Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Magic of Bamboo

Co-Author: Saumya Rastogi

Bamboo, one of the oldest plantations in India is not as well tapped in India as compared to the other countries. This is very strange as it’s a native of India, yet, we do not realize its importance and right usage. Prashant and Aruna set out to revive the bamboo usage in India. Prashant is a Post Graduate in Management from Osmania University and Aruna is a Post Graduate in Science from Nagpur University. During their search for furniture, they realized that the market was dominated by iron, steel, plastic and wooden furniture. Bamboo was nowhere to be seen. Their search for eco-friendly furniture led to the emergence of Bamboo House.

Here is the story of Bamboo House from its founders Prashant and Aruna.

Bamboo House is a social venture focused on incorporating bamboo to provide sustainable livelihood. Would you like to talk about your ‘green’ startup and its emergence?
Bamboo House is a “Social Enterprise” utilizing bamboo as an economic driver for providing sustainable livelihood opportunities through business models designed to work at the base of the economic pyramid and promote bamboo as an eco-friendly substitute to wood, steel, iron and plastic.

On a sunny evening we were shopping around to buy a sofa set for our home but noticed that market was inundated with routine wood, steel, iron and plastic furniture. We searched around and noticed that overseas markets offered numerous bamboo product opportunities but Indian markets offered no simple solution.

Our search for bamboo furniture landed us up in a small village called “Katlamara” in the state of Tripura on the India – Bangladesh International border. “Katlamara” is a sleepy little village, one of the many bamboo and skill rich locations of our country. Village “Katlamara” is politically India but geographically Bangladesh (during Independence, King of Katlamara decided to merge with India). We decided to understand Indian bamboo sector and went for a “study tour” as we sensed Triple bottom-line impact bamboo could create. We had no specific Entrepreneurial motive since we had no idea what bamboo was all about. 

Family and friends were surprised at our decision, we were less than a year into our marriage, and left our respective careers. I was in my established imports business and Aruna dropped her plans of pursuing her Ph.D. We knew it was a big risk but were prepared. I handled half of country's forest and Aruna handled the other half and finally in May 2008 our study tour led to the evolution of our Social Enterprise “Bamboo House” in Hyderabad.

Any particular reason for choosing “Bamboo”? Do you have any expert team for choosing the bamboo appropriate for product development?
We chose Bamboo for Triple Bottom-line Results:
  1. Social: Bamboo can help more than 5 million of our population cross the poverty line
  2. Environmental: Bamboo minimizes emission of CO2 gases and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stand of trees.
  3. Financial: Indian Bamboo Market is estimated at Rs. 26,000 Crores by the year 2015 which provides strong growth opportunities

What are the pricing strategy/ methodology adopted at Bamboo House for product pricing?
We have no defined strategy for pricing as we are not operating under fair market conditions.

Bamboo based products are eco-friendly but the fear of termites, pest attacks always prevail. How do you ensure effective monitoring to avoid damage?
Treatment and seasoning of bamboo is done over a period of 12 -15 months and all required technical precautions are taken to ensure products / projects lasts a lifetime, and in any case not less than 30 years.

What are the major challenges faced by you in developing this venture?
We did face several challenges in developing this venture. Bamboo is under Regulatory constraints as per the Forest Act 1927. Harvesting & Transportation of bamboo is not permitted under the Act. Another problem is that Forest Act does not provide any right to choose the bamboo. We have to buy what is sold but while making products we make the right selection from available stock. There are various other challenges like:
·         There is no benchmark to follow in this industry
·         Raw material available through forest auction is not suitable for commercial applications
·         Every state has its own laws on bamboo for forests being in the concurrent list of the constitution
·         Bamboo traps both air and moisture, making it a difficult raw material to work with
·         Most of the tribal forest areas are inhabited by Naxalites
·         Learning the concept and mapping Raw Material species and Resource base is a challenge as well
·         Development of Logistics, supply chain, distribution, operations and Business modeling
·         Scaling and building volumes in this business is not easy
·         Lack of communication and transportation facilities at the production level

All of these make the business quite difficult operationally.

What according to you is the unique selling proposition (USP) for Bamboo House?
Domain expertise, passion and our ability to play well in this sector. We have very high domain knowledge which helps us.

Has bamboo house received any funding in the past? Are you seeking more funds in the future?
We decided to fund/ support our social venture through borrowings from friends and family apart from very little personal savings we had. We knew that no bank/ financial institution would come forward to support us initially.

We raised our first bank loan from Bank of Baroda under PMEGP Scheme under Credit Guarantee Scheme and are now looking to raise funds again to scale our initiative.

What are your future plans? How do you see ‘green architect’ evolving in the future?
We will persist in our endeavor to create sustainable livelihood models and ensure larger involvement at the grass root level. We understood that our country cannot grow and develop if our villages don't grow and we believe that bamboo can serve as one of the growth engines for the country. Some of our new initiatives are: Bamboo Bicycle, Recycled Tyre Furniture, Recycled Tyre Planters, Recycled Tyre Bags, Recycled Tyre Footwear, Bio-Degradable Sanitary Pads, Incinerator for Disposal of Used Sanitary Pads, Recycled Drum Furniture, Street Dust Bins – With Scrap Drums, Low Cost Bamboo Based Toilets for Rural India.

What has been your Eureka! Moments in the journey so far?
Had it not been for the media support, we wouldn’t have travelled this far in our bamboo journey. Nearly 25 of country's leading news channels and 150 newspapers and magazines including BBC helped us in taking our work ahead, as we were very clear from the beginning that community model should be media supported and market driven only then livelihoods can be sustained at the base level.

2013 – March-April: Our Bamboo Initiative received further support, through “International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP)” - A 4 week programme of the US State Department.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How India Grapples with Cyber Threats

This article was first published by the Global Association for Risk Professionals on December 01, 2016;

On October 21, the National Payments Council of India confirmed one of the country’s biggest data breaches: a compromise of 3.2 million debit cards issued by leading banks including the State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank. It was a reminder that even as the Narendra Modi government has embarked on the Digital India campaign, cyber vulnerabilities and their costs to both the private and public sectors are significant and increasing.

Various studies show that the number of cybercrimes has been increasing substantially. As per data from the National Crime Records Bureau, it grew by 23 times over the 2005-2015 period. 

ASSOCHAM-Mahindra SSG put the compound annual growth rate at 107% from 2011 to 2015.
An Ernst & Young report said that 40% of respondents from India highlighted an increasing level of concern around cyber breaches or insider threats over the last two years. In March 2016, Ravi Shankar Prasad, then Communications and IT minister of India, reported to the upper house of parliament that in the year 2014, cybercrime cases in India went up by 69%.

Countermeasures in Progress
The government has stepped up efforts to combat cybercrime. Programs include public education to spread awareness, and there is a proposal to set up a cybersecurity and e-surveillance agency. In addition, the Reserve Bank of India, Securities Exchange Board of India and other regulators have issue cybersecurity guidelines and are expected to beef them up.

Microsoft Corp. has launched a Cyber Security Engagement Center (CSEC) in the National Capital Region. Microsoft India Chairman Bhaskar Pramanik said that “CSEC’s mission is to help build a trusted and secure computing environment, a critical enabler for India’s digital transformation. It will work towards fostering deeper cybersecurity collaborations with public- and private-sector organizations.”

In announcing the commitment, Pramanik said, “Cybersecurity is crucial for Digital India. A data driven economy can flourish only when governments, businesses and individuals have access to hyper scale and hyper flexible cloud computing with the confidence that their data is secure.”

Even as such initiatives become more critical, the National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 has not yet been implemented. Coordination is essential to tackle the menace of cybercrime. During the recently concluded CyFy 2016, the India conference on Internet Governance and Cyber Security, organized by the Observer Research Foundation, in Delhi, Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden and head of the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG), told the Times of India that “as an emerging cyber power, India needs to engage seriously on issues of Internet governance.”

Liability Insurance
While it is taking time to devise and implement policies at the national level, there is a solution that businesses can consider immediately: cyber liability insurance. The product has been available in the Indian market for some time, and companies in the IT, IT-enabled services and health care industries are showing interest. Most banks, however, have not gone beyond buying the mandatory bankers’ indemnity coverage.

“Cyber liability insurance is becoming very important nowadays, especially in the backdrop of the rising number of instances of cybercrime and data breaches,” says Sushant Sarin, senior vice president–commercial lines, Tata AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd.

“We see that more and more companies are buying them,” he says. “Those companies which were the first movers are buying more cover, and those that have not bought it yet are starting to explore it.”

The “limit of liability” for which companies need to buy insurance depends upon various factors, such as the type and volume of data, origin of data, location where the data resides, sensitivity of the data, data security protocols, peer group benchmarking, etc.

“If the data originates from Europe or the U.S., the data privacy laws are stricter there, so more Insurance will be required,” Sarin explains. “Similarly, if the data is personally sensitive or creates financial vulnerabilities, the amount of Insurance required will be much more.”

Possible Payouts
Sarin says that the amount payable by an insurance company when a cybercrime or data breach occurs would depend upon such factors as how the data got out; costs of notifying customers about the breach; fines or penalties imposed by regulatory bodies; damages awarded by courts to affected customers; reputational damage, etc.

One reason why some companies have not yet bought cyber liability coverage could be lack of awareness about the products, or a misguided belief that their organizations are secure. Given the current level of cyber risks and the likelihood that they will only get worse, the ready availability of insurance provides a practical option.