http://www.dewormtheworld.org/ etc were initiated after J-PALs findings.
The entire process involves partnering with local NGOs, governmental agencies etc to carry out the evaluation. Prathap talked about the different challenges that one encounters during such an experiment and spoke about some of his experiences. He also spoke about the different employment opportunities at JPAL that are very much rewarding in all aspects!
More details can be found at
Topic: Five year Plans in India
Attendees: Prashanth, Ganesh, Krishna, Arka, Rishi, Debanjan, Aditya, Avinash, Venky
First meeting of the semester. Discussed on finalizing a topic for the semester. Most of the discussion was oriented towards Five Year Plans. Two other topics were suggested
a) Scams and corruption in India - how to deal with this in an organized manner
b) The UID program - Objectives of the program. how the data is collected? Will it help reduce corruption? Loopholes in the system etc.
- Overview of Five year Plans in India - objectives, review process (mid - term review etc)
- Plan drafted by the planning commission and submitted to the Parliament for approval.
- 12th five year plan - has a web interface where the public can comment/provide suggestions for the upcoming plan.
- 12 areas have been identified for the plan.
- Is there an enforcement agency for the plan?
Plan is not binding on the govt. However mid term and final reviews are carried out by the commission.
- How to verify the data in the reviews?
Data might be hard to get. Reviews are based on surveys done by external agencies which might not necessarily coincide with the time of the reviews.
- Suggestions for improvement of the 12th plan website?
Could be more focussed. With the topics being general it is hard to get useful feedback.
Proposed plan for the semester is to choose one or two topics from the five year plan and discuss it in depth based on the past plans and reviews.
The two other topics could also be discussed during the semester based on the interest and material availability as the semester progresses.
Attendees: Achintya, Aditya, Chandrayee, Meena (Prof Parikhs student), Rose George (Prof Parikhs student), Venky
Meena and Rose gave us a nice overview of the projects going on in Prof Parikhs group. They also talked about the Aawaz De project that they are currently working on addressing diverse issues like healthcare, education etc. More information about their projects can be found at http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~parikh/.
The talk was followed by a discussion on Indian diaspora here and their inclination towards contributing back to India. Everyone talked more about their personal experiences, motivation and BIRGs objectives.
Attendees: Asavari, Gurukaran, Tanushree, Venky
1) Logistics: Timings doesnt seem to work out well considering the turnout today. Something that needs to be resolved. We will keep the same timings tentatively and as the semester progress we will change according to convenience. I would again request to those who want to update their preferences or havent updated your timing preferences to please do so at
2) We are thinking of getting the group officially registered. Gurukaran and myself are planning to workout the details next week. Anyone else interested can join us. Need to check out the formalities.
3) Invited talks- couple of names came up today. We will schedule them as the semester progresses.
4) A tentative plan has been charted out for the next two weeks. Updates will be sent out once finalized.
Presenter - Selvam Velmurugan, founder of emoksha (http://emoksha.org/), worked as a software developer with Amazon.
Attendees: Aditya, Achintya, Chandrayee, Yasaswini, Rishikesh, Sreeram
skyped in, Tanusree, Gireeja, some non members. (Notes by Chandrayee)
Goal of talk - to find folks who might want to develop
“Kiirti” (http://www.kiirti.org/) for better voice access, regional
language transcription, spread words through networks.
Talk started with introduction to fixourcity (http://
www.fixourcity.org/), a website created for crowd sourcing in chennai,
with a target to smoothen the tedious and cumbersome process of
registering complaints with local municipalities, while there is no
guarantee of remedy. It uses a web based platform from UK, configured
- NGO takes ownership of complaints and track down to get it solved. Also meant to be used as a forum and share best practices Chennai corporation has an online complaint management system mainly internal workflow. It is not user friendly, no way to attach images, forms are long and demotivating.
- With initial ads in newspaper many users were using the site
initially, but now the use has plummeted. Technology is an enabler but
needs to reach out to people, people’s behavior in acceptance plays a
- Increased voice access can help senior citizens communicate better.
They are more enthusiastic.
- Kiirti is based on Ushahidi (http://www.ushahidi.com/). “Ushahidi,
which means "testimony" in Swahili, is a website that was initially
developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election
fallout at the beginning of 2008”.
- It provides a pre packaged solution to the NGOs with voice based
reporting option in 6 different languages, frontline sms, voice based
menu - IITKanpur.
- Mechanical turk from Amazon used for transcribing
- MOU with Karnataka state transportation authority - They will use
Kiirti as official channel.
- Kiirti Beta version available, used so far for environment support
group in Bangalore - for campaign management and Sahana - disaster
management, Janagraha, 5th Pillar are powered use Kiirti platform
- Cost of running Kiirti - web server, db server, $100 a month
- Future plans: More accessible to people through micro social
network for one site, Facebook page, complete voice access, business
plans like target top 25 corrupted countries where government might be
interested in investing such a platform for better crime management
- Scope of contribution: Development of the platform, popularizing,
business plans, future statistical analysis of data obtained from
sites. Contact: selvam [at] emoksha REMOVETHIS [dot] org
Attendees: Arun, Aditya, Chandrayee, Gireeja, Prashanth, Saranya, Venky
Arun led the discussion on meeting the electrical energy needs of India. Some points/questions/comments that came up during the discussion were
1) Planning commission has a good website maintained with lots of resources esp after the RTI.
2) Focus of discussion was more on energy generation. What are the consumption needs of the average Indian?
3) Peak to average generation capacity of the US is around 10, that of China around 4, whereas for India we are already short of power
4) Thermal plants account for around 80% of current electrical energy in India whereas they were designed for 66%.
5) Per capita power factor of developed nations is around 10 to 12 times that of developing nations like India.
6) Under the current per capita rate, best case estimate of coal reserves (which is fully not tapped) in India can last for 160yrs. If India becomes a developed nation and if we assume that the power factor also increases 10 times then essentially in two decades we will be out of coal.
7) What is the %age of coal reserves tapped currently and what is potentially to be explored?
8) Nuclear energy seems to be very promising. France produces around 400billion KWH through nuclear energy which is nearly 3/4th of Indias total electrical energy production now. So the potential for nuclear energy is enormous.
9) Why hasnt nuclear energy kicked off in India? After the nuclear tests, foreign aid has been cutoff for a long time. Hopefully the recent treaties would help.
10) Other renewable sources of energy have potential but need to be deployed at a large scale.
Topic: Differently abled people in India
Attendees: Aditya, Achintya, Arun (dialed in), Prashanth and Venky
Aditya led the discussion on differently abled people in India - provisions in the PWD Act 2005, whats been implemented, what could be done.
Some of the interesting comments/questions raised were
Rural India seems to fare better in terms of treating people with disabilities at least as per the world bank report
Development of a unified model that benefits both the disabled as well as the general section of the population to make it more viable.
Which is better - enforcing laws or providing incentives? Needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Suggestion to compare with the model in the US.
More awareness need to generated amongst the disabled class about their rights and also the general public to reduce the social stigma concerning them. Need to be made as part of the curriculum
What social business models in India have taken off in this direction? For eg Mirakle couriers. What can we do from our side? One was is to survey the existing business models, showcase them, come up with newer models etc.
Agenda for the next meetings- need to focus on a particular topic and discuss in depth for the next semester so as to make a meaningful impact.