Article on Atlas Corps and Deadline for Fellows April 1st

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article on Scott Beale and the Atlas Corps, an organization we have written on numerous times in the past:

His creation is Atlas Corps, which lures highly-skilled non-profit decision-makers from India and Colombia to the United States for a year, running Sept. 1 to Aug. 30.

He concentrates on India and Colombia because he speaks the languages and because they have highly-developed non-profit sectors. They also have a high opinion of the United States, Beale said.

To join this program, go here before April 1st, which is when the applications are due.

Pizzas are good for these senior citizens

What do the words “new start-up”  and “garage” bring to your mind? The old stories about how all the tech companies started off to make today’s Silicon Valley? If that sounds a little too boring now, here is something as appetizing as a pizza. Started right here in India’s Silicon Valley by by Padma Srinivasan, 73 and Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75 (as against in The Silicon Valley by a bunch of youngsters), Pizza Haven pumps in the revenues that it earns by catering to school kids and software companies (like HP, now that is some coincidence!) to running an old age home – Vishranti.

“Granny’s pizzas are a hit among the software professionals, not just because they are delicious, but also because they are sold for a cause,” said Padma.

The profit from pizzas and generous donations from some well-wishers have helped in completing the home for the eldely, named Vishranthi (Rest), in June 2008 (news from newkerala.com)

What is there to be learnt from this story? Of course, a for-profit model makes this home’s future secure. But there is a more important lesson. Sustaining a social initiative doesn’t always need a complex innovation! All it needs is for one to look around yourself and identify what they are looking for!

With the current model up and running, is the Vishranthi executive team looking for expansion? Absolutely!

“In Vishranthi, I am also planning to start an orphanage and vocational training centre for poor rural women. And again our pizzas will come in handy to finance all our projects.”

NYT Profiles Ela Bhatt and SEWA

The New York Times carried a Saturday profile of Ela Bhatt and the remarkable organization she founded thirty-five years ago, SEWA. Here is an excerpt:

Mrs. Bhatt’s Gandhian approach is most evident in the way she lives. Her two-bedroom bungalow is small and spare. The one bit of whimsy is a white swing that hangs from the ceiling in the center of the living room. She uses her bed as a desk chair. Her grandson has painted a child’s pastoral mural on the bedroom wall. She is known for having no indulgences.

Read the entire story here. TC-I’s previous coverage of SEWA can be found here

You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference

K.M. Basheer’s educational qualifications make him an unlikely leader of a medical movement. He has not studied beyond Class X. But this farmer from Nilambur in Kerala’s Malappuram district heads a society that arranges for home and neighbourhood-level care for the chronically ill. His venture, the Nilambur Palliative Care Society, has inspired several other groups.

This story is one that reminds us that you can become a successful social entrepreneur even in a space where you may not know everything there is to know. The entire story can be read here on OneWorld.

Books for the village – Granthayan

[Story Source: Livemint]

While browsing through a blog, The Better India, I came across this Livemint report about a bookstore on wheels. Started by Pankaj Kurulkar, the project has been kicked off in Maharashtra. Kurulkar expects to take it to more states. The article goes further and talks about the challenges that a project of this nature faces:

There could be several rough patches to negotiate. Only 59% of India’s rural population can read, according to the 2001 census, and reading material itself is limited outside the cities. Local languages have also had to face the growing popularity of English. “The situation is pathetic. People are migrating from vernacular language to English medium, and not at all passionate about reading Marathi,” says Kurulkar, who writes novels and short stories as well…

…Part of the problem, though, is that regional language literature itself is in short supply. “Printed work will have its own place, but a very small place, especially in the regional languages,” says Granthali’s Gangal, who points out that the first Marathi book was only published 200 years ago. “There was no written tradition, it is an oral tradition.”…

…Kurulkar cites labour as his biggest challenge. “Skilled manpower is too low,” he says, “those who are passionate about selling books. We are not getting quality staff.”

However, Granthayan has created a record of sorts by selling about 100,000 in first three months of its operation. The project also leverages in latest technologies like GPS to track routes of its trucks and the inventory.

Livemint, recently, also carried an article on new age reading libraries. Umesh Malhotra and his venture Hippocampus were one of the projects mentioned in that article. I had the opportunity to hear Umesh’s experiences while setting up and running Hippocampus at the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship held in December.

Lack of proper public libraries has adversely affected the reading habits and culture in India especially in rural areas and among the urban poor. Access to good books is one of the many cogs in the wheels of society that help it raise its standard of living – not to mention instilling of scientific temper among its citizens.

Buses and trains have been widely used in India to reach to remote corners e.g. Lifeline Express, Science Express, Google Internet Bus Project. We hope to see more innovative ways of using buses and trains to reach the as yet unconnected populace.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Indicorps August 2009 Fellowship

As some of our readers may know, Prerna and I are both Indicorps alums.  My fellowship with Indicorps is too involved to explain in a short post, but the experience is definitely one of the contributing factors to my continued interest and involvement with development in India.  The on-the-ground experience is extremely valuable,  both in terms of understanding the issues at hand, and also for the resulting effects on personal growth.   I am excited that this opportunity is available for more people in the Indian Diaspora to make lasting change:

Indicorps eagerly announces over 30 competitive new projects for the August 2009 Indicorps Diaspora Fellowship.  Indicorps seeks a few dozen dedicated young Indian leaders who are willing to challenge themselves and “be the change.”  Tackle real issues in education, microfinance, social entrepreneurship, environmental conservation, public health, urban infrastructure, and much more.  Live simply and dig deep to learn about real India (and yourself); projects span from Kanpur to Pondicherry, Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh.  To learn more, visit http://apply.indicorps.org.

In the spirit of Obama’s campaign to create “Change you can believe in,” Indicorps is a real opportunity for CHANGE YOU MAKE HAPPEN.  The August 2009 Fellowship model will mobilize passionate, sincere fellows to become strong team players and leaders who will build sustainable new initiatives.

About Indicorps: Indicorps offers prestigious grassroots public service fellowship to implement sustainable development projects with community-based organizations across India.  As a total-immersion leadership program, Indicorps will encourage you to explore your role as a catalyst of change.  Fellowship projects promote both personal growth and collective action towards a secular India that is inclusive, peaceful, and participatory.  The program requires a minimum commitment of one year.

Applications are due 15 March 2009.

Ready to take on one of these interesting projects, from working with youth to social entrepreneurship to health issues? If you are eligible and interested, I cannot urge you enough to apply.

The Emergence of GovTech?

This is an excerpt from an email from Gunjan Sinha of SiliconIndia. He sent this to me the other day, and one part triggered some of my own feelings and thoughts that arose as a result of Obama’s recent inauguration.

In this new era, I see a strong role for entrepreneurs in reinventing our governments, and opportunities galore for those who are brave to take the plunge. Many here in Silicon Valley talk about mammoth opportunities in CleanTech, BioTech, and NanoTech; I personally see an equally substantial opportunity in what I would call ‘GovTech’ – the confluence of Government and Technology. The time is now to retool the government with creative entrepreneurial genius. Examples of business opportunities in this trillion-dollar market are abundant.

What Gunjan speaks of is even more important today, where we have witnessed the election in the US of a president who is in effect a social entrepreneur. In running his campaign, Obama utilized the power of community activism and grassroots organization to reach an astounding 1.5 million donors across the country and world. With initiatives like transparency.gov, he hopes to extend this new approach to governance beyond just his pioneering campaign.

UFV-CRRID partnership promises grassroot-level business development

Indian Express and Abbynews.com report that University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Canada and The Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “empower the rural entrepreneurs of North India.”

“India needs entrepreneurs at the grass roots level, and our partnership with CRRID allows us to fuel business start-ups and the development of SMEs outside the city centres, in the areas that need it most,” said Professor DJ Sandhu, UFV President’s Advisor.

A quick look at the university’s website to find out what the nature reveals some of the ways means of intervention this partnership will possibly employ.

…for example, students enrolled in UFV’s BBA degree at SDCC will be able to work with research faculty at  CRRID to implement projects aimed at uplifting businesses involved in such industries as agriculture and agrifoods.

In a way this partnership is similar to Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES), a partnership between TATA sons, UC Berkely and Cambridge University. Continue reading

[TC-I Call to Action]: South Asia-Agricultural Development Department, Market Access Team

Here is what looks to be an amazing opportunity to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is the description:

Independent Consultant: South Asia
Agricultural Development Department, Market Access Team
Global Development Program

We are searching for a full time consulting resource to help us shape our strategic approach to  India and assist our grant development activities and serve as an important point of contact and interface for our South Asian partners, both potential and current grantees. The ideal candidate will have an entrepreneurial spirit and excellent problem solving, analytical and communication skills. Specific responsibilities will include: Continue reading

[TC-I Call to Action]: Grassroutes Fellowship Program

Maybe it’s time to unleash the Che Guevara in you! 

The Grassroutes Fellowship Program encourages youth to embark on road-trips, interact with change-makers at the grassroots and understand first-hand the problems that plague our nation.The Program sponsors 6 teams of adventurous, passionate young people every year on such 10 day road-trips. Applications are due November 15, 2008 for the winter edition of the fellowship.

During the Program, the Fellows will have to:

  • Research and understand the on-ground reality – the problem at hand, the non-profits, the change-makers and their actions, the role of the community and the local government.
  • Play the role of social journalists and capture the stories of all the people involved in community development
  • Lend a helping hand to the change-makers during the 10 days in their own little ways.
  • On their return, Grasssroutes will help the fellows produce quality videos of their travelogues and bring to fore the amazing work being carried out by change-makers at the grassroots. Such media will be hosted on the Grassroutes portal and the fellows will work towards inspiring the larger Indian society to contribute to the work of these non-profits and similar activities in other places

Grassroutes is run by non-profit society  called Yofa (for Youth Factor) that provides a banner for people to run novel projects to engage youth into social action. Yofa and Grassroutes were founded by a team of BITS Pilani alumni in early 20’s.

Right to Livelihood Award Goes to Land Redistribution Efforts

The  2008 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, was awarded this year to recipients in Germany, Somalia, and India. Krishnammal Jagannathan and Sankaralingam Jagannathan of LAFTI (Land for Tillers’ Freedom) won the prize for their efforts in land redistribution for Dalits. The award’s website provides more information:

Krishnammal Jagannathan and Sankaralingam Jagannathan are two lifelong activists for social justice, and for sustainable human development, working with those who are at the lowest rung of the social ladder. They have carried the Gandhian legacy into the 21st century, never ceasing to serve the needs of Dalits, landless and those threatened by the greed of landlords and multinational corporations.

The roots of this work lie in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan (land gift) movement. According to LAFTI’s site, their efforts have  resulted in “distributing 11,000 acres of land to 11,000 landless poor families, through non-violent campaigns for the purchase of land at a reasonable price, or the lease of temple or trust land for cultivation by the village community.” It’s always wonderful to see individuals that commit their lives toward a cause, like the Jagannathans, gain international recognition for their work.

Small Steps, Big Possibilities

In the past week, I’ve come across several stories that highlight isolated successes or intriguing ideas that are being implemented on a small scale. Here’s a quick recap:

  • In the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi, iGovernment reports the introduction of greener rickshaws, run by solar batteries. Obviously such vehicles can only go short distances and for short periods of time, but in an congested area like Chandni Chowk, greener autos may make a large impact on the surrounding environment:

It would be run by a solar battery, which would suffice for a journey of 70 km. The battery would take five hours to be charged with the help of solar panels in the charging unit which will be functional above the Delhi metro stations, an official of the city government said.

  • A waste management system (an issue we’ve covered here and here) in Maharastra shows a PPP at work – a privatized system in a city named Latur requires residents to pay Rs 20 per month for garbage pick up. This case shows that the involvement of both an NGO and a private system can result in efficiency:

Of the 183 who have been employed, around 75 per cent are women. Rather than a monthly salary, the women are paid per tonne of garbage collected. As an added incentive, they can sell the recyclable material of the garbage in the market.

But is the system fair (especially to the rag pickers)? The article paints a rosy picture, and it would be interesting get a sense of what the reality is on the ground.

  • Community radio has been making waves in Jharkhand with a program called “Chalo Ho Gaon Mein,” which is narrated in the local language and touches on a number of issues. A project manager at the NGO AID (Alternative for India Development) explains in this article by The Hoot:

We realized that all these problems were stemmed from the fact that the people of the region were unable to express themselves and speak freely about the problems that they were facing. So, setting up a radio programme seemed like a good way to give a voice to the voiceless. A programme for the villagers and by the villagers that would not only address their issues and make them more aware, but would also reach out to other people who could make a difference to their lives.

As with many solutions to social issues, these approaches are taking place as pilots or for specific regions and populations – but all are encouraging and may shed light for the bigger picture.

Tees Ka Dum: Inspiring Children to Learn, the Dave Eggers Way

How could a pirate supply store possibly be connected to a highly successful tutoring program for children? What connection is there between superhero comics and academic excellence? The question baffled me as well, but the answer, 826 Valencia, has served as a source of inspiration for education enthusiasts all over America, and now, India as well. The catalyst for change: Dave Eggers. Watch and be inspired:

Though the model is a quirky one – drawing students into the learning fold through elaborate pirate supply shops (or other local variations like superhero or spy stores) – the basic premise is quite extraordinary in its simplicity: “1) great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and 2) strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” With this guiding philosophy in the mind, 826 National, the umbrella organization, currently operates out of 7 chapters, and “provides drop-in tutoring, class field trips, writing workshops, and in-schools programs—all free of charge.” In other words, Adults with Free Time + Quirky Learning Center + Fun, Project-Based Writing Activities = A Set of Very Excited Students!

Inspired by this model, aProCh (A Protagonist in Every Child), an initiative dedicated to creating a “sustainable environment of safety, exploration, curiosity and community for the children of Ahmedabad,” plans to launch “Tees Ka Dum.” The premise, similar to 826 National, is as follows:

Research has shown that 30 hours of One on One attention in 1 year results in huge leaps in a child’s learning. Large class sizes in most municipal and public schools have a negative impact on the academic learning of a child. Tees Ka Dum will counter the impact by giving one on one tutoring to these children and improve their academic performance.

Similar to 826 Valencia, this program is “totally dependent on the volunteering spirit of citizens,” and is run free of charge. So far, Tees Ka Dum has received support from “Yuva Unstoppable” and the Riverside School, but more volunteers are required. The first center will be launched in the Sardar Bazaar community on the 15th of August, with 10 more planned by the end of this year.

Want to get involved? Get in touch us, and we’ll forward you more information!

Must read for the weekend …

A feature on the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an organization aimed to create a self-sustainable ecosystem of dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, in a manner that its leader coins as being “villaged global.” My favorite paragraph:

Starting in 1999, the women of the DDS created a market with about 2,000 members, comprising ecological, self-produced food crops. The sales of their agricultural and other produce yielded a 300% profit in six years; the womens’ dividends increased between Rs 30-800 annually. A mobile van selling the produce was introduced in 2001 to provide people easier access to produce and to popularise organic food. The Zaheerabad Consumers Action Group was also formed which has brought out films on local cuisine and a cookbook using ingredients based on the crops that the women produce. It even runs Cafe Ethnic, a millet restaurant!

I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Sanitation on Wheels – All Aboard!

Earlier this month, I attended the inaugural ceremony of the “Nandini Mobile Van” at the Safai Vidyalaya (Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI)), Sughad, an organization which is considered a pioneer in the sanitation sector, largely due to the principled and passionate leadership of its founder, Ishwarbhai Patel (affectionately referred to as “Ishwarkaka”).

Before I elaborate further on Nandini, the “Sanitation and Health Van on Wheels,” a short storytelling session about Ishwarkaka’s extraordinary life and work is necessary, as he embodies the spirit of community-driven development. Ishwarkaka has dedicated his life to the cause of sanitation, from cleaning his own toilets (as well as those of others), to building 186,000 latrines throughout Gujarat. Even at a young age, Ishwarkaka was aware of the inequalities borne by caste and socio-economic status, and protested their very existence:

When I was ten years old I entered a school cleanliness competition and took a broom from my father’s house and began to sweep the street. Near the temple I spotted a much better broom and basket and decided to use them. Immediately, the local people starting yelling at me. They claimed it was an untouchables’ and a caste person should not be doing a cleaning job. I realized then something was wrong with our society.

In 1963, Ishwarkaka, with the financing of Gandhiji’s Harijan Sevak Sangh, established the first Sefai Vidyalaya next to the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad (to be followed much later by ESI Sughad). If you were to walk through ESI Sughad, you would see a toilet garden, elaborate sanitation posters, advanced water harvesting and preservation techniques, solar technology, composting pits, and highly advanced biogas units. Currently, the purpose of the Institute is to promote sanitation practices, namely through trainings for policy makers, engineers, sanitary inspectors, and masons from all parts of India

In an attempt to re-connect with their rural grassroots development origins, however, ESI recently launched a new initiative – the Nandini Mobile Van, a sanitation marvel on wheels. This custom-built, professionally designed van is slated to travel through rural Gujarat, stopping at villages along the way in order to build awareness regarding the linkages between sanitation and health. In order to deliver the message in a compelling manner, the van is equipped with media tools such as “visual presentations, songs, plays, and hands-on experiments demonstrating the consequences of ill hygiene and unsanitary habits.” Regardless of the medium used, however, the primary objective is to engage villagers in meaningful dialogue that catalyzes individual and community-based awareness, followed by behavioral change.

In addition to state-of-the art multimedia tools, the van comes equipped with sleeping accommodations and, of course, impeccable bath / toilet facilities in order to allow volunteers and staff members to comfortably travel from village to village.

Want to learn more?  Have further questions?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

[Ishwarkaka’s life story passages were retrieved from Arthur Bonner’s, “Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today.”]