Friday, 15 January 2016

Creating Social Value: The Joys and Perils of being a Social Entrepreneur

While surfing the net, I recently came across a list of the top ten social entrepreneurship heroes in India. The list had Mahatma Gandhi as the first entry, and the others that made the grade were Dr. Verghese Kurien, Vikram Akula, Sam Pitroda, and Sunil Bharti Mittal. If this list appears somewhat eclectic, it is only because the term Social Entrepreneurship does not have a standard definition. It is usually referred to the type of entrepreneurship that is concerned with finding a solution for a social problem, and then applying the solution at scale.

Unlike conventional (or commercial) entrepreneurship, where the focus is on maximizing returns for the shareholders irrespective of whether the enterprise has a social benefit, the focus of a social entrepreneur is on maximizing returns for the society. A social enterprise can be structured as a non-profit or a for-profit, is generally philanthropic in nature, but is not dependent on charity for its sustenance. In the Indian context, perhaps the best example of a social enterprise is Amul, which was founded in 1946 as a response to the exploitation of milkmen at the hands of middlemen and large dairies. Dr. Kurien was given the task of managing the cooperative in 1950, and as a sterling social entrepreneur, was instrumental in establishing Amul as a household brand and the largest milk producer in the world.

In the past few years, as commercial start-ups have garnered increasing attention and have found an easier ecosystem to operate in, social start-ups too have seen a fair share of growth. More and more organizations which intend to ‘make the world a better place’  have sprung up, working in areas such as health, environment, energy conservation, and education. Graduates from top B-schools and IITs are being drawn towards social enterprise. Indeed, there is scarcely a joy more thrilling than finding a solution to a problem that can help thousands – or even millions – of people. However, those who choose to tread this path must ensure that they have the mental strength to go through a precarious trajectory, and a burning conviction that their solution is indeed the one that the world has been waiting for.

Just before I started off on this journey a few years back, I had the chance to listen to Mr. Victor Menezes, the former Vice Chairman of Citigroup worldwide, at a conference. He spoke of the 4 P’s of a social enterprise – the critical success factors for a social venture. These are: Passion, Purpose, People, and Processes. Mr. Menezes had an interesting analogy to explain this – if your social enterprise is a car, he said, then Passion is the fuel, Purpose is the steering, People form the driver, and Processes are the brakes. Just as a car cannot run without these four, a social enterprise needs to have the four Ps in ample measure to achieve success.

Along with these, the social entrepreneur has to keep in mind that there may not be the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the journey even if he is successful – his motivations have to clearly lie elsewhere. Making a social development program financially sustainable – let alone profitable – is one of the greatest challenges in the sector. Unfortunately, the social investment ecosystem is yet to make a serious headway in India, with only a few organizations such as Acumen India and Dasra actively supporting social enterprises.

Another critical factor that needs to be considered is the pace at which the enterprise can be scaled up. Unlike a pure commercial enterprise where scaling up can be done as soon as the proof of concept is established, in a social enterprise there is often a trade-off between quality and scale because of the high dependency on human factors. A case in point is the education sector, which has several examples of ideas that worked well at a small scale or in a controlled environment, but which fell flat as soon as they were scaled up to cover a larger beneficiary segment. The scaling up must happen only after the idea has been tried out in multiple environments, and the processes have been established and documented so that they can be easily replicated. Even with these, achieving quality with scale is perhaps the most daunting proposition for a social enterprise.

Entrepreneurship – whether business or social – is not for the fainthearted. A social entrepreneur needs to have not only a strong heart, but a kind one as well, as his ultimate aim has to be to benefit the lives of others. The journey of social enterprise may be perilous, but is also by far the most satisfying and joyful journeys one can imagine.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

The thin line

"Is this the kind of Education that you are providing the kids?" she said - I was surprised.

It was just yesterday that I got a call from my colleague informing me that the students, we work with, wanted a holiday for Vishwakarma puja. Declaring a holiday wasn't a big deal but it was important to understand why they wanted it. So, I asked them to come and meet me.

They came with eyes full of expectations. When I look back at my childhood, I have been a similar kind of a kid who didn't want anything to do with the world during pujas. So, I perfectly understood what the kids wanted. I told them to attend their class for just an hour in the morning and then they can have the entire day to themselves. But kids being kids, they were just not willing to let go. I smiled, got sad, angry but to no avail. So, I told them that I would talk to their parents and if they didn't have any issues, we could go ahead with an hour of studies or else we would scrap it altogether.

However, this blog is not about my negotiations with them or whether they were able to get a day's holiday - these are minute things. This blog is about what happened unexpectedly when I visited their community. I was talking to some of the parents and the kids had encircled me and since I have always asked them to call me bhaiya (hindi for elder brother), they not only call me by that term but also behave like the same to which I have no issues what-so-ever.

There I was, talking to the parents as well as the kids and the latter were like - "no! we can't come", "even if you call, we wouldn't miss our puja", "just tell us whether you would give us a holiday or not" and I was joking with them regarding the same when suddenly I could hear a voice speak to me from behind in Bengali - "aei shikhha dyan apnara aei bachhader?" (Is this the kind of Education that you are providing the kids?). She was a woman from the community itself, aged in her early 30s wearing a saree with a short stature but firm eyes looking at me as if I had committed a blunder. I was taken aback for a moment because never before had any stranger spoken to me in such a tone.

She continued saying that children of this age shouldn't dare to talk to their teachers this way. She told us that we should be strict enough so that they become disciplined. She asked us whether our education was qualitative enough. I tried explaining her what we do but it seemed she had already made up her mind. I don't know why but I felt really bad at that point of time and suddenly my head bent down. I didn't say anything and once she was done, I just walked back to my office without saying a single word to anyone.

For almost that entire day, I was pondering on whether I was wrong, should I maintain a strict code of conduct with those kids, am I being an ineffective role model. So today, when I was just about to enter my office, I got a call from those students' facilitator saying that the kids wanted to talk to me. I thought they would again come to ask about the holiday but something unexpected happened. When these kids came, there was a slightly different look on their faces - something that I hadn't seen before. When I asked them what they wanted to tell me, they just got up and said - "We are sorry!" 

I was taken aback again - for the 2nd time in 2 days. I asked them the reason for the apology. They said they felt bad when the woman in the community reprimanded me (well, kind of) and they stood watching. One of the kids, Suman, who is generally the most notorious said that he had later gone to her house and told her never to talk to me in such a manner. Well, whether he did it or not is not the point, the point being that they had somewhat reflected about the entire incident internally. I felt really emotional at that time. I told them that it wasn't their fault but they need to realize that in future, they need to maintain some code of conduct with general people in the society as their behaviour will sketch people's perspective towards them. 

I don't know whether this is an age for them to understand what I said but I think they got the point. When I spoke to my Boss about this, he instantly asked me to pen down this experience. I thank him for otherwise, I would have just kept all of this in my mind. The questions surrounding my mind are - 

Why did the woman say those things?

Was she right?
Should I just ignore the situation?
Were the kids right?

I am not looking to find the answers right away as I feel happy after writing this down. However, it'll be great if my readers (you all) have any perspective to share about the incident. Thank you for spending so much time to go through this. I know it was a bit lengthy and I promise to make it shorter and crisper next time.


Srotriya Chowdhury

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Chronicles of a Failed State - Part 2

"The redemption of this education system cannot happen," says the gentleman to my left somewhat pontifically, "till the time the children have the katora (bowl) in their hands!"

I am in Hardoi, a district to the west of Lucknow in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, for a new Edulever project. Rains have eluded this part of the state this year, and a disconcerting sultriness hangs in the air. Hardoi town, with a population of 170,000, seems like any one of the numerous small towns that dot the north Indian landscape. Its most recent claim to fame is that the 2012 Bollywood movie Ishaqzaade was shot in the district.

Over two-and-a-half days, we visit a few senior secondary schools - also known as Inter Colleges - in parts of Hardoi. These schools typically run from Classes 9 to 12, and the ones in the villages are usually plain-looking single-storied structures. Enrollments vary - from as low as 50 students in Classes 9 and 10 in some cases, to as high as 750 in others. As we discover during our visit, many of the schools are single-teacher schools: the same teacher is expected to teach all subjects - English, Hindi, Science, Math and Social Sciences - to all the students.

We reach a rural school at around 8:20 am; 10  minutes before it is scheduled to start. A locked iron gate greets us, with a few students waiting outside; their number swells quickly. I start talking to a group of students who tell me that the school has only the principal, and no teachers! Today, even the principal has chosen to be absent, and I'm curious to know how the school would be run.

What happens next is nothing short of miraculous. At 8:30 sharp, a senior student unlocks the gate, and the students start entering the school. Someone rings a gong, and the students - completely on their own - line themselves along the two corridors of the school, boys on one side and girls on the other. Three girls of Class 10 move to the head of this perfect-line formation, and start conducting the morning prayers! They lead the singing of three bhajans one after the other, with all the students joining in chorus. The national anthem, recited rather than sung, marks the end of this morning assembly. I am told that the students are quite used to conducting the prayer-assembly on their own, unimaginable in a regular city school.

The classrooms, with wooden benches and desks, are soon filled up. The room has fans, but there is no electricity. I engage myself with the students of Class 9, who lament the lack of teachers and especially the fact that they are not able to learn English. I decide to conduct an impromptu Spoken English session with them; they are clearly ill-at-ease even in introducing themselves in English.

Another school we visit is in Hardoi city itself - the R.R. Boys' Inter College. It is housed in an imposing building, constructed in the 1920's in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. This school has over 2000 students from Classes 6 to 12. The exterior of the school is reasonably well-maintained, but the interiors are a different story altogether. The principal's chamber is a dim-lighted, dreary government office. We interact with a group of teachers, who are ready with their tales of woes - too many students cramped in one classroom, parents' apathy about their children, the poorly thought-out Right to Education Act that compels them to promote all students irrespective of academic performance till Class 8, and most of all, the aforestated "katora" - an allusion to the mid-day meal scheme of the government which has significantly reduced the time available to the school management to focus on academics. There is a grain of truth to this argument against the MDM scheme, as highlighted in another post in this blog.

 One more rural school, and a similarly depressing story about the system's apathy towards students' learning requirements. No electricity in this school as well, and many students are sitting in near-darkness (in more ways than one). Learning levels of students in classes 9 and 10 are abysmal - most students of class 10 are not able to solve Class 6 math problems given to them. The representative of the local NGO accompanying us casually mentions of the rampant cheating - in collusion with the teachers - that happens in these schools during the board examinations. Amazingly, students are known to seek admissions in those schools where this malpractice is more prevalent, so that they can pass exams easily!

The Edulever team with the Sandeela school teachers.
The headmistress is third from right.
The last school we visit offers a glimpse of hope. This is an all-girls' school in a place called Sandeela on the highway connecting Lucknow with Hardoi. The headmistress, Chitra Sonkar, greets us with a bright, warm smile, and is clearly in command of the proceedings at the school. She was earlier a teacher at the same school, and is concerned about the fact that there are only 10 teachers for a school of over 1000 girls. Despite this, she has been working diligently to raise the standards in the school, and her efforts are evident. This is the only school we went to that had a decent Science Lab. The learning assessment we conducted also shows better results here. A clear pointer to the fact that when a system fails, a strong and committed individual can still make a big difference by just doing her work with dedication!

For most parts of U.P., however, the education system is beyond Reform - what is required is nothing short of a complete Reboot. This might sound radical; but knowing that the future of lakhs of children is at stake here, a radical solution is called for. Even if it means completely dismantling the existing system and replacing it with a stronger, more efficient, and most importantly, a more accountable system.               

Friday, 21 February 2014

Chronicles of a Failed State

The recently completed Shaheed Path in Lucknow - an elevated 6-lane expressway that allows quick access from the airport to eastern UP - is a driver's delight. If you're travelling to Faizabad, for example, the road can get you speeding towards your destination, bypassing Lucknow city almost completely, in a matter of minutes. If your visit is during the waning winter season, you will be enthralled by the miles of mustard fields on the way - the enchanting yellow atop green stretching for as far as the eyes can see. You can do your business in Faizabad and be back at the Lucknow airport to catch an evening flight, carrying with you an idyllic portrait of rural India, and feeling smug about improved infrastructure in the state of UP.

Venture a little within the state, and you will quickly realize how deceiving this idyllic portrait can be. Barely 40 kms from Lucknow, within the Lucknow district itself, is the Mal block. On 19 Feb 2014, I made a visit to Mal to understand the employment situation among village youth as part of an Edulever project. Accompanying me is Anjani, a social worker with the NGO Vatsalya, which has been working in this area for the past several years with a focus on the Girl Child. On the way to Mal, Anjani talks about the grim scenario surrounding the demographics of females in this area - the curse of female foeticide is rampant: in a survey done by Vatsalya in mid-2011 in eight districts of UP, the Child Sex Ratio came out to be only 625 in children under 1 year of age. He went on to describe how the practice of selective abortion flourishes as an industry with the connivance of the state officials. Shockingly, people are willing to pay upto Rs. 1 lakh to get a female foetus aborted. And the "doctors" in order to make the quick buck are known to have aborted male foetuses as well declaring them to be female! Anjani shares all this with disarming casualness, attending to routine calls during his narrative.

Taking a narrower road along the mustard fields, we presently find ourselves in the village of Roodan Khera with close to 200 households. A row of mud houses stands along the dirt path that bisects the village. We meet Kaushalya, mother of five, and member of a self-help group (SHG) formed by Vatsalya to promote small savings for livelihoods. The SHG has 15 members, and has managed to accumulate a fund of Rs. 15000 to help them in times of need. Kaushalya and other women of the village are adept at "chikan" work, the thread embroidery work Lucknow is famous for. Middlemen from Lucknow visit the village to get work done from the women. For a Kurta that would sell for at least Rs. 1000 in the market in Lucknow (with the salesman often gloating about the "hand-made" work on it), Kaushalya gets paid a measly Rs. 15 for doing the entire Kurta.

We move on to another nearby village, Kerora. The discussion with Anjani has moved to the health of the Anganwadis - the backbone of early child care system in India, part of the ambitious ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) scheme of the government. Each village (and also urban slum) is supposed to have an Anganwadi, with 2-3 workers assigned to it, providing basic nutrition and health services (including immunization) to children below 6 years of age. The Anganwadi workers are paid Rs. 1500, and given a monthly grant depending on the number of children in the village. At the Kerora Anganwadi, a decrepit two-room structure, Sunita is the older of the two workers on duty when we visit. The children have just left: they are supposed to be there from 9 am to 1 pm. Sunita informs us that they served cooked Arhar daal and chawal (lentils and rice) to the children today. For the provisions, Sunita gets a sum of Rs. 4500 as her monthly grant. By a recent court directive, this money now gets credited directly to her bank account. However, in a practice that prevails across the entire state and perhaps even in other states, Sunita is forced to pay half this amount to the officials who do the rounds, and the collected booty supposedly finds its way to the top of the ladder through a well-oiled mechanism. Refusal to pay would obviously incur the wrath of the officials, and Sunita dare not take a chance!

It is past 2 pm, and time for us to leave. The village is a picture of desolation. A large number of buffaloes line up the path, lazy and oblivious to our presence in the village. Anjani talks of the rampant alcoholism in the villages around, of how certain households earn their livelihoods by brewing and selling the country liquor made of rice and mahua, an Indian medicinal plant. Even the children in these households are engaged in this occupation, though Vatsalya's intervention has curbed this malpractice. The village has a government school, but most parents prefer to send their children to the low-cost private schools that have sprung up across the countryside. A wise decision - the neglect of the government school system has ensured that even though teachers in these schools are paid salaries that are ten times of their counterparts at private schools, the quality of learning remains abysmal in the government schools. During our visit we could see several young girls on bicycles returning from their schools, the only picture of promise in an otherwise gloomy scenario. Before getting into our car, we walk past a broken mud house - which stands almost as a representative of the Failed State around us.



Thursday, 2 January 2014

Looking Back, Looking Ahead...

Whew! Did 2013 really have 365 days?

If the year seems to have just whizzed past, it’s a reflection of how engaged we’ve been in making the wheels turn at Edulever and Agrasar. The change of year is a good time to pause and reflect on the twelve months gone by, and play a soothsayer for the year ahead. In fact, as I begin to retrospect, my mind goes far beyond the past twelve months…

Around the time that Edulever was born in late 2009, I happened to hear this John Denver song that goes, “inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.” The words beautifully resonated with my thoughts on making Edulever grow. I was convinced about the need to have a very strong foundation for the organization, to have the pursuit of excellence as the central theme of whatever we do. Now, four years later, I have an abiding sense of satisfaction that we have largely managed to create the foundation while being focused on excellence in our work. Of course, this has only been possible because of the wonderful set of people we’ve found along the way…

For me, 2013 was the year in which I began to feel confident about our work on Skill Development. Our organizational understanding of this domain grew significantly over the year, thanks largely to getting our hands dirty at the Agrasar Centers of Employability at Saharanpur and Gurgaon. The understanding was enriched by the work we did for the SMART Program of Tech Mahindra, which has easily been the most comprehensive project we’ve done at Edulever. We can be collectively proud of the fact that the SMART program, which had just three centers at two locations when the year began, has now grown to 25 centers at eight locations across the country.

Edulever team members during a field survey
in an MP village, July 2013 
The year also saw the Edulever team successfully take on the challenges of conducting field surveys in a rural area, when we implemented the two projects of ChildFund. The team that went to these villages in tribal MP and Rajasthan came back tougher and wiser. The projects barely scratched the surface of livelihoods and higher education prospects for rural youth, but have certainly whetted our appetite for more. If all goes well, this may well be the Next Big Thing for Edulever to take on – cracking the Skill Development code for rural youth.

We continued to do our "bread and butter" stuff - Curriculum and Training - in 2013, most notably the curriculum on Vocational Training that we completed for Saath. We also came close to reaching the 1000 mark on the number of people trained tally - this will be an important milestone to cross in early 2014. While a lot of ground still needs to be covered in fulfilling our mission of "Making Classrooms Happier", we are progressively getting there, one project at a time!

When I posted the “New Year Musings” exactly a year back, the Edulever-Agrasar team was all of 12 people. Today, this number has grown nearly three-fold, with Agrasar well and truly coming into its own during the year. If I were to step back, and take a paternalistic view, Agrasar has over the year emerged as a bright, confident, and ambitious younger sibling, with an obvious mind of its own! Honestly, the delight in witnessing this emergence is no less than that of looking at one’s progeny take a confident stride into the outside world.

The Agrasar team exudes a confidence and self-assurance seldom seen in a team as young. They are also among the most hard-working group of youngsters one could ever expect to meet. We have been quite gender insensitive: nearly 80% of the Agrasar team are young women in their early 20's!

Edulever-Agrasar team, Dec 2013
For me, the highlights of Agrasar over the year were as follows:

(1) The MIS for the SMART centers is perhaps the best example of an MIS that I have seen. More than the information it captures, it is the regularity of information being captured by it, and then being analyzed by the top management, that makes it a significantly strong tool. The entire team deserves kudos for giving shape to the MIS.
(2) The emergence of a strong team of community mobilizers, which forms the backbone of any organization hoping to work for the transformation of any community. Though I have not interacted much with the team members, my joy knows no bounds when I hear of the diligence and effort being put in by this team.
(3) The insights gained into the lives of migrants in Gurgaon is next on my list. I can see ourselves delving deeper in the migration related work, hence the foundation created in the SDTT project over the year will be crucial as the project expands its scope and depth.
Agrasar Prasang, July 2013
(4) The successful execution of Agrasar Prasang. It was thrilling to see the team come together and achieve what it did in hosting the first ever event at Agrasar. We have already decided to make this an annual event, so the preparation for Prasang 2014 should be underway within the next few months.
(5) And of course, taking our tally of students trained at our centers to 564, and those placed successfully in jobs to 408 - the numbers speak for themselves!

2014 could well be a “leap” year for Agrasar. Two new Centers of Employability are already on their way; we will hopefully be adding a few more in NCR in the next few months. I am also keenly looking forward to the start of our Education work in Agrasar, as that would complete the portfolio of our work in Gurgaon. God willing, we will soon be commencing a project on early childhood development in Gurgaon.

I would be failing in my duty if I do not address the fact that as Agrasar expands its footprints, the responsibility of being a responsible and mature organization also expands manifold. Even as we scale new heights, we must remember to do so with humility and a sense of selflessness. To me, these are timeless virtues that should never go out-of-fashion, especially in the sector we are working in.

Finally, the recent developments in the political arena – the outcome of the Delhi elections – have given us a huge reason to cheer for all of us in the social development space. Mr. Kejriwal has almost single-handedly shown that large scale reform at the highest level in a short period of time is possible – provided you start by listening to the people, make them an active participant of the change process, and most importantly, remain absolutely focused. The other important feature of AAP’s success – one that has not really been talked about much – is the extent of planning and coordination that would have gone into achieving what they did. There is a lot to learn from them as an organization – more than the political victory, their biggest achievement is that they have been able to dent the die-hard cynicism that had become ingrained in many of us. Yes, at the age of 42, I finally went ahead and registered for my Voter-Id card yesterday…there is now a definite incentive to vote!

With best wishes for a fulfilling 2014 for all of you,                

01 Jan ‘14

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Mid-Day Meal Muddle

As the horrifying news of the mid-day meal tragedy in a government primary school in a village in Saran district near Patna burns the airwaves, I'm reminded of the day I spent at such a school in Samastipur (a district bordering Saran) some two years back. The meal being served to the children that rainy day had seemed anything but edible, even then. A look at the way it was being cooked (picture on the right) convinced me that such a tragedy was just waiting to happen.

My mind also traveled to a conversation I once had with the Director of Primary Education of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD - which has since been trifurcated into three separate Corporations) a few years back. Commenting on the humongous task of ensuring cooked meal that had to be served to nearly a million children in about 1800 primary schools of the MCD every day, with a budget of just over Rs. 3 per meal, she lamented the politics behind the much touted mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) of the government. She also made a telling comment - as per her estimate, she said, only about 30% of all the children coming to her schools actually needed a subsidy for a meal; the others came from families that could well afford to feed their children a more nutritious meal every day. Why then, she asked, was this being imposed on the system?

Introduced in the 1960s by the Tamil Nadu government, the MDMS has now been adopted by nearly all states after a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in 2001. Sure, the scheme does have several things going for it - it can prevent malnutrition at the bottom of the pyramid, it improves socialization among children belonging to varied castes, and it helps improve school enrollment and attendance. Of these, I find the last argument to be the flawed-one-out: if the meals become a reason for the children to be attending school, does it not give the system an excuse to be complacent about the quality of learning in the school? Does it not detract from the main reason for children to be attending school? Sure enough, I've heard hundreds of teachers over the last few years complain about the fact that administering the MDM leaves them with little time for preparing for their classes. If not the truth, this is certainly a convenient excuse.

And then there's the question of implementing this scheme at such a large scale, making it easy enough fodder for the corrupt and the greedy to make hay many times over. Distribution of contract of the MDM scheme is one of the most corrupt practices in India, given the stakes involved. Several scams have been reported since the scheme got off ground. Only a handful of NGOs, most notably Akshay Patra and ISCKON, have managed to bring in a semblance of quality in the provision of meals to children. Several other NGOs see the scheme as an easy way to rake in some moolah.

The corruption perpetrated by the scheme does not remain on the "supply" side only, it extends to the "demand" side as well. In our work on the field, we've come across hundreds of cases where children are enrolled in schools only to avail the free meal at the middle of the day; they come to school only when it's time for lunch! There are thousands of cases of double enrollment as well, in which the children are enrolled in a private school in addition to the government school. Worse, the Bihar administration has been grappling with cases of "ghost enrollment" - where non existent children have been shown as enrolled in the school so that the school gets additional subsidy for the MDM.

They deserve better!
Surely, our children deserve better. Why can't the schools focus on the task of providing to the children what schools are really meant to provide? Given the appalling learning quality in our schools, it will take a herculean effort for government schools to get their act together on the teaching-learning aspects. Must they then be burdened with the responsibility of providing food, when food for thought is what they ought to be worrying about?             

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Classroom in the Field

In a recent casual discussion, the CEO of a prominent CSR foundation shared her lament about how youngsters who join the social sector prefer to spend their time at the office, noses buried in their laptops. Going by my observations of some of these youngsters as well, this indeed appears to be a disturbing trend.

The social sector is all about causing a positive change to the lives of those who've been left behind. Much of this is to do with basic human requirements such as health & nutrition, education, livelihoods, clean water, and dignity. As in any other social discipline, the traditional classroom can only at best provide a theoretical perspective - the real learning can only be found in the field. To that, no alternative exists.

And this learning is seldom apparent in one or even a few visits. The field reveals itself gradually - layer upon layer - and that too, only to the discerning, non-judgmental eye. For a newcomer to the sector, it would take several visits to the same community before the real picture would emerge.

Further, akin to the domain of technology, one needs to keep updating oneself to the developments and transitions in the field. The Field is not static; rather it is one of the most dynamic environments you can expect to find. It is also diverse; as you spend more and more time in the Field, you would tend to generalize less and less.

If there was just one piece of advice that I were to give to youngsters joining the sector, it would be to spend as much time in the field as possible. The real classroom is out there!