Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Okhai, Mithapur, the last stop

Jan 9 - The whole day was spent in the train as various teams finished off their role model presentations and we were briefed about making presentations on TJY. We reached Mithapur by late evening almost 10 hours ahead of schedule so we had to park the train at some place 10km away.

Jan 10 - The penultimate day and the last stop of the yatra. We were loaded on funny buses with sleepers etc and split into various groups that visited various places. While some groups visited the Okhai SHG groups, my group visited Tata's watershed programme for a village.

After a short bus journey, we had to endure probably a kilometre of rocks and shrubs to reach the place. Out of nowhere in the barren land a large man made dam stone lined dam. The dam served two purposes, it has stopped the inflow of sea water by increasing the ground water and replenishing the wells. It provided for an extra season or two of farming apart from the summer crop. The Tatas, the villagers and the government had all contributed for the small dam. There was little water when we went, but we were told that the benefits of building the dam recover the money through agro-produce in one year itself!

We were then taken to the Tata Chemicals plant where through a short photo exhibition we were told of the history of the plant. After lunch, the yatris had to be extracted from their dancing shoes to visit the stalls set up by Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development.

The Okhamandal area is drought prone, so the Tatas formed Self Help Groups (supposedly the first in the country) in villages of the area to not only promote better livelihoods but also nurture handicrafts of the region. Now hundreds of women of the area benefit through the sale of handicrafts produced by them under the 'Okhai' brand. Some Rural BPOs are also running in the area which support various Tata companies.

In the evening we had the final CNBC TV 18 panel discussion at Tata Chemicals itself, 'the power of one'. The panelists included Mr.Elango of Kuthambakkam, Mr.Anshu Gupta of Goonj and Mr. Anand Kumar of Super 30.

Mr.Anand Kumar, runs Super 30, Ramanaujam school of Mathematics, which for the last seven years has been identifying talented students among the under-privileged around Bihar, providing them free boarding, lodging and coaching to ace the IIT entrance exams. Hundreds of students have benefited and he was hilarious during the panel discussion.

We had a good discussion, which was aimed at telling us what we could achieve as one person even in the absence of a team. We had the closing ceremony of the yatra at that venue itself. Late into the night we had valedictory sessions for all the groups where certificates and medallions were given to every Yatri.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Barefoot College, making doctors and engineers out of illiterate women

Jan 8 - We crossed over into Rajasthan, some goof up by the railways caused us to overshoot our scheduled stop at Tilonia and land at Kishangarh instead. After a short wait a few people from the Barefoot college came over and made a presentation through some form of Rajasthani puppetry to explain us the concept before we were taken to Tilonia to have a look at things. The founder Mr.Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy had gone to meet the Dalai Lama so we couldn't meet him :(

Illiterate women from places around Tilonia, other parts of India and Africa were being educated in the fully solar powered campus of the 'Barefoot College'. We saw people being trained to be dentists, solar engineers, electronics, lab technicians, OPD doctors (Homeopathy, Allopathy and Ayurvedic) etc. We were all stunned to see people of several nationalities in a room, not knowing Hindi or English but learning and assembling several electronic good using Circuit boards etc :O

People are taught communication through puppetry, handicrafts etc The 'Barfeoot College' which was established in 1972 and has centres across the country uses puppetry to communicate with the villagers. Check www.barefootcollege.org

We were taken to Ajmer to re-board our train only to learn two of our coaches including mine had failed the mandatory Brake Power Check (happens every 4 days I guess) and had to be replaced. At short notice we had to pack our bags and shift while the rest of yatris waited on the platform. The train with two new coaches chugged off to our last destination in Gujarat sometime about midnight...

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Goonj, Clothing as a tool for Social Change

Jan 7 - We woke up after Sub 5 degree night, it was time for my alternate day bath, I braved my way to the train's bathing coach to find none of the hot water we were promised :( I filled up buckets of water and had a steam bath (steam coming off my body every time water touched the skin) :P In the process I also got some perspective of bathing habits of people, every south Indian who complains about 'north Indians' who don't bathe, should be made to bathe like this :P

We arrived at New Delhi 9 hours late and reached Goonj quite later in the evening, Mr.Anshu Gupta was waiting for us as promised. He made a passionate plea for clothing and dignity for the poor. The statistics he belted out left no one without guilt. Giving away old clothes is the most frequent form of charity he said, followed by a stinging query if giving away something you don't need/can't use is charity. By the end of his presentation he had 400 more fans!

We visited one of their sorting centres where clothes are received, sorted, repair and salvage is done before being channelised to the people who need it.

The 'Cloth for work' programme of Goonj motivates villagers to collectively work for community infrastructure projects like building bridges, digging wells, repairing roads, building schools etc in exchange for clothes. The 'School to School' programme collects discards from urban schools like School bags, pencil boxes, books etc and channelises them to rural schools. Annual events brings together both groups and sensitises the urban parents and their children

Not a piece of cloth is wasted, one of their major programmes is to provide sanitary napkins to rural women. They also provide clothing during disasters and they work almost across the country through their branches or partners. They now channelise over 50 tonnes of materials every month not just limited to clothes to various parts of India!! Check www.goonj.org

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Winning the Biz Gyan Tree competition at Deoria

Jan 5 - We had previously been allotted groups under several verticals based on our area of interest like Health, Agriculture, Energy, Tourism, Education, ICT, Manufacturing etc. The groups had separate intro sessions to the Biz Gyan Tree - business plan competition with facts and figures. We were expected to come up with a plan for a Social entrepreneurship for Deoria district of UP, it's most backward and home to Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, the parent org of TJY.

The plan would be assessed based on innovation, feasibility, scalability, replicability, inclusiveness and the use of technology. My Group of twenty plus myself and another facilitator Ms.Natasha Mistry was on Health, we met up at 4 PM and continued discussions till 9. We discussed the problems, various possible solutions, decided on my suggestion and tweaked it further. We also had to choose a CEO - Rashmi a medical student from Nagpur was chosen, and teams like HR and finance...

Jan 6 - We were woken up to the sound of drums at 5.30 AM and were rushed to Barpar village, Deoria near Gorakhpur the hometown of Mr.Shashank Mani. We were given a traditional welcome with elephants, garlands and wild dancing :) The temperature we were told was at 9 degree C! After breakfast we sat down in groups under a giant pandal with lots of villages gathering for the event. Some of them were allotted to us to provide insights to fine tune our plans further. One and a half hours later we had to make a presentation to some of the core team members and the villagers.

My team's plan to reduce maternal mortality was through the company 'Super Dai'. Our plan was to train a dai for every 2-3 villages on safe and hygienic delivery practices, maternal education etc and link them with doctors for anticipated complicated pregnancies. Our plan was aimed at providing accessible delivery options in a district with too few doctors. It worked on a cross subsidy model providing cheap delivery options to those who couldn't afford and premium options to those who could.

One of our teams spent too much time chatting and planning and which almost threatened to derail our entire presentation but we somehow managed to pull through as a group in the end :)

We were anticipating a top 3 finish among the 20 and we made it to second place! We were beaten by a group on Tourism, who additional to the award stipend to the winning teams, to further develop the plan at Deoria in the month of Feb also were promised some gifts by the Tatas. After later lunch we all reached the station in the late evening tired and exhausted... tomorrow New Delhi and more cold await!

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Friday, January 07, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Jamshedpur, into the heart and mind of the Tatas

Jan 4 - We were shifted to the Rusi Modi centre for toilet and breakfast, after which we were put on a bus to Tata Steel, exhausted from the day many of us dozed off, I remember getting a glance of Jamestji Tata's imposing statue at the entrance, a lil while later when I woke up we were still in the bus, but stationary, the buses started rolling and I saw the back of the statue just before we exited. I had slept through the entire trip, not knowing we would be given such a raw deal by the Tatas, all we got was a trip around the plant on a bus without even a guide! :-/

Back at the Rusi Modi centre, we went through the museum there and were later given a short talk on the Tatas. We boarded the train brimming with disappointment :( We then had a session on the train by one of the honchos from Tata Sons. It was pretty heartening to learn that 66% of Tata Sons is held by public charitable trusts and that the Tatas spent over 30 crores last year in corporate sustainability initiatives!

We had a workshop for the facilitators on the 'Biz Gyan Tree' which included a general feedback session followed by dinner with the core team, people including Shashank Mani started singing and we had a gala time.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Agriculture, an ocean of opportunity neglected

Jan 3 - Gijs Spoor from Zameen Organics made a short presentation on the work his company was doing and about his own story. He was originally from Amsterdam, when I quizzed him what he was doing so far away from home, he said he saw the opportunity and decided to take the plunge! He was in India studying agriculture, spurred by the plight of our farmers in Vidharbha, he got into cotton farming there!!

He was a good speaker, comfortably mixing Hindi and English kept us glued to his presentation on his company, their policy on fair trade, emphasis on organic farming and their 'pants for poverty' advertising campaign. He re-emphasised the need to switch to Organic farming - lower input costs hence lower risk if the crop fails due to drought, no chemicals, hence safe on the environment. Check www.zameen.org

We were all quite excited at the opportunity to learn more about the Tatas - one of India's largest businesses. The overall experience was so disappointing, the lesser said the better :(

We arrived in the evening at Jamshedpur, where we were driven to the Rusi Modi centre for excellence at Jubilee park to find one of the panelists for the CNBC TV 18 panel discussion on enabling agro enterprises missing, after a long time a local replacement was found and we got started.

Apart from Gijs Spoor the other panelist was Kaushalendra Kumar of Samriddhi. An IIM-A alumnus, his work on directly procuring agro-produce from the farmers, bar coding them, bringing them to Patna for distribution to various markets etc was creating profit for the disadvantaged and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. His mic was so bad that most of us couldn't understand his words. The third person was from the Jamshedpur university, couldn't get any details.

At the end of the day the re-emphasis by the speakers was striking, agriculture is where an ocean of opportunities lay in India and the youth of the country was neglecting the field.

An amazing dinner courtesy the Tatas later, we were put on buses and started off to we were hoping some quarters inside Tata Steel. While all 240 guys were packed into a room with bed and blankets, the women were less luckier with the bed and blankets, while they had toilets, we didn't :( Certainly the lowest low of TJY 2010, I hope the organisers don't push the bar further!

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas, a student movement from Chennai transforming lives in Orissa.

Jan 2 - Mr.Shashank Mani had been telling for quite a while now that Mr.Joe Madiath was his favourite; Mr.Elango had rejoined the yatra at Hyderabad as he wanted to meet Mr.Joe as well. So, the expectations were quite high as we chugged into Jagannath Pur and boarded our buses to Berhampur.

Disappointingly, Mr.Joe's speech wasn't as powerful as his work or his message. Things got a bit exciting when when Mr.Elango joined him on stage for an interaction though :)

Mr.Joe a student union leader at Anna University along with his friends had gone to Orissa during a devastating cyclone in the early 1970s and had stayed back to work for those people! They started off with education and a bit of health, they realised water and sanitation were the major source of problem and tackled the issue through toilets, adjoining bathrooms, both with running water. They also help setup bio-gas plants and smokeless kitchens that help the people, especially the women. Men are given training that enable them to get jobs as semi skilled labourers in Orissa and other parts of India.

Post lunch we visited two tribal hamlets Batapalli and Sindurpur (home to 30 families) whose families are dependent on Shifting agriculture (Slash and burn technique) on the hills. Their dug wells and bore wells had dried up so Gram Vikas used a fascinatingly simple solution using intake well and gravity flow water to provide running water without electricity :O We checked out the kitchens and stayed there for a while before going to one of their schools.

The school at the base of the hill also had a hostel for the 400+ tribal children studying there for a small fee. With a 99% pass percentage in class 10 last year, need I say more?

38 years since he came to Orissa, Gram Vikas currently serves marginalised groups including tribals - over 2,50,000 people in 701 habitations from 21 districts!

In awe, we returned to the train - our home for the last ten days and had a group session where we discussed about the Yatra was going on for each one of us. I expressed my unhappiness to the group over not being able to contribute much as a facilitator to them. Mr.Elango and Aravind Eye Hospital was a common favourite across the group and everyone seemed quite content/overjoyed by the whole experience.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - A new Year, A New Decade

Jan 1, 2011 - The music started soon after we chugged out of Hyderabad and continued non-stop till 2 AM. Our DJ belted out tracks over the PA system and there was dancing across all compartments and the common AC chair cars. We cut a cake on each compartment and rounded it off with Hyderabadi Biryani at the end. Almost everyone shook a leg, everyone had lots of fun - it was definitely my most memorable celebration.

A lazy start to the day, after a facilitator's workshop, the yatris were introduced to the Biz Gyan Tree - where we were to be divided into groups depending upon our interest and were expected to come up with plans for middle/lower India. The best plans for the district of Deoria, UP would be presented to the villagers and the yatris. And the best plans would also be funded to be further develop their models for implementation, scalability and replicability.

We had to sit through a presentation on Elango by another group then before crashing.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Naandi, feeding a million hungry children

Dec 31 - We reached Hyderabad just before noon and headed straight to the imposing campus of the Indian School of Business.

We had a televised CNBC TV 18 panel discussion on 'Funding Indian Entrepreneurs' the panelists were Prof.Nandini Vaidyanathan, Alok Kejriwal and Deval Sanghvi.

Prof.Nandini Vaidyanathan, teaches entrepreneurship at princeton, IIM-B and other schools apart from promoting a company called Startups which mentors young entrepreneurs check www.forstartups.blogspot.com

Alok Kejriwal, is the founder of Contests2win.com, mobile2win, Games2win.com etc and also mentors first generation entrepreneurs.

Deval Sanghvi, Dasra directs philanthropists with investment strategies in the social sector, investing and scaling up several eminent non-profits. check www.dasra.org

The panel discussion was very interesting providing reality checks about venture capitalists, the professor and Mr.Kejriwal did most of the talking. I was slightly disappointed I couldn't hear more about Dasra or interact with him later.

We then headed to Naandi, which is into Elementary Education, Water, Mid-day meals, organic farming and social advocacy. We visited their centralised kitchen which is one of the largest of its kind cooking over 1,20,000 nutritious meals everyday for the children of Hyderabad's govt schools. We met Ms.Leena Joseph who showed us around the cleaning process, the large steam operated kitchen, the spices section, the packing and loading bays.

We learnt that Naandi works at AP, Rajasthan, MP, Orissa where large centralised kitchens are setup through public private partnership - Kitchens funded through donations, rice supplied by the FCI, Rs.3-4, paid per child by the state govt, electricity supplied by the govt. The rest including fortification with essential nutrients, QC and transport to the schools is done by Naandi. Check www.naandi.org
We then headed back to the station for yummy dinner and started off from Hyderabad at 11.30 PM.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Jagriti Yatra Diary - R.Elango's Samathuvapuram at Kuthambakkam Village

Dec 30 - We reached Chengalpattu and moved on to Kuthambakkam near Kanchipuram.

We were welcomed into the town hall which we later learnt were built from 'green' bricks produced locally, using several other innovative cost effective building technologies and built entirely by the villagers!

Mr.Elango, a cental government chemical engineer-researcher quit his job to seek election for his Village's Panchayat and has been the leader of his panchayat since the time the system has been introduced.

To combat the ill efects of the caste system and homelessness he first convinced fifty non dalit and dalit families to shift into a new portion of the village called Samathuvapuram (crude translation for equal-place) where there would live in twin houses.

The villagers made the bricks and built the houses and other common village infrastructure themselves thereby creating local employment. They now sell those bricks creating further employment and trade!!

The cluster of villages then switched to Organic farming, then were made to form self help groups and small scale industries that created finished products out of the agro-produce, thereby boosting employment and the local economy further! All projects have been implemented with around 75% financial support from the governement.

People from TN would be familiar with the Samathuvapuram concept that has since spread to several parts of the state, we were told governements and communities across the country are now studying the model for implementation.

Mr.Elango also spoke of his vision to personally mentor the transformation of 2,000 villages across the country through sharing know-how with their local sarpanches. We also met several youngsters including guys from IIT, who were staying with him to learn the model, to implement at their own villages.

An inspiring man with a bold vision and a solution that transforms! Check www.ModelVillage.org.in

We returned for late lunch. In the evening we had a session in the common AC chair compartmnents by Ms.Jude Kelly, UK on 'Women leadership'. We discussed lots of things like reservation, empowerment etc. Controversial statements, paranoid men, overtly feminist women, the sane headed and all other ingridients for a good discussion were there, but unfortunately the discuission was just for hour and a half.

After dinner our group got together in our cabin for a discussion on Aravind, we ended of discussing a business plan instead before crashing.

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures later

Jagriti Yatra Diary - Aravind Eye Care Systems and visit to Aurolab

Dec 29 - "Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful - Dr.G.V."

We reached Madurai and took a short bus ride to Aravind Eye Hospital. We sat through a video presentation, then an interaction with Dr.Aravind CMO and then with all the founders.

AEH was founded in 1976 by Dr.G.Venkataswamy is today the largest and most productive eye care facility in the world. It has a near perfect cross-subsidy model where those willing can pay (Approx 1/3rd), while the rest can avail the services for free (Approx 2/3rd), with no difference between the quality offered for both groups. The cost effectiveness of their work was awe-inspiring.

After the session we were split into various groups which visited their Vision Care centres, Community centres, The hospital itself and Aurolab. I changed groups to visit Aurolab and it turned out to be quite informative professionally :) We were taken on a guided trip around their manufacturing facility for Intra Ocular Lenses, Sutures, Surgical blades and medicines. They were making world class stuff at a tenth of the rates of their competitors :O

A commendable thing about the whole Aravind setup is the employment of rural womenfolk for most job from cleaning the place, to patient care to even the technicians at Aurolab! The women are recruited only from villages around each o their centres, trained and employed.

We then returned to train, as we chugged off towards Chengalpattu, my group made a Fab presentation on Technopark and G.Vijayaragahavan. We all wore traditional attire, everyone had quite a laugh and many came and congratulated us for our spirit and efforts :) Video links coming up soon

Dec 30 - Even though all of us were drained from the journey and lack of sleep, we stayed up till 12 for a short birthday celebration for one of our group members Smita. We had quite a blast at the common AC chair car before being chased off to our respective compartments :P

PS: I'll update the blog with some pictures and Video links later