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Building A Planet-Friendly Economy

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We are all living testimonies to the consumption-led paradigm on which the current economic model is thriving. In this process, concepts like community, equity, fairness, and justice find themselves relegated to a marginalized space. All participants in the economy work on the principle of profit maximization and don’t explore options of making it more compassionate.

To throw light upon this issue, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, and India Water Portal organized an IMPRI Special Lecture – #WebPolicyTalk on Building a Planet-friendly Economy, by Dr. R Balasubramanium, a development activist and leadership trainer who founded the Grassroots Research and Advocacy Movement and the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM).

Impact Of COVID-19

Dr. Balasubramanium started by highlighting the impact of the pandemic on indigenous communities. Following the prevention norms in the context of COVID-19, such as isolation and social distancing, isn’t too difficult in urban households. Our access to disposable incomes allows us to purchase necessities like sanitizers and soaps.

social distancing
Representational Image

Practicing social distancing is not equally possible for everyone in the country.

There is a need to realize that the last year has affected everyone differently. Usual policy response tried to incorporate a straight-jacketed approach, for example, it was expected that a family of 6 inhabiting a 10×10 room to practice social distancing. When we use the term ‘social distancing’, we don’t realize the impact it has on rural and tribal communities.

Income Inequality In The COVID-19 Era

A recent Oxfam report that was released in the World Economic Forum revealed that within 8-9 months of the COVID-19 crisis being announced in 2020, the top thousand billionaires of the world have possibly come back to their pre-Covid level. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos together generated around $67 billion, an unthinkable sum for the rest of the world.

If a thousand billionaires in this world can recover and come back to their pre-COVID levels of maintaining billions within 9 months of the COVID-19 crisis, has it really hit them? Is it as bad as what we imagine it to be?

Dr. Balasubramanium

The problem comes when we look at the other end of the spectrum- the world’s poorest will now need at least a  decade to go back to the pre-COVID levels. The next 10 years and how the economy is going to be supported or redistributed in various mechanisms will determine if the worlds poorest can actually reach pre-COVID levels. This is a huge setback in the fight against poverty.

In India itself, NFHS surveys tell us that close to 67-70 percent of people slipped back into poverty levels. But the 10 richest people in the world, together with between them, can make sure that no individual around the world can slip back into poverty. During this crisis, India itself added 17 more billionaires. Even today, 1 percent of India controls 73 percent of India’s wealth.

The next crisis, already highlighted by Dr. Balasubramanium previously, is the crisis of inequity that we have created for ourselves. We have fashioned an economic model through which the rich amass wealth rapidly and the poor fall in the cycle of poverty. Dr. Simi Mehta agreeing with Dr. Bala asked an important question, ‘How much is enough?’.

Major Crises

COVID is just a representation of a major crisis. We don’t recognize that COVID alone is not the crisis. COVID is telling us a story of a deeper volcano that is going to emerge if we don’t do something about this. This pandemic will have a rippling crisis effect in almost all sectors of human life.

The current unprecedented ecological crisis is one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing. Dr. Balasubramanium says that the argument can no longer be about building an economy or not; economic growth is as essential as human existence today. There is an imminent need to shift the focus on the ecological crisis that we have created. We are consuming more than 50 percent extra resources than what the Earth can offer us today.

A few weeks ago, in a small suburb in Karnataka, it poured hailstones the size of small rocks. None of the inhabitants could remember if they had experienced such a hailstorm ever before. There are multiple other examples of such sudden ecological shifts occurring. Issues of climate change are not just slogans used by scientists to scare us. These are experiences that each one of us is going through every day and they are inseparable from our daily lifestyle.

Rethinking Our Economic Model

With an 8 percent growth rate, India is going to be the fastest-growing economy again this year. We talk about it as a great achievement, the concern though remains if this is the right way to grow? We need to ask ourselves, how much of this growth is going to benefit how many people? What is the per capita participation that is creating the wealth that we are generating? The answers to these questions are a little challenging for all of us.

Is a 5 trillion-dollar economy the only story we need to have? Or a 5 trillion-dollar economy shared by 1.3 billion people in a pragmatically beneficial way where each one gets what he deserves?”

Dr. Balasubramanium

The economic model that we have crafted, this constant growth expansion model, is driven by one principle called profit maximization. All of us, in our own ways, are accountable for this. The more one consumes, the more one promotes consumerism.

The consumerist economic model has led to the world using 50% more resources than the earth can sustainably offer.

We have created an education system that talks about the exploitation of abilities to maximize wealth. Thus, when we grow up in a generation of people where the narrative of success is driven by how much and how well we maximize, the narrative of how many resources we’re consuming, environment, and sustainability becomes a side story.

But things are changing. Today, more and more young people are refusing to participate in the growth narrative that has virtually destroyed their childhoods as they were growing up. They are as concerned about climate change as they are about their personal issues.

The private sector is also slowly waking up to the fact that their business and markets are no longer determined by pricing alone. People are willing to pay extra if they know where the product is coming from. Fairtrade practices, planet-friendly products, child-labor-free products, etc. are not just slogans anymore but demands of the new growing generation, which is very keen on fulfilling social obligations.

Dr. Balasubramanium gave the example of the USA, where several young people had boycotted Unilever a few years ago because some of their beauty products contained plastic microbeads, which eventually get washed into the oceans. The use of those creams and products and their runoff results in thousands of tons of plasticized microbeads are getting dumped into the ocean and infiltrate marine life.

Unilever was forced to then invest millions of dollars in R&D to produce more planet-friendly and sustainable products. So there can be a movement of corporates from profit maximization to being planet sensitive. An aware consumer can result in forcing big conglomerates to shift to Planet-friendly Economy.

Fourth Sector: Planet-Friendly Economy

Dr. Balasubramanium proposed a new economic model that is commonly known as the fourth sector economy. The fourth sector economy is very simple- it’s soulful, compassionate, and is driven by the principle of benefit optimization. Every participant in this economic food chain is a person who is contributing and therefore, deserves a benefit proportional to his contribution.

This means that if one is going for work 8 hours a day, it’s not just the duration but also the intensity and non-replaceability of the contribution that decides the benefits one gets out of it. We all become stakeholder participants in the economy and not just shareholders that corporates have to worry about.

A New Narrative

What we need to do today is borrow the DNA of the good parts of all three sectors- public, private, and social. The public sector’s public accountability, public responsibility, a public obligation; private sector’s efficiency and generation of profits but in a way that benefits all; social sector’s civil society obligations and the way they show their social outlooks.

We must combine the DNA of all the three and bring in a new narrative and economic model whose primacy is social intent and a planet-friendly world but doesn’t sacrifice making profits. It’s not about giving up profits but making profits in a way that is fair, just, ethical, and distributes the profits reasonably based on the contribution of what each person brings to the table.

Acknowledgment: Chhavi Kapoor is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing bachelors in Political Science, Literature, and Economics from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai

By Simi Mehta, Amita Bhaduri, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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