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‘Seeing God in Man’ – Article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 5th July 2017

July 7, 2017 1 comment

The Joy of giving…

June 21, 2017 1 comment

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
– Kahlil Gibran

Running a Non-profit anywhere in the world is not as easy as it sounds and is a difficult proposition. Apart from the image that the sector generates, the constant uncertainties of funding and resource mobilization, the lack of high quality talent, the changing demands of accountability & prevailing statutory laws, and most importantly the evolving nature of the world of social development itself, all pose great survival challenges. While all these factors make high demands, it is resource mobilization that takes away a major chunk of the time and energy of leaders of the non-profits. We at SVYM are also not immune to these pressures and we saw a major crisis that emanated last year.

The Government of India undertook a paradigmatic policy shift 2 years ago and decided to transfer 42% of its resources to the State Governments. While this is a major milestone in the history of India’s federal structure, it affected many non-profits like ours. The Indian Government decided that ‘social development’ is mostly a state subject and the states now needed to fund all such development programs from their own resources. In line with this thinking, funding to SVYM for running the tribal hospital, tribal school and the mobile health unit was abruptly stopped from last year. While this sent our programs into a toss, we could not suddenly stop health and education services to the indigenous communities. We felt truly caught between the ‘devil and the deep sea’ with the Government funding stopping on one side and the communities not being able to or willing to pay for the cost of services on the other. This is the time when we truly understood that in the last three decades and more of SVYM’s existence, Indian philanthropy had also evolved and matured. This was also the time that the people of India in general and of Mysuru in particular, rose to the occasion and donated generously to ensure that our health and education programs do not cease to function.

Though India has a long tradition of philanthropy, most charity has been focused on religious giving. Until the 1800s, giving in India was largely religious in nature and motivated by the search for individual salvation. Later, philanthropy also began to be directed toward social causes such as education and women’s rights. Throughout the 20th century, leading Indian industrialists established foundations and other charitable institutions of national importance, some of which were partly inspired by the country’s freedom movement. The last decade has seen a major shift in the number of people who are donating, the causes that they are supporting, the new CSR act that has come into place and the changing nature of Non-profits themselves. Donors are also contributing more and donating to a larger pool of non-profit organizations, giving philanthropy a much higher public profile. All of this has put philanthropy in India significantly ahead of that in other countries with similar levels of prosperity. This growth trend is showing a continuous upward trajectory. In fact, more than a third of current donors expect their donations to increase in the next five years. And as the nation implements the corporate social responsibility (CSR) regulations under the new Companies Act, there will be a positive disruption in the philanthropy space, bringing in more corporate donors and bringing about greater accountability and transparency.

Bain’s ‘India Philanthropy Report’ mentions that 28% of the adult population donated money and 21% donated their time in 2013. This means a staggering increase of more than 100 million more Indians making donations in cash or time than in 2009.  Media reporting of philanthropy is also now double what it was five years ago. What in 2009 was a tiny sapling is now a resilient tree in bud, awaiting its first blooms. The November 2012 ‘India Giving Report’ by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) found that philanthropy in India has the potential to soar in the next decade, with more than half a billion-people giving for religious and charitable reasons each year. Overall the report found that most people in India—84% of the 836 million adults—give at least once a year. What is remarkable is that philanthropic donations in India are ahead of donations in other developing countries. India is a global outlier, with a larger percentage of its population making charitable donations than other countries at its level of prosperity elsewhere in the world. As a consequence of this growth, India is now No. 91 on the World Giving Index, up from No. 134 in 2010. In a few short years, India has moved from the bottom to the middle of the pack.

To sustain and grow this interest in philanthropy, there are several issues that non-profit organizations also must address. Donor apathy and a general mistrust of non-profit organizations and their operations are widespread. The space is dominated by a large number of “disconnected” donors who donate out of guilt or due to personal relationships rather than a personal connection to the cause. They demand low overheads due to their lack of faith in non-profits and this generally affects the quality of the services rendered by the NGOs. There are also a large number of small non-profits that lack adequate transparency, sophistication and organizational capacity, which make them less credible to donors. Non-profits need to develop better accountability & transparency measures, put in responsive reporting systems, deliver to communities on the social commitments made, build sustainable relationships and learn to use technology and social media to communicate their successes to their stakeholders. Government’s decreasing spending on social development needs alternate but efficient and effective partnerships to emerge in the non-government and private space. This can happen when genuine, transparent and accountable non-profits partner with this growing number socially conscious philanthropic minded individuals, foundations and corporate entities.

The constructive evolution and growth of the Indian Philanthropic scene gives organizations like SVYM much needed confidence that our work will not dry up for want of support. And like the old adage goes, ‘no good work will ever stop due to want of support’ and whether it is the palliative care project that is today fully supported by the people of Mysuru or the tribal development projects that we are implementing, we are confident that resources available locally will be more willingly shared by this growing number of philanthropic minded people and organizations.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore on 25th June, 2017 and can be read here…

Joy of Giving SOM

Categories: General, Musings, Story of SVYM

A quiet revolution – ushering in a new vision for tribal development…

June 11, 2017 1 comment

Recently, I was attending a program at the MRA campus at Panchgani in Maharashtra. Here, away from the din and noise of Pune, the nearest large city, around 93 young indigenous tribal youth from different parts of India were huddled together for a week. 67 men and 26 women from 19 different states and from 55 tribal communities were participating in this program. Having lived and worked with indigenous tribal communities for nearly 3 decades, I was overjoyed to see these young people being trained in leadership, in development and having engaging discussions among themselves trying to discover their lost selves and their identities.

 

                  Having fun together                                         Learning together

Though constituting a little more than 8% of the Nation’s population, these indigenous tribals today are neither fully understood nor have they got their entitled due. They continue to struggle to cope with the pressures of modernity while rapidly losing out on their tribal identity. Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are – a) indications of primitive traits; b) distinctive culture; c) shyness of contact with the community at large; d) geographical isolation; and e) economic backwardness. Tribal communities live, in various ecological and Geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains and forests to hills and inaccessible areas. Tribal groups around the country are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. Out of a total of 705 communities, the government of India has classified 75 of them as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). These PVTGs are tribals still using pre-agriculture level of technology; are having a stagnant or declining population; have extremely low levels of literacy; and have a subsistence level of economy. There are 10.43 crore indigenous tribals living in India as per the 2011 census. They vary in strength in different states from a few hundred to several lakhs. 14.7% of the tribal population of India live in the state of Madhya Pradesh whereas 2.5% of them live in Meghalaya. Broadly the STs inhabit two distinct geographical areas – Central India and the North-Eastern Area. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in Central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh (14.69%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Jharkhand (8.29%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), Maharashtra (10.08%), Orissa (9.2%), Gujarat (8.55%) and Rajasthan (8.86%). The other distinct area is the North East (Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The most numerically high are the Gonds (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh)—about 4 million, the Bhils (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh)—about 4 million, and Santhals (Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal)—more than 3 million. The smallest tribal community is the Andamanese with the strength of only 19.

With the objective to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities, the government of India set up an exclusive Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 and has planned to spend around INR 5300 crores in this financial year for the same. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Having made many similar mistakes working with and for the tribals, I can now appreciate the need and importance of engaging with the people before even considering what and how one should be undertaking any development interventions. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual level and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them.

How does one then engage and work in such situations? Even if one is genuinely concerned for their welfare and is willing to bring in enormous resources, can such a person be able to truly appreciate and articulate what the indigenous communities of India are going thru on a day to day basis. How would one be able to understand and capture the width and depth of traditional tribal wisdom into such programs even if one wants to?

Personally, I feel that this can happen only when the leadership to drive the development of these indigenous tribals come from within their own communities. Educated tribal youth with an understanding of the problems that they are currently facing and the challenges that forced integration with the mainstream economy is causing, would be best placed to be part of the solution framework. Gaining legitimacy to solve their problems is not easy to negotiate, either with Government or with the NGOs working with them. These youths need additional skills and a new assertiveness. They need have their human and social capital built before they can become a credible force to contend with.

And this program was doing exactly that. Quietly, a powerful force that will revolutionize the very concept of tribal development in the years to come was being unleashed. This program conceived and wholly sponsored by Tata Steel as part of its CSR activities is possibly a first of its kind. These youths were getting trained in issues related to their culture; the challenges and opportunities that mainstream economy brings in its wake; and the leadership and soft skills that one needs to find solution frameworks for them. Breaking into small groups, they were learning from each other issues that the tribal groups faced locally – whether it was managing local resources, hijacking of reservation by other powerful forces, disappearing traditional systems and practices, health care issues, education opportunities or the problems of forest dwelling tribes. Whether it was the problem of building huge dams or industrialization or the improper forcible resettlement and rehabilitation that many communities were subjected to – everything was spoken about and analyzed. It was joy to watch young minds think this reality through despite the strong emotions that the issues emanated.

Samvaad - 2017

Building social capital…

The true impact of this program will be felt, possibly a decade later…when hopefully a cohort of nearly a 1000 young people across the country will be trained and a network built. A network of like-minded, compassionate, aware and empowered tribal leaders who with determined optimism will not just be mere spectators or sit on the sidelines, but be willing participants of development that they themselves conceive and implement. Moving from traditional economy to the current mixed economy takes time, patience, sustained efforts and knowledge and skills. Finding the balance between holding onto the good of one’s tradition and culture with the best of what today’s reality can bring needs leadership that is mature, pragmatic and positive. It will be a new generation of such tribal leaders that can hope to nurture and build communities to move from one level of skill sets to the next to create a future that is just, humane, equitable and fair. And silently with no fanfare this paradigm shift is being ushered in by a program that is both futuristic while at the same time realistic. In the years to come, we will surely see a generation of young people with the ability to negotiate with the government, local NGOs and other development partners willing to engage and work with them. These young men and women will now be able to communicate to their people that development can be with dignity and without taking away their traditional position. And possibly, these young men and women will also have lessons for rest of humanity to learn from and usher in the sustainable development that all of us are looking for.

-Balu

 

Categories: General, Musings

Discontent with democracy and the AAP experiment…

May 3, 2017 2 comments

Towards the end of December 2014, a lot of people asked me if I would be joining  the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).  Having been a key person in Karnataka in the crusade against corruption that Anna Hazare had led, many had presumed that I would also automatically gravitate towards this newly formed political front. When Arvind had met me then in Bengaluru, he did talk about the need for people like me to be in active politics.  Yogendra Yadav and Prashanth Bhushan too had tried to impress on me the need to be actively engaged in AAP and contribute to fine tuning its ideological moorings.   A few newspapers had also announced that I would be their candidate for the Parliament elections that was held in May 2014.  It was around this time that I had posed a few questions to them about the political ideology of AAP; the intent of having structures that demonstrated inner party democracy; what was the governance model that their were having in mind and what economic theory of development that AAP subscribed to.   Though I did not get satisfactory answers, I decided to respectfully observe the growth and trajectory of AAP as I believed that this could possibly be the much-needed paradigm shift in the Indian political scene.  It was also the time that I decided not to associate with any political party but to closely observe how AAP’s existence would affect the quality of all the other political parties. I must confess that I was hopeful that this experiment of the Aam Aadmi Party will bode well not just for Indian politics but for the nation’s progress as well.

It is interesting to understand the underpinnings of what led to the mercurial growth of Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP.   What we saw from 2010 to 2014 in India was a collective expression of the restlessness of the Indian masses.  There was such a deep distrust of the political setup and the common man was desperately looking for a messiah.  Over the previous several decades especially after 1991, growth opportunities and investments in Infrastructure, education and health care seemed to benefit only one particular class of people.  The effects of distributional consequences were beginning to be seen and the social and economic inequities were becoming more and more stark.  State expenditures on health and education were being inconsistent and the private sector was encouraged to consider providing public services for a price.  Cutting of the social benefits was hurting the poor the most and International trade, market policies and technological change over the last many years were resulting in hurting the same people again and again.  There was widespread discontent with democracy and the electoral process due to rampant perversion of the system, use of money & muscle power and using identity politics for electoral benefit.  It was in this scenario, Arvind and company entered and convinced the Nation that corruption was the cause of all their sufferings and that he could provide them with a viable and a fresh alternative.  A nation hungry for change lapped up everything he said and he soon became the poster boy of not just AAP, but also of an emerging new political paradigm.

Arvind soon learnt that he could build political capital for AAP and deal with the pervasive cynicism by constantly pulling down the ‘establishment’ and everyone associated with it.  Little did he realize that it would soon become counter-productive once he became the establishment himself.  Even after being swept into power in Delhi, he continued to denigrate expertise, selectively use ‘filtered’ information and kept projecting himself as the helpless victim of the ‘establishment’, which he equated with the Central Government led by Modi.

Today he and his party are going thru a reality check.  The more he and AAP have become like others, he needs to understand that the people will treat him with the same disdain and distrust that they have treated all political parties and politicians till date.  Inner party democracy cannot just be a sledge hammer with which you beat up others.  One needs to role model it within AAP and then bandy it around.  He needs to not only encourage people to speak up, but he needs to learn to listen with patience, humility and serious intent.  Respect for colleagues cannot not be driven by political expediency and he needs to demonstrate authentic leadership now.  His government’s policies need to be administratively feasible, politically practical and financially viable.  No longer will the people tolerate his constant blaming of ‘others’ and AAP as a party has to learn that the metrics of performance in a democracy like India is electoral success.  Decisions have to be informed by the trade-offs that such decisions entail and he needs to prepare himself and his party to learn to absorb them.  Democracy was questioned and in helping vote the AAP to power in Delhi in 2015, the people saw a redeeming solution.  But today, one cannot fault the common man of Delhi for feeling let down and cheated.  And they responded in the only way that they could – not give AAP their trust as demonstrated in the recently held MCD elections.

The AAP has to put its house in order not just to save their fledgling party, but to save this experiment in Indian democracy.  People are now no longer dissatisfied with AAP alone, but see a justification in their discontent with democracy itself.  The debate should not be whether elections are rigged but should be about whether the political process itself continues to be rigged.  If the evident skew in favour of the rich, the mighty and the powerful had to change, we needed this political experiment to have succeeded.  Questions that still lie unanswered are the challenges of Affluence vs Influence; Public opinion vs Public policy; Interests vs Positions, and Competence vs Values.  And one had hoped that the emergence of AAP on the political spectrum in India would have kick started the debate on finding the answers for these vexatious questions and Indian Democracy would become healthy and vibrant.

– Balu

Read this article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 10th May 2017.

AAP experiment

Categories: General, Musings

Water – whose business is it anyway?

April 10, 2017 6 comments

Last week on my early morning walk, I could not resist the temptation of walking up to a middle-aged woman washing the entrance to her house. She seemed to be oblivious to any concerns of water scarcity and was pouring large quantities of precious fresh water onto the concrete walkway leading to her house.  She also seemed unconcerned by the overflowing bucket she had kept under the tap from which she was drawing the water. I succumbed to the activist in me and I asked her if she could avoid wasting so much water.  And bang came her reply… ‘Who was I to even come up to her so early in the morning and give her this unsolicited advice?  Why was I not minding my own business?  And finally, she chided me saying that it was her family which paid the water bills and it should be no concern of mine if she wasted the water or saved it’.  My mind could not stop comparing this to an earlier sight that I saw of large water tankers supplying water to households in another residential of the city a few weeks ago.  I stopped to talk to a driver of the truck who mentioned to me that he was bringing the water from a tube well on the H.D. Kote road and that he made at least 8-10 trips each day.  His concern was that the bore-well was running out of water with the advancing summer and this would affect his daily business.  Another friend who hardly notices the weather was now joyously proclaiming how happy he was sitting out on his balcony at 11 in the night a few days ago watching the skies open up and the rains come pouring down.

While what I mention seems to be an everyday occurrence for most of us, it is painful that very few understand the challenging circumstances in which we are all living.  Our reservoirs are going dry, inter-state river disputes are on the rise, our forests are burning down or are chopped up by the timber mafia, the little water we have is wastefully used, and all the warning signs that nature is sending out is blissfully ignored.  And our Governments are busy not thinking through long term solutions but are satisfied with fighting for funds for drought relief and sinking more and more tube-wells which seem to go deeper every year. In fact, one officer confided in me that drought relief is good to have every year for some of our bureaucrats and politicians.  For, after all who keeps track of the tons of desilting that is done or the watershed projects that are undertaken or the millions of trees that are supposed to be planted year after year.

With fresh water sources being less than 2% of the water available on our planet, can something be done to ensure that we have enough of it to go around and sustain life too.  And who should we hold responsible for mitigating the crisis that we have brought on ourselves.  This problem which seems insurmountable is not so difficult to tackle if we take earnest steps right away. The time to solve the crisis is now and the people to solve them are each one of us.  As a starter, we can all resolve not to use fresh water for cleaning our pavements and courtyards; have a bath from water in the bucket rather than take a shower; ensure all our taps are properly shut and are not dripping; use little or no water to clean our cars; to put up rain water harvesting structures in our homes; and to plant, protect and nurture at least 2 saplings around our house.  The Government also cannot be allowed to go unaccountable for what it is doing or not doing. We need to make sure that the forest department is held accountable not just for raising nurseries or planting trees but are measured by the 5-year survival rate of the trees that they plant. The bureaucrats and politicians need to come up with comprehensive policies that address multiple dimensions of the environment like increasing the green cover, protecting our water bodies, controlling pollution, managing waste, regulating sand mining, protecting our forests and controlling human-forest interactions.  They need to address the challenge of balancing the use of water for human & domestic consumption, agriculture & irrigation, power generation and industrial use.  More importantly the Government needs to think out of the box and explore possibilities of putting up desalination plants, setting up of recycling units for water re-usage and running campaigns for changing human behaviors, especially of people living in urban areas.  Finally, we need to remember that this battle cannot be fought alone.  No one individual or agency can do enough on their own. What we need is a concerted effort from an ecologically sensitive government, conscientious industries and a well informed and participatory citizenry.  Together, we can not only ensure we have enough water resources for ourselves but also for our future generations.  Let us start acting now!

– Balu

Read this article which appeared in the Star of Mysore on Wed, 12th April 2017  here:Water...SOM article

Categories: General, Musings

The transformation of Chikkaputti

April 5, 2017 7 comments

Many years ago, I ran chasing young Manjula (whom I used to fondly call Chikkaputti), a 7-year-old Jenukuruba tribal girl. She was determined to escape being caught and was trying her desperate best to avoid coming to our school.  Not someone who would give up easily, I went after her as she took flight into the forest by jumping over the shallow trench separating the school form the neighbouring Bandipur National Park. After 15 minutes of this cat and mouse game, Chikkaputti finally decided that she had troubled me enough and allowed herself to be caught and brought back to the school. I still vividly remember the many times we enacted this drama that would leave me bleeding from the many scratches and bruises that the local shrubs left me with.  Chikkaputti did go on to finish her schooling and outdid herself.  She was one of the first Jenukuruba (considered a Primitive and Vulnerable Tribal Group in India) persons to complete her 10th standard and was a natural artist.  She could paint and sketch astounding images, all from her memory. She decided to put on hold her studies for a few years and asked to work in our own school as a teacher.  I still remember her trying to convince me why it was important for her to work now rather than go on and study.  She wanted to take care of her single mother and her family and also save some money for her future educational needs.  After a few years, she wanted to study and we got her into a good art school in Mysore.  Dr Vasantha, one of SVYM’s friend and well-wisher agreed to play host and asked Chikkaputti to stay with her during her studies.  Chikkaputti not only went to acquire a professional qualification in art and painting but also did very well in her final exams at the state level.

Unlike many of her contemporaries who still sought the support and network of SVYM to find jobs, Chikkaputti went on to find a job as a teacher in a school in Mysuru city.  She also married a person of her choice and settled down in Mysuru itself.  It was a few days ago that she called me asking me for help. I was happy to learn that she now had 2 little children and was keen on getting her first child aged 6 years admitted to a good school in Mysuru.  Here was this young woman lecturing me on the importance of education and what a good school would mean to her child.  When I asked her to use the RTE and apply to neighborhood schools for free education, her spontaneous response was that she did not need any support or subsidy for her children and could afford to send them to school on her own. What a long way she had come indeed from her life as a rebellious young girl wanting to avoid school at any cost to finding a good school for her children, whatever the price it entailed. As I sat reflecting on her and how she had shaped her life, I was left wondering what had actually changed – was it her social and economic mobility that had changed her focus towards schooling and education? Or was it the peer pressure of her neighbors and friends who all lived in Mysore and for whom schooling was a natural step in the phase of growing up.  Or was she seeking a sense of security for her children that schooling usually brings along. Whatever the reasons may be, Chikkaputti is part of the new India that is rising.  She belongs to a generation that is no longer satisfied with the status quo and are constantly seeking to better their lives.  All people like her need are opportunities and not doles that the state thinks the poor and marginalized need.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore dated 24 05 17

Transf of Chikkaputti

Radio interview

April 2, 2017 Comments off

A friend sent me the link of this radio interview that I had given many years ago to Ms Indu Ramesh, a senior radio journalist, friend and well wisher.

Radio Interview given to Ms Indu Ramesh

-Balu

Categories: General, Musings
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