Escape velocity: Reaction to “We are like that only” by Rama Bijapurkar

Posted on December 24, 2007  /  0 Comments

Rama was the keynote speaker at CPRsouth2.  She was fascinating.  A person who looks at the bottom of pyramid without a special emphasis on ICTs; relying on data, but applying real thinking to the data rather than just parrot the data.  End result was that I bought her book and read it end-to-end (something I rarely do these days).


She mentions in several places that the SEC D&E consumers are willing to spend more money than expected on education, health and transport.  She also mentions ICTs.   In her talk she mentioned that many in SEC D are pulling their children out of government schools and putting them into private schools that teach in the English medium.  Her explanation, which I think is still a hypothesis, is the search for “escape velocity.”


The analogy is to the burst of energy required to break free of the earth’s gravitational pull.  These people and their children, she argues, are stuck.   If they do not do something unusual, they will remain in more or less the same socio-economic group.  They see education (in ICTs, in English, etc.) as something that will allow a child the break free of the gravitational pull holding back the family.   Maybe, actually break free; maybe, give the hope of breaking free.   If the child does break free, the whole family will be liberated.   They will move from SEC E to SEC C or whatever.


From a long time back people have been searching for the causal link between investment in ICTs and development.   If a dollar invested in ICTs gives 1+x dollars of economic growth, the case is made for greater investment in ICTs.   So we have studied transaction costs and all sorts of things, looking for the magic factor.


Perhaps we have not been asking the right question.   Ashok Jhunjhunwala’s slides showing a radical rearrangement of the urban and rural income quintiles (in the urban case, going from a pyramid shape to a classic bell shape within maybe 5-6 years of rapid growth; and in the rural case, changing the shape from an exponential decline to a more conventional pyramid) need to be brought into the discussion to fill this out.   His data seems to show that large numbers of Indians at the very bottom of the pyramid are moving up, changing the shape of the income distribution from a pyramid to a diamond, at least  in India’s urban areas.   The macro data shows a significant number of Indians gaining escape velocity.   


Rama, beginning from a completely different starting point of demand analysis, appears to see the same phenomenon. Is what she is seeing from the micro level and what Ashok is seeing from the macro that same thing?   Is this a general increase in mobility, or does ICT have something to do with it?   What kinds of questions can we include in our teleuse@BOP survey to capture this?   If we do capture it, how will it change the discourse on ICT4D?           

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