Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Get paid for your grades!?!

Rather unusual way to get children excited about getting an education. Read along this article from NY Post LEARN-

Friday, April 24, 2009

Going green should be easier to cause desirable impact!

I have come across enthusiastic appeals to contribute towards saving the environment by modifying the way I go about my everyday life. For example, I am piling up dozens of used batteries simply because I am yet to find an environmentally safe way of disposing them, even after actively searching for a recycling plant or safe-disposal facility close to Hyderabad. The same predicament applies to anything that can be connected to electricity from cellphone chargers to television sets. More importantly,

I find it very difficult to avoid using plastics. I buy juice in a tetrapack as against a plastic bottle, only to find that even they use plastic linings to make it waterproof. After little research I come to understand that there is no environmentally safe, affordable water-proofing alternative to plastics available to common man. If such a solution is not available, how is one going to avoid plastics?

Often those who make the transition to the green lifestyle would be forced to spend more on a regular basis!(either as cash or as time trying to figure out a green work-around). As a result, such a community will always be small. Worse, there will always be someone who says, "You know. Its too tough to be green" and will get back to the bad-old ways! (Consider the poor. They generate a lot of waste, but don't participate in waste management in proportion. But is it their fault?)

On the other hand even when solutions are available for an environmental problem, common man is not effectively sensitized. Consider the case of disposing kitchen wastes. Composting them to manure and using them as manure for plants is a tried and tested solution. However, the process of composting or the fact that such small compost bins are available in the market are known only the to environmentally conscious. Good intentions of appeals to be environmental consciousness not withstanding, a tangible impact can be achieved only if proven green alternatives are available and affordable so that common man doesn't really have to subscribe to the green movement to be green

Friday, January 16, 2009

Get them young

It has been a long time I wrote a post on this blog - any blog for that matter. The immediate cause of this post has been request from a friend in E4SI to spread the word around about their fellowship program.

Make sure you do visit their site, get more details, join and spread the word. They have some really good and respectable companies as their partners and the list is longer this time.
I came to know about E4SI at the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship held sometime back in Chennai. Thereon I came in contact with Nitin Rao, the founder. Luckily, he stays in Hyderabad and Badhri n I could catch up with him. An oft discussed topics, nowadays, in regard with the social sector has been the interest that youngsters have shown in the area of social development. This was a big theme at the conference too where I met many young people who were associated with organizations in the social sector. One example I can cite is socialsync.org These organizations, which themselves are quite young have brought in a refreshingly new prespective in the way societal development is looked at.

They are aiming at a paradigm shift from charity and grant based model to one which is profitable and also accountable to its stakeholders. As one friend opined "You do not need to be poor to help the poor". Going to the next step is the understanding of this sector. This again has been a widely debated topic and opinions exist on both extremes. Intentions alone cannot help us in achieving our goal. We need to understand the problem that we are trying to address. In this respect I often cite an example.
Today I am in a helping mood and I say "I will try and help someone'. I see a visually impaired person standing across the road. I dart across the street grab hold of his hand and get him to "MY" (symbolism intended) side of the street. I pat myself on the back and move on. I did not even ask the person if he really wanted to cross the road. To make matters worse, now the person does not even know where he is.
Thus it is very important to understand the dynamics - without complicating and overdoing things. Oppotunities like E4SI try to create that bridge between the willing and those who need the services of the willing, by getting them to "start to understand" the way things work. I personally feel that such initiatives are required so that young graduates with good intentions get a sense of direction. Though I am not very enamoured by the choice of colleges, - the top ones - that is a topic of some other post where I will try to include Nitin's views too.
Readers, do put in your comments, even if you disagree with what is written here!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Focus on delivery methods

During one of the sessions I attended in Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) I had a discussion with the visiting instructor Dr. Vishnupriya, a freelance educational consultant. She said that she deals research and consultation for organizations dealing with educating school students.

Given that our team has interest in child education, I briefed her about our teaching module and expressed to her that there are quite a few "teaching modules" that are packaged as science kits that can be used, but our module is different in that we concentrate more on "how to teach" to the students using the teaching module, rather than just disseminating the module to be used by the children if and when they need it.

Basically the discussion with Dr. Vishnupriya and later on with Aishwarya crystallized to the following fundamental point:

Focus on delivery methods is more crucial to achieving the goals of the teaching module we are putting together than the infrastructure we use for the same.

On an aside, she has said that she is open to further investigating our idea, our current delivery methodologies and the schools we target and provide us with consultation. However she has made it clear that this may come at a fee since she is a professional as against a social worker. The fee would depend upon the duration for which she is associated with us and our affordability.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is targeting the poor alone always efficacious?

With my on and off involvement with centers close to social development, I find one attitude that may have to be changed for better efficacy of social initiatives. Let me have the first stab at defining the attitude.

"A social initiative will produce a better impact when it is targeted towards the economically poorer sections of the society. The richer the beneficiaries are, the lesser social impact it has.."

While in general this point has a validity, it has to be revisited for every specific case. Here is an example. A team of my friends and I conducted a science demo in a private school nearby. When I talked about this, "Don't you think your initiative would be more useful to students of government schools?" was one question that popped up universally. My answer is "In my case doing it in *this* private school is likely to have a higher social impact" . Why?

1. This private school doesn't have a lab infrastructure in spite of the students paying a nominal school fee (Rs. 200/- per month).

2. The students here do have a capability to read, listen to and understand English, Telugu and Hindi which provides us flexibility in our implementation. So, it gets easier for us to get more students to start "thinking and reasoning science" - a better success rate at our initiative. On the other hand, a government school on which we are working on the ability to grasp English is lesser providing us with challenges (lesser number of teachers from our office)

Much more importantly, access to better education sure is relatively much more difficult for the poor. However, schools that fall in the economic category of the one that we are working on also face problems faced by government schools (non-availability of teachers, labs etc.). In addition to that they also suffer the ignorance of NGOs that rush to help poor quality government schools. It is almost as if these students are paying Rs. 200/- per month to be ignored!

Thankfully, in our case, we need to ignite as many minds to think and reason (in science and others..). In our eyes, whether the students have the ability to pay Rs.200/- or not, if their inclination to reason is lacking, they are equally poor! Only the former is equipped with a skill (English language) that offers flexibility for us to make a better impact.

A society, apart from being categorized into economically richer and poorer, can also be categorized into rich and poor based on other criteria. And the economically richer need not be richer (or have better opportunity) in all the other categories. Social upliftment, one must remember, is not only the upliftment of the economically poorest, but the upliftment of the society as a whole.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Global imbalance

A very nice lecture on the crisis that looms over the US dollar and the current practice of globalization.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto

What she presents here applies to any city in this world. Being from Chennai, I have literally witnessed the degradation of its ecology. One example I often quote is the degradation of River Adayar. If you have seen the river 10 or 15 years before you will understand what I mean.

Sustainable design ideas

Posting a talk about sustainable design ideas derived from nature may not be a proper post given the theme of this blog. But if you look at the title of the blog, I guess I am not way off from the target by posting it here. Instead of me telling it, I would like you to watch the video and decide it for yourself.

This amazing and eye-opening talk was given by Janine Benyus at one of TED conferences on green technology. Enjoy this talk!

NOTE: Click on "Player 7" or "Player 8" to view the video. Incase if you had problems the talk can be viewed at: Janine Benyus: 12 sustainable design ideas from nature

Dr. Jane Goodall on hope for the future!

This amazing talk is from the outstanding researcher Dr. Jane Goodall given at one of the TED conferences.

NOTE: In case if you had problems viewing the video here you can get it from the source at: Jane Goodall: What separates us from the apes?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SE session 11: Social accounting and auditing

Today’s session was on an interesting topic called social accounting and auditing. Financial accounting and auditing are tried and tested methods for tracking and verifying the financial status of an organization and finding out if the financial goals are met are violated. Social accounting and auditing is a parallel concept developed on the lines of financial accounting and auditing in order to measure and verify the social goals of a social enterprise.

In case of a business enterprise, when a project is taken up, one sets a financial goal for the project. As the project progresses one tracks certain financial metrics of the project that will help assess the financial performance of the project when financial audit is done.

However a social enterprise has a double bottom line of financial profit and a social impact. So, when a project is taken up in a social enterprise, similar to having a standardized financial accounting procedure that can be used for enterprises catering to different sectors, one may have standard social accounting procedure that can be used be social enterprises irrespective of the sectors they are catering to.

In social accounting, one will set a social objective that complies to the mission of the enterprise, and plan activities that achieve the social objective, while upholding the values of the organization. For each activity planned, social metrics has to be measured that provides feedback about the social impact of the activities when a social audit is conducted. This is the basic idea behind social accounting and auditing. One difference between financial and social accounting is, for the former, quantitative metrics will suffice to accurately assess the financial performance of the enterprise. But for the latter, the both quantitative and qualitative measure has to be captured to assess the social impact.

Social accounting has three steps

  1. Getting ready: Social accounting is process that has to be assimilated as an inherent part of the social activity and is effective in giving a measure of social impact only in a long term (3 years). So, it is important for the members of the enterprise and stakeholders to understand the importance of the accounting. Steps have to be taken to get everyone’s approval to adopt social accounting as part of the enterprise’s initiatives.
  2. Social, Economic and environmental planning: We went through a case study of a social enterprise called Good Crafts that trains women from a Mumbai slum in employment related skills like making baskets, wall-hangings, soft-toys etc., and procures their products to sell it in overseas markets and shares the profit with the women. From the case study write-up we identified the
    1. mission statement of Good Crafts that addresses the purpose for which the organization is formed

Example: Good crafts aims to empower women and thus build sustainable and self-reliant communities in slums of Mumbai.

    1. the values it has to uphold in the organization as it strives to achieve its mission

Example: Being non-discriminatory to the beneficiaries (slum women), etc

    1. Objectives that are aligned towards the mission statement and the activities that achieve the objectives

Example: To empower women through training and creating of employment by

a) Providing relevant skill training

b) Encouraging and supporting self-employment

c) Providing crèche facilities for the working women’s children

    1. Metrics that measure the effectiveness of the activities

a)      Number of courses provided (quantitative)

b)      Number of self-employed women (quantitative) and how satisfactory to the women is the quality of support provided (qualitative)

c)      Number women whose kids are enrolled in the crèche.

During the exercise we learnt that

-         the mission statement should be specific, clear and should remain the same through the completion of the project

-         each activity taken up must  be tied to a specific objective. This is because; the metric that we measure should provide us feedback about the efficacy of the activity in achieving the objective.

  1. Social Economic and environmental implementation: This amounts to ensuring that relevant metrics are measured and qualitative data collected during the activity. Standard ways of collecting qualitative metrics are focus group discussions, questionnaires, surveys, and analyzing the minutes-of-meetings and status reports
  2. Social, Economic and environmental auditing: Once the data is collected, a social auditor may audit the accounted metrics to analyze the social, economic and environmental impact that the social enterprise has caused and provide feedback on how much the objectives are achieved.  Based on the inputs the implementation strategy may be modified for the better. Then the social audit may be repeated the next cycle to measure the efficacy of the modified strategy. So, the minimum recommended period for the audit is two years.


1.      It’s a standard auditing based on a proven model. It can be applied to all sorts of social enterprise, irrespective of their area of interest

2.      Scalable: Can be applied to a whole organization or just one program of the organization

3.      It is a process. It can accommodate other tools of measurement like “Social return on Investment” within itself to make social auditing complete.

4.      Can  be used as a strategic tool; can sell the results of the audit to stakeholders and to generate more support (money or the like)


  1. Need to allocate time, finances and resources
  2. Inaccuracy of surveys or scanty response to questionnaires
  3. Long term project, needs change in business model to accommodate the process