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Disequilibrium and growth in SVYM

September 15, 2009

I was recently engaged in a conversation with the world-renowned leadership expert Ronald Heifitz about myself, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, what I am doing now and what I could possibly be doing in the future. Though the whole discussion lasted only about 20 minutes, it left me in deep contemplation.

I tried to look back as objectively as possible – at our inception, our growth and our present status. Though Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement was started as my individual response to the situation around me, I realized that we as a collective have shaped it into what it is today. What do I really mean by this?

The first 5 years of our existence was indeed less of a collective and was driven more by my individuality, passion and personality. But the next 20 years was shaped by the group’s experiences and action. I realized that the last 20 years has been a period of sustained tension amongst and within us. Many of our meetings were characterized by disagreements rather than any decision-making. At that point of time, many people could have felt frustrated (including me) at the turn of events. I also used to wonder how we were managing to stay together as a group despite all these tensions. Now I am beginning to understand that these tensions and disagreements were the most important reason for keeping us together and for SVYM to grow into what it is today.

Tensions can be handled well if we see them as a means to seek out the best alternative. They could also easily become frustrating and lead to a break-up if handled immaturely. At SVYM, without applying our mind, we had somehow managed to act on our disagreements and the stresses that group dynamics enforce, in a healthy and positive manner. The vision of building one of India’s best NGOs possibly was much greater than the egoistic joys of small victories in group meetings and discussions. The last 5 years have been particularly noteworthy. We seemed to float around with my role as CEO being fluid and unclear. Probably this lack of clarity and the disequilibrium that ensued led to many a person taking on the challenge of providing clarity and leadership in their own teams and sectors.

SVYM has always lived its last 25 years in uncertainty – of funds, of survival, of its leadership, of the environment (both external and internal) and of community response to our activities. While these uncertainties are indeed very stressful, I think, in retrospect, it was these uncertainties that gave us the strength and wisdom to live through and survive many testing times. Not only survive, but build on our collective experience and learning and go on to become one of India’s finest NGOs.

We also need to see SVYM from the same lens of uncertainty now. The last 2-3 years have given us some semblance of certainty in terms of funding, leadership and human resource (by way of reduced employee turnover). There is also increasing acceptance of our work at the National level, bringing in the certainty of credibility and recognition. We are also trying to usher in certainty in internal processes and structures, separating out Governance and Management structures, manualising our operations, etc. But while this certainty can definitely create consistency and a sense of well being, it can also bring in complacence, arrogance and most importantly negative growth and the decreasing ability to face challenges.

While these dangers do exist, I am confident that we may not lose our ‘disequilibrium’ if we are open, sensitive and preserve our cherished humility and look around us and learn. Presently, the stress and tensions of bringing in new processes and systems, the separation of Governance and Management and the clarification of roles of key players and dynamics of group relationships in the altered scenario are keeping this state of ‘disequilibrium’ at a level which is encouraging. We need to make sure that we continue to draw our energies from this persistent and healthy levels of disequilibrium and take SVYM forward on a new paradigm of group leadership.

At the end of the day, we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to be a model of what a collective can achieve together. A model of unity in diversity, a model where consensus does not mean lack of differing opinions and a model where each person in the group is not only respected but encouraged to bring in completely different perspectives than the one held by the majority.

– Balu

Categories: Musings