Saturday, September 25, 2010


The NSS Advisory Committee Meeting held on 23rd August appreciated the activities we proposed. But we were told to observe NSS Day, if required following US style at a later date, if there is Mid-Sem. Exam. or so. This time mid-sem was over by 20th Sept. while NSS Day is on 24th Sept. But we had difficulty in getting volunteers during (13th-20th Sept.) or the week before. But all the Program Officers made up for that during mid-sem week and student volunteers joined as soon as exam was over, using off-periods to visit villages for the remaining jobs.

Yes, we wanted NSS Day celebration to be somewhat different from other functions of IIT. We wanted to avoid long speeches. We wanted to involve the community our volunteers are engaged with. We wanted to present our on-going activities with every student head speaking for 3 minutes using slides that have images of field work. The skit, NSS cultural team has prepared and is played as nukkad in villages to create awareness, would certainly be there. We wanted the whole function to be short, somewhat informal but disciplined even with 1000 capacity audience and we wanted to be punctual.

I as a member of a faculty team was returning after a meeting with industry representatives from Mumbai. In the airport when we had free time I talked to our Director, IIT Khargpur and he readily agreed to make himself available for the entire function. That gave a lot of inspiration to the team. We lined up launch of NSS, IIT Kharagpur website, release of Newsletter NSS Day Edition to make the most of his presence and make the function a memorable one. This meant we needed to work harder and as a team. The student webteam wanted all the content made available to them at least 2 weeks before mid-sem exam.; some of the student groups had several false-starts :-) and had little to show as their activities on NSS Day, may be did not organize themselves properly (yes, there is a lot to do but the response in general says that a good beginning is made) etc.

And then there were two unexpected visitors in my office on 31st of August! Both were final year students. Gou.... was in my Digital Electronics Class (non-EC) group years back. Sa... was not known beforehand. What they said was interesting and came as a sweet surprise. They are a group of final year students who came together in an 'Art of Living' program of Sri Sri Ravishankar. Later I received this link from them. They are collecting about Rs. 5000 among themselves per month and want to spend it for underprivileged children's education. Sometime back there was an article by me on this topic at Scholar's Avenue (student's newsletter). They were exploring various opportunities and were curious about current NSS initiatives.

First, I inquired about the source of fund and I was relieved that they were not collecting money from others and has complete ownership of the fund. I am little scared about so called NGOs who lack transparency and has become a source of earning for the fund collector/distributors in the name of administrative expenses. The result is marketing of 'poverty', fund raising campaigns, recruitment of salaried campaigners, so on an so forth. Please refer to my previous post I usually ask such NGO representatives how much you yourself are contributing and if audit is done by a reputed firm and if I can see the audit statement of last few years. Once donated for a cause, the money belongs to the underprivileged, effectively the underprivileged are the employer and you are the employee. Only in the 'NGO job (read, paid)' employee is better off than the 'employer' and often it is utter confusion who is serving whom.

This is not to say that all NGOs are bad or so. I myself was taken care of by an NGO since Class III. The greater share of the greatest human beings of my life I met here. It is a more than 35 years old organization operating in other side of Kharagpur and has not a single piece of land or room of its own. Weekly study circle/meeting is held in residences of people from the community. Camps / Workshops take place in local schools. About 20 years back there was a talk to have its own building. In the executive meeting where this came as an agenda item it got rejected. The view was, "We'll get one place of our own, in lieu we'll miss so many places in individual residences where we work within the community. By this, we'll be alienated from the community and be localized. If community is satisfied with our work, wants us to be amongst them, they will shelter us. If not, we'll have our meetings in a play ground, open space or simply dissolve ourselves. If we do good work, the community will protect us in their own interest." Contrary to this, most of the NGO work suffers from 'saviour complex', i.e. "We'll save the poor etc." Even if the annual turnover in some year is approx. Rs. 10000, it is audited by Chartered Accountant. No single member takes a single rupee as allowance. If a professional job is to be done, it gets done and a receipt is collected. If possible, a discount is worked out. There is no guise, no cover of an NGO to offer professional service and get paid. Have an agency of ur own with proper registration, sales tax etc. offer service and get paid with appropriate transaction slip. Often people who are in full-time job get tempted to earn extra unaccounted income (which they are not authorized to) through this. The way 'religion' was brought to disrepute, there is a similar danger looming large in the name of 'social service' with proliferation of NGOs. And this has been pointed in Govt. survey, published in Hindustan Times and discussed in previous post.

To avoid this, the well-meaning NGOs should spend some time in understanding what 'social service' is, what is social audit, how to keep accounts etc. before jumping into anything. Else there will be no checks and balances, it will be infiltrated by people who has other motives and the cause will be hijacked. One has to bring up next level of leadership and 'leading by example' is more true here. (Some of my thoughts on this can be found in ).

Let me give one example how we work in an organization. Yesterday evening at about 7:15 p.m. attended a meet of a very well-meaning NGO where nobody draws a single Re. and each member donates handsomely. Proud to be associated with that where there is sacrifice. The meeting was discussing a fund-raising program where a corpus of Rs. 50000 was targeted. This is to feed quality lunch to one thousand relatively poor villagers of a nearby village. Since the amount is large, a proposal was floated to approach IIT community. Then came the question - what if they ask the purpose or what we expect to achieve by this. It was found that none had an answer except that it was directed by a very respected person who motivates the group, gives time and energy and himself has dedicated whole life for the poor and downtrodden. But this is an internal matter of the group who may be devoted to one person or the other. Will it be enough to convince general public so that they donate money for the cause? Then there was a brain-storming. The purpose was 'found' to be increasing interaction/involvement with larger section of the villagers where already a free coaching centre is run by the group by donation of members only. Then the question came - what do we want to do when the villagers get involved? There was no answer. Are we doing enough in what we have already involved - the free coaching centre where the numbers are reducing. Once there was about 30+ students and we appointed two paid teachers. Now the no.s have reduced and one wonders if two teachers are required. What I found that it was not liked to raise unpleasant questions or rather any question. Finally, it was decided to raise the money within the group itself as devotee of a great soul and fulfill his wish.

Let us come back to NSS Day preparation. The digression is to give the two extremes in which we operate. This shows how GOs like NSS are important as a platform which need to be made functional - efficient and effective. NSS gives the platform and a mandate to conduct this exercise, else people may wonder about the motive, given the reputation certain NGO efforts. Also anything Govt. is considered reliable, secured, sustainable, not coming from a fly-by-night operator. Coupled with IIT brand, NSS IIT Kharagpur is a great potent force and if nurtured well can make a real difference. It is getting all support from local Govt. offices and Inst. Admin.

Next, I was interested to know from those seniors if they wanted to involve themselves with the community or want to donate the money from a distance. While NSS can do the job identifying candidates because of its reach and ability to follow-up the donor should go to respective villages and see the things for themselves. Money here is a vehicle to get close to the underprivileged community but simply giving money on monthly basis is not going to solve the problem. The problem is to be solved together with the community and it cannot be enforced from outside. Often the problem is that of motivation, guidance, self-belief, self-respect being trampled for years. Money plays a small component and Govt. is constantly pushing money to social sector. They do not know how to get that or misuse it, give it to cheat fund who promise doubling of money in two years etc. - all because anything other than money. This is what I found from a recent discussion with a Punjab National bank official. And to my satisfaction they said, "Yes."

Then I explained the model we are following in NSS for child education and the targeted 'village school network'. Who benefit if a child from a village school does well? Who are the stake holders? Besides the child, the school teachers, parents, and local community are involved. NSS volunteers are going to these villages once a week and interact for a few hours. If all the stake holders unite, it ensures quality education for a child.

There is an alternate model that asks students from villages to be brought to a central place where they are taught well and cared. It serves a purpose but may have an inherent weakness where the student remains somewhat alienated from the own community and the community do not really reap the benefit. Then there is a problem of scaling it up. Third these facilities are often run by paid employee and they may not be committed to social service and take it as another job. If there is no strict supervision and management of such schools, the quality cannot be ensured. A large and populous country like India with significant percentage of illiterate people and living below poverty line needs a more inclusive broad based strategy. There are Govt. run schools in villages. They have to be made real centre of learning. We need to work with these teachers, make them feel important, recognize their effort, make them partners. Similarly, we need to involve parents to prevent drop-outs, explain them how it is going to benefit (in the next post activity of one group on various career opportunities have been discussed - opportunities available if one clears Class VII, or Class X etc.). The local community leader if involved can do his part of the counselling. We shall recognize such leader's effort in some manner.

Thus, the model proposed is to strengthen each existing link in the education chain by playing a catalytic role, by playing a role of an enabler - by giving scholarship to the students, by arranging workshop for the teachers in presence of D.I., S.I. of schools, by engaging community leader through a meeting with B.D.O and S.D.O. - recognizing, highlighting every lead with a no-criticism approach. "What we are doing is good, can we do better?" We are talking about a reward based approach, not punishment one to enhance the spirit. And the reward is to be devised in such a manner that it enhances happiness, satisfaction. Mere money is not going to help, how it is given is important.

All these require innovation. Observation - Assimilation - Thinking - Planning - Execution. Requires 3 'H' - Hand, Head, Heart. One 'H' is not sufficient. We need such workers.

We worked on both what we give and how we give. In fact, yesterday we discussed a proposal of one alumnus from abroad to infuse some more money on a particular project. We requested to hold it for some time as we want the present support which is significant amount to get absorbed first. Too much of easy money will dilute things and people will lose motivation to do better and get rewarded - worst of all, it may turn them beggar. However, we welcomed participation in underwriting another pilot project involving 10 families where high yield vegetable and fruit garden using waste water is being planned. A faculty member from Rural Development Centre is enthusiastic about it and is trying to make a plan ready asap. I may have a meeting with S.D.O. Kharagpur next week where some NSS volunteers will be assisting in a Health Camp in a nearby village. I may use that opportunity to discuss this.

We then worked on a proposal of instituting merit-cum-means scholarships for students of these schools. Out of Rs. 5000 they are collecting among themselves each month, the students wanted to donate Rs. 3000 to this scholarships and Rs. 2000 to a nearby NGO run by an NRI catering to students drawn from villages but that NGO is facing financial difficulty (as told to them and they have not studied any audit statements). They wanted to confirm this by talking to their other team members and a few days later I had a meeting with five of them. Besides Gou.. and Sa..., there were Jaga..., Nih..., Sar... Another round of discussion and the confirmation came. We decided to start these scholarships from NSS Day itself. We got another Rs. 14000 of one time donation from an individual which would give an education-cum-game pack to each of the 14 schools. This also was earmarked for NSS Day. The final year students could not go to villages due to mid-sem exam in between but one of them accompanied us to Midnapur when we invited D.M., D.I, S.I. etc. and bought some specific requirement of a village High School from a book shop there (not available at Kharagpur). Through mail I kept them informed about the student selection process and their role on NSS Day. Program officers talked to each school teacher and awardee students directly by visiting each school. And later NSS volunteers invited teachers, guardians, local community leader personally with invitation card.

14 schools, 28 students - teachers, guardians ... we were ready for a good community representation in NSS Day function at Netaji auditorium. Would they finally come or feel scared? Some of the guardians work as daily labourer inside IIT campus. Might have worked in the lawn around that Netaji auditorium where convocation function is held and IITians receive their coveted degree. And we planned certificate of appreciation for these village kids for their good academic performance (no matter that it is village school) and prizes to be handed over by Director, IIT Khargpur - even I as a child could not dreamt of such a thing. And we must thank, feel grateful that the whole of IIT Admin. - Director, Deputy Director, Deans, all lent all kind of support. S.D.O. Kharagpur said that he would come directly from Kharagpur after a meeting. The atmosphere was filled with positive vibration.

The responsibilities of each program officer (P.O.) for the function were fixed beforehand. We had three meetings in 7 days for that. I must say that I have got an excellent team of faculty colleagues taking the responsibility of NSS officers. The meeting took us back to our college days. Since mid-sem was going on we had to put little extra effort on our part. But all of us enjoyed it. Prof SH and his team of volunteers managed the stage, sequence of events in a 90 minute packed program comprising of various segments like a professional. More importantly, they had to get it first time right with no prior stage rehearsal. Prof SSD, another P.O. was given the responsibility of announcements in stage, integration of various segments. Mr MR, P.O. would take care of food. Other P.O.s will take care of volunteer assignment at IIT Gates, ppt preparation, reception of guest, audience management etc. Myself and Prof. PKB were given the role of coordination as our cell no.s were given to various guests and if they were stuck up somewhere might call us for help.

There was a setback when Prof. SSD became unavailable as he had to attend some medical emergency. In the 23rd meeting it was decided that I would be his substitute for on stage announcements. I never had an experience of addressing 1000 capacity crowd or socials like these. Neither I am a good orator (you may find that in the NSS Day video). For a while we thought a student volunteer to do the job. Then we thought it is the first show of its kind and IITkgp student audience has its own tantrums. It may be difficult for a volunteer who is either from 1st or 2nd year to maintain command. May be in our next public program in National Youth Week (Jan. 12-19, 2011) they will be more prepared.

We personally met Director, Deputy Director, Deans, Registrar and kept them apprised of the NSS Day events. Twice we circulated it in institute group mail.

(To be continued. Draft)

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