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What Jharkhand’s Dolly Kumari learnt -– and how it could change India’s Textiles Industry

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Apr 18, 2017: In 2014, Dolly Kumari, an outspoken 12th class passout, left her home in Jharkhand, journeying about 2,000 km south to a new job as a tailor at a garment factory in Bengaluru. Like most workers in this sector, when she first came, she did not think of staying beyond a few months. Today, over two years later, at 21, Kumari is one of two assistant line supervisors on the factory floor of Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd., overseeing the work of 119 tailors. Her salary has risen 66 per cent, from Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,300 per month. She talks easily of time management and effective communication, and hopes one day to become a floor-in-charge.

Much of her success, she says, can be attributed to a life-skills training programme called Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement, or PACE, designed by Gap Inc., a clothing multinational. Through two-hour sessions every week for 11 months, conducted by qualified PACE trainers, the programme taught Kumari how to, among other things, manage her time productively and communicate effectively.

In 2011, three US-based economists — Achyuta Adhvaryu, Namrata Kala, and Anant Nyshadham — conducted a randomised controlled trial (RCT) at a few Shahi factories in Bengaluru to ascertain the impact of PACE. The research found that nine months after programme completion, the net rate of return to her company’s investment in her job and life skills was more than 250 per cent.

Cited by former US President Bill Clinton as an idea that is changing the world, in a 2012 TIME magazine article, the programme has trained 45,000 garment workers worldwide (including 26,600 in India, where it first began in 2007).

It contributes uniquely to the Indian government’s Skill India initiative and indicates how workers can achieve new skills and companies can increase profits in a sector that can be critical to India’s economic growth. In recent times, this sector, as IndiaSpend reported on July 30, 2016, has been witnessing plateauing job growth and wilting export volumes. However, with rising labour costs in China ($3.52 per hour in manufacturing compared to India’s $0.92 per hour in 2014), as Bloomberg reported in November 2014, India stands to gain from this competitive advantage. In this context, the PACE programme has the potential to change how the garment industry recruits, skills and retains female workers.

Garments generate 13 times more jobs than IT sector

India’s textiles and apparel sector is the country’s second-largest employment provider, after agriculture. In 2015-16, textiles and apparel directly employed 105 million people — 13 times more than the information technology sector or equivalent to the population of South Korea — and constituted 15 per cent of India’s export earnings.

Every investment of $0.15 million in the apparel sector generates between 56 and 84 jobs, compared with an average of six jobs across all industrial sectors, according to government statistics.

Textile and apparel factories also play a crucial role in skilling and employing women: While female labour-force participation in India has fallen over the decade ending 2015, as IndiaSpend reported on March 8, 2016, this sector has consistently generated more jobs for women than any other sector.

The organised apparel segment is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 13 per cent over the next 10 years, according to a 2016 report from the India Brand Equity Foundation, a government-run trust.

In view of these statistics, and the potential for the garments sector to absorb even larger numbers of female workers, the researchers asked: How can garment firms be better incentivised to promote the wellbeing of their workers?

How Shahi Exports and its workers benefitted from life-skills training

PACE was piloted in 2007 in Shahi factories, which now cumulatively employ more than 110,000 people. In 2012, Adhvaryu, Kala and Nyshadham evaluated the impact of the programme at five Shahi factories in the Bengaluru area.

The RCT covered 2,703 workers who had expressed interest in the programme, of which about 1,000 were randomly chosen to participate and the remainder allocated to a control group, which did not receive the training.

Through weekly two-hour sessions, PACE covered essential life skills such as communication, time management, financial literacy, problem solving and decision-making.

The cumulative costs of the programme to the company plateaued at $90,285 (Rs 61.45 lakh) at the end of 11 months since it started, while the gains continued to increase even after this period, standing at $321,145 (Rs 2.18 crore) at the end of 20 months. The low cost of administering the programme combined with the gains in productivity and person-days (a measure of factor manpower) explain its potential.

Workers who received such attention were more likely to enrol in skill-development training at the company, to save for their children’s education and to utilise state-sponsored pension and health care schemes. They also had higher self-esteem and displayed more sociability.

For female workers, lasting life changes and increased wages

The experiment is unique in that it demonstrated that skill-development programmes delivered through companies have the potential to be profit-generating engines that also promote worker wellbeing,

Providing training in life skills to women does not just make them more productive employees; it also creates lasting changes in women’s domestic lives and increases their effective wage, because skilling is an in-kind transfer from the firm to the worker.

Propelled by the positive results of this and other similar studies in the past five years, two of the researchers — Adhvaryu and Nyshadham — along with the head of organisational development at Shahi, Anant Ahuja, founded The Good Business Lab in March 2017. Funded through corporate social responsibility and research funds, the aim of the lab is to incubate, evaluate and disseminate PACE and other research findings that benefit workers and generate profits.

PACE study has had a cascading effect

The results of this study have helped to inform Gap Inc.’s latest global expansion of the PACE programme, as well as contributed to Gap Inc.’s licensing of select firms such as Shahi, to expand PACE in their factories or outside factories in community settings.

To date, Gap Inc. has spread the programme across its vendor base in 12 countries, and more than 40,000 female garment workers have graduated from PACE.

Back in Bengaluru, Shahi assistant supervisor Kumari, who at 21 has already progressed to a senior level in her factory, said: “PACE improved my time-management skills, taught me not to discriminate on the basis of caste and made the overall work environment in the factory better.”

In an industry known for low skills and transience of jobs, Kumari does not want to join any other firm — even if it has a factory closer to home — that does not have a life-skills training programme. She wants to stay at Shahi, move further up the professional ladder, and in the process, motivate other women she lives with to be hard-working and ambitious. (IANS)

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Peace Visionary and a Man Who Believed in India’s Destiny and was Ready To Fight For It

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee -- one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it -- that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's peace visionary. Image: Flickr

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.

Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.

Vajpayee, former Indian Prime Minister
Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion.
In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.

He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach.

Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.

When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.

Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.

The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.

Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.

He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.

Also read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.

Vajpayee
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.

The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party.

In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India.

Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.

He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.

Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.

His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”

In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.

While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.

A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognize. (IANS)

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