Immersive journeys to help leaders make more impact in the world.

Journeys for Change blog

April 25th 2011 05:04

On the Up: a JFC alum's personal African socent journey

Rob Wilson is the founder of READ International, a social enterprise that collects used books in the U.K. and distributes them throughout schools in Tanzania and Uganda.  In 2007, Rob came to India through Journeys for Change.  His JFC experience left him charged and excited; like many participants, he talked about global demand for social entrepreneurship journeys in other countries throughout the world.

Rob is now bringing his dream of an African social entrepreneurship journey to life. He and his wife Nikki have launched "On The Up," a personal travel experience up Africa's east coast. As they move from Cape Town to Cairo, they will be interacting with a wide range of social entrepreneurs and spreading their stories through social media - and ultimately, publsihing these stories in a book.  In their words:

"Between May and August 2011, we will be spending time with these social entrepreneurs and their projects so we can really delve into their stories, unpicking the ingredients for how passion has been converted into action. We want to get to grips with the factors which contribute to social change success and more importantly, we want to know how we can inspire others to help.  Just as we were inspired when we were students, we want to galvanise others to become changemakers too."

We at JFC wish Rob and Nikki some amazing travels. If you know of any changemakers On the Up should spend time with, tell us here or on their facebook page

A couple of days ago amidst Mumbai Cricket World Cup fever, we met up with an old friend, the wonderful Shweta Chari. Shweta's organisation, Toybank, redistributes great quality used toys from donors in India (and across the world) to less fortunate children whose playtime is toy-free.
Photo from ontheup.org.uk

March 30th 2011 02:03

Kolkata Sanved and Living Lens partner to fight sex trafficking at 2012 Olympics

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Journeys for Change partner Kolkata Sanved (India) and JFC alum Living Lens (UK) have launched an international collaboration.  Together, as London gears up to host the 2012 Olympics, they will shine a light on the devestating toll wreaked by so many major sporting events: the severe increase in human trafficking.

Both Kolkata Sanved and Living Lens provide creative therapy to victims of human trafficking - Kolkata Sanved through dance movement therapy, Living Lens through video. Their new partnership will provide a platform for survivors of trafficking and prostitution to tell their stories to a global audience. Both organisations want to make sure that survivor voices are a key element in the media run-up to the Olympics, and that the public becomes part of the call for change.

Sohini Chakraborty, founder of Sanved, connected with Rose McCausland and Amy Barbor, the founders of Living Lens on JFC's 2009 India Social Entrepreneurship Journey. We are proud to play a role in this collaboration. 

You can support the collaboration, too. Visit the partnership's Buzzbnk page to get involved on a number of different levels - help spread the word, give your time and donate funds online. 

The potential for social impact is huge. Journeys for Change is committed to making this collaboration as powerful as it can be.

March 08th 2011 00:03

Kelly Clark on coming home - Post-trip realisations and reflections

Journey participant Kelly Clark founded Marmanie, an impact investment and advisory firm in the UK that connects clients to social enterprises around the world. Kelly is somewhat of a renaissance woman - outside of her consulting work, she studies yoga and philosophy, runs ultra-marathons, and is a Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming. In this post, these multiple lenses come through as she looks back on her Journey experience.

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I have to admit when I heard that we were being assigned blogs during our first morning briefing, my eyes did a virtual roll to the back of my head. Seriously?!

I wasn't expecting to be given homework, especially not before we had even gotten out of the hotel! I hadn't yet found my feet on that morning and I wanted to push away anything that created even more uncertainty.

I got over my churlishness fairly quickly and had many moments when I found myself making a mental note of a quote, a scene or a learning that I would later weave into my blog... and yet the trip passed without me finding my inner voice, my ability to articulate what I was experiencing in a way that could do justice to "real time".

Now that I am back I see the importance of cataloguing this journey for myself, for those who shared it with me and for those that may wish to experience their own Journey for Change in the future. Part of the challenge and the reward is sitting with it all and trying to find the words to express its enormity.

It is Tuesday evening. I have been back in London for 48 hours. I am sitting in my comfortable, clean flat reflecting on the trip and missing the dirt, the noise and all the unexpected challenges along the way. I am feeling nostalgia for the bus (I cannot believe that I am saying that!), for the amazing camaraderie that defined our group, for the moments where I felt challenged and emotional because my beliefs and world views were unraveling from the inside out. 

I miss it all and realise that this journey is just beginning...

There is an art to creating an experience like this. I had no true appreciation of this before. I arrived on the first day feeling as though I understood group dynamics, coaching and social enterprise. In other words, I believed that I fully understood this art and would slip seamlessly into the flow of creating it.

If I am honest, I was a bit smug on that first day but that arrogance didn't last long. While the group bonded incredibly fast and the JFC staff gently shepharded us through the outward journey- i.e. visiting the projects and creating the enabling environment in which we could debate our views, the inner journey was where the challenge and the magic happened for me.

I found over the course of the trip waves of awareness raising to my conscious mind. It started with the realisation that market solutions don't work for every problem. And for those incidences when they do work, they may not necessarily be the model of choice! Sh**t! There went my enterprise model!

Then I realised that my own experience in this field paled in comparison to that of the majority of our group. More repositioning on unfamiliar territory. Time to be a student, not a teacher. 

Humility took hold early and lasted throughout the entirety of the trip (I think it is here to stay!)

Every time I had a conversation with one of the other members of our group, a new penny dropped-sometimes it was around India and the projects that we were seeing but often it was about much bigger issues like following one's dream, maximising the impact of one's life and one's work, choosing a mentor, the importance (or not) of scale. These are important  questions for me, particularly at this time in my life, and the beauty of the journey was that a lot of the questions arose via the sharing and through the personal reflection that occurred on that bus!

There is no grand crescendo to this blog. No stunning insight that makes me sound and feel brilliant. Rather it is being written to find and acknowledge the part of our journey that made it possible to do a deep dive and question.

What a luxury in our busy lives to have had the opportunity to go away with an amazing group of leaders, to be led by the extraordinary and humble JFC team  and to see, feel, touch and explore my own limits within a safe space. I am still left questioning what it really means to be sustainable, to make a difference, to apply a passion to one's work that makes the seeming impossible a reality....the list goes on and on.

The answers will come with time....it's all part of the exquisite art and magic of this journey and for me appreciating that, is possibly the biggest learning of all.

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February 22nd 2011 07:02

Katina Grays on d.light Design – d. light at the end of the tunnel

One of our first site visits was to d.light Design, a social business that manufacturers and distributes solar-powered lanterns to people living in rural poverty around the world. These lanterns are meant to replace the ubiquitous kerosene lantern, which is a threat to people’s safety and the environment.  d.light is often cited as one of the world’s best examples of a social enterprise. 

Journey participant Katina Grays is Associate General Counsel for Habitat for Humanity International’s Asia Pacific Region. In this post, she dissects the challenges that d.light will face in reaching its goal of touching 50 million lives in the next three years.

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Our visit to d.light was one of the site visits that I was really anticipating.  I had been reading a blog by d. light’s founder Sam Goldman for the past several months.  The company has also been prominently featured in several social enterprise publications as a success story.

Seeing the reality of d. light was quite different than the fairy tale that I had envisioned.  They are essentially a product start-up company, albeit with a social purpose.  Like many start ups, d. light is going through the typical pains of business that any start up goes through.  

Two things stood out for me – (1) the price point of their products only allow them to touch the very top of the base of the pyramid segment and (2) the company has to create a clear, viable distribution system for its product.

d. light’s products range from $8-32 per light., which are durable and well-designed.   Just as people use more than one kerosene lamp, they are likely to need more than one solar lamp.  This means the costs could be $16-64 or more.  At this price point, it will be hard to penetrate very deeply into the base of the pyramid segment.  Ironically, it’s doubtful that the family of the kid in Benin who inspired this idea would be able to afford this product  (more than half of the population of Benin falls below the poverty line).  To the company’s credit, d. light is investing in research and development and continues to find ways to make the product more accessible.  They still have a long way to go to truly meet their objective of eliminating the use of kerosene as a source of light.  

How d. light gets its product to its customers is critical to the success of the company.  Currently, the distribution of the products is very organic and ad hoc.  They seem to be taking a “try everything under the sun and wait to see what works” approach.  The lack of focus in their distribution seems to show that they haven’t quite figured out this critical element of their business.  One of their key barriers in distribution is building trust in the communities where they sell the product.  

Building trust and reputation in a community is a slow process that takes time.  One strategy discussed was using partnerships with NGOs and other organizations that already have trust in the community.  While partnerships with credible organizations might help build community trust initially, d. light needs to invest its own time and resources into that process as well, especially if they want to build their brand identity. Otherwise, the perception might be that’s the light that came from [insert name of partner here.]  Community trust and a strong brand identity will be important when copycat products enter their market, a subject that founder Goldman recently blogged about. 

That said, it was inspiring to see smart people trying to use a traditional product company model to solve a really critical social need.  It remains a very unique company in that regard.  But at just four years in existence, d. light is still near the beginning of a dark tunnel.  They will have to work diligently to address the core business problems they face in order to continue to move forward.  And the road ahead is long.  

Personally, I want to see them succeed.  With some attention and focus to core needs like affordability of the product and distribution, I believe the company can reach the light at the end of the tunnel.  

February 21st 2011 04:02

Ashley Whittley on Jaipur Foot – The ‘extended shoe’ philosophy

Much of India’s population has little or no access to quality healthcare. Rampant disease, dangerous roads and hyper-stressed infrastructure claim countless lives and limbs every day. A huge percentage of the physically disabled in India are living in chronic poverty.

Jaipur Footis a phenomenal charity that distributes customized prosthetic limbs at no charge to the client. Someone with no money in their pocket can arrive at the clinic, be fitted for a limb and within hours, walk out on a prosthetic leg – all for free. Hundreds of people of all religions and castes flock to the clinic every day from all over India, where they are personally served by a team of technicians – a third of whom are limbless. Ashley Whittley, Development Manager at UnLtd, talks about her experience at Jaipur Foot and her unforgettable encounter with Mr Mehta, its founder.

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In a nut shell, Jaipur Foot is a non-governmental organisation that provides free prosthetic aids to those unfortunate enough to experience the loss of a limb.  The charity is the brain child and vision of Shi D R Mehta, who himself experienced a bad accident 25 years ago, resulting in a crushed leg.   He had the means to pay for healthcare, and therefore fully recovered, but realized the poor did not and this resulted in the loss of limbs, loss of income and ultimately the loss of dignity and respect.  He envisioned the establishment of a free clinic that restores ‘mobility, self respect and human dignity.’

The organisation was established in 1975 and to date has helped over 1.2 million people. It takes over $3.5 million a year to run and relies wholly on grants and donations.  Impressive facts, but the man himself is even more impressive.  Sparing what little time he had, he kindly gave us a tour of his clinic. We experienced the journey from a patient’s perspective, beginning in the waiting room, shared by countless patients waiting to be seen, into the work shop that customizes each limb to the final and joyful reunion of patient and artificial limb. All of this happens with a matter of hours – people come in limbless and walk out with a fully-functional prosthetic. 

On every element of the tour, Mr Mehta was followed by admiring and grateful patients, who were all as eager as I was to listen to his story and the great work of the clinic.  Although softly spoken, his presence is so strong that each person finds themselves leaning in and hanging on every word.  He would point to a person in the crowd and with little encouragement the person would roll up a trouser leg to demonstrate an artificial limb.  Even more amazingly, he challenged a member of our group to a footrace with a patient with a prosthetic leg. The patient (who is also a prosthetic production technician) won.   

It’s a commonly held belief in the social sector that people will appreciate a product or service more if they pay something for it. When asked about this – and whether he has ever considered charging patients - Mr Mehta smiled and responded, ‘we are not in the business of appreciation.’ 

Most impressively he claims the clinic can restore a person’s limb for the small cost of $45.  The clinic has pioneered the design of low cost and simplistic artificial limbs that could cost up to $8,000 in the USA.  An uneasy thought for us based in the West, and perhaps a seed planted deliberately for us to question the relationship between cost and quality of health.

 

February 19th 2011 23:02

Phillida Purvis on Source for Change - Questioning our assumptions

As explained in our previous post, Source for Change seeks to create thousands of employment opportunities for rural women through business process outsourcing. 

Our site visit to Source for Change sparked a debate within the group about the nature of social businesses. Is it possible for a purely commercial business model to maintain social impact as its top priority? Phillida Purvis, Director of LinksJapan, offers her insight here.

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Bagar - a rural laboratory of change

Okay, so some background to begin with. Source for Change is one of several enterprises which have been incubated by the Piramal family’s Grassroots Development Laboratory. The Piramal’s great grandfather created the successful textile company, which has now diversified into health care, travel goods and real estate under the current generation and they wished to ‘give back’ in their home rural town of Bagar. They set up a charitable foundation and set out to tackle the problem of rural unemployment by providing start-up support for sustainable local initiatives with social impact.

Source for Change (SfC), which is primarily focused on the employment of rural women, is a rural Business Process Outsourcing organisation. BPO, we soon realised, is now a familiar term in India; here, it’s estimated that there is USD 10 – 12 billion worth of ‘offshore’ outsourcing of the data entry work of foreign companies, although domestic outsourcing is due to overtake this figure by 2015.

Opportunity rising

As the economy of India has grown dramatically, so has the urban job market. With no commensurate rise in employment possibilities in the villages, the lure of the cities in India, as in so many other countries, has proved compelling for hundreds of thousands of rural workers. But in very many cases it has proved a false siren song, leaving many urban poor, losing the battle against accommodation costs and urban price rises, worse off than they were in their village homes, where, in Rajasthan at least, water and electricity are subsidised by the state. 

The IT revolution, the wiring up of rural Rajasthan, a relatively literate local population combined with the rising costs of outsourcing to the cities, has created an opportunity for Bagar which the Piramal thinkers have been quick to seize on. Serendipity brought the charismatic Biplab Saha their way and they gave him the job of setting up a local BPO, with local support from Shrot Katewa. Three years on and this initiative is flourishing and will soon become a fully fledged company. It began with low-end data entry contracts with an NGO, which quickly recognised that the work was actually done better, by the eager young local women of Bagar and its surrounds. This track record, and Biplab’s powers of persuasion, have helped to move SfC on to commercial sector contracts – starting with foreign companies who proved more easily persuaded that SfC could deliver the service than domestic companies.

We witnessed the clattering entry of Tata Telecom mobile phone contract data, outsourced by Karvy Data Management to Sources for Change. It was a leap in the dark for the CEO of Karvy and his staff. Their manager told me of his initial unease at the thought of unmade rural roads, no electricity and illiterate village folk, but he has been happily surprised by the speed and accuracy of the work, and is keen to continue the relationship, their first experience of outsourcing their own work. It is obviously a good financial deal for them.

The impact of employment

Talking to them about their work and their employer, I have no doubt from the employees that SfC, through its two centres, has social impact in the very local area, through their economic empowerment. As its CEO is keen to point out it is run purely as a business, albeit a values based one, which intends to expand, employing 100,000 in the next few years, which will spread that social impact. There is clearly tension between the social motivation of the investor, the Piramal Foundation, whose directors make their money elsewhere, and the CEO who needs to keep the business focus sharp. An example he gave was an argument over the original aim of employing women. To maximise the use of the dedicated broadband he introduced a second shift, from 5.00pm to 2.30am, which could not employ women, who need to get home before dark. He is even planning a ‘graveyard shift’ which will tip the balance in favour of male employees and move further from the donors’ original objective – but obviously contribute to profitability. 

Does it actually matter that much if men also are given employment by SfC? Will this not also help local families and the rural economy? Has the pendulum in fact swung too far in favour of women’s issues, losing sight of the needs of men, who, after all, are still the primary breadwinners? The lives of a rural woman, balancing the running of the household, care of the children and, possibly, agricultural work, is incredibly tough, but she stays at home, in her community, whereas many men must travel for work, sometimes to cities, or even to other countries, such as in the Middle East, where their individual identity and personal dignity are of no account to others. 

Biplab is a fair, and kind, employer. He is eager to get more commercial contracts in the bag because he wants to make a profit, but when he does he will definitely put all the employees, who are currently on a daily rate on to full time contracts, like the original fifteen women. But he wants this mostly because happy employees make better workers. He does claim that when SfC is generating huge profit, as he hopes it will, some of that profit will be donated to a foundation which will do more for the wider social needs of the employees – such as bussing them to hubs nearer their homes after their shift, but this may be at the insistence of the funder. So SfC is a social business, that may go one step further and find a mechanism for returning some profit to targeted social objectives. 

The debate

Discussions with Biplab, on the long bus journey from Delhi, and over several meals at the Piramal Haveli and visits to his main SfC centre next door, provoked heated debate amongst the Journeys for Change travellers as to the ideal model that those who seek social impact should aspire to and support. Should it be social enterprise, or a model that some Indian social entrepreneurs seem to be aiming for, that is a socially responsible, even socially motivated, business that finds a mechanism for returning some profit to targeted social objectives?

Or should it simply be a business where there is social impact – on the assumption that small enterprises can never make a difference and only big business can achieve meaningful, scalable, sustainable impact and (and this is the critical point) attract significant investment in the way that social enterprise never will?  Is it true that the market simply does not understand social enterprise, in spite of the best efforts of its stakeholders? After all the expectations of the social economy, must we, in the end, admit that it is only money that talks? I know where I stand in this debate, but it is ongoing, as I write, amongst our travellers, and across the world!

 

February 19th 2011 23:02

Marianne Allison on Source for Change - Open for business

Two main factors set Source for Change apart from the rest of India’s myriad outsourcing service providers. First, it’s located in the small rural town of Bagar, as opposed to a big city with an IT hub. Second, it seeks to create outsourced job opportunities specifically for rural women.

Our site visit to Source for Change sparked a debate within the group about the nature of social businesses. Is it possible for a purely commercial business model to maintain social impact as its top priority? Marianne Allison, Social Innovation Practice Leader at Waggener Edstrom, weighs in on the conversation.  

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Employing women and stemming urban migration 

Our Journeys for Change team traveled to Bagar in Rajasthan to learn about a project reflective of how pressing problems and emerging market opportunities can come together in India.   The initiative, Source for Change (S4C), was originally incubated by the Grassroots Development Laboratory, which is funded by the Piramal Foundation. S4C is aimed at creating work for educated women in rural towns and villages in Rajasthan who might otherwise have to leave Bagar and towns like it to find work in cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Jaipur.  

The rural migration to cities is straining urban infrastructure and the opportunities don’t always materialize; in addition to being separated from their families, women often end up in slums or are subject to exploitation in these mega-cities.   

That’s the social problem that S4C hopes to address.  But the business opportunity is in the growing demand for business process data entry, as the massive amount of paper-based data generated in India, from loan applications to human resources records to marriage certificates, needs to be captured in digital form.   

While IT leaders like Wipro and Infosys have built huge businesses around outsourcing commodity IT tasks for a relatively low cost, this type of business process outsourcing (BPO) is becoming expensive for them to do profitably in Delhi, Bangalore and other major cities, where the cost of land, labor and tax burdens are increasing. Similarly, large corporations based in India like telecoms and banks generate massive amounts of data but are straining to manage the costs of doing so in their centers in Delhi and other large cities.  According to co-founder Shrot Katewa, the cost structure for a rural BPO can be half that of an urban one.  Nevertheless, many companies are starting to outsource their BPO work outside India, to countries like Thailand and the Philippines.   

Bringing BPO to rural areas

It’s this convergence of problem and opportunity that prompted Anand Shah, Shrot Katewa and a group of co-founders to convert an initiative originally started just to train women in basic IT skills into a rural BPO for job creation—hence Source for Change.  They’ve brought in Biplab Saha, who brings experience in BPO, with the aim to scale beyond Bagar and surrounding villages in Rajasthan to multiple locations in rural India.   Today, S4C still functions as an initiative of the Piramal Foundation and employs 50-100 women, depending on the projects in hand, and has generated about USD$333,000 since the start of its operations.   

It’s a promising start, and is already capturing the attention of students of social entrepreneurship.  But S4C must itself change to fulfill Saha and Katewa’s vision of employing up to 100,000 women in multiple regions in a few years time.   While its social goal is core to its existence, the essential tasks ahead are all business:   marketing, acquiring and training talent, and building a brand reputation associated with quality, timeliness and customer service. Hence S4C leadership is evaluating their legal structure and business model to best support their future strategic imperatives.  While there are some advantages to staying close to their roots as a social benefit incubation, they’re no doubt factoring in that S4C customers are most likely to take a risk on a rural BPO that looks a lot more like a pure business.   

Business as usual?

When is a social business “just” a business?   Our group has been debating the various ends of the continuum we’ve seen as we visit different projects.  My view:  that to accomplish its aim, S4C should structure as a business—a values-based business—and mobilize first and foremost around its customer needs.This means quantifying the business opportunity, not just the social one, and articulating business value for their customers,as well as dispelling myths about rural India’s capacity to deliver on work previously associated with city folk.  While the social benefit—employing and empowering rural women—is a critical aspect of the S4C story, they won’t scale purely on the back of a “do-good” narrative.  

There are countless opportunities like this one in India, and social entrepreneurs need a big toolbox to capture them all.   In the future, I expect Shrot and Biplab will be sharpening their business tools to scale Source for Change for greatest impact, and become a success story for rural development in India. 

February 19th 2011 23:02

Yaso Thiru on Goonj - breaking the social enterprise mold

Goonj distributes 60 tonnes of clothing every month to the poorest parts of rural India. The organisation collects discarded clothes, processes it through its value chain (which employs a community of hundreds for the sorting, cleaning and tailoring), and distributes it as clothing, sanitary pads or other useful items through a unique community self-development scheme. 

The JFC group was struck not only by the immense impact Goonj creates, but also by the fact that one of the leading social initiatives in India is not chained to a concrete business model. Instead, its operations are flexible, fluid and constantly evolving, anchored by the core value of dignity. Yaso Thiru, Associate Professor of Accounting and Management at Alaska Pacific University, shines a light on the uniqueness of Goonj's approach.

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Not just a piece of cloth 

Goonj was a deeply moving and jaw-dropping experience. In hindsight, the idea seems simple: fill the basic but chronically overlooked human need for clothing. The group’s reactions as we tried to frame, label, and rationalize Goonj’s activities said much about us and how we see the world. 

What is most fascinating about Goonj is how its single most important resource –the piece of cloth – is used for consumption, motivation, behavior modification, education and profit making in very direct ways. Dignity to the recipients is in having access to that piece of cloth at the right time, form and manner. Goonj’s website does no justice to this fascinating feature and philosophy that drives its activities.

Charity or social enterprise?

Anshu Gupta is innovative, solves problems, and creates jobs; he is an entrepreneur. Does that imply, then, that Goonj is a social enterprise? To quote someone in the group, Goonj presents no enterprise model.  The conclusion I came to is that the characteristics that we were grappling with to define/understand Goonj is in fact the management style (of Gupta).  Not that it matters to Gupta.  He cares less how Goonj is labeled.  He calls it a guided democracy.    

The group’s attempt at understanding the nature of Goonj (as a charity or social enterprise) centered on how it chose to run the organization. Goonj seems to have no use for plans, strategies, fund raising activities (although they are beginning to do this with their recycling enterprise and they will accept donations), board and personnel development (an exception is skill building for the beneficiaries), which are serious preoccupations for any organization. 

Scale, salaries and loyalty

Scaling up is a serious and inevitable consideration for social enterprises today. Founder Anshu Gupta explains Goonj wants to scale “as an idea rather than an organisation,” intentionally capping the number of India offices at twelve. He expressed pride in this decision (“one must know what to say no to”). 

Gupta claims that they do not worry about where money will come from to pay salaries to staff next month (he told a story in which the staff offered to forego salaries so the organisation could buy a generator they needed). Seeing such a relaxed attitude toward finance in an organization of this size is unusual, if not shocking, to the outsider. 

Gupta’s confidence that his staff will continue to come to work for him even if they have to skip a month’s pay is revealing of the conditions of the local labor market: the lack of alternative labor and lifestyle opportunities for its employees.  Though they are clearly loyal to Goonj, I’d think that if the employees were to find alternate gainful employment with better pay, they would be in a tight spot - would they stay or would they move on? I'm concerned that Goonj may not survive without a financial strategy.

I walked away with much admiration for the work Goonj is doing and their values-based operating principles.  I found many others in the group to have similar reactions. 

For Yaso’s India travel blog see http://yasoinindia.blogspot.com

 

February 17th 2011 13:02

Jake Hayman on the town of Bagar, Rajasthan – "Professor Sachs, meet the Piramals"

Jake Hayman founded the strategy and philanthropy consulting firm The Social Investment Consultancy in 2007 and holds the role of Chief Executive Officer of its European operations. Jake is also the founder of Future First, an award winning social business working to revolutionise career advisory services in UK state schools.

In this post, Jake explores the unique approach to community development that seems to have served the small town of Bagar so well. 

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I’m sat on a bus driving away from Bagar. It’s a weird place and the drink is terrible. The cows are prone to charging and the peacocks seem to hold the right of way. Beyond that, I’ve never seen a community in the developing world that has developed so disproportionately to the communities surrounding it.

Sat in rural Rajasthan, Bagar is a real life realization of the aspiration of the Millennium Promise project being led by Jeffrey Sachs to build beacon cities and villages in the developing world that fulfill the Millennium Development Goals and showcase these successes to communities around them.

Like Professor Sach’s ‘Millennium Villages’, Bagar has its own benefactors. The story begins with a member of the Piramal family who left the town to go make a fortune in the big smoke, and succeeded. He became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in India. Over the decades he and subsequent generations of Piramal have taken it upon themselves to reinvest in their community.

Long-term, rounded investment in a single community is a common approach to development. Not only Millennium Promise but other major NGOs such as World Vision use this tack. 

What’s interesting in Bagar is the scale, the success and the methodology of the philanthropy and the fact that it is coming from hands on local philanthropists, who may not have Phd’s in Development Economics, but truly know their communities. 

Huge amounts have been invested in Bagar, and seemingly done so very, very wisely. The schools are neither empty nor overcrowded, everyone is both well-dressed and well-nourished and the health clinic was reassuringly empty. The approach, however, has emphasized enterprise as much as aid in a way that NGOs rarely succeed in doing.

In September last year, I visited the Millennium Village of Gumulira in Malawi and saw a community with healthcare and education services ahead of those around it. It was the only thing that came to mind when trying to place Bagar in the ‘development’ community’s landscape. However the pace of change at Bagar and the level of success in bringing up a whole community as opposed to simply providing core services was breathtaking in comparison to Gumulira.

This need be no criticism of Millennium Promise. Bagar is a long way from Gumulira – it’s got a better climate for crops, Rajasthan is wealthier than Malawi and the Piramals have had much longer to work at it than Jeffrey Sachs. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Piramal approach and the Millennium Promise approach that is no doubt worth exploring. 

What’s interesting is that the focus of a large part of the Piramal’s work is not just in health or education, it’s also in enterprise. It gets even more interesting when you find out that some of their solutions to health and education are in fact based around a market based approach rather than an aid-based approach and it becomes truly fascinating when you look at the books and see that they might even start making money out of these enterprises.

So what do these enterprises look like? In a small building off the main road you find 30 women employed in a rare rural business outsource processing organization called Source for Change. It was started as a project within the Piramal Foundation’s Grassroots Development Centre. It’s now registering as an independent business co-owned by employees, the Foundation and outside investors that will seek to provide 100,000 jobs to rural communities, predominantly to women. It looks like they are going to make money - and indeed, the women working there already are.

Two minutes up the road past the Piramal School and the Piramal multi-purpose health centre, there’s Sarvajal. A franchise-modeled water treatment business targeting rural areas that have access to water, but do not have access to cheap, clean water. Sarvajal are setting up local entrepreneurs to treat water, recycle wasted water and fill re-usable 20 litre bottles that are sold to communities for 10 cents a time (with a $2 down-payment on the bottle so you will bring it back).

Currently at 60,000 customers, they are just getting going and should be profitable within a couple of years. Again, they started as a Foundation initiative and have now been spun off into a partially-owned independent corporation. 

These innovative business models - incubated in ‘charity’ but being scaled as businesses - sit alongside traditional aid projects to create a formidable level of opportunity in Bagar.

Maybe the Piramal Foundation are already lobbying Millennium Promise to look at enterprise based solutions to poverty within their model. Maybe Millennium Promise is already showcasing some of their best practice to the Piramals. If they are, then let this post serve only as a public request to see the minutes of what would be a fascinating meeting. If not, that meeting should happen as soon as possible. I’ll serve the chai.

 

 

February 17th 2011 05:02

Abby Kegg on TYPF – enabling young people to find their voice

The YP Foundation is a youth-led organisation that engages young people in social change across a range of platforms. Through events, programmes, workshops and media, TYPF seeks to develop young leaders in the areas of gender, health, education, sexuality, governance, and the arts. Over eight years, TYPF has worked with over 5,000 young people.

Abby Kegg works with young people in the UK as Programme and Support Manager for UnLtd. Here she provides insight into what she observed during her experience with TYPF.

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Background and model

There are 315 million young people in India (roughly five times the UK total population). The YP Foundation started in 2002 to give Indian young people a voice. Their aim is to uphold the human rights of young people in India and ensure that they are equal stakeholders of India’s future. 

Through consultation young staff members design educational programmes for their peers around issues such as gender and sexuality and health which are then delivered by team of young volunteers to their target audience.

For instance, a health and life skills programme may target street children in Delhi who they hope will then be better informed and empowered to look after themselves and have increased confidence – therefore giving them ‘a  voice’.

What I observed

This was clearly not a social enterprise (they are grant funded), so I found myself comparing this to youth charities in the UK and these were the key things that stood out to me:

  • This is an effective youth-led organisation delivering at scale – the founder, staff and volunteers are young people who design and deliver programmes from a young person’s perspective which is unusual in India. They have run over 200 projects to date and have touched the lives of 300,000 – this is quite an achievement by anyone’s standards. One of the entrepreneurs that we met on the journey told us that, due to the size of the population here, scalability must be a priority for any social initiative.
  • They are tackling some of the most hard hitting issues in India : eg. trying to get street children into education (they have helped 110 street children into school with 0% drop-out rate) and sex and gender education (this is not taught in Indian schools - sex is a taboo subject).
  • The impact of what they are trying to achieve is very difficult to measure and may not be realised for years to come – they are in the business of changing mind-sets and behaviours that may have been held by families over generations. Their interventions have to make a real impression on the young people in order for change to happen and even then it is unlikely to be immediate or easy to measure.
  • The link with policy makers will be key to them realising their overall aim – they have had the opportunity to feed into the next government 5 year plan but policy change is not their priority. It’s been said over the last few days that the India government is very difficult to work with but I believe this is the key way that YP Foundation can achieve the change that they desire.

In summary

The YP Foundation are an inspiring and effective youth organisation, delivering valuable projects to young people in India. I believe that in order to achieve their aims to protect the human rights of the millions of young people across India then they need to invest time in a top-down as well as bottom up approach and get the human rights of children on top of the political agenda.