Conversations with Soumitri on Social Innovation

I got a rush of energy reading your blog. All sound really awesome. And so I wrote in a long comment – and that awful edublog ate up the comment. So I hate edublogs and wil not go there. I am quite happy with the original wordpress – thank you.

What did I say?

Essentially I saw all that you were saying in your blog – and went yeah! to all the points. And I offer the following points:
1. In our project we just cut down the weight – first part. See for the project.
2. Then to make the new design accessible we went to the state and got them to seed fund 200 rickshaws.
3. Did the project believe in the market forces? Yes. To some extent.
4. Are there a few hundred thousand rickshaws becuse of that project – I think so.

Now re the technical:
1. Weight reduction is good.
2. Rationalising construction is good.
3. Gearing? We went there – and its still available as an after market kit for our design. Not many use it.
4. Prabhu later did roto moulded rear crates. Not very successful.

So in short there is a technical project there.

Re the systemic:
1. I would love to see a social innovation enterprise come up – that does ‘rickshaw share’.
2. The enterprise buys the rickshaws – so no need for microfinance.
3. The enterprise retires rickshaws after they become old – two years? – and decrepit.
4. The ‘wallah’ is the one one who uses the service to make money.
5. Who owns the social innovation enterprise? An agency or like AMUL a cooperative.
6. Will this agency be able to fight rickshaw bans? Or police harassment? Possibly.

Also see …

Shashi Bhushan Sharma, a rickshaw operator in Chandni Chowk, operates a hundred cycle rickshaws from his rickshaw stand. Bhushan explains that the very nature of the rickshaw sector makes it difficult to adhere to MCD rules. “The reason why most rickshaw pullers do not own their vehicles is that they migrate from the villages twice a year. Rickshaw licences are not transferable, and so it makes little sense to own a rickshaw outright.”

Most rickshaw pullers come during interludes in the farming season, have stable arrangements with rickshaw operators and rent the vehicles for Rs.20 a day. In return, the rickshaw operator is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle, renewal of its licence, repair in case of accidents and safe-keeping. The operators also protect rickshaw pullers from the predatory police force and pay the fines when the rickshaws are impounded or confiscated. Thus, it would be simplistic to view the relationship between the rickshaw pullers and operators as purely exploitative.

A bad redesign:

Philippa said, on September 18th, 2008 at 4:19 pm

thanks soumitri, that is great to know that we are on to a good thing. In regards to engineering aspects, the changes are small however beneficial. we have an engineer who works with ManavSadhna on the case and he is sharing the blog and the design brief with some other engineers. This is nice as can come up with ideas and get them shot down or stood up before testing through a bank of knowledge we do not have in our heads however have access to!
Social innovation: the two year phase out system I really like. This helps the rickshaw drivers however is also a driver for design advancement. I thought the microfinance was important as a self-empowerment method and is integrating flexiblity into the deal. The idea is the enterprise buy from manufacturer then loan to rickshaw drivers until they have paid back. The enterprise party is Manav Sadhna for this case however also want to structure it so there is open source access and an ability to be used outside of this particular context – maybe a toolkit for ngos to implement similar negotiations…. this may be more realistic as a second stage option. They have agreed to act as collective for the the loan scheme, this is great as they have good social standing and good repore with government.
What do you think?
That is interesting about the gear option, we were thinking along the tangent of creating a workshop in Manav Sadhna and handing out kits to retrofit existing….nice idea however may not be viable…
The middle man is not sitting quite right.. I feel that replacing rather than tweaking the system has a sense of foreboding as may not be reflexive to the circumstance,habits and unknowns….. we will have to get a better understanding of the particular frame work they are working in. maybe this involves freeing up the market – that is getting the riders access to more than one middle man to be empowered to create better terms and conditions. This does not deal with the “handover” the riders are in debt to the middle man which is a whole other range of issues – how does a well connected someone deal with losing all their business? not well i am guessing…
back to it. thanks for your help
soumitri said, on September 18th, 2008 at 4:54 pm

For years in India – in the 70s – there was a preoccupation with the lo-cost car. This kept innovation out – and progress out. In the early 80s the suzuki was introduced – and became a rage.

So the thing about innovation is the path you choose will define the scope for innovation.
1. If you go the mircofinance route – that is like our project in Delhi. Keep costs below 5K rupees. Very little room for manoeuvre here. The rickshaw driver gets a basic deal – not the best. This is the way engineers have opted for make the product better But what if the product cant b all that better? And the rickshaw driver gets the same old deal? No innovation leap here – business as usual and no risks in this. The mircofinance option is to make individuals into business men – there are no women here. Unlike Yunus’ BOP model. There is also no production of things. So who should own the rickshaw?
2. If you go the social innovation route – you start with the service. The product is secondary. What this can give you is a relaxation in the unit cost of the rickshaw. If you have a higher unit cost can you make a better product? A higher unit cost allows you to retrofit gears into it – plus also electric assist as an option. If you do this then you can rickshaw options of the sort you see in China – some quite quirky solutions at this lo end of goods carrying vehicles.
3. How do you address exploitation? Thats another project

philippa wrote:

it has been knawing at the back of my head as to why this is such a static market? why has their been no consistent change in design… is it purely because absolute power creates stasis… there is no need to change if you have slaves…

If we can use the capacity of this project as a redesign which is then leverage for techniques of opening up the slum economics and rickshaw livelihoods. By this I mean if we provide an avenue by which the rickshaw driver is given freedom….if done correctly the slum itself may benefit independently rather than as a dependent limb of an ngo or middle man.
i think the importance of ownership to me was that it was a symbol of independence (really???) thus was trying to design ngo dependence out.. now with this questioning have realised this may actually prove to do the opposite…and when it comes down to Manav Sadhna they are there to stay. Designing dependence out would have a crippling effect on a slum, the interdependence is one of the key characteristics that keeps a slum running and the people within it living. Enhnacing this community structure is maybe the key avenue.

I have also been thinking of the nature of the microfinance in terms of the lack of women and lack of service… there is too many social implications to the finance.
I have another question running around my brain: what defines success of the project? if we lower the exertion needed, thus the men can either work at a more leisurely rate, for less time or work more (hence more cash). There is a huge drinking problem in Ramapir (90% of men)… how will the streamling of their work help their drinking habits??
I now see what you mean by a collective fund being preferable to a loan. If you cannot design out the maintenance issues why the hell would you want to own it!

In regards to costing, there is a project that is running three phases of the rickshaw to full motorisation
have contact the man and am waiting to hear back.

the cost being low still seems an important factor to me (some innate inclination towatds cheap crap?). This may be because I relate low costs to freedom – the larger the cost the changing rate of inclusion/exclusion of who has access to the product. However the way in which this can be done. Obviously governement subsidies are a way… if they will give them. or company sponsorship of expensive elements (motor, etc.) to then guarantee governement contract? Or manipulating market forces by creating a greater demand to lower unit production costs…

off the top of head:
maybe some way of a workshop that runs the collective, the women run it, people learning skills to modify bikes and working with Manav sadhna(as industry agent) to design the next rickshaw. the rickshaw redesign every two years and takes the old parts (re-use or secondary use?). if me jess and kate can do then so can they. the inhabitant becomes the designer and the designer becomes the agent.