After finishing a four-day intensive training in Delhi for the Networked NGO, I stayed on a few days in India to visit colleague, Rufina Fernandez, who I met when she was the CEO of the Nasscom Foundation when she brought me to India to speak at the leadership conference and teach workshops back in 2010. When Rufina heard through Facebook that was coming to India, she insisted that I come to Bangalore and see some of the social change with technology projects she is working on or connected with. (Rufina is now working with an amazing social enterprise and technology start up that is focusing on high quality education (expect a blog post about it later this week)
Rufina and I traveled six hours by car outside of Bangalore to the hills of Coorg, a peaceful and beautiful part of rural India where they are known for their coffee, sugar cane, and mangos. But, this wasn’t a just a tourist trip, I was on a mission to see technology social change projects in action and better understand how technology can impact social on the ground in rural areas with limited connectivity and resources. I was not disappointed when I met Rajen Varada who has worked as a ICT for development professional for organizations like the UN. Through his nonprofit, “Technology for the People,” he has dedicated his life to girls (and boys) empowerment through technology.
He and Rufina worked together on a project supported by the Nasscom Foundation that helped trained girls in animations skills so they could find jobs. Rajen, who still works as an ICT consultant – dividing his time between work projects and his coffee farm in the hills of Coorg, still continues to use technology for social change. He lives very simply, preferring to invest the money he makes from consulting to support technology and social change projects in the rural area that he now calls home.
He has helped developed a technology and library center in the rural school in his village and is implementing a program that is teaching kids ICT skills. Unfortunately, with the monsoon season in full swing, we were delayed so we could not tour that project. We did visit another one of his projects at a “Remand House” in the small town Madikeri about 20 kilometers from his farm. The government run “Remand Houses” are shelters for homeless youth who are runaways, orphans, facing domestic violence at home, or too young to go to jail for a crime.
The “Remand Homes,” although funded by the government, are pretty bare and under-resourced. In the community, there is only a boys home, but the director of this home, a very committed and passionate professional had just been assigned to set up the girls home.
Rajen has refurbished some basic computers and provided curriculum for basic computer training on word processing (no Internet access yet). Computer recycling is something that is happening in India on a broader scaled, encouraged by this Nasscom program. Rajen is also looking at other needs for the home. When he discovered that the library had no books and with school just starting, Rajen arranged for a donation to supplement what the director had purchased with her own salary.
I got to observe the director in action. She is a calm but firm leader. A man came to the Remand House looking for his son and wife, who had apparently run away. The director told him to report it to the police. The man had been accused of beating his wife and children -domestic violence is a huge issue in many places of the world, and in rural India. The man denied it and left. This conversation was all done in the presence of a community official who did not have a problem with the accusation of domestic violence. After they left, the director mentioned that the wife and child had to seek shelter away from their home and that they were both safe.
Coincidentally, the evening before, Rufina and I watched a social change program called “SatyamevJayte” hosted by famous Indian actor, Aamir Khan, which was on the topic of domestic violence. For countless women in India, entering married life often means the beginning of a stressful, violent existence. Beating one’s wife seems to be ingrained as the appropriate behavior for a strong male, but the consequences are misery for the wife and children, and often a broken, unhappy home. The concept of domestic violence is based on the notion of patriarchy, which needs to be converted into equality. What I witnessed at the Remand House was, sadly, is something that is quite common, but there are many NGOs and advocates in India trying to change this.
While we were at the Remand Home, Rajen asked the director what they needed. The forty children who live there did not have raincoats and this was a problem as the monsoon season had started in force. This meant driving rains and cold (for India 65 degrees) would get the kids soaked on their walk to school. This could lead to sickness. After leaving the Remand House, we went into town and I asked Ragen if I could purchase raincoats for the kids.
So, in the pouring rain, Rufina and I visited different merchants in town and priced kids raincoats. One merchant was willing to give us the coats at cost because we were donating them to the Remand House. I also visited a “convenience store” to purchase some lolly pops. Along with the much needed rain coats, I wanted to give them something fun.
The kids were thrilled with the donation. The young person on the left shouted out “Thank You Madame” upon receiving the gift.
While Shel Israel calls this the “cult of generosity” – I would like to call “Individual Social Responsibility” – like there is “Corporate Social Responsibility,” it is also important for us a individuals to be generous. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be strategic. I learned this from Giving 2.0 author Laura Arrillaga-Andresseen (who wrote the foreword to my next book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit). So before making my donation, I knew and trusted the colleagues who are running the program and I did due diligence on the price of the raincoats.
I came across this meme on Facebook – a commentary about “Slacktivists” and social change. Some of us take “Individual Social Responsibility” by donating and/or shining a light on social issues – like Aamir Khan or my colleague, Mark Horvath who is doing a tour to raise awareness about homelessness in the UK with the help of passionate advocates in the UK like Nick Booth. Others may donate. Some do both. There is a debate as to whether “liking” a story or photo on Facebook can lead to social change on the ground, but I believe that networks are ecosystems with people who take their ISR more deeply than others – and that we have to think of ISR in terms of a ladder of engagement.
The powerful thing about social network and connectedness is that we have the opportunity to take small actions that collectively can add up to changes. How are you expressing and sharing your “Individual Social Responsibility?”