Self Help Group (SHG), Microfinancing, Nerela, New Delhi

Savita (CSI Community Mobiliser) and Devaki (GRC Director) are facilitating a rather interesting microfinancing project in the slum called a Self Help Group (SHG) or Stree Shakti Suvidha Kendra (in Hindi). This is a program whereby they help the women in the slum to have access to a line of credit.

It works as follows: each month, every participant in this SHG puts in a nominal amount into the SHG savings pool (i.e. 100 rupees each). When they need a loan, they can ask for a loan at the SHG meeting (e.g. a minimum of 5000 rupees, at 1% a month, or 12% a year). They then pay this back at subsequent SHG meetings.

These women cannot open a bank account on their own because they do not have enough money for the initial deposit. The banks are also not easily accessible, as there are not any branches in the slum. In addition to this, if they did have an account, they would not have access to credit as they do not have a sufficient credit rating. Their only line of credit would be the money lender in the slum, who charges 5% a month interest (60% a year).

At this point it is also important to point out that interest paid on a SHG loan goes back to the members of the SHG (rather than a bank, or a money lender). Also, the shame of not paying a loan back in front of the others of the SHG means that they are very unlikely to default on their loan. CSI puts their principle amount into a bank to then gain additional interest on their principal amount. This results in a win-win scenario for them.

This SHG has 19 members and has been running for 27 months: resulting in a principal total of 51000 rupees. I then asked some questions to see how this works in practice.

Pak: “So, what do you do with the loans?”
SHG: “We use it to pay for the marriage of our daughters, buy goods in bulk for self employment, or just to handle rainy day scenarios. It is very useful.”
Pak: “51000 rupees, that’s a lot of money. Have you considered any larger projects instead of just personal loans?”
SHG: (collective silence / wide eyes).

They hadn’t even considered that collectively they had 51000 rupees. They were somewhat shocked when they realized what the question implied and what they had collectively achieved. They had created the potential for future opportunities they had never before considered.

At this point, Savita and Devaki as facilitators stepped in to help out and suggested some ideas: training and machinery, etc. They talked about this for about 10 minutes as they explored ideas I think they would not have considered alone. It was one of the most wonderful things to see that the SHG had opened doors for them that were previously shut.

Pak: “So how about a shop? Why not start something commercial?”
SHG: “No, no, no. The men will come home from work, get drunk, and then beat us up at night. Who will protect us?”

There was no shaking of heads, it was just stated like it was so obvious I was really stupid for not taking this into consideration. I asked Divesh, “Is that really true? They would get beaten up at night by the men?” He replied, “Sadly, it’s unfortunately very true. It would not be safe.”

Stories from the women in the SHG:

  • Sima. The first lady to borrow from the SHG. She took out 5000 rupees to buy toys to set up a stall in a 4 day fair in the village. She recovered the money selling half the toys in the fair and now wants to do the same thing again elsewhere.
  • Rekha. Her husband had an accident and was put into a coma. She borrowed 5000 rupees to cover the costs of him being in hospital and lost income. He has now recovered and is back at work.
  • Kumla. Borrowed money to help a friend from another village finance her daughter’s wedding.
  • Angeli. Borrowed 5000 rupees to buy and operate a mill to produce and sell flour. Now borrowing another 5000 rupees to expand and continue her operations.



Marriage Mediation, Near Pocket 11, Sector 6, Nerela

NOTE: This post has been written by Divesh Kaul with additional information from Devaki the CSI GRC’s programme manager (Child Survival India Gender Resource Center).

Geeta’s and her husband’s weeding was conducted by her family in a village of Uttar Pradesh (where the husband’s family lives). In search of better livelihood prospects the couple migrated to Delhi. Her husband however could not hold down a regular job and he also turned out to be a spendthrift, alcoholic, and a womaniser. Unable to pay the rent of their house for 4-5 months in a row, the husband ran away from the rented house and disappeared for a while.
This matter was reported to CSI’s Gender Resource Center. Their paralegal team arranged for a mediation session with the resolution of the husband agreeing to live with the wife and paying maintenance for the household expenses. The husband came back, however it did not take too long before he started regularly “disappearing” again.

Additionally, Geeta’s in-laws filed a complaint in their local family court in UP (Uttar Pradesh) that claimed that Geeta had left the house of her husband and in-laws, that she no longer wanted to live with them, and she had stolen some articles from their house. The court sought her reply. Geeta then went to UP to attend the proceedings and presented her side of the story: that she was pregnant and that her in-laws were troubling her. The court favoured her.

The CSI GRC arranged two additional mediation sessions for the couple and has also called her in-laws. Devaki feels that everything becomes normal when they intervene, but this is temporary. Some weeks after mediation, the husband and in-laws return to their previous position against Geetha. She thinks there are two reasons for that: one, Geeta’s husband is one who runs away from his responsibilities and two, her in-laws are playing foul.

Now the matter is sub judice, in a Delhi family court, and GRC is helping her with the facilitation of a lawyer.

*Footnote: The CSI Gender Resource Center promotes women empowerment by providing legal counselling, mediation, vocation training to women above 16, health, education and supporting Self Help Groups (community based micro-credit/finance).


Masti Ki Paathashaala (MKP), Fun School Project, New Delhi


The Masti Ki Paathashaala (MKP) or Fun School project being run by CSI (the NGO I’m shadowing here in Delhi). This school takes kids that have either fallen out or not been to school and provides them with remedial education to bring up their level to then reintegrate them into a government school. The Indian government has a law which makes education a right — it is free with all fees, uniforms, books, and other material paid for by the government.

The government makes education free because in the context of many poorer people education is not a priority – working is. Here’s a picture of the slum where the MKP is located.

The MKP program is completely funded by CSI who pay the rent for the building and pay the teachers (normally training teachers themselves) to bring up the level of these kids. The problems that the MKP program are addressing lie with the parents and the system.

Firstly, with many of the parents migrating to Delhi either looking for work or to join other family, they do not have official residential status, and the school can turn the kids away. CSI provides advice on what paperwork to prepare and then accompanies the parents and kids to the schools to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The second problem is a little more thorny. Some parents don’t want their kids to work and want them to work at home (or even worse, sell them to work for someone else as a home assistant, i.e. child labour). These kids don’t know better, nor do the parents as it is socially acceptable. However they do know it is illegal under Indian law to do this. CSI identifies these kids and makes the parents aware of the benefits of education and the cost (i.e. almost nothing). Asking Renu, the teacher what she does to convince parents, she simply replied, “I ask the parents if they want their kids to have the same life that they had… and that education is the way out.”

I saw one success today: the girl in the blue dress asked the teacher to be excused because she had to go home to help (i.e. probably to work). After missing out on school for a couple of years, MKP has brought her level up to her age group, and she’s been enrolled into a government school for the next term.


Vietnam: Of Visas, Ha Long Bay, and Hanoi

Whilst on holiday in Penang, my dad turned to me and asked what it would take to go to Vietnam for a couple of days. My sister and I looked at each other and said we would work it out. In the end, with about a day’s worth of planning, we turned out a great 3 day holiday to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi.

Vietnam, April 2013 album.

Here’s our recommendations (and negotiation tips):

1. Visas: I can recommend eVietnam Visa. You will probably need a visa to go to Vietnam (I entered on an Australian visa). They need a 48 hour lead time to prepare your visa, but they can rush it in 24 hours. As this is not a guaranteed SLA, I would leave at least 5 days before you leave to do this. They will prepare the visa letter to present at the airport, plus the form that you will need to fill out. They also have a free visa assistance service once you get to the Airport — remember to bring enough US dollars to cover the stamp fee once you arrive. The fees if you do it via airport pickup are cheaper than if you go via the embassy, and given how reliable it was, I would do this again.

2. Ha Long Bay Hotel + Getting Around: Stay at the Ha Long DC Hotel. They can organise transfers from the airport / Hanoi, as well as organise a tour of the Ha Long Bay area for you.

  • Hotel: The family suite we stayed in was large, clean, and very well maintained. There’s free internet on all floors. Staff are very genuinely courteous and helpful. English levels vary, so speak slowly and clearly.
  • Transfers: Call the hotel and organise a transfer from Hanoi. It will cost about 100 USD one way and take about 3 hours, which makes sense if you are a family. Note that the drivers and the tourist rest stops have an agreement. Once you arrive there, he will sit away from you. Then, you should at the very minimum buy something to eat — because the restaurant owner will share the profit with the driver by giving him food.
  • Eating near Ha Long DC Hotel: There’s a hawker food court just behind the hotel that serves great food. It opens early and closes late (around 11pm).
  • Taxis: There’s one brand of taxis that are recommended — the Mailinh group, they have green signs. Generally, their drivers have good meters, and if they don’t, take down the driver details and follow up. I had one of their drivers with a dodgy meter, and I negotiated the meter fare with him on my phone.

3. Ha Long Bay Boat Tour: You probably came here to see the bay.

  • Boat Tour: Organised by the hotel (see above). There will be a private charter available, in 4, 6, and 8 hours (they want you to take the 6 hour one generally). The fee was about 25 USD per hour, plus lunch.
  • Getting to the Boat Tour: The taxi to the boat will be in cohorts with the boat’s salesperson, and will normally take you a long way around to the bay: the fee should be around 130000 dong.
  • Boat Tour Lunch: Once at the docks, you will meet the boat’s sales person for lunch. He will start with about 15-20 USD per head for lunch (which will also need cover the lunch for the boat crew). If you are a small party, you will not be able to move too much on this, and given that you risk annoying the crew (with bad lunch) and also the sales guy before you have left, I would recommend a lighter bargaining strategy here. 50 USD for 4 was what we arrived at.  The sales guy will turn up with a couple of bags of fresh fish and food, and show you to the boat. The captain should then check the food, verify things with the sales guy, and then get underway.
  • Additional Boat Tour charges: You will need to buy tickets to a couple of the islands and keep about 20 USD per person for a row boat ride through the caves (not really negotiable). There will be a lady trying to sell some wares on the boat, you don’t need to buy from her. I would recommend that you buy some drinks however, as this pay will go directly to the crew.
  • Overnight Boat Tours: There are a couple of overnight cruises available — but after some research I didn’t end up doing them because all these boats moor in the same location. Think loud chinese karoake and toilet refuge overboard all through the night.

4. Ha Long Bay Other Attractions:

  • Bai Chay Tourist Night Markets: Yes, they are even called tourist markets and are organised by a mob who make sure that each stall has the same goods and more or less the same price. Avoid.
  • Ha Long Markets: Around Cho Ha Long in the mornings you will see a bustling market selling fresh live fish and vegetables. The sellers will arrive by boat and disembark all their goods via gang planks into the market. Incredible stuff.

5. Staying in Hanoi: Stay at the Hanoi Elegance Ruby. This is rated a 2 star, but is not at all a 2 star hotel. The family suite is really a much better room than the others and is worth upgrading to. Internet, TV, great shower, and even a loan laptop will be in the room when you arrive. Very nice welcome and helpful staff will welcome you with a drink and then take you through the touristic sights and restaurants. They can organise the airport transfer for you, if required.

6. What to see / eat in Hanoi: These are a couple of things I managed to squeeze into my 24 hours or so in Hanoi.

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausauleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, etc.: There are lots of guides that cover this, so I won’t get too much into this here.
  • Silk Shops: These will be around Hang Gai. Go early, and make sure you are the first customer — this should give you a very strong bargaining advantage (asian superstition dictates you must make the first sell, no matter what).
  • Xoi Yen: Famous for their sticky rice. Upper level overlooks a very busy street intersection.
  • Cha Ca Thang Long: Easy to order here — there’s only one dish. They do grilled fish with vegetables and noodles, assembled on a hot plate on the table.
  • Pho Ga Dac Biet: From memory, this is on the corner of Bat Dan and Hang Dieu. It’s a good place for breakfast.

7. Airlines: We travelled with Singapore Airlines and Silk Air (their budget subsidiary). Note that they codeshare, so double check, triple check your gates in Changi Airport!

No more instrument auctions (at Christies and Southeby’s at least)

Strad indicated recently that Christies would follow Southeby’s lead and stop its annual instrument auction. The article indicates that all its auctions activities have shifted to private sales (presumably this means their staff as well). That was always a dream of mine, to go to a music instrument auction at Southeby’s, and now it won’t be possible.

The Strad article (and Christies) indicate that poor sales at the bottom end of the market were to blame. In addition to this, they indicated that there were problems with scale (i.e. a good profit margin on small instruments wasn’t good enough compared to a lower margin on larger amounts).

Given things at Southeby’s are a little more advanced, a little bit more research for what happened at Southeby’s is in order.

First question: How do they make money? As a note, Southeby’s has a 20% buyer’s premium (on top of the auction amount) up until 100000 USD, and then 12% on the rest. The article is a little old, but let’s go with that at the moment.

Second question: How are they organised?

  • Southeby’s musical instruments auction page.
  • Ingles and Hayday. The firm set up by the team behind Southeby’s musical instruments auctions. Am I missing something here? Going to Ingles and Hayday indicates that they have pretty much replicated the same business as Southeby’s, but privately. This indicates that perhaps it was a viable business, just not at the buyer’s premium, and for the type of instruments being auctioned (i.e. there were too many cheap instruments, say less than 50000 USD).

So it’s basically a team of two people (plus some ops staff). Let’s say they used Southeby’s marketing department, so they probably need one or two operational managers. It’s looking like a lot of work for small peanuts. Let’s keep digging.

Third question: How much did they make? Let’s just work this out on the back of the envelope.

In the midst of the crisis (in 2009), according to the Wall Street Journal, Southeby’s sold 80.6% by number or 91.8% by value. It tries to tell an upbeat story, but no total numbers.

Then I came across this: competition. Brompton’s auctions have the following news release where they say they:

  • 1812000 GBP total sales, 350 lots (i.e. a total of 346500 USD in buyer’s premiums)
  • 500000 GBP more than Southebys (i.e. a total of 1312000 GBP = ~245000 USD in buyer’s premiums)
  • 800000 GBP more than Bonhams (i.e. a total of 1012000 GBP = ~202000 USD in buyer’s premiums)

This 245000 USD has to cover profits for Southeby’s, the staff payroll, the payroll load (e.g. HR, benefits, expenses, etc.), and auction running costs, amoungst other things.

Using the team structure that Ingles and Hayday are using (which is presumably leaner than that they were used to in Southeby’s), they have one additional operational manager, i.e. a team of 3. Let’s also assume they make 50000 GBP a year, so that’s 25000 GBP per auction. That leaves 83300 USD for profit AND for running the auction (245000 USD – (3 x 25000*1.54*1.4)). Let’s say the auction room costs 20000 USD over the days for the auction and leading up to it and 20000 USD is spent on marketing and flyers. That’s 43300 USD profit for Southeby’s. At the corporate tax rate of around about 23%, that leaves about 35000 USD (or 23000 GBP) for Southebys for running the auction.

Ingles and Hayday say they organise 2 auctions a year. (By way of comparison, Brompton’s do 4 auctions a year, however they have a team of 10, intelligently with 2 dedicated to Asia.)

Conclusion: Southeby’s wasn’t interested in 43000 USD per auction. For me as a purchaser, I love musical instruments, and it sounds like auctions are a great way to buy a cheap instrument because they certainly are not a great way to sell a cheap instrument and make a lot of money!

Relaunch of pak ming wan dot com …

After more than a year of inactivity I’ve decided to tear down the old drupal install and restart on wordpress (which is what all the cool kids seem to be using these days). I think I was just getting bored of facebook of owning all my photos and IP.

I did try to work out if a migration from the old drupal install was possible, and it wasn’t, so it was more of a case of taking a backup and then blowing the site away. Which is a shame, because I’ve committed the cardinal sin of leaving dead links on the internet.

Some technical details on the site, especially since you don’t go about building these things from scratch anymore:

  • Site engine: WordPress. The simplest blogging site engine around. I did hesitate to actually go with a third party here again, but in the end the IT engineer in me said that I should deploy this myself.
  • Theme: Touchfolio. I wanted a site that would work on a touch device and I took the decision to start with a theme built with this in mind, not the other way around. This is in Beta, but it seems good enough for my use in initial testing. I like the fact it is drop dead simple (i.e. also hackable by me if I need to change anything).
  • Plugins: Jetpack. From, they provide a set of cloud based services through jetpack. This includes social network integration and analytics. I’ll start with this and see how it goes.
  • Fonts: Google Web Fonts. Google have a great collection of web fonts which are supported by my theme and CSS. The touchfolio theme again helps out here by making a fond change easy, and also by handling font changes very elegantly.

And that’s about it! Now onto the posting!