COVID19 drove most of the city populace in Chennai — the 400-year-old city in the South East coast of India (where I live) to their home towns — villages and tier 2 towns.
Not everybody is returning back.
I know people who have started their design studio in a small town, or somebody leaving their job to take up running their village school, bringing in modern education practices with them.
The disparity between haphazard and hurried growth of a city and a neglected village changes when the simple application of technology provides the necessary tools to the village to become self-sufficient.
This may look as a loss to a city and emergence of a stagnating economy, but it is actually a prescription towards a better and sustainable lifestyle — slower but steady improvement of the bottom of the pyramid.
Does this mean redefining our understanding of life and economies? Yes. Firstly, can we give up the trappings of an unending drive of growth that a capitalistic economy now places on us? What about the cities and stock markets?
Well, there is no straight answer. Undoing the thought process of unbridled growth, creation of wealth, urbanized living and creating ‘shareholder’s wealth’ is not going to be easy. Each generation has chased the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow, and the baton is passed on to the next.
Do we need to change? The answer is an emphatic yes. Why? We are the last generation that can see off the perils of this unhinged application of technology and lifestyle, that has caused irreversible damage to this great blue planet that we live in — our home.
We have to start. Start now. But —
Where do we start?
We can start for sure, but simple — by redefining life.
Being rich is not about the dollars in the bank any more, but living an overall healthy life ( mentally and physically).
The ultimate life would be to breath the fresh air of the village, yet put in a day for growth and purpose.
This is the ideal human dream.
Where do we go?
We go to the villages in search of this ideal human dream. This should be the dream of the 21st century. I know of a friend, Desiree Driesenaar who is now in the Mediterranean, working with the local economies. Another friend, Elizabeth Urabe lives in a remote place in Arizona, and has built a residence which I understand has elements of self-sustainability.
Is it possible for economies to become local?
During olden days, before the kings offered protection in exchange of tax levies, villages were independent. Of course, trade happened, but the village economy was by and large self sustainable.
What about today?
Primary schools, primary health centers, village ponds and wells as source of water and independent electricity supply — read, renewable energy — could be a perfect starting point.
Agriculture — micro farms including crops, fish or animals and local produce should be marketed using online technology.
The above may sound Gandhian, but believe me, some local economies are already heading there. Self sustaining local micro economies, embracing technology where they need to, is becoming the main thought in living this new dream.
The educated youngster of a village is its greatest asset.
If the education panders to thoughts and actions that can improve the infrastructure, economy, and lives of the basic unit of the economy — the village, then it can flourish and thrive.
The more resources that flow back into the villages including capital and human enterprise, education and innovation, better the change of a village becoming self-sustainable.
This includes removal of modern influences like plastics, use of locally available material and labor. Jobs are redefined accordingly.
The investment goals of governments and funds should be redefined and redeployed. The returns, in the long term, will be a better, self-sustaining village economy.
Shareholder returns should be redefined in finding dividends in deployments of funds on village economies and projects. There is enough wisdom in economics and finance to find solutions around these goals.
It would take some real shakeup and pivoting of thoughts and action from the powers-that-be.
But we don’t need to wait. Because, a village is small and hence simpler. Let us go back to the villages and start afresh.