Friday, 4 January 2013

Keeping "Nirbahaya" Alive...

It's been exactly a week since "Nirbhaya" passed away...

The crowds around Jantar Mantar have dissipated...Happy New Year messages are flying about as usual...the TV channels are busy dissecting India's defeat to Pakistan at the Eden Gardens yesterday...the FB regulars are back to posting pretty pictures and rants about the freezing weather....we're back on our workstations, making plans for the weekend...

Life goes on as usual..."It has to! What else can we do?" we ask!

We the concerned, whose marrow stirred on hearing Nirbhaya's story. We the cocooned, who quickly go back to our little zones of comfort.

But, there are things we can do to bring about the Change we wish to see. Central to the ideas that follow is that we all wish to see a more equitable society; that we do not want any more Nirbhayas; that we do not want any child freezing to death on the pavement for want of clothes or shelter.

We could organize ourselves into small groups (4-5 like minded friends would be perfect) and visit a slum near us. To begin with, just go and see for ourselves what it is really like to be them. Go with an open mind, and with the knowledge that we will not necessarily be welcomed. Take a walk through the slum a few times. Then, start talking to a few people to find out what bothers them most. And then, go ahead and find ways for them to deal with it.
Meeting with the slum dwellers of Lucknow
I remember being in a Lucknow slum where their biggest problem was that the nearest source of drinking water - a public tap - was across the main road, and hence very difficult to reach. No one in the slum knew what to do about it. Finally, an NGO worker was able to take this matter to the concerned civic authority, who agreed to extend a pipeline and install a tap within the slum.

Why can we not do what this NGO worker did?

We could find out which is the nearest government school to where we stay (there is bound to be one within a 2-km radius), meet with the HM (or principal), and request him/her to let us read out to children of Classes 2 or 3 once a week. Take along with us a few nice books (which would in any case be lying around somewhere in the house), sit on the mat along with the children, let them look at the books, and read out to those who are interested in listening to us. Let them listen to stories we tell; in return, they will have a thousand of their little stories to tell us!

Back in 2003-04, while at Pratham, we piloted our Library program very much like this. This program led to the starting of Pratham libraries in hundreds of government schools, and eventually, to the starting of Pratham Books.

Construction site workers are among the most
vulnerable sections in a city who we could reach out to
We could go to a construction site near where we stay (even a small one), and request the contractor to let us interact with some of the construction workers. Usually, these workers stay at or near the site itself. Tell the workers that we would like to organize a small meeting with them on their day off or after work hours. Have this meeting, just to find out more about them. Which village are they originally from? Why have they migrated? Are their children getting an education? Can we be of help to them?

An NGO I visited in Mumbai regularly does this, even organizing film shows for the construction workers at night. (Last time I was there, they had recently screened "Well Done Abba!"). Even the contractors / employers were happy with this intervention, as they reported that worker morale had improved with this.

We could volunteer to work with an NGO on weekends. NGOs are usually strapped for resources, and always need help with writing reports, proposals and other documents. Especially the smaller ones can make good use of technical skills such as database management and website design.

Around five years back, I had done a small bit with a Delhi based NGO called Adi Gram Samiti that works for the education of girl children in Mewat, around two hours drive from Gurgaon. The organization is now well on its feet, implementing several projects supported by international agencies.

These are just a few ideas that we can look at to do our bit for bridging the vast social and economic gap that's taking a toll on our society, and at least for some of us, on our conscience. There can be many more such ideas. Let us no more be content with protesting on social media or on streets. Let us be the change.

Let us do our bit to keep Nirbhaya alive...

04 Jan '13     

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year Musings

The beginning of a new year is, technically, just a new date on the calendar – yet it is usually the time we tend to reflect, or celebrate, often both. However, given the way 2012 has ended, celebration seems to be the last thing on the mind. So let’s just stick to the reflections…

2012 was in many ways a defining year for Edulever. For a business start-up, the 1000-day mark is a significant psychological milestone to be crossed. We not just crossed this milestone, but also took confident strides towards many more such milestones. With the successful execution of two large projects – Barclays and CAF India – we consolidated our portfolio of work and strengthened our confidence for more such achievements. A notable accomplishment was the work we did – and are continuing to do – for Tech Mahindra Foundation. The VT Resource Center is not just a huge feather in our cap, but one that can make a meaningful contribution to the entire VT sector. The fact that TMF has also entrusted us with a project in Education is a strong affirmation of the quality of our work.

But if we were to pick out our Achievement of the year, it has to be the launch of our employability project in Gurgaon – the Agrasar-Tech Mahindra SMART center. When the year had begun, Agrasar had just taken a few baby steps in Saharanpur, though we knew we were off to a good start there. Thanks to the dedication shown by the ACE team in Saharanpur, we have managed to create a name for ourselves in the small town. And now that we are off to a flying start in Gurgaon as well, I’m confident that we will be able to walk the talk. The fact that Agrasar – in less than two years of its existence – has the backing of three major corporate houses (Tatas, ITC, Mahindra & Mahindra) is a huge achievement. However, this also raises the responsibility on our young shoulders.

Now that we have a direct outreach in the community through Agrasar, we can leverage this outreach for trying out ideas and outputs (such as draft lesson plans).

The other imperative for all of us – especially those who’ve now been around for a while – is to become more efficient in managing our work. This implies being able to accomplish a task in lesser time than what we took earlier, for which we have to leverage the work done in any of our earlier projects. To restate a cliché, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. But yes, the wheel can always be fine-tuned to turn more smoothly and swiftly!

Though Edulever and Agrasar are siblings, there will come a point in the future where they are both operating completely distinct from each other. However, this is still a few years away. In the short run, I see a lot of overlap in their work, which implies that all of us have to be prepared to wear twin hats as per the requirements of the work on hand.

And finally, the events that have unfolded – first in Delhi and then across the nation – have brought to the fore some significant questions for civil society organizations such as ourselves. To me, two things are clear from the widespread protests we have seen as well as from what I’ve gleaned from the rants in the social media: one, the urge for change on “our side” of the society is real enough – this was no flash-in-the-pan that we saw on the streets of Delhi and elsewhere. At least some of this urge should translate into a more active involvement in social causes in the times to come. Here, it is up to the civil society to offer a meaningful option for the channelization of this involvement. Second, most of the noises that have followed the ghastly incident have revolved around the need for speedier justice and better enforcement of the legal system. It can be expected that the government will respond to these demands. However, there is a more long term angle to this as well – ultimately, the root cause of what has happened can somewhere be traced to the growing social and economic disconnects in the society. It is here that we as an organization can come up with a measured and meaningful response to surmount the challenges we face at a societal level. So let us get working on this response soon – we owe it to ourselves!

Here’s wishing that 2013 brings Joy, Fulfillment, Prosperity, Good Health, and Peace to all of you and for those you care!

Jan 1, 2013