Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Food retailers are not alone in allowing merchandise to sit on the shelves till they can only be discarded . In visits to some garment manufacturers we noticed the storage areas where garments are stocked . Many of the garments were 2-3 years old . Some produced even earlier . Clearly unsold inventory . Assuming that they were hoping that some of the styles would come back into fashion and could therefore be sold - there's a long wait at the end of which the garment may be unusable . Especially since they are stored without much care (the same garment would survive better in a consumer's wardrobe ). The idea seems to be that as long as the garment shows in inventory it's technically not a loss . It can uphold the illusion that one day it will be sold and at recover the cost incurred in making it .
Donating unsaleable / rejected garments or selling at charitable prices will make a difference to a lot of recepients in India . It would free up space , resources , manpower and energy for the manufacturer .

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wealth does not mean development

Wealth should not to be automatically interpreted as sign of development / progress .

Meet me at Nokia at 6.30 pm

This could soon be part of metro commuter lingo at Dubai ( Non-residents of Dubai may be forgiven for thinking that the residents are either loony or speaking in code ) .
The Dubai Metro naming rights project gives companies and institutions the opportunity to put their name to 23 stations and two lines on the Metro, the first of which is set to open in September 2009 and the second in March 2010.
His Excellency Mattar Al Tayer, RTARTA Chairman of the Board and Executive Director said at the press launch of the project: "The ability to secure a station name from the outset is unique - no other Government in the world has planned naming rights as part of its transport infrastructure at conception stage. We expect this innovation to make its mark world-wide, and kick start a new marketing concept that sees governments raising funds to improve services, whilst giving companies a totally new platform for marketing, sampling and customer interaction."
Clearly there's no end to the quest to constantly turn people into consumers . Indeed this may signify the beginning...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Waste disposal by organized (?) food retailers in India

Organized retail's underbelly exposes missing responsibility . A timely and relevant article in MINT.

Most of large food retailers in India exhibit the civic sense of a hawker . The singleminded pursuit of profits seems to make them oblivious to the impact on the environment and society . Besides the issue of waste disposal retailers can make a significant impact by developing a mechanism to predict waste / make a calculated judgement . Such products can be given to the needy well in time for it to be safe and healthy to consume. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for retailers need not be a separate activity divorced from their daily business .

The power of design

IIT professor's collapsible container design could change the cargo trade .

Billions of dollars and more importantly fuel is wasted in transporting empty containers across the planet . This generates pollution and waste . The new container designed by Anoop Chawla and Sudipto Mukherjee from IIT Delhi can be collapsed or erected in 4 minutes . A special platform , or base station , folds the containers hydraulically to one quarter it's size . This means that 4 empty containers can be transported in the space and cost of 1 .
The potential planetary impact of this innovation is significant .
- Reduced need for fuel
- Lesser pollution
- Cost effectiveness in transport which will (eventually) lead to reduced prices of the products transported
- Reduced waste / time lag in meeting requirements . Currently a problem in several parts of the world where trade is hindered / paralysed for want of containers .

It could take a few years before the benefits of this new container design is experienced worldwide . The beginning has been made .To paraphase a bank ad (I forget which one ) ' someday all shipping will be done this way' .

Design for Life

Wallpaper which reacts to temperature change . Expose it to heat (e.g by switching the radiator on ) and hidden flowers bloom on the wallpaper . Creativity in full bloom .

Refreshing approach to design by Shi Yuan 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Human billboards

While watching a few mins of the IPL cricket match today I was struck by the visual cacophony in the uniform of each team . Advertising taken to extreme lengths . Each player seems to have 2-3 brand names on his clothing . This is in addition to the team name on their shirts.
Seen as a photo it is less chaotic than watching it on TV . Truly 'brands in motion' .
At the end of the IPL season the players may experience withdrawal symptoms in wearing clothes where the label is on the inner side of the garment ! Plus they may evaluate the garment several times over saying "only 1 label on this garment ? how is that possible ? " . An opportunity perhaps for stylists and therapists to move in and encash on the IPL mania.

Monday, April 21, 2008

David and Goliath

Visted the branch of a large Indian private sector bank to get some documents that are needed at the end of a financial year . Turnover rates being rather high at this bank every year there's inevitably a new set of people to interact with every year . Today's duo made it sound like creating the documents would be a herculean task and a huge favour when it would be finally done. They wanted minimum (repeatedly emphasised 'minimum') 7-10 days for a task which in the past 2 years was getting done in 3-4 days .
Thereafter I visited the dealer of a popular mobile phone brand . The dealer - while he represents a famous brand - is essentially an entrepreneur . His service is exceptional and consistent . There's a personal touch to the service which is sorely lacking in many retail / service establishment these days . To regular customers he offers the option to buy and pay the following day or later by cheque (most folks may not avail of it but it's reassuring to know that the option exists. Can't think of any stores which would offer the facility including Nokia's own stores ) Manages to solve technical problems which the mobile service provider's fancy help line doesn't . There is a proven assurance that one can rely on him in case of any difficulties faced with the phones .
A large bank with employees unwilling to even understand a customer's point of view . And an entrepreneur whose exceptional service brings business and enhanced credibility to a global brand .

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Terrific video - Story of Stuff . Relevant for all citizens of the planet .
(thanks Ranju for emailing the link )

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some thoughts on the food crisis

Globally prices of most food commodities and food products have shot up . Most people feel the impact though the degree of impact would vary by a wide margin . For an average urban/middle class family it may mean a cut back on eating out / entertainment / some discretionary expense to off set the increased proportion of income that is spent on food purchases . At reduced income levels - rising food costs directly impact the quantity and quality of food . For millions hunger remains a prolonged experience .

The current state of affairs is a mess of our (mankind's ) own making . No other species embarked on reckless and ill-planned consumption and put the planet and it's inhabitants at risk as a consequence .

Clean water and healthy food are basic essentials for life . Today these are already a worrying concern . Left unaddressed it can grow to catastrophic proportions . If that were to happen it would be a double tragedy because it would have been an avoidable fate .

Planting fruit , vegetable trees in homes and communities -

Rising demand for fuel has led to agricultural land being diverted for bio-fuel crop cultivation.
Bio-fuel needs significant acreage for it to be viable . It is however possible to plant fruit and vegetable ,herb trees , plants in communities . To plant a tomato tree all that is needed is a small patch of soil and care to tend to the plant . That one tree would provide nutrition to a family at no extra cost .

In a recent visit to a village in Central India I noticed that several of the houses though small had little mud courtyards . There was ample space around clusters of houses . The soil is conducive for vegetation . But there were hardly any plants or trees . These were very low income families . Lack of education and awareness coupled with low income has a debilitating effect . Solutions within reach are not then seen or explored .

Planting vegetable and fruit trees in homes and communities could have a side effect of sensitizing a wider cross section of people to nature and fostering closer ties within the community (families sharing / bartering produce ).
Utopian ? Maybe . If we don't dream of a better world we'll never find ourselves in one .

Sharing food -

Many of us can relate with the experience of buying food and having to discard part or all of it simply because it was not consumed before the expiry date . If we make it an active discipline to ensure that food is shared in a timely way it can help alleviate part of the food needs of at least a few .

This can be done at an individual as well as organizational level . e.g supermarkets routinely dispose off food when it exceeds the expiry date . This applies to fresh produce and packaged food . Surely , retailers would have (or can develop ) some mechanism to predict the wastage. And instead of waiting for the food to wait on the shelf until the expiry date they can make an assessment and donate the food while it can still be consumed without any risk. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility ) then need not be a separate activity isolated from the daily business .

Sharing non-food products like clothing , appliances etc too will help in meeting a need and not burdening the planet further with unused waste .
(Sharing would (hopefully) have the side-effect of reducing the feeling of isolation that many people have)

The solutions possible are significant . What is needed is the passion and discipline to make a difference . As Einstein aptly said ' The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.'

What can eventually save the planet is love , compassion , generosity and creativity which will undoubtedly manifest in physical action - by millions for millions .

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Innovation + technology to tackle illiteracy

Computer Based Functional Literacy - software developed by TCS which enables an illiterate person to acquire basic literacy in 40 hours . An innovative and powerful solution to tackle the problem of illiteracy .

Pl click on the link above and see the details of the software . 

A powerful example of the benefits possible when innovation and technology are combined to find solutions .

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


There's a lot of speculation that the US is headed for a recession . At the very least a drop in growth . There are reports of widespread layoffs already by various companies . In any country this would impact consumer sentiment and a resultant drop in purchases of discretionary products and services .  Company responses to such a scenario vary . Some would seek to reduce costs by ruthless (at times ridiculous) negotiation with suppliers on whom they can wield influence (post 9/11 there was a period of flux in US retail with sales dropping for a few months . A large clothing brand sent out a communique to their vendor base in India asking for a 2% discount with retrospective effect ostensibly to help them survive that phase .Which in itself was ridiculous considering that the company was facing a drop in profits and not the prospect of bankruptcy . It was in fact a veiled threat that vendors who did not co-operate could expect no business . When asked that would they consider a 2% hike in prices with retrospective effect when they experience good sales there was no reply) , substitute materials as a route to cost cutting , reduce volumes (sensible idea) , offer discounts etc . Within organizations often new initiatives , product , design development tend to be underfunded when recessionary fears abound . There would be a reluctance to explore new supply sources .

A few (smart) companies however will recognize that in times like these innovation , design and quality are more important than ever . And will invest their time , efforts and resources to offer a compelling reason to their customers to spend their dollars on their product / service . It will be interesting to watch the (eventual) winners of this phase .