Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Helen McCallum's India Diary: Call for collective action, Part Two

CI Director General Helen McCallum travelled throughout India recently meeting with many CI members to discuss how a vast country with a disparate population can most effectively promote consumer rights. In Part 2 of her blog, she looks at possible solutions.
Despite much animated discussion and useful debate over Indian tea and spicy food during my trip, there is no single emerging solution to the problems of the consumer rights movement in India.

However, part of the answer may be to build on the strength of each consumer organisation (CO), pooling resources where it makes sense to do so and, unless it is critical to meet a specific local need, avoid duplicating expensive outlays.

Many of the European COs have concluded that collective purchasing of comparative testing laboratories is more cost effective than each organisation attempting to go it alone. They would, therefore, urge Indian COs to start active discussions about sharing facilities and undertaking joint action.

With all those I met I posed the question, “How much do you work with other COs?” The answers I heard varied from examples of active local cooperation to occasional participation in each other’s seminars to the reply “ego is the stumbling block!”.

So how can Indian COs work together?
  • By pooling publishing resources, sharing relevant content and translating it into different languages, pooling design or printing services to get better deals;
  • By sharing testing resources, ie, using the labs that exist already in India rather than creating new ones;
  • By creating a national network of experts who can add much needed research and policy weight to advocacy campaigns and even joining forces to run a nationwide campaign where this makes sense; and
  • By extending the cooperative purchasing model to cover more of India and consider joint purchasing of services as well as food and household goods.
All this could result in a ground breaking network of powerful consumer bodies better equipped to build consumer power and activism at the grass roots level and more powerful and impossible to ignore at the national level, with government and corporations alike.

Such a powerful network would also look much more attractive to international funding bodies – which not unreasonably want to see their funds make a real national impact – and who are reluctant to fund organisations which appear to be duplicating the work of others.

This view was supported by the representative of GIZ India who I talked to over breakfast one day – and is perhaps the impetus behind the government funded apex body CCC.

CI has already begun to explore this type of cooperative coming together in Africa – another large continent with many underfinanced and relatively small COs spread across a vast geographical area with significant consumer need and various cultural and linguistic differences.

The initiative is in the early stages but the concept is that larger and stronger CI members in different parts of Africa will act as the “hub” around which smaller groups gather – coming together to join forces on CI campaigns, training sessions and learning from each other.

The existence of these hubs – likely to be four or five in number – enables the CI staff (only three in Africa at the moment) to physically meet up with all members – visiting them all singly would just be impossible – and helps us to direct support and help in a targeted way.

If this works – and we should give it time to develop – it might also be a model which could be applied to India and perhaps other parts of the world.

CI's Resource Zone is another example of collective working - we want it to be a hub for research and capacity building materials that will empower member organisations worldwide.  

1 comment:

  1. I think Ms McCallum has rightly diagnosed the problem facing the Indian COs . Networking is almost non-existent. The individual COs are not going along with the spirit of united movement. Lack of unity of thought is the main reason for this poor national impact. As the Indian model is predominantly VCO ( Voluntary Consumer Organisation), each participating member from each organisation should be allowed to directly participate in the national level policy making process at the CCC. This may be possible with the help of internet voting on point wise topics. This may be the only way by which the volunteers from across the vast country may be encouraged in more active participation in the movement.