Monday, 8 February 2016

Digital Empowerment Foundation founder Osama Manzar on what he would do with a billion dollars

Each week, we (livemint,com) ask people working in the field of public policy what they would do if they were given a billion dollars to spend on projects. What policy initiatives would they fund, and how would they spend this money?

This week, we spoke to Osama Manzar, founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation.

If you have your own billion-dollar plan, send it to Selected entries will be published online.

Here. Take a billion dollars. So, is that enough money to do anything substantial in public policy in India? Why or why not?

Actually, public policy does not need money. If we want any new public policy, we need sustained advocacy after having identified the public issue, and provide policy options. If there is an existing public policy that needs meticulous implementation then, yes, a financial allocation can be used to partly fund the entire implementation in a particular area or a region or a state.

Incidentally, in India, there are several public policies and they often suffer from bad planning and implementation to make an adequate impact. For example, take the case of Right To Information (RTI). It is a great public policy and it is also something extremely desired and people-driven, yet it has been suffering challenges of adequate implementation.

On the one hand, RTI hasn’t even reached the last woman in a village—beneficiaries of RTI applications is estimated at barely 8 million citizens a year. At the same time, governments and the bureaucracy have relentlessly complained about too many “undesirable RTI applications”.

Another public policy that really bothers me a lot for not having been meticulously implemented is right to education (RTE). If I have a chance to look at just one policy and one area of public good that must not be compromised, I would choose 1.4 million government schools in India and ensure they deliver what they are meant for.

Coming to what a billion dollars can do for a chosen public policy. Let me start by looking at what $1 billion means to India. A billion is a 100 crore, which is the population that is yet to be connected to the Internet. A 100 crore dollars converted into Indian currency would somewhere around Rs6,500 crore. Interestingly, if I want this money to be used for connecting the unconnected India, I will have just a dollar, or about Rs65, per person to connect them. Which is not a lot.

However, if I choose to use it for the purpose of RTE, it gives me just about Rs46,000 per school to make all the changes that is desired. So, then the issue is what can Rs46,000 do for a school in a village in India?

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