April 6, 2007

Poverty Alleviation: The Starfish Way

Posted by Bizaholic | 10:38 PM | , with 3 comments »

Over 300 million Indians live in acute poverty. Can’t there be a way out of this circle of poverty? I just finished reading a remarkable book, “The Starfish and The Spider”, and a brain wave has hit me. Perhaps, the problem of poverty in India can be solved by initiating a social movement, having DNA of a starfish, that is based on principles of decentralization, community, collaboration, networks, a shared ideology, and the innate human desire to contribute and make a difference. This movement would be like Alcoholic Anonymous, Animal Liberation Front, and the likes. The ideology would be “NO POVERTY, SPREAD PROSPERITY”.

The problem of poverty doesn’t get solved in India because of three reasons:
  • All poverty alleviation programs are highly centralized with inherent inefficiencies and inflexibilities of the system.

  • All these programs focus on “giving a fish rather than teaching how to fish”. Hence, they are resource dependent rather than enterprise dependent. They create a mentality of dependence rather than a mentality of empowerment. They fail to create a virtuous cycle of enterprise, production, consumption, and wealth creation.

  • The delivery system designed to implement poverty alleviation programs consumes 80-85% of allocated resources thereby leaving just 15-20% for actual utilization for poverty alleviation. If we factor in rampant corruption, the actual amount left for fighting poverty would be less than 10% of allocated fund.
People living in acute poverty don’t need huge resources to take control of their life. This has been proved by magnificent success of micro-finance in some pockets of the country. What is basically needed is a little monetary input (sometimes as low as Rs 100) to start a micro enterprise, a little guidance, and lots of love and understanding. These 300 million people have huge potential to consume but are unable to because of lack of money. Once a little money starts circulating in this system, it can create a self sustaining economy of production and consumption.

But considering the size of our country and the complexities involved due to multiple languages and culture, centralized and top-down approaches are bound to meet disaster. In India, localization is the key to effectively solving social problems. That calls for a starfish-like approach with a networked and distributed nervous system having an inbuilt ability to rapidly multiply and proliferate with little or no external support.

We need a community of passionate individuals who share the ideology of “NO POVERTY, ONLY PROSPERITY”. We need thousands of self-managed, hierarchy-free, and independent chapters, each with a few people who spread the ideology and participate in the movement at ground zero in whatever way they can.

The key features of this movement would be:
  • Self-managed, hierarchy-less, and independent chapters.

  • No central leadership team, control, resource support, or guidance. Each individual chapter would be independent and free to manage itself as per the wishes of its members. The only thing common among various chapters would be the ideology.

  • No defined process, rules, and structure. Each chapter would be free to do whatever it may deem fit to spread the ideology and help in reduction of poverty.

  • Members become a part of the movement to contribute to the cause without any desire to derive personal gain.
Time has come for a social equivalent of Web 2.0 to tackle the menace of poverty!


  1. JiNan // April 7, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

    Just read your blog -- great track of thinking! Have you checked out American India Foundation (www.aifoundation.org) -- they are taking a hybrid approach to funding non-profits within India, but each one they fund there must have an "exit strategy" so that the local communties are moving things forward after something gets started. You may be able to draft a plan of action (and seek AIF support) as a next step for your implementing these great thoughts you have about what to do about the problem of poverty in India; if they are not the right place to turn for support, they can likely connect you with someone else. Also, I am sure that the Starfish & Spider book's authors would be happy to hear about how you are applying their concepts to address this great need.
    Grace and peace to you, JiNan

  2. Sundeep // April 7, 2007 at 5:58 PM  

    Very apt indeed. Basically it boils down to empowerment. Once that is in place, even animals ensure that they not only survive but thrive. The problem is interference, whether environmental or commercial (in case of animal kingdom) or political, social and economic in human world. Another pertinent point is that for a society to progress, there has to breakthroughs and these breakthroughs result in progress in long term but in the short term assymetry is bound to happen and well that is where things sometimes go wrong for many.
    The issue is to sustain development through brilliance of few but to also ensure that the average and below average does not lag more than necessary.

  3. Atul // November 1, 2007 at 9:52 PM  

    Hopefully Gates, Buffet and other smart people read your blogs and take few lessons. They might have good money but need smarter ideas and people. Mayank and his ideas might be one source