Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Standard of Living

The single common indicator used for Standard of Living in India is purchasing power parity-adjusted gross domestic product. Thats a big term with a lot of words. I tried reading up on it so that I could sound smart when I write this post, but I still couldn't understand. Economic terms have always scared me and they still do. So I looked up the measures that help define that standard of living at an individual level. Essentially, defining the standard of living at an individual level is the same as measuring the quality of life for an individual in the following areas:
employment opportunities
medical care
Of course that is not an all-inclusive list, but certainly covers the basic necessities that affect the quality of life. Other measures that I would add would be psychological and social support. Perhaps, also civic sense. But, irrespective, of what the measures we use to define STANDARD OF LIVING for our purposes, the basic ones would still need to included. Hence, the question that I asked at this point was what do we do with these measures of SOL? The first answer that came to mind was to target each of these measure and help bring about a change for the better. That led to couple follow up questions: how do we go about bringing a change for each of these measure? who is our target population(the population with which we work)? I dont know the answer to either of these questions. My suggestions for the target populations are as follows:
children in orphanage
children in a slum
children in a particular school
children living on the streets
children of sex workers
children of prisoners
I hope the group members discuss the above points as we have agreed on the objective and there is a need to decide:
the definition of SOL
how to change the measures that affect the SOL
the target population
The above are my personal thoughts. It is my hope that it will generate a fruitful discussion on the definition of SOL and how to fulfill our objective.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The following are the criteria that should help us define our Objective:
1) It should be aimed at undertaking projects that help the children of India, who are the future of India.
2) It should be aimed at SOL (Standard of Living).
3) It should be simply worded so that everyone can understand.
4) It should be broad so that we are able to cover all the entities that affect the SOL of those children.

Here's how Aishwar put it:
Our aim is to improve the standard of living of children in India

IF the group members differ or disagree with the above criteria and/or objective please speak up. IF NOT, then we should move beyond and start taking up projects that are adherent to the above objective. This is a very sincere request. Please... please agree or disagree.

Agree: 6members
Others didnt disagree. Per above statement, they did not need to if they AGREED with the OBJECTIVE.

Final Word: Please let this stand as a majority agreement on OUR OBJECTIVE. Words until believed in and worked towards will be just that-words. IF we can unify behind and believe in the above words, the strength of our characters, dreams and abilities will also unify to produce a strong team that will do everything in their power to help the Children Of INDIA. For the dreams and aspirations of those children and for a better future of INDIA, let us stand unified.

My thoughts..!

Guys it may be too lengthy but trust me i couldn't edit it more :-)

Post interactions I understand we had successfully zeroed on children/Women as our target group which needs support or rather our services, but how is what needs to be defined effectively! It's clearly understood that our main objective is to raise the standard of living of people who are below the poverty line, as that's the section which is most deprived of isn't?? It's indeed necessary that we have a good brainstorming session on this but before that I guess we should have the facts in hands before we venture out into something of this big a challenge… It's very essential to have our facts and figures in place as this may involve a lot of legal and non legal affairs in the upcoming times as and when we progress hopefully. And I guess our efforts in whatever ways are not going waste, as we indeed should research this well in advance before plunging into it blindly! Such initiatives always help when it's well researched, aggressively thought and discussed with its pros and cons.

Now I came across this link which is very informative http://www.wakeupcall.org/about_us/about_us.php (Visit this page, which may help us connect with them at our current situation)........... http://www.wakeupcall.org/administration_in_india/world_class_governance.php (the whole site has to be explored well…yet another informative & interesting page) …not sure how many of you would have come across but, request you all to study this carefully and please think and then come up with your ideas as to how we can constructively frame our OBJECTIVE and achieve them.

My take on the whole Objective is pretty clear as in we intend to bring a change in the life of an individual by helping him/her get a better standard of living through the means of education, better livelihood ! He should feel one amongst us. The next move is not clear as in how to start off and where to start from…?

A few queries strikes my mind mostly and they are -

* Are we heading towards building another NGO? If yes, then we need to interact with a few NGOs and understand the challenges they face, how they capture projects...how much funds are required etc etc etc. We need to build a project on this itself if we intend to form one.

* How much time and efforts or homework we need to invest per day / per week / per person to drive this religiously?

* Should this be treated as a priority in each one of our lives since it's at such a nascent stage…?

* Should we build contacts and seek projects..?(What kind of projects that needs to be addressed… http://www.wakeupcall.org/Future_Projects/Projects.php )

* Should we seek some advice from people who have deeper experience? I think we should…as it may open up a lot of our doubts in mind.

* Asking again that we as in the members of this initiative need to identify each one of our strengths to be put in use for our cause!

That's all for now!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do NGOs talk to each other? iCONGO

This post is the first attempt to find out if the NGOs working on the same social concern talk to one another. Is there an umbrella under which NGOs of similar objectives come together to share knowledge and best practices so that they improve their reach to their beneficiaries? For example, an NGO called Project511 has a programme to train school drop-outs so that they can take sales jobs in retail outlets. Dr. Reddy's Foundation has a programme that almost exactly works on the same. Yet, the former doesn't know of the latter's programme. (I talked to a project co-ordinator of Project511).
So, they may be training too many people for retail sales job requirement and not even know about it. This problem is hypothetical (This is not a subject of discussion) just to point out that, proper interface between NGOs is probably necessary to effectively achieve their individual proposes.
To see if such a initiative already exists, I looked at an organization called Indian Confederation of NGOs (iCONGO) that Aishwaraya Mishra pointed out. I grabbed some time to go through their website to find out what they are upto. Here is my pseudo-research and conclusion

iCONGO: Indian Confederation of NGOs
In their own words "iCONGO is poised to be like the CII or NASSCOM for the NGO sector". Their objective is to help all the NGOs in India (irrespective of their area of concentration) work in an effective manner so that it benefits the beneficiaries to the maximum possible extent. For that, they strive to bridge the gap between two ends, the givers (individuals who donate money) and the takers (the NGOs).
Explanation of Purpose:
A few people give money to NGOs out of sheer emotion, a few donate to NGOs that market themselves well (but retain a larget % of money for their upkeep rather than using it for society). On the other hand a few keep from donating despite their willingness because they don't know how effectively the NGO is using the money. iCONGO strives to ensure that the individual gives the money with full knowledge of what the NGO is doing, how it uses the money (what % goes to the cause). In other words, it wants the individual to "invest" not "donate" for a cause stated by the NGO.
To help individuals to "invest" rather than "donate", iCONGO seems to enlist NGOs that pass certain tests like transparency, accountability, uses less than 20% of the contributed money for its upkeep. This gives the necessary pieces of information to an individual to contribute money to an effective, but less known NGO that works on an issue that is closer to his/her heart (say child education).
Futher it claims to have pioneered certain processes like "direct selling" and it seems to make available to NGOs its infrastructure like direct selling agencies, retail shops, discounted media rates, cause related marketing ideation etc.
I have gone through the website to the extent possible in the last two hours, but found nothing that iCONGO does to make sure that NGOs working on a similar issue talk to each other, share knowledge to improve their collective reach to the beneficiaries.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Trip to one of the Dr. Reddy's Foundation's LABS (Livelihood Advancement Business Schools)

Date and Time: 7th March 2008, Friday @ 11.30 AM.

Place: Dr Reddy's Foundation (DRF) LABS at Abids

Aish and I headed towards an impromptu meeting to abids; where DRF vocational course is running or rather coming to a closure for this particular batch. A handful of guys and gals were present who were undergoing the sessions there. Mr. Devi Prasad (PRO at Reddy Foundations) accompanied us all the way and the interaction begun with the aspirants’ (Reddy Foundations prefer this name for the students joining LABS) brief introduction. With this we got a fair idea about the aspirants’ background…where they are coming from, their family background, what they intend to do next after their programme and how did the course help them so far. Mostly their family backgrounds were financially weak is what I could infer and each one of them were thriving to hone their skills there at LABS center…but, remorsefully the strength of the aspirants was too low.

After this introduction we introduced ourselves and our purpose to visit them. Aish had neatly laid down the links about Anand Bharathi’s kids and their chances of being a part of Reddy’s livelihood plan. He also explained that our visit was also to develop a relation with them informally and see how we can help each other mutually.

Well we didn’t know what to talk about next and what not...but we ended up discussing and motivating them that they need to work upon their grey areas, be consistent in their efforts, improve their communication skills, read and create awareness, and move forward and do something on their own & shape their careers and build a beautiful future for themselves.. Also, we had set a few examples and explained that they could be a part of that league too, where they can set examples in future. Not just this but we encouraged them to spread this amongst their peer members … so that many more like them can benefit a life out of it.

Overall it was a good experience …and there was indeed a good deal of change that we observed in them. Sheer confidence, hope that they would earn a living for themselves and raise the standard of living for themselves and their families too. Some of them were already roped in for some jobs that of a hardware engineer and Data entry operators and rest were in the process of getting placed.

Few things that I guess I extracted out of the whole affair were,

1. If any one of us in our vicinity is aware about anyone who needs an assistance of this kind or an opportunity… we can guide them to take up a course like this though LABS.

2. Try to spread this programme as much we can. I don’t mean that we would sell on behalf of Reddy’s Foundation but just create awareness in the sense that…recently I had discussed about this instance with my home-maid who was enthusiastic for her kids, as she is finding it tough financially, for her girl child is going to some nearby English medium school and she made her plans to stop sending her to the school.

3. Visiting such aspirants once a while can motivate them to an extent. Not sure even if it does but can keep trying until we make an impact J

How to look up, build and sustain a NGO?

most of the ngo databases provide contact information for various ngos.

a database of ngos. u can do a statewise search for ngos

another database to search for ngos in india. they have 13719 in their database. u can do a search based on keyword and states.

u can search ngos based on issues and state districts

u can search database based on ngo name, area of work, state and district

breaks down ngo based on issues, states, districts at the same time providing a table of the breakdown of number of ngos based on issues, state and district with providing the ngos they consider valid. excellent resource.

an excellent resource that has increased flow or resources from high net worth individuals and corporation to ngos.

a ngo dreamer's dream come true. they teach u how to start and sustain an ngo.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

NGOcamp ! Anyone ?

It was during the last Skype meeting that we accidentally stumbled upon the idea of a networking event for NGOs in India. A quick google search for such events doesn't help much which essentially means that there is space for such an event, or not at all !

The idea is to organise a networking cum experience sharing event for NGOs in India. Scale and details have to be decided if we decide to go for it. A possible option is an Unconference styled event on the lines of blogCamp,barcamp etc.

My personal experience makes me believe that networking helps in many ways than one, peer learning being one of the most important takeaways. An interesting site that I came across is cnri.in . It's kind of an association for all NGOs working in rural India. I couldn't find a similiar one for Urban NGOs though.

Junta > Do come up with what you think on this !

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Powerful learning !

I really don't know why I titled the post that way :) , but yes it has got something to do with effective learning , more specifically - ' Effective Teaching '.

Most of us remember some specific teachers more from our school days than the usual ones who used to help us cram up our lessons. The way they used to teach, the methodologies they employed, their conduct in class everything together made sure that the learnings they imparted always had a special place in our brains. Some of course , still rose to higher standards by just making us sit in awe and listen , imparting an inspiration to learn and perform !

I have always been a fan of good delivery methods in teaching (for that matter who isn't ?) I do make it a point to keep a tab on methods used by different teachers & professionals whom I bump into once in a while. I later try to use and test them in my own sessions to see the effectiveness. More recently, I have shifted to the Internet to observe and learn such techniques and have come to believe that the net is going to revolutionize learning in a way none of us could have imagined a couple of years back.

The idea is pretty simple . The net breaks couple of very important barriers (Often repeated, but yes, worth a read ) :
1. Geography.
This doesnt need explanation, the best of the best teachers can come to the student , transcending geographical boundaries.

2. University entry barriers .
While a teacher can be accomplished cos of his individual brilliance, an entire university working towards a common goal can be still more amazing. Some of the best demo videos, curriculum, course materials are increasingly becoming online for free. While you need to clear an exam and a rigorous exam process to get there and see it live, you could settle for a video without any of that effort. I agree that the kick of the live interaction is different, but then thousands of students can anyway never sit in a MIT classroom together, what they can however is logon to a video lecture together. And technologies are at it in increasing the interactive experience.

3. Amazing ideas .
When you see some of the people across the globe using innovative ways of learning and teaching , you tend to know how some simple things can help create powerful impact .A cool example that I learnt from Prof Randy Pausch of CMU is the idea of a 'head fake' - If the learner never knows the real learning that she is being imparted ( which is often boring) and is actually made to go through an experience that is pure fun for her, then the rate of learning & assimilation of ideas is far more superior. Prof Pausch used it in learning, but I can see that some other institutions too are using the same funda in enriching human lives as in the video below.

An interesting work of Prof Randy is in the Alice project where children are taught programming through a fun filled method.

And to conclude, the net's prowess might not end up with just teaching kids and children , it might as well help as in community initiatives like the Digital Green program of Microsoft Research