Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Individual Actions for Greater Greener Good

At the Andhra Pradesh Forest Academy

It was a great honor for me to be asked to be Chief Guest at the Earth Day celebration organized by the AP Forest Academy and AP Environment Connect on April 22.  The ceremony featured awards to and presentations by citizens dedicated to protecting the environment in a variety of ways, including planting trees, combating plastic, harvesting rainwater and raising awareness.  Each of them demonstrated how individuals can make a difference—but their most important contribution is their inspirational example. The importance of good examples was stressed by the apt designation they were awarded: that of Environmentalists Worth Emulating.  If we all were to emulate them, the state of Andhra Pradesh would be a cleaner, healthier and more beautiful place to live.

In advance of Earth Day, the Consulate supported the NGO Better Hyderabad by participating in a trash run on Necklace Road on April 17.  I was on my way to Mumbai at the time, so I could not participate, but I hope this is something we’ll do again.  Picking up garbage is worthwhile in itself, but the biggest benefit of such activities is raising awareness of the importance of respecting the local environment.  My colleagues told me they also gained a deeper appreciation and respect for the hard work that street sweepers carry out tirelessly every day—let’s all give them some consideration.  In my lifetime in the U.S., littering has changed from a common activity that no one thought a lot about to a socially unacceptable and relatively rare offense.  I hope the same thing happens in India. 

The U.S. may have come a long way as far as littering is concerned, but I learned a surprising and disappointing fact about my countrymen while researching Earth Day last week.  According to the Gallup Poll, in 2008 67% of Americans said they worried a great deal or a fair amount about climate change.  In 2011, that number had declined to 51%.  I hope this is more a reflection of Americans being distracted by economic woes.  The scientific evidence that climate change is happening as a result of human activity is clear.  While we may be enjoying an unusually comfortable April this year in Hyderabad, I know that the trend lies in the other direction. 

A volunteer at the 'Trash the Trash' run 
This year’s Earth Day slogan, “A Billion Acts of Green,” reminds us all of the importance of individual action to achieving global environmental goals.  When it comes to climate change, though, individual action is essential but not sufficient to meet the challenge.  We need action at the national and international level as well.  I’m pleased that, despite opinion polls in the U.S., President Obama was clear about this in his Earth Day Proclamation (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/22/presidential-proclamation-earth-day)  when he said: “Our entire planet must address this problem because no nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change.” 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Franchising: A Win-Win Situation

With the IACC Chairman 
The Consulate had the great pleasure of hosting Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nicole Lamb-Hale and a delegation of American companies this week.  The companies visited Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi to explore interest in India in the franchises they represented.  Most of the companies were offering opportunities for investors to license food and restaurant franchises, and that this is an area where American companies have a record of success was demonstrated by an event that the Assistant Secretary attended during the visit: the celebration of the 200th Subway sandwich franchise in India.  But whether we’re talking about a franchised Denny’s Restaurant or a new Radio Shack outlet, the high level of interest we saw in Hyderabad was a clear indication of how valuable these kinds of opportunities are for both sides. 
Of course the American companies are excited about the potential in India’s massive population and high rate of economic growth.  But Indians are also excited about the possibility of adopting proven best practices, participating in brands with worldwide recognition, and delivering their customers guaranteed top quality products.  It was great to be part of the process, and after all of eight months in India, I enjoyed with some trepidation being turned to by the visitors as an expert on the local market environment.
While I might not be an expert on India, one of the things that was brought home to me was how much I have dropped out of touch with some of what’s going on in the U.S. today—and how knowledgeable many Hyderabadis are about my country.  Some of the visitors represented relatively new, fast-growing chains that I’d never heard of-- like the “Which wich” restaurant--but our Indian guests at a reception knew just who they were.  I told the visitors I thought the strong links between Andhra Pradesh and the United States made this the best prospective market in India for their success.
The visitors were here less than 24-hours.  While I think their short visit was enough to show them what I meant about this being an ideal environment, it wasn’t nearly long enough for both Indian and Americans to exploit the win-win potential of the trade mission.  I told the visitors that I hope to welcome them back soon to finalize deals, and when they return, they need to make time to visit some of the state’s other population centers, like Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam.  I’m determined to build more U.S.-India connections throughout my consular district.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trafficking-Modern Day Slavery

I recently visited Prajwala (www.prajwala.com), an NGO that is dedicated to combating sex trafficking and caring for its victims.  Trafficking, the modern day equivalent of slavery, is one of the issues that American diplomats focus on throughout the world.  It’s a global problem affecting as many as 27 million people at any given time, including millions of Indians subjected to forced labor, bonded labor and commercial sexual exploitation.

 My visit to Prajwala’s office and some of its facilities gave me a much deeper understanding of the evil effects of sex trafficking.  Evil is not the kind of word I use as a diplomat, but after meeting victims at a Prajwala center, I’m not going to pretend that I’m a dispassionate observer.  Prajwala engages in a full range of activities, including advocacy and efforts at trafficking prevention, but the major focus of its work is on rescuing and rehabilitating women and girls who are victims of sex trafficking.  Not only does sex trafficking involve injury and abuse, it robs its victims of their own sense of humanity, and wipes out their comprehension of what normal human interactions are like.  Prajwala patiently works with victims to restore their sense of self worth and self control.  It was wonderful for me to see the pride women working in Prajwala’s workshops felt in their skills.  

At a sheltered school it was very moving to see how children who were victims of sex trafficking (some as young as 3-years-old) could recover the ability to act as children, and work toward reintegration into normal schools.  But it was also clear that not everyone recovers.  I met some children who were rescued years ago, but suffered physical or psychological injury so great that they will never be “normal” again.  Meeting them was heartbreaking, and I know that what happened to them can only be called evil.

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, one of Prajwala’s founders, was my briefer and guide on Monday.  She has received numerous accolades, including being recognized as an anti-trafficking in person’s hero by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.  While I’m amazed and humbled by her dedication and her effectiveness, I think every one of the employees and volunteers I met is also a hero.  Not only do they tirelessly restore hope to the hopeless, they also suffer assaults and insults from mafia members and traffickers seeking to undermine Prajwala’s efforts. 

The other thing that struck me about Prajwala was how well it worked in partnership with others.  Prajwala works closely with the police to locate and rescue victims.  It works with government agencies to provide services to victims.  It works with the private sector to identify vocational opportunities for rehabilitated victims.  And Prajwala provides training and advice to other organizations seeking to provide similar services.  Partnership increases Prajwala’s effectiveness and magnifies its impact. A video of a presentation Dr. Krishnan gave in Mysore can be viewed at  http://www.ted.com/talks/sunitha_krishnan_tedindia.html

 Praheen, one of the little girls she talks about, was one of the damaged children who broke my heart on Monday. You’ll know what I mean if you hear her story.

On March 28, Prajwala launched a campaign called “Men Against Demand” to fight trafficking by reducing demand for prostitution.  Men interested in pledging to stop buying sex and to support the human dignity of women can sign the pledge at http://www.change.org/petitions/pledge-to-be-a-man-against-demand-for-prostitution