Compassionate Counterfeiting

Shobila’s Icebreaker presentation rang a bell with even before she started talking. I had just read about Fifth Pillar on the Fast Company site. Here’s the article’s text:

An Indian NGO is fighting bribery by using fake money.

The seemingly constant redesigning of U.S. currency and the rise of the design-community-approved, architecture-centric Euro (only the Netherlands could get away with a coin this cool) has led to a wave of art and design projects that toy with what our money looks like, and what it says about us. (DesignBoom has a great round-up here, but they missed my favorite, the Lil’ Rhody-themed Noney.)

A new design for the Indian rupee has a more immediate message. Indians pressured into giving bribes can now flash this zero-rupee note instead. The Indian NGO Fifth Pillar has been handing out the fake bills for a few years now, and they say they’ve put more than one million into circulation. (The design is apparently available for downloading here, but the site may be down.)

Vijay Anand, Fifth Pillar’s president, says it works not because bribe-takers are fooled into thinking the money is real, but because bribery is a crime in India, even though it’s so widespread, and most officials are only comfortable asking for bribes when they know they won’t get caught. A powerful little piece of graphic design, the zero-rupee notes diffuse the crime by acknowledging it.

I was really excited to see one of the bills during the meeting. Check the Fast Company site for an image.

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