Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Vivekanadan on Bottom of the Pyramid

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Vivekanadan on Bottom of the Pyramid
November 2008 - By Prema Ramachandran


Vivekanadan
Former CEO of South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies


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  • Looking back at the last 25 years at SIFFS what are the areas in which you feel you could make a substantial contribution?

  1. Commercialization of new boatbuilding technologies and the establishment of a chain of boatbuilding centres after the initial breakthrough in technology was achieved by external resource persons working with SIFFS.
  2. Development of a microfinance model that is best suited to the fisheries sector and based on the strengths and weaknesses of the SIFFS society model.
  1. Development of amethodology for conducting a census of fishing boats that is more accurate and detailed than the official census and at the same time much cheaper and easier to implement.
  2. Developing the theory/concept of the SIFFS society model as a "first point of sale intervention" so that it can be replicated in other parts of India and also adopted for other commodities.
  3. Developing an understanding of the issue of trans-border fishing and putting in place a system to release fishermen arrested for crossing the Indo-Sri Lankan border. vi. Acting as a key link between the key actors in the fisheries sector of India—SIFFS, fishermen trade unions, scientific institutions, NGOs, fisheries departments, international organizations, etc.
  • What are the areas where you feel SIFFS could have made a contribution but couldn't, due to various reasons?

  1. Fish marketing interventions beyond the first point of sale has been weak. Early attempts at starting direct export of seafood by SIFFS were also not successful. However, this seems to be largely due to the lack of economies of scale given that SIFFS only controlled part of the coast and had access to only fish caught by small scale fishermen.
  2. The expansion of the society network has been slow and weak. On the Kerala side this has been due to Govt policies that discouraged NGO growth and the creation of a statesponsored coop network in competition to SIFFS. There were also internal constraints that held up the growth.
  3. Creation of viable district federations has been a weak area and SIFFS found the leadership of the federations a major hindrance in implementing its ideas for self reliant and viable federations.
  4. Failure to address the livelihood needs of fisherwomen though some support has been provided for fisherwomen organizations; similarly inadequate attention to needs of crew members on fishing boats.
  • The struggle for survival of the traditional fisheries sector has always been a mixture of social, political and economic issues. But I understand that you have always kept away from the political and social aspectswhile concentrating on the economic issues. Was it a conscious decision?
    It was a conscious decision to keep SIFFS an economic intervention rather than a political or social intervention. This was not because the political and social interventions were considered unnecessary or of secondary importance. It was due to the unique architecture of organizations that emerged in the fisheries sector. The activist group that founded SIFFS also played a key role in the emergence of this architecture. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there emerged the following set of organizations to handle the different dimensions:

  1. A trade union to fight for the rights of the fishing community;
  2. Women's organizations to take up womens livelihoods and work creatively on women's issues;
  3. NGOs to handle social issues, organizing coops, unions, women's associations, etc.

    This concept of setting up different organizations to handle different problems has a lot of advantages including a significantly different basis of membership. A problem with this strategy is that it requires NGOs capable of organizing each type of organization in their area of operation. We find that this capacity is not there. Hence, there is an uneven development of coops, trade unions, womens associations, etc., across the coast.

    SIFFS has always recognized that its economic intervention, however successful, is only contributing to solving a multi-dimensional problem. There has always been the awareness that the other forms of organizations must also be there and do their bit for the fishing community to develop. So, SIFFS has always maintained close relationship with NGOs, trade unions and womens associations on the coast. In the early days, the leadership of the networking was with some of the NGOs and SIFFS just part of the larger network of agencies. However, after many of the founding NGOs weakened or even shut shop, SIFFS has been playing a stronger role in maintaining these links. In this, I would say without much false modesty, I have played a key role.

    Even though I have been identified with SIFFS, the fish worker trade unions look at me as a key supporter and resource person. I attend all crucial sector meetings to keep the links between the different actors.

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