Tuesday 13 April 2010

Adventures in Mumbai: 33 And Counting…

Another birthday has rolled around, and it’s pretty clear from people’s reactions that I’m definitely not in the place I’m supposed to be for my age! Opinions range from ‘very cool’ to ‘wasting your life’. Of course it doesn’t help that it’s virtually impossible to explain what I’m doing or why, so people read whatever makes sense to them.

The one constant of these few months however is that people recognise how lucky I am. But they think I’m lucky to be travelling and seeing new places, when in fact what I’m really lucky for is to be journeying through a life of stunning people. People with drive and dedication and smiles and positivity. New friends that treat me like they’ve known me for ages. I even got a home-made cake and a hand drawn birthday poster today.Will treasure always :)

Birthday Celebrations at Ashoka


It’s also not just people but their ideas and ability to turn those ideas into reality that continues to inspire me. I’ve been in India for only a month, and I’ve already been involved with about 10 organisations and projects, all working hard to make their local realities a better place for other people.
  • Ashoka’s Youth Venture – working on extending and developing their program that inspires and supports young people to turn their ideas into action. The ambition is to create a regional culture that makes and supports change
  • Aseema – looking at Public Private Partnerships to improve the 1200 BMC schools in Bombay, and modelling the mechanisms of scale needed to achieve this
  • Arpan – planning how to design full-cycle programs that eradicate severe child abuse in communities
  • Dreamcatchers – planning future development and organisational restructure to design holistic programmes that work with both emotional needs and economic development in post-disaster zones.
  • Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust – working on how to leverage the web for raising awareness and funds for rehabilitating street drug users and supporting HIV patients
  • LEARN – designing sustainable social enterprises to enable lasting economic improvement for women in Dharavi
  • SSP – looking at mission congruence, collaborative services and operational efficiencies across it’s MFI, Retail, Health and Training services to improve quality of life for low income women in Maharashtra and Gujarat

Friday 9 April 2010

If A Million NGOs With A Million Solutions Aren’t Solving The Problem, Does The Answer Really Just Lie In More?

Apparently there are over a million NGOs working in India. You’d think that everything could be solved by a million organisations with a million different ideas. There’s definitely not a million different issues. If even half a billion people here need support, that would be one organisation for every 500 people. Should be enough right?

But no. For every issue I’ve seen it seems there’s not enough support or services. Most funders are busy encouraging more start-ups and newer ideas on their own self-absorbed mission to build recognition by ‘finding’ the next big thing. They remain oblivious to the obvious fact that more organisations and more solutions have clearly proven themselves not to be the answer.

If you ask me, I’d say that the real issue is that the sector is massively fragmented. Organisations and solutions isolated by the need to compete with each other for funding, and by a funding culture that is more interested in organisational success than the eradication of human vulnerabilities.

Instead of pumping money into existing infrastructures and supporting to them to innovate using experience, and instead of financing and supporting the coagulation and creation of meta networks of organisations locking together different aspects of solutions to the same few problems, we’re continuing to get excited about one-dimensional product and service innovations that improve quality of life rather than enable long term transformative development and change.

Of course it’s easy to be critical, but the real question is, is there a solution? The answer is an easy yes. All it requires is a recognition of realistic timeframes and an agile development approach that can adapt to emergent behaviour. Here’s a concept example that we’re designing for developing the ‘people’ infrastructure needed for scaling social outcomes in India, using Ashoka’s Youth Venture programme that works with young adults as a key building block.

The concept starts with

  1. Shifting down and engaging school-age children in the need for and possibilities of making a difference,
  2. Then encouraging and developing in young adults the core skills needed to take initiative and turn ideas into action,
  3. Then incentivising (financially), training, and facilitating the coalescing of these people and ideas into issue focused meta networks and consortia,
  4. And finally driving these networks towards the strategic solving of large scale regional problems.

Scaling Changemaking

The aim here is not about pushing millions more people into addressing social problems, but to ensure that those who do choose this path do so together and more effectively, and within a regional culture that is more supportive and understanding of social development.

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