Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bhumi - Failure#2 Hitting Rock Bottom

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

Bhumi - Failure#1

We seemed to be on a high, we had quickly started two centres, we had volunteers joining us almost every week, we had managed to register Bhumi. But things unravelled quite quickly …

At our second centre classes continued regularly, we even started weekday evening classes. In those days I used to study at the Library in the TN MGR Medical University, Guindy, Chennai. In the afternoon, I would make 20 KM trips to Pudupettai so that we would be there immediately after the children reached home from school. Within a few classes, we realised the children needed support with basic English. I was especially struggling and purchased some English books with alphabets and small words to teach.


First, it happened on & off, that the staff of the partner organisation would forget to come. Without their support there would be no room to teach, so we would sit on the floor and teach the children. The floor was made of terracotta tiles and was slightly hot from the afternoon sun. The kids never had a problem and were quite regular, so we trudged on. On some weeks, some other volunteers would join me too but mostly it was just me. Female volunteers who found the courage to walk into the community would gingerly stand as our classes happened on the floor. Volunteers were dropping off regularly and we realized that there was a gap between the idealism and optimism of the core team to take on the tougher challenge of directly working in a community and what the new volunteers were comfortable doing.


After some days the staff completely stopped turning up or answering my calls. One evening after walking up three floors through the dirt lined walls of the housing complex, I found the door to the rooftop locked and I was the only volunteer there. No reasons were given, we were simply shut off. At that time I thought maybe the organisation was wary that we were now 'registered NGO' sharing their space. Now I feel it could have also been that the staff simply did not like to spend the extra time there. I remember standing behind the shut door in the semi-darkness and dialling Hari (in the pic on an earlier occasion) to confer. We decided immediately.


I could have tried reviving the partnership, but we simply quit. This was the last time I would teach children for another decade, but I hadn't decided then.


Have there been times, when you suddenly gave up suddenly in frustration? Leave a comment

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Before Bhumi - Getting to Bhumi

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 …

I started making enquiries on how to register an NGO and understood there were two possible options, to register as a Society or a Trust (now I also know there is a third option of registering a Section 8 Company). While registering as a Trust seemed to have a lesser compliance burden, we chose to register as a Society because Gyan advised it would be better to have a system where we reported accounts etc. to the government annually. Even then the choice of transparency over convenience was clear.


I found the nearest registrar office and we submitted the application to register Bhumi. The registrar office is a tough place to navigate for a novice with 10-20 registries including marriages, property (more lucrative and hence a higher priority at the office). To avoid the pitfalls of the previous attempt I took the help of an agent Ms. Latha to complete the process. Watch the movie Indian where the young Kamal Haasan, how he's seated outside the RTO, much like that :)


Within a few days, Ms. Latha informed me that, the name "Bhumi" could not be accepted and that we had to re-submit an application with a more appropriate name like "Bhumi Educational Charitable Society" etc. When I refused to accept that and explained to her that the name "Bhumi" was important, she suggested I meet the registrar and appeal, if he agreed we could register as Bhumi itself.


Ms. Latha has a mobile phone but she hardly answers (even now!) so every day I would visit the registrar office to seek a meeting with the registrar. Either he would be busy, or travelling or someone in the team who has to get the file would be on leave. After seven, maybe ten attempts over a 2-3 week period I finally met him and pitched. I explained about our pan-India group and we wanted the name "Bhumi" because it meant the same in most Indian languages. He agreed and a few weeks later in November we were officially registered!


Several years later I learnt that an #Entrepreneur was someone who never took no for an answer.

Do you agree? Leave a comment


#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Before Bhumi - October 2, 2006

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