Taking a lot of people along towards a common goal is difficult, especially when ties are weak and communication is broken and you don't know who are all the people. Towards late 2006 - early 2007, from my perspective, it seemed, everything was going awry.
Thursday, April 08, 2021
Sunday, April 04, 2021
I had tears in my eyes when I finished this heartwarming, funny story about a grumpy old man and the community he lives in. #MustRead #5Stars Can't wait for the movie by #TomHanks
Some quotes that stayed with me
‘Loving someone is like moving into a house,’ Sonja used to say. ‘At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without their creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.’Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Sometime back a friend reached out to me for advice on how to handle challenges in another founder-led organisation. It was another occasion to reflect how Bhumi was a vastly different organisation primarily because we have active co-founders.
In the early years, there were several key people and volunteers who played a role in bringing our informal group to the stage where we formed and grew Bhumi. While there were many 'founding members' (more about them in the coming months), there were just three co-founders. The value of an equal, active co-founder in the non-profit sector is hard to measure both within and outside the org.
We hardly did any conference calls then apart from our monthly meetings. Hari and I would connect often to align. Since Hari and Ayyanar were childhood friends, they used to discuss a lot and do things together. Hari played a significant role in the first few years until he left for the US. It was not until after that, I started working a lot more with Ayyanar directly.
While Ayyanar has largely focused on the programmes, I have largely focused on the organisation. Often Ayyanar shares how he has taken leadership learnings from Bhumi to his corporate job and vice versa, I have largely learnt a lot from/shared with the eco-system. While Ayyanar is more intuitive with people and connects more easily, he largely remains in the shadows and I have been the face of the organisation both externally and internally. While we do have long discussions, debates and disagreements, there has never been a major conflict in all these years.
But the most important thing is the hardest to see and is a culture that must be experienced. When there is not just a single 'founder' or 'leader', ownership is shared, which has then made it easier to create a culture of shared ownership with every Bhumian.
Thank you Ayyanar for being who you are, for all the shared moments, achievements, and learning. Wish you a very Happy Birthday!
#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO
Thursday, March 25, 2021
I came to know from Hari that the person in charge of the first shelter home where we taught had asked us for a report and since we were not able to provide the report, I had to go meet this person and sort things out … Little did I know how that meeting would change it all and I would also meet the third person who influenced and shaped Bhumi.
Because I was coordinating the Pudupettai Community centre, I had discontinued teaching at the first centre, Bala Mandir. There was a break in the classes because of some holidays and the children had some exams. When Hari went to seek permission to restart the classes, he was asked to submit a report on what impact our classes had on the children.
We were thoroughly befuddled by the request. We had neither made a diagnostic baseline assessment, nor one at the end of our last class. Even though Hari had planned each class, we had never planned the programme to achieve a cumulative impact. After some weeks of being paralysed in inaction, we decided to go meet her and explain our predicament.
Hari fixed the meeting because it was on a weekday morning and he could not go, I went instead. Ms.Maya Gaitonde a trustee of the shelter home is an imposing person who manages almost everything at Bala Mandir even today. Imagine a Principal in a school and she would tick off all the checkboxes. The children loved her, but she could be strict; she has the best interests of the children in mind even if it meant being tough. I remember waiting on the bench outside her room and 'Hari from Bhumi' was called in for the meeting. She understood we had no impact report and gave me a thorough dressing down. I was prepared with detailed explanations on why we could not do what she was expecting us, but I hardly got out a word! She kept referring to me as Hari and I could not even open my mouth to correct her! The meeting ended with a stalemate, without a report, we could not restart classes!
From a seeming high, we had hit rock bottom.
Do you remember a time in life
when you hit rock bottom? Leave a comment.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Thursday, March 11, 2021
While in Madurai Medical College I was part of a failed attempt to register the TN Medical Students Association. We formed an informal group and tried to formalise it to demand better learning and working conditions for the residents. Then, our registration was rejected on technical grounds …
Thursday, March 04, 2021
I found out that to register an NGO you need to state your objectives. So, on October 2, 2006, Gyan, Prakash, a few others and I gathered at the Himalayas canteen in IIT Madras to draft these. Ayyanar would later tell me that Hari and he decided to skip the meeting because they thought the rest of us would take care of it. Attached is the notepad we wrote it on it's my handwriting in the first half and Gyan's below. The parts in Italics are my notes on the points explaining further.
01. To promote social entrepreneurship - Our solution for joblessness and prosperity for all
02. To promote eco-friendly technology for sustainable development - Our solution to prevent environmental damage while leveraging science & technology effectively
03. To use modern tools and technologies for promoting education and scientific temper among the urban under-privileged and in rural areas - Note the focus on urban poor even then
04. To promote nationalism and patriotism in youth - We wanted more people to be like us
05. To suitably empower local administrative bodies for equitable development and proper implementation of welfare schemes - Our solution for better governance starts with the grassroots
06. To create awareness of diseases/natural calamities and ways to prevent/manage the situation as and when required - the incredible foresight of Gyan, probably his life experiences growing up in disaster-prone Orissa
I hope the story and the objectives, gives you a window into how we thought at that point. Share your thoughts as a comment
#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
While this book has examples of great crowdfunding campaigns, this is not a how-to book on crowdfunding. If you do not understand crowd-funding at all, you will finish this book a believer. I found the first few sections very academic, but largely the book was great to read.
The book also has a section on Non-profit fundraising which covers Bhumi's own experience shifting from smile tickets to Give fundraisers and also quotes me "Crowdfunding platforms are democratic, if an NGO has engaged and communicated sufficiently to build a base of fundraisers and donors, their size doesn't matter"
Thursday, February 18, 2021
On August 14, 2006, there was a split in the group and the Hyderabad team decided to chart their own path.
In the weeks leading up to that night, many of us in BM were surprised to know that the group in Hyderabad had registered as an NGO in the name of Bhumi. Though I didn't fully understand what led them to the decision to break away; I wanted the group to stay together and felt deceived that the name was being taken away. At that point in time, I was naïve in believing that the domain http://bhumi.in/ was also crucial to our further plans.
I remember a really long late-night conference call and the disappointing realization that the Hyderabad group had decided to move on and the rest of us were powerless to change things now.
The group in Hyderabad was led by someone who inspired his team to do more than any of the other chapters had managed to until then. They continued to do inspiring work for several years and later we also collaborated with them. Earlier that day he had asked me if they could use one of the logos we had shortlisted and I readily agreed. This would add to the brand confusion that continued for several years and I have at times regretted that I agreed.
A few years back they decided to cease operations and I ended up acquiring the expired domain. I often share this Tamil adage with this example "Poruthaar Bhumi Alvar" translates to "The one who waits with patience, will rule the world (Bhumi)"
Have you gotten something you wanted after years of patient waiting? Leave a comment.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Our meeting used to be a melting pot of ideas, many ideas were proposed, while some proposed ideas and disappeared, some stayed back to execute them.
One of the ideas that would shape the course of the organisation came from a volunteer who was older than all of us…
Anurag Shrivatsava used to then work at a large Multi-National Bank in Chennai and used to frequent our meetings. I first learnt about micro-finance from him. His idea was to identify tribal people in forests and needy people in rural areas and give them small loans to develop trades. We discussed the ideas over a few meets when he suggested we visit the department of Forests and explore the idea further.
We visited the TN Forest Department office at Panagal Building, Saidapet, Chennai where after a long wait we got to meet one of the senior officials. I don't remember him heeding our idea so much. What's etched in my memory is his outright refusal to even discuss with a group that was not a 'registered NGO'.
We tried convincing we were a large group, IIT, youth etc. but he wasn't impressed and told us to come back after we were registered
This was my first exposure to the bureaucracy as a part of Bhumi and I returned dejected
Have you had an experience when someone flatly refused to take you seriously? Leave a comment.
Thursday, February 04, 2021
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Quick catch-ups with thought leaders in the social sector. Original Post
STARTED by a small group of friends in 2006, Bhumi provides the youth with a platform to serve the society and bridges the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Bhumi today is one of India’s largest independent non-profit organisations for youth volunteering.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Volunteers kept joining us every week and we quickly decided to start a second centre. We wanted to start in a slum community, hence we found an organisation that was working in Pudupettai community in Chennai.
I went to their office in Egmore, Chennai for permission. They were surprised we were not a 'registered organisation' I was questioned a lot about that, I explained about the informal nature of our group. They requested us to request permission on a letterhead. I quickly put together a letterhead and went there again and they permitted us to start our weekly classes. The organisation CODIAC was conducting skill development classes in the rooftop of the Govt housing board building and they agreed to share the space with us for our classes. Their staff would be present at each class too (To the left of the group pic)
On July 1, 2006, we had our first interaction with the children, an ice breaker. We played a lot of games with the children. What I remember from that day is Prakash teaching the students Karate.
We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science. It was similar to what we understood from the children of our first centre.
From L>R Raghav, Ayyanar, Prakash, Suren & Swami. I'm missing because I was the photographer :)
I used to be a frequent visitor to the Computer market on Ritchie Street at least once a month during those times, I never realised there was a huge slum beyond the bustling marketplace.
This is quite common in India, but, have you been surprised similarly? Leave a comment
#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Thursday, January 14, 2021
I still remember our first class as a teaching volunteer
… it shocked me into continuing what we started.
We were allocated a group of middle school kids at Bala Mandir home, Chennai, we had divided the kids into groups and split ourselves to 'teach' them. The first class was more like an ice breaker, we introduced ourselves, why we were there. We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science (More or less in this order)
It was a two-hour session, in my class, two or three children struggled to write their names in English, we helped them do it. One of the children gave up and said she couldn't do it!
We then did a small pop quiz in general knowledge. Who's the PM of India, who's the president of India, National Anthem, father of the nation etc. When one of the children said she didn't know the capital of Tamil Nadu, I felt incredulous and refused to believe her. I then realised there were a few others in our class who didn't know it too.
The class soon got over, we bid goodbye promising to return next week. We had a debrief in the portico in front of the home. I shared my disbelief at what happened with the group.
I left the place ruminating the kind of education I had received, the gap. I now know that this is considered a feeling of being privileged thanks to my friends at the Acumen Fellowship. Then, I was just feeling thankful, committed and motivated.
Do you remember the first time something shocked you?
Thursday, January 07, 2021
The group was always buzzing with new people walking into every meeting. Sometime in early 2006, at one of our meets, we were brainstorming ideas for our group to do. This is how I remember the meeting unfolded.
It was probably the first meeting for Soundarya & Jayalakshmi who were friends and had some prior experience with social work. Soundarya suggested that we could volunteer to teach at an Orphanage.
To me then it seemed everyone there was passionate and eager to contribute. I didn't have the maturity to understand who would have carried through and who was just giving ideas.
We debated several ideas; It seemed like the teaching idea was the most appropriate for a committed group of young volunteers to contribute to society. People who knew orphanages suggested places and people volunteered to check. The group zeroed in on an orphanage in T.Nagar, Chennai and Hari volunteered to go seek permission. I remember Soundarya asking by when it would be done ;) and she probably volunteered to go along with him as well.
Some days later I came to know that we had received permission to start teaching at the orphanage. All it took was one meeting, one suggestion and a gentle nudge.
I think it always pays to be action-oriented, do you agree?
Saturday, January 02, 2021
Unedited text of the column in the New Indian Express on Jan 2, 2013
1. What is your understanding of God?
The mythological Prahalathan believed God is Omnipresent whether it was a pillar or a fiber, my beliefs are not very different. Hence, I don't believe in Idol worship, if God were indeed so powerful enough to create this universe, god ought to be everywhere.
PS: It's very hard for a true student of science... biological evolution to not believe in that.
2. What are your spiritual beliefs?
I personally do not have any spiritual beliefs. I don't believe that we should not do wrong or do good things to others only because I will get something in 'the end'. I live my life the way I do because it's the right way to do it.
That said, Spiritual beliefs are good for the world, while some fear the law, some fear god to do the right things and they balance out those who fear neither to do the not so right things.
3. What are your spiritual practices?
I visit the temple once a year on my birthday because my Mother expects me to. When I pray I pray for everyone and I don't feel the need to stand in front of an idol.
4. What is your take on miracles?
If you want something strongly enough you are bound to get it or make it happen because there's nothing stronger than human will. If humans haven't made it happen, the 'miracles' can probably be explained by chance.
5. Have you been to any pilgrimage sites? Are you planning to? What are your experiences with them?
During school holidays, I've visited every major temple in Tamil Nadu because the other members of my family, especially my Mother, are extremely religious.
I don't have any intention of visiting any pilgrim sites unless someone I care about makes a reasonable request.
I used to visit old temples around Madurai during college because I found the experience very peaceful and calming.
On the contrary, I avoid going to crowded temples like Tirupathi... Apart from the claustrophobia because of the crowd, I was also afraid of the hairpin bends the last time I visited Tirupathi as a 10-12-year-old 🙂
Friday, January 01, 2021
Travelling makes the world seem smaller. The pandemic in spite of restricting travel globally and locally has reminded us about humanity in spite of restricting travel.