Kentaro Toyama is a Seattle man on a mission.
A computer and information scientist who co-founded and ran Microsoft Research in India, Toyama has become something of a ‘geek heretic‘ who is now devoted to fighting poverty and transforming our approach to aid and development. A big task but Toyama seems to be enjoying his new career.
Toyama provides a glimpse of that mission in an article he published this week in The Atlantic – The Two Indias: Astounding Poverty in the Backyard of Amazing Growth. Opening line:
“Incredible India” is the brand this country’s Ministry of Tourism has been pushing in a global marketing campaign launched in 2002, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Over the last decade, India has witnessed a stunning acceleration of rapid changes, both good and bad, that it began in the 1990s.
India’s economic growth over the past decade is second in the world only to China’s. The country which handles so many of our computer technical problems is widely perceived as on a path to prosperity and progress. But wait, look a bit deeper, says Toyama.
Though theoretically a democracy, India’s governance has resembled something of a feudal system in practice. Politicians and bureaucrats often act like dukes and barons with term limits. They routinely apply a corrupt layer of graft for their personal benefit…. (and) Though rates of poverty are declining, in 2005 the World Bank estimated that 42% of India’s population still lived at under $1.25 a day (PPP), and nearly twice as many under $2. Thus, 800-900 million Indians live in conditions that most developed-world citizens would consider destitution.
Kentaro’s article in The Atlantic is brief, but worth a read. And worth reading between the lines to follow his thinking. There’s a warning here, against assuming overall economic growth is an accurate measure of progress against poverty — and against business as usual.