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

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