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‘And i was ordained a Jenukuruba…’ – Article that appeared in SOM, dated 19th July, 2017

July 22, 2017 Comments off

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

Most memorable moments for me…

June 1, 2017 2 comments

Something wonderful happened today as I was interacting with 3 students from the University of Iowa – Ashley, Isha and Sarah who were here for a program at our Vivekananda Institute of Indian Studies.  Sarah wanted to know what was the most fulfilling achievement in the last 33 years since I founded SVYM.  Till yesterday, I had always thought that my most memorable achievement was taking the issue of improper rehabilitation of tribals to the National Human Rights Commission and getting the Government of Karnataka to rehabilitate these 154-aggrieved indigenous tribals families on 500 acres of land at Basavanagiri in HD Kote taluk.   But two very touching events happened yesterday that has left me overwhelmed and has made me revise my opinion.

                  With the Entrepreneurs                               The busy sales counter

I had gone to Jaganakotehadi to participate in the inauguration of Prakruthi Food Products.  This is a micro-enterprise that is part of the Social Business experiment that GRAAM is undertaking.  In association and with the support of SVYM, 20 women were locally mobilized and trained over the last 1 year in enterprise building, food technology and producing ragi-based food items.  They were also given inputs in basic accounting and working together as a team.  All these indigenous tribal women are in the age group of 20-35 and many of them are alumni of our tribal school at Hosahalli.  This unit has been registered as a separate independent company owned by these 20 women and the food products will be sold under the Health-Enrich brand.  What makes it special is that this unit is situated in a tribal colony and will be wholly owned and run by these women.  Much water has actually flowed under the bridge in our attempt at engaging women in economically productive activities.  We had earlier set up a bakery at Hosahalli and around 5 kadukuruba women from Kempanahadi led by Kali were employed here.  The moment we insisted on transferring the ownership of this unit to the women, they stopped coming to work and the unit collapsed.  A few years later, we made another attempt by setting up a garment unit.  This unit did very well as long as SVYM was running it.  It too collapsed the moment we transferred the responsibility of running it to the women themselves.  Having been bitten twice, I was unsure of indulging myself again till I could understand how to make such activities a success.  The last 20 years has also seen me evolve and my understanding of development has also matured. Today, I am confident that building human and social capital of people can lead to economic consequences.  The last many years has seen us do exactly this.  Slowly and deliberately the human and social capital of hundreds of tribal women was built and these chosen twenty women are from this cohort.  While SVYM took on the responsibility of mobilizing the women, GRAAM undertook setting up the actual business and building the entrepreneurial spirit in these women.  Despite all the challenges faced and negotiating the harsh realities of rural India and the barriers to business that it poses, we finally managed to have the unit inaugurated in the presence of hundreds of women representing several self-help groups.  Watching these confident women market their tasty and well packaged products left me inspired and overwhelmed.

With VTCL Mahadevi

With young Mahadevi, the proud Karnataka forest department employee

As I was processing all these emotions and thoughts, Puttamma mentioned to me that Mahadevi, a forest guard at the forest gate nearby was waiting to meet me.  I walked with her to meet Mahadevi who rushed out to greet me and gave me a very loving hug.  My mind raced several years into the past and I was reminded of how her father had come running to my residence at Brahmagiri and asked me to come help Mahadevamma, a local mid-wife to attend to the labour of his pregnant wife.  Taking this cute little bundle of joy in my arms and handing it to the nervous father is a sight that I can never forget.  This little child who literally grew in front of my eyes was today explaining proudly to me that her work was widely appreciated in the forest department and that she was now due for promotion.  She also told me how she was getting her sister trained in a beautician course in Mysore and how her younger brother was learning to drive a car.  And she proudly showed me the scooter that she owned and was driving around. As I wished her well and bid her goodbye, Mahadevi asked me in her own childish way if she could give me another hug.  That moment is something that I will cherish and remember for a long time

Development is indeed a long drawn and complex process and manifests itself in many ways.   On one side, the Prakruthi Food Products unit was the culmination of a 2-decade effort and the beginning of something extraordinary.  If this unit could survive and thrive, it could very well be the model that the Nation is looking for.  I believe that India’s growth need not necessarily be driven by large urban based corporates, but should be by small micro economic clusters in rural India.  Feeding the urban craze for millet based food products could very well be the driver of economic progress for rural India.  On the personal level, it is people like Mahadevi who symbolize the growing empowerment of rural women.  Not only was she moving up the socio-economic ladder, but was quietly participating in the larger construct of building a resurgent India.  What more could somebody like me ask for and what could be more memorable and fulfilling than this!

-Balu

Categories: Story of SVYM

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

Being moved…

January 9, 2017 4 comments

Many of us use the phrase ‘being moved’…. It could be by a event or a person or a book that we read or a movie that we see…The impact of this phrase hit me fully a few days ago when I was in Hosahalli to attend the 27th Annual School day of Viveka Tribal Center for Learning (VTCL).  I had woken up that morning with a bad viral flu and was unsure if I could make the 2-hour drive from Mysore. Dr Ramkumar, the head of the education program at Hosahalli was keen that I come.  This was also because the students and teachers were together staging a play based on the history of the school.  The play was based on chosen anecdotes from my book ‘Hosa Kanasu’ in Kannada.  Pumping myself with an assortment of pharmaceutical agents, I reached the school in time for the evening event.

VTCL and Hosahalli has always had a special place in my heart. This was the place that I spent most of my time from 1988 to 2000.  I still carry fond memories of not just building the infrastructure but also filling the school with its soul along with close colleagues whose friendship I cherish till this date.  This was also the time when we faced our adversities with the greatest amount of bonding amongst the SVYM team.  As I sat nostalgically recollecting the days, I must mention that I was totally unprepared for the drama that the children enacted.  Over 40 minutes they literally relived my life of those days.  From setting up the school based on the Kanchi Shankaracharya’s suggestion, to the cow gifted by Swami Sureshanandaji – the play had everything.  Anecdotes of little Manju sharing his afternoon meal with his sister Sunanda; of Jadiya’s argument with me; to Muddiah convincing me to offer the traditional appeasements of tobacco and country liquor to the ‘spirits’ – so much was told in so little time.  As I sat watching the play, I was transported in time…. all the events of those days came rushing in. The people I had befriended, the elderly ‘yajamanas’ (tribal chieftains) who had become my friends and guides and the colleagues who had given so much of their lives for this cause.  Though I was forewarned that I would have to join the children on stage for the final climax, I was completely unprepared for the same.  The full import of the emotions of the movement descended on me and I found myself moved beyond belief.  Tears flowed freely down my cheeks and I just could not fathom how much inside me was getting moved.  I could hardly speak on stage and I quickly left after mumbling a few sentences on what the school meant to me.


I forced myself to have small talk with people in the vehicle on the journey back home hoping that it would somehow reduce the heightened emotions with me.  But this is not to be. Two days down the line, it seems very clear to me.  Amongst the many things that I have done in my life and with my life, the Hosahalli school will remain special.  It is here that I was truly schooled in the understanding of human development and the nuances of educating the educated indigenous tribal children.  It was here that l learnt that giving love was the surest way of receiving it in plenty. And it was here that I made some life long friends.  Hosahalli is not just a school to me…it is a place of pilgrimage which taught me how to be human and how to go beyond it too.

-Balu

 

Categories: Story of SVYM

Passing in on…

August 31, 2016 4 comments

“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.”
– Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

A couple of months ago, Mr Mudre who oversees our palliative care program came to me choked with emotion.  Unsure of what had transpired, I was curious to know what had moved him so much. Working in palliative care is very emotionally demanding and our team members have to deal with pain, suffering, death and all the emotions that come along with them on a daily basis.  Mudre explained to me how he had recently received a donation of Rs 5000 from one, Ms.  Susheelamma (name changed to ensure privacy).  She had personally come to our office and presented him with the money.  The story behind this gesture of Susheelamma is something that will move and inspire any person.

Susheelamma, her husband and two children lived in a very small 100 sft house in Mysore city.  Her husband, Suresh (name changed to ensure privacy) was working as a daily wage laborer in the city’s water supply department while she worked as a housekeeper in a local hotel.  Her older daughter who was married and separated lived with her while her younger son had a job in large departmental store.  Suresh who was a known diabetic and hypertensive was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer of the stomach.  His illness forced Susheelamma to borrow heavily and the family sunk deep into debt.  Our palliative care team started to provide support to this family and visited them every week.  They knew that Suresh was soon going to die, and all that the team wanted was for him to die with dignity.  Despite expensive treatment and surgery, Suresh succumbed to his terminal illness a year ago leaving the family emotionally and economically shattered.

Susheelamma slowly returned back to her job and continued to work as a house keeper.  But she never could forget the love, attention, care and medical support that was given to her by SVYM’s palliative care team.  All that she could think of now was the support that she had received in her times of distress.  And she wanted to repay this debt in her own way.  She felt that the best way would be to donate whatever she had now saved with great difficulty over ten months to the Palliative Care Program of SVYM.  Her view was that this money could be used by the team for helping another family like hers.  She felt that she owed it to society for having extended its helping hand when she needed it.

Any amount of dissuasion could not stop her from making this contribution.  Though she had her debts to repay, she felt strongly that she had to do this.  This was her way of remembering her husband too.  People like Susheelamma are the ones that give us the inspiration to carry on against all odds.  Poverty is indeed something difficult to comprehend unless one experiences it personally.  In India, it is known that more than 70% of families who are just above the poverty line slip back into poverty due to an incidence of illness in their families.  Despite claims of the nation’s GDP growing at 7.5%, there are still large number of families who are still excluded from mainstream economies.  To complicate matters further, the public health system in our country is still not at a level where Universal health care can even be a remote possibility.  Compounding this is the waning interest of governments of the day in social sector interventions.  It is at times like this that Civil Society organizations can make a huge difference to the marginalized and deserving poor.   And the work of such organizations cannot do without the support of well-meaning individuals in society.    One doesn’t necessarily have to have a rich purse to share… all that it needs is the heart like that of Susheelamma who even in times of difficulty could think of others worse off than her.  She is truly rich despite staying poor.

Categories: General, Story of SVYM

Going beyond CSR…a different kind of experience for SVYM

March 22, 2016 2 comments

Collaborations are in the in thing nowadays.  Beyond the economics of it, collaborations between partners who bring in different skill sets and domain knowledge end up benefiting more people that just each other.  Though partnerships in the social space are usually seen only between Civil Society organizations (CSO) and the Government, we are now beginning to see Corporates willing to partner and work with CSOs too.  One would usually see such partnerships being driven by the CSR mandate but we at SVYM recently had a different kind of a mutually enriching partnership with a Global corporate player.  This partnership took sometime to plan and think thru and began when another non-profit, the VSO-India Trust (VSO) approached us nearly a year ago. VSO harnesses the energy of youth and corporate volunteers to enable change.  They foster development partnerships to create lasting change and promote inclusion and equality for all.  More information about VSO is at VSO India Trust.  They wanted to explore if SVYM would be willing to work with IBM (whom they were representing) and host 3 of their employees.  This was part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps that was launched by IBM in 2008 to help communities around the world solve critical problems while providing their employees unique leadership development opportunities. More info about this program is at IBM CSC

The idea was to see if we could use the skill sets and competences of these employees to help design solutions to some of the problems that SVYM was grappling with, but did not have the ‘talent’ bandwidth to solve.  Based on some of the earlier experiences that we had with corporate interns and volunteers, I was a bit skeptical and was more of a distant observer as Prasanna from SVYM worked with VSO and IBM to draft out a Scope of work. After meeting and interacting with the 3 IBMers – Amy, Walter and Rameswari, within a day or two of their coming to SVYM, I felt my skepticism being blown away.  They were indeed a different kind of a team that clearly meant business from the very first day of their coming.  Though each of them came from different countries and cultures, what was impressive was their professionalism, their commitment to our cause and their serious intent to help solve our IT problems.

SVYM is a very complex and diverse organization with high aspirations as far as its IT needs go and not so high levels of IT resources. Prasanna who is taking a break from the IT sector and has been volunteering with us for the last year and more, is trying to articulate, streamline and restructure our IT resources and capabilities.  After internal discussions and deliberations, we zeroed in on our immediate priority of developing an intranet that would help augment our IT capabilities of managing both our internal and external stakeholders efficiently and effectively.  Though writing the SOW was an easy first step, I wondered whether these three people with no or very little social sector experience, be able to understand SVYM and come out with something meaningful and productive.  What left me impressed was their ability to soak themselves into the SVYM environment completely, befriend every SVYMite that they met, gather in so much information; and finally put all of this together to come out with a product that we could immediately start using.
IBM ptn

The IBM trio of Walter, Amy and Rameswari at their final presentation at VLEAD

I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that what they accomplished was much more than what we had bargained for.  They not only kept taking in criticism and asking for user feedback, but were also scouting the external environment to explore what other solutions could exist for SVYM and how practical would it be to consider integrating them too.    All in all, this was not just a pleasant experience because the IBM team ended up delivering more that what they had committed or we had asked for. What they demonstrated was the fact that people with different backgrounds and cultures can actually team up and work on a project completely outside their domain expertise. They showed what professionalism truly means and lived the humility that such work demands.  They also showed us at SVYM what it is to set deadlines and meet them too.  They also showed us partnerships need not be driven merely by contracts or agreements, but can also have societal change as the common undercurrent force driving it. Amy, Walter and Rameswari came in as IBMers but they left us as friends and SVYMites on whom we could count on, in the future too.  From our end, Parvathi was the SPOC who despite the many demands on her, supported them with the information that they needed for undertaking this project.

And the best way to thank VSO and the IBM team would be to take this partnership forward in terms of putting what they have developed to its fullest use and building on it.  And learning and imbibing some of the qualities that they lived and demonstrated while they were here would be another way to remember them every day from now on.

IBM VSO SVYM team

The IBM, VSO team along with some of our SVYM team members at VLEAD, Mysuru

Thank you Amy, Walter and Rameswari and we are sure that you also carry fond memories of SVYM and our work. 

-Balu

Categories: Story of SVYM