From the desk of Editor- in -Chief

Bridging the trust deficit between NGOs and corporate

The role of NGOs is often regarded as controversial and their integrity is contested when corporate look forward to source company CSR through them. There is a fairly large trust deficit between NGOs and corporate. At times, corporate find it difficult to place their faith in NGOs, largely due to issues pertaining to implementation capabilities, lack of efficiency, transparency, accountability as well as corruption. The deep-seated misunderstandings and mistrust between NGOs and corporate can be an impediment for concrete CSR initiatives.
It is against this backdrop that The Bridge India organised a panel discussion to address the vital issue and come up with solutions for a synergistic partnership between corporate and NGOs. Domain experts from both the corporate and the NGO sector shared vision on how to bridge this gap. The panellists also highlighted the need to change the mindset of the corporate and make them understand that there is potential in smaller NGOs and they need their support.
Our Cover Story in this edition is an exhaustive report on the attempt made by The Bridge India to develop strategies to build a symbiotic relationship between corporate and NGOs based on mutual trust and transparency.
We hope that in the days to come, our endeavours will flesh out these conflicts so that CSR can be further pursued in a trustful atmosphere.

Can NGOs and Corporate meet midway?

By Soma Chakraborty

According to an ASSOCHAM report, 67% companies in India have partnered with NGOs to undertake their CSR projects. With an estimated 32 lakh NGOs operating in the country, one can assume that it is a win-win situation for both the corporate and the NGOs to fulfil the CSR obligations as mandated by the Government. However, the reality is in stark contrast. Experts opine that over the years, a huge trust deficit has developed between NGOs and corporate. What went wrong? In pursuit of answers, The Bridge India recently organised a panel discussion on ‘Bridging the trust deficit between NGOs and the Corporate’ at the India International Centre, Delhi. Chaired by Amod Kanth, An institutional Development Expert, Member of Working Committee on Institutionalization of Engagement with Civil Society Organisations in Niti Aayog Founder & General Secretary of Prayas JAC Society, the domain experts in a brain storming session discussed the reasons for the deep-seated misunderstandings and mistrust among the two sectors at length.

Despite the presence of huge number of active NGOs in India, many companies claim that they do not find enough eligible civil society partners to work with. This lack of trust, experts opine, stem from communication gap, lack of transparency and understanding between the two sectors and over-confidence of the NGOs.

PERCEIVED LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AND FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY

The greatest barrier to CSR activity, experts say, is a perceived lack of transparency and financial accountability on the part of the NGO recipients.
According to Rakesh Jinsi, founder and President of Khushboo, a care centre for children with mental and multiple disabilities, there seems to be an “inherent lack of trust” between the two sectors in this aspect. “Even if the money which has been spent on CSR by the NGO has been accounted for, still the corporate want to go far more in detail what the NGO has done. The corporate are always concerned about the money going into somebody’s pocket. In contrast, if the same business entity visits a religious place and donates the money there, they never ask what happens to that money. This entire perspective of how corporate look at NGOs should be looked into. At the same time, the NGOs should also look at their work and hold themselves accountable for what they should be doing,” he explains.

For the corporate sector, as per Brig Rajiv Williams, Corporate Head CSR and Sustainability, Jindal Stainless Limited Group, “selection of an NGO is a challenge.” He elaborates, “We have got wrong many a times in selection of NGOs. Some of the challenges that we have faced in selection process are reporting inadequacy and the capacity of the NGO to deliver the Social Return on Investment (SROI). The corporate needs answers to SROI.”

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Too much of fundraising by NGOs is also a reason for this perceived lack of transparency. Vinod Pande, banker-turned-CSR Consultant, explains, “Big NGOs are too busy in fund raising and less on what they should be doing. That is why some CEOs when told that an NGO representative has come to meet them, become apprehensive, thinking that the person from the voluntary organisation has come for money. Due to this mindset, the CEOs sometimes do not meet the NGO representative. Raising too much fund by NGOs creates lot of suspicion in the minds of the corporate.”

Moderator of the panel discussion, Munish Kaushik, having over two decades of national and international experience in the development sector had a very interesting contrasting view to offer on the credibility aspect of the NGOs. “We talk about challenges regarding finding credible NGOs. Why every time it should be the NGOs? How to find a credible corporate is also an issue. Just like corrupt NGOs, there are corrupt corporate as well. The premise itself is based on lack of trust. The foundation of corporate is for profit sector and the foundation of NGO is non-profit sector. The basic premise of the two is opposite. When the profit sector meets the non-profit sector, it means two foreign bodies are coming together.”
Agreeing with Kaushik, Brig Williams added, “Today the sophistication of deception is increasing faster than the technology of verification. It goes both for the corporate as well as the non-profit organisations. Sometimes, the companies just divert CSR funds in the name of charity. However, there is a shift taking place from charity and philanthropy to corporate social responsibility, sustainable CSR and strategic CSR and the corporate needs to survive this.” The member of the CII CSR Council also emphasised that the funds should directly go to the implementing organisation.

LACK OF UNDERSTANDING AND OVER-CONFIDENCE

Another obstacle to mutual trust, experts says, between NGOs and corporate is the lack of understanding between the two on how the other side functions. Both the sectors have a different motive for its work, which often inhibits complete understanding of the others.
As Social Entrepreneur Rajiv Khurana puts in, “The corporate needs to understand how the NGOs function, what are their limitations and constraints. At the same time, the NGOs must understand how decision making takes place within a corporate set-up, what are the systems and processes, what are the approvals necessary.”
Besides, over-confidence of the NGOs also puts them in a disadvantageous position, opines Jinsi, who is also a retired Secretary General of SOS children’s villages. “NGOs tend to work thinking that they are doing something good. Their mindset is such that they think a work being done by them is much better than any other organisation. Under this intent, they always think that they are doing wonderful. So the first thing that becomes the casualty of this attitude is the quality of work,” he said.

POTENTIAL IN SMALLER NGOs

Apprehending that only bigger voluntary organisations are having a dominant share of CSR funds, the panellists put an emphasis on the need for changing the mindset of the corporate sector and make them understand that there is potential in smaller NGOs as well. They also focussed on the need for capacity building and capability enhancement of smaller NGOs.
Putting his views forward, Brig Williams articulated, “I really see that there is a lot more potential in smaller NGOs.”

Echoing his views, Pande said, “The main problem is that the corporate assume that the NGOs which are doing well are doing good work. There are many lesser known smaller NGOs which are doing well. Their credibility is spread by word-of-mouth. But since they can’t afford a fund raising team, they lack funds. If I go to such an NGO, the company will ask me why I approached it. What is my interest? We need to change this mindset. It is not necessary that the popular and well-known NGOs are the only non-profit entities doing well.”

However, at the same time, there are some genuine issues that concern the companies while investing in smaller NGOs, Pande said. “Suppose I give money to a small NGO to do a CSR activity and it runs away or closes its shop, where do I go? I will get stuck,” he added.
Amod Kanth agreed and said, “While we tend to take account of the NGOs which are registered, we forget those millions of Self Help Groups, cooperatives and other organised and unorganised organisations which are all part of the voluntary sector.”
He also delved on the need for hand holding the smaller NGOs by the big ones. “Some system has to be developed for handholding the smaller NGOs. Not only the corporate sector, the bigger NGOs should also play an important role by grooming and taking them forward,” the former police officer said.

Kanth, who is also the Chairperson of the Domestic Worker Sector Skill Council, says the NGOs also must introspect on its “importance” and the reason for “which it must exist.” “When we talk about social sectors – health, education, poverty alleviation and disability, and targeted groups of population – children, women, disabled, elderly, these entire range of social sector and the classes of people has something to do with the Government programmes also. The entire voluntary sector is best suited to attend to the requirement of social sector. So the role of the sector is much larger than just filling the gaps. But where are we (NGOs)? Where do we figure us? Despite the huge number, the role, location and credibility of the voluntary sector are very much in question,” he emphasised.
Kanth, member of working committee on institutionalization of engagement with civil society organisations further added, “Our (NGOs) existence is the requirement of half the population in India. Poverty and deprivation are rampant in the country. Even if the country has 32 lakh NGOs, I don’t think it is such a big number considering the nation’s size.”

THE WAY FORWARD

The corporate sector has both the resources and the fund to make a positive difference in the lives of the underprivileged, while the NGOs have experience and knowledge of the marginalised and underserved areas of society as well as experience in operational transparency. If a symbiotic relationship can develop between the two sectors, socially responsible programmes can be implemented more efficiently and will have a measurable impact faster than if there is trust deficit and less transparency.
To build a bridge of trust, experts opine that some system has to be built to share the best practices and both the corporate sector and the NGOs should come forward to appreciate each other and their ways of functioning.
Khurana, who is also the co-founder of Lung Care Foundation, said, “To bridge the trust deficit, both the sides have to come with clean hands and focus on raising the work standards.”

Both NGOs and the corporate sector should focus on CSR from different perspective. “The NGOs should focus on building its credibility, success stories and relationship building vis-a-vis corporate, there should be commitment at the top, surety of systems and engagement of right people. The corporate should also focus on results which are concrete and measurable and the NGOs should be answerable to that result. It is unfortunate that most of times; NGOs don’t share credit of an initiative with corporate. There is a lot of snootiness amongst the NGOs when they go to the corporate,” he added as a matter-of-fact.
Khurana also emphasised on generating communication among all the stakeholders. “Information has to be shared. Communication has to happen.”
Many a times, corporate have the mindset that the NGOs lack efficiency to implement a project. Speaking against this backdrop, Jinsi stressed on the need for the NGOs to work towards capacity building and professionalise them more than ever before.
Brig Williams called for use of “technology for finding out what is right and what is perceived to be right.”
Echoing his views, Pande said, “There should be organisations like Moody or Crisil to rate the NGOs on a sustained basis. It will not only give a fillip to the smaller NGOs but also help the corporate to decide on which NGOs to look for their specific CSR needs as there would be credibility check done by the rating agencies.”
Kanth agreed with Pande, however, at the same time, pointed that “rating of the NGOs is not that simple because majority of the voluntary organisations” would not be able to “justify the indicators.”
Khurana also emphasised upon tolerance. “We (the corporate sector) need to tolerate minor goof-ups. There might be a possibility that some of the NGOs may not do their job well but this cannot be the reason for painting the picture completely black. If 20% of the NGOs are bad, put your faith in the rest 80%. Believe in them. Put the money in the right place and I am sure that things will become positive,” he concluded.

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Education reforms to bring new lease of life for Delhi Govt Schools

By Lakshmi Singh

Atishi Marlena, former advisor to Dy CM Manish Sisodia, comes from a strong academic background from St Stephens College and Oxford University. Her simple living and noble thoughts brought about a remarkable change in the Delhi Govt schools. In this exclusive interview with The Bridge India India she discusses her endeavour in igniting change not only in education but in improving sanitation behaviour through community-led intervention in the government schools.

TBI: You have been developing “happiness curriculum” in the schools. What is it all about?

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AM: The purpose of education is not about students doing well in exams alone. We also want them to develop as good human beings. They should develop as more engaging citizens. In our system, a lot of focus has been on getting marks. This ‘happiness curriculum’ is moving one step ahead which will be talking about socio-emotional growth of the students. This is essential, especially in government schools as the children come from background of adversity.

TBI: Having an academic background from Oxford University, what do you think of the education system in our country?

AM: The education system in our country is facing lots of problems. One of the major problems is that the education system is divided into haves and have-nots. Only 5% of the population has access to the so-called high quality education. These are children who are going to private schools who have access to the best education in the country. 95% of the population is deprived of good education. These are students studying in government schools but don’t get access to good quality education. This is a big lacuna which our country faces. Secondly, the so-called high quality education is nothing but gearing up the students to only focus on scoring marks. In reality, children are not learning anything. The information is gathered by only rote which is regurgitated in the exams by the students. They are in a system that doesn’t develop them into analytical thinking citizens that we need.

TBI: Every year ASER reports that children from grade III to grade V can’t read or write. In such a situation, how did you achieve such a high percentage which is unbelievable for Delhi government schools.

AM: What the ASER report talked of was really a big challenge. Also, what we observed is that the larger issue was that in the last 20 years only the first generation learners have come to attend schools. That proves that most of the students coming to government schools have parents who are illiterate, hence these students don’t get any support at home. This was a challenge for us when we started.
Years ago, we began with Mission Buniyad which is a program to strengthen the foundation skills of students, which has been the major intervention that we engaged in. Secondly, there has always been a non-serious attitude of the authorities towards government schools. It is taken for granted attitude that employed in a sarkari school there is no need to teach. Whereas government school teachers are usually better qualified than private school teachers. They are actually recruited through rigorous selection process.
One of the things which we have been successful in doing is changing the culture and the atmosphere of the schools. We brought in greater accountability in these institutions. The positive change happened only for the fact that we placed a lot of trust in our teachers and principals. Teachers who have been performing very well, have been sent to all parts of the world for better teacher training programs at Cambridge, Harvard University and Singapore.

TBI: You were talking about accountability of teachers. Please elucidate on this.

AM: One of the major things that led to increased accountability is that we empowered School Management Committee (SMC) as per the Right to Education Act. Every school has School Management Committee which is largely a parent body. But the problem with government schools is that there is a huge class divide between the parents and the people who are running the schools. A government school principal would be drawing a salary of approximately Rs one lakh. And the government school students belong to parents who are daily wage earners. Due to this class divide, earlier, the parents did not have a voice in how the school was running.
Now, we have empowered the School Management Committee wherein, proper elections are held wherein twelve parent members are duly elected. We ensure that all the grievances they have raised have been attended to. Since the government system is centralised, the district officer has 100 schools coming under him. No matter how committed and honest officer he maybe, he will be able to reach one school in every three months. While a parent staying in 1 km radius of the school can look into the school anytime.
The advantage of school management committee is that people from the community and locality have got involved in the functioning of the school. The parents have got actively involved and they started questioning about the cleanliness of the school about the teachers regularity, about students results, hence the entire system had to pull up its socks. The second thing that has resulted in bringing positive change is that the minister, Manish Sisodiya himself has been visiting the schools which has probably never happened before. The minister has visited hundreds of schools in the past three and half years. The fact that the minister himself is taking so much interest in the school, and by now the teachers and principals also know that he can turn up any day of the time has resulted in the increased accountability.

AM: The workbooks that have been designed for the students are not created by any experts but have been created by teachers themselves. Last summer, we conducted workshops where 20,000 teachers were gathered to decide the lesson plans for the year. For instance, a group of five geography teachers sat in a group and designed as to how plateaus and mountains should be taught. Thus, the workshop served to create materials by these 20,000 teachers. So it’s the teachers themselves who have been using innovative and creative methods which have been put together as workbooks.

TBI : Tell us about your Mega PTM.

AM: There has been a huge class divide in the schools which led to a lot of mistrust in the parents and teachers. When we came into the government, the first thing we learnt was the parents are not literate. They would visit the school only for the scholarship money. This was the myth that was prevalent in the entire system. Hence we had to ensure that parent community are interested in the school activities. We decided upon launching Mega PTMs which we advertised on the radio, newspapers and also sent invitations to the principals. The first Mega PTM was held in July 2016. Despite heavy rainfall at that time, to our surprise, 95% parents turned up.
For parents, it was almost like a festival as parents were dressed in their fineries holding the children’s hands who were taking them to teachers. We also ensured that the parents were welcomed by offering them a cup of tea with biscuits. We wanted them to feel that the school was their space. This was the first time a dialogue had started between the parents and the teachers and both developed empathy for each other. For the first time teachers realised that these students came from very difficult backgrounds. Likewise, parents too started understanding many things. Through Mega PTMs, a relationship developed between the parents and teachers which created a remarkable impact on the entire system.

TBI: What is your program Chunauti all about?

AM: Every year ASER report shows that primary classes upto grade V don’t know how to read or write. The situation is more acute as you move upwards. We did similar survey in all the schools and found that 75% of the students in grade VI could not read or write. Many of them could not even identify alphabets and are being taught the Mughal empire. Many students cannot recognise numbers and algebra was being taught to them .We therefore divided the children not by their class but by their learning level. This meant that the students were taught at their grade level. For students who were weak with elementary mathematics, we started with the addition level which made steady progress in the overall development of the child. So, Chunauti was about bridging the learning gap by dividing the children into level wise groups instead of making them sit in a class where they don’t understand anything.

TBI: Usually in government schools the teachers are never there. How did you motivate the teachers to attend school.

AM: It is not the teacher’s fault. There was a mindset about government schools that led to the absence of teachers. In a government school, a teacher was guaranteed his salary, irrespective of whether he attended the school or not, whether he taught or not. With lots of inspections and regular checking by the Minister, the system had to become far more functional for the first time. There were people asking why the teachers were late to the school by the SMC members. Earlier these things never happened.
Secondly within the government schools, the teachers are more talented. It is similar to the normal distribution curve- 20% teachers who are highly creative and highly motivated. There is the other bottom 20% who it’s very difficult to make them do anything but the other 60% of the crowd they will just go whichever way the wind is blowing. With the government taking interest, this middle 60% has also started moving with the top 20% who are highly motivated.
These are the small interventions that we did. For example when the teacher training programs were conducted, we noticed that very poor quality food was given as part of the training program. The teachers would often sit on the broken tables which were very uncomfortable. We decided to have high quality furniture for teachers. We ensured that during the teacher training program proper tables were made available, every teacher was served bisleri water, proper packed food which gave a sense of dignity to the teachers and they felt that they have been respected by the system. They began respecting the students in return.
We also decided that we shall give our teachers National and international training. Government school teachers never had such training programs before. Many of the principals have been sent for training to IIM Ahmedabad, Cambridge University, Oxford University and Finland. So I think this world-class exposure has also helped in motivating the teachers. There have been absolutely rare cases when we have taken any punitive action.

TBI : When you talk of government schools, the first thing that comes to our mind are the stinking bathrooms. Also, classrooms are loaded with 150 students in each class. How did you improve on these?

AM: There was this mindset about government schools toilets and schools which we put in lot of effort to change. In fact, the first thing we worked on for the first year is on cleaning the toilets. We focused on expanding the infrastructure. In the first year when we came, we increased the budget of the education sector substantially. This resulted in 8000 classrooms. This meant that 250 students can get decongested. 13,000 more classrooms are in the pipeline which has been sanctioned. Teacher should have less number of students to teach so that they can have more focus on the children . Secondly, we focus on cleanliness and hygiene of the school. We ensured that there were a new set of sanitation workers in every school. We deputed a state manager who would ensure that there is cleanliness and maintenance of school, which really set the tone.

TBI: What is your vision to enable government school students grow up as employable resource and capable as their peers in private schools?

AM: The government school students belong to disadvantaged backgrounds. The amount of support from family, siblings and friends varies in comparison to students belonging to affluent families. These children don’t get exposure to co-curricular activities. So we have introduced summer camps to train them. Similarly, we have introduced sports curriculum and hired sports coaches. Students of grade 11 and 12th often require special coaching and supplementary materials which government school students don’t have. So we started providing them extra coaching during the summer and winter holidays. The supplementary material is created by a team so that this gap can be bridged in terms of the resources. I am very hopeful for these students to excel as this year’s 12th grade results has set an example where a DTC bus driver’s son has topped and scored 495 out of 500. So the fact that a child from underprivileged background can perform well is an indicator that all children can perform well. I am confident that within a few years time there will definitely be no gap.

TBI: How did the government teachers react when the NGOs came to assist.

AM: Interestingly, we did not outsource any programs to them. The NGOs worked with us as knowledge partners. They helped us design our training programs. But the actual training programs were carried on by our teachers. They created teachers who have been developed as mentors. Similarly, we have been running School leadership programs that are working with us to develop leadership facilitators.

TBI: Who are the knowledge partners engaged in these programs?

AM: Several organisations have been working for us. The most prominent one is Pratham who helped us in Mission Buniyad and Chunauti programs to bridge the learning gap. Saajha, an NGO also helped us in capacity-building of our School Management Committee. Few organisations helped in working on school leadership with the principal and worked in developing our principals as leadership coaches. These principals work with thousand other principals. Stir is an NGO which worked in developing Teacher Development Coordinators. Each school has one teacher who apart from teaching also helps in capacity building of other teachers.

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The inaudible sound of the dying voice of Indian Handloom

Prof. Gaurav Mandal

When actress Tapasee Pannu, clad in nine yards of stunning Indian handloom Saree walked the ramp for designer Gaurang Shah, it also opened the doors of reality of the weaver community. It’s an irony that despite Indian handloom being at the centre-stage of world fashion, people responsible for weaving these gorgeous fabrics back home are mired in debt, poverty, uncertainty and hunger deaths.
As the hand-woven Saris staged by Hyderabadi designer, Shah, adorned by the likes of Tina Ambani and Kirron Kher are priced unbelievably at Rs 1,00,000.

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And the fashion industry has been cele¬brating the beauty of the Indian handloom on ramps, a staggering number of weavers are ending lives due to poverty and debt.

Dig deep into the tale of Andhra Pradesh’s looms and you’ll discover that each piece of cloth has a story to tell which is nothing short of a tear-jerk¬er.
“In Varanasi, 50 people committed suicide in three years, (2014-2017) while in Andhra Pradesh, about 615 people ended life, while 15,00 suicide attempts were reported in the period between 1997-2010. Just a few weeks before I was conferred with the Padma Shri for my contribution, my 36-year-old nephew committed suicide due to mounting debts,” says the master weaver Gajam Anjaiah.
Notably, after the agriculture sector, it is the handloom sector which has the second largest cluster of labourers, providing employment to members of millions of families. Ironically, the thread of life is running out for the weavers of Andhra Pradesh. Marginalised by government policies, and pushed into the vortex of unemployment, debt and starvation, handloom and traditional power loom weavers have been driven to death.

Its adversities galore from policy ‘defect’ to ‘neglect’

Weavers all over the country have been facing hardships in every sphere from policy defect to policy neglect by the government. One of the major problems is the negligible amount of credit available to them. While weavers’ societies are getting need-based credit, individual weavers are not getting credit. Since only 20 percent of the weavers are attached to the societies, the rest are independent and are not under the credit framework. Which has forced them to take loans from moneylenders.
Unable to provide a square meal to the members of their families, as the weavers continue to end their lives, reports of poverty, starvation and death come in not only from the drought-prone northern Telengana districts of Karimnagar, Nalgonda and Medak, but also from the sup¬posedly prosperous coastal districts of Guntur, Prakasam and Krishna.

Pushed into obscurity by modernity

Ironically, the policies that were planned to liberalise, modernise and privatise the industry, have systematically marginalised over 40 lakh handloom weavers who used to produce over 400 crore metre cloth every year.
Unfortunately, the tradi¬tional weavers of Andhra Pradesh had neither the means to invest in mod¬em technology nor mar¬ket-savvy master weavers to help them adapt to changing con¬sumer tastes. With their products becoming uncompetitive in the market, stocks mounted, availability of work began to decline and the weavers faced joblessness, mounting debt, starvation and consequently, death.
For the weavers, the bad times started in the mid-1980s and the situation deteriorated by the mid-1990s. The num¬ber of handlooms fell from 5.29 lakhs in 1985 to 2.12 lakhs in 1998.
There are about 60,000 traditional power looms in the State. Over 60 per cent of the 40,000 power looms in the major centres of Chittoor, Karimnagar and Nalgonda dis¬tricts have been lying idle since 1999. Of the 10,000 power looms, 2,000 have been abandoned and another 2,000 sold at scrap value at Sircilla. Only some 6,000 are working and that too at less than 20 per cent of their capac¬ity.

Worsened by government apathy

The weavers used to get health insurance up to Rs 15,000 by paying premium of Rs 100 in the past but as the Union Ministry of Textiles brought in a new scheme called Rashtreeya Swastha Bheema Yojana, it is not being implemented yet and has made their lives even more miserable.
Chairman of the State Federation of Weavers Cooperative Society DontamsettyVirupaksha lamented that the govern¬ment is turning a blind eye to the woes of the weavers and the plight of the weavers has become compounded. Even APCO has failed to assist the weavers.
There was a demand by State Federation of Weaver’s that the government should start the Janata Cloth Scheme as promised earlier which would give business of Rs 500 crore. Also they demanded government to announce one-¬time discount for the products remaining with the societies. Though there is demand for handloom cloth, weavers con¬tinue to suffer as the stocks pile up and cannot sur¬vive without discount from the government, since the produc¬tion cost is high in comparison with the power loom cloths.
Angara Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society President Venkateswara Rao shares that he had a stock of Rs 1.75 crore with his society this year and the society is in losses as it has to pay the interest to banks. Though APCO is purchasing cloth from societies, he lamented that it takes about one year for the payment. A family earns about Rs 100 to Rs 120 per day which is very low. Livelihoods of nearly 1.5 crore weavers and people dependent on related industry were at stake, he adds.

The silver lining

“Millions of weavers are working out of their homes in the absence of electricity and poor infrastructure. When the weavers appealed, the Central government came up with several schemes for their benefit. The weavers demanded that the Centre implement the promised discount scheme and lift the piled up stocks of handloom cloth so that the units which are in distress can be revived,” says Gajam Anjaiah.
After all the protests, the ministry of handlooms and textiles is considering the demand of the weavers of dis¬count. Also the government is making efforts to uplift weavers by providing interest subsidy, yarn subsidy, funds for weaving appliances and initiatives to bring new designs.
At a time when India means Saree, on the international fashion map and right from Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey, the world is completely enamored by this nine-yard wonder of India. The incongruity remains that in the last few years nearly 200,00,00 weavers have been forced out of their traditional livelihood. Two major causes can be highlighted for the plight. One is the evident lack of political will on the part of the government and a growing indifference towards the objective of protecting rural livelihoods. The other is the growing belief that the market is the space where competencies will be tested and the best will eventually win.
The present scenario is that the markets have not been able to catalyse the growth so as to generate adequate employment opportunities and provide alternatives to those who lost their traditional livelihoods. This is evident from the continuous migration of weavers across the country from the rural areas to the few urban spaces available.
The writer is two-time national awardee.

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“Taxing me for my wheelchair is like taxing the able-bodied for walking”

By Lakshmi Singh

Country topper in Business Studies in CBSE class 12 and Economics graduate from St Stephen’s College, Nipun Malhotra’s journey has been different from others. Fighting against own disability, Nipun strives to bring respite to persons with disabilities in different walks of life. Right from bringing employment opportunities to facilitating restaurant visits through Zomato, to fighting with government against GST on aids like wheelchairs for those with disabilities, Nipman Foundation led by Nipun Malhotra as it’s CEO has been working tirelessly to ensure that the persons with disabilities get to experience dignified life and an equal status in the society. Nipun speaks to The Bridge India India about the work done by his organisation to facilitate a dignified life for people with special needs.

TBI: What was the moment when you realised that a Nipman Foundation was needed?

NM: I have fought disability since birth and know the challenges faced by similar people. I topped the country in business studies in 12th standard and graduated from St Stephen’s College. I went ahead and pursued post graduation from Delhi School of Economics. Then came the time to face job interviews. Since I was qualified for the post, I thought it would be a cake walk. However, it came as a jolt when the interviewers asked me if I can sit on a wheelchair throughout for eight hours a day. They even wanted to test if I could really sit for that long. Another company took seven rounds of interviews and ultimately rejected me as they didn’t have toilet for persons with special needs. They only saw my disability which was visible and not the ability which was invisible. Moreover they found it safer not to take the burden of hiring a person like me. When they used the word ‘burden’ it really hurt me. I was initially broken and almost gave up on life. However, with the support of family and friends, I realized that I had been given an opportunity to channelize my misfortune to ensure other persons like me don’t face the same discrimination.

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These experiences motivated me to start Nipman Foundation which works in the areas of health, dignity and happiness for persons with disabilities and for the underprivileged sections of the society. Our sole mission is to ensure people with disabilities live an empowered life, have basic access to mobility devices and aids that ensure their independence, jobs to flourish and an ecosystem that provides for dignity and happiness to them.

TBI: What is your opinion on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016?

NM: The act definitely is step forward for persons with disability. The act formulates an equal opportunity policy wherein the corporate have begun employing persons with special needs. There is a lot of improvement in employment opportunities for them. Now the corporate sector has started employing them, which is encouraging.

TBI: What are the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

NM: The challenges are many. For example, I was once refused to dine in a club. They even manhandled my wheelchair which was a humiliating experience. I tweeted about it and things worked in my favour. But what I realised is that many people like me faced such problems. So I worked with Zomato to add wheelchair access filters in their listings which can tell its customers if a restaurant is wheelchair accessible or not.
Another major challenge was during the odd-even rule as the Delhi government did not exempt persons with disabilities. With no response to repeatedly written letters to the Delhi CM and the relevant transport authorities requesting for an exemption, ultimately I was forced to file a PIL in the Delhi High Court that granted us an exemption. As part of my PIL, I had also demanded a mobility audit of the city.
The other instance is, earlier this year, when the government announced its plans to procure 2,000 standard-floor buses against the accessible low-floor buses, further making the city inaccessible for the people with special needs. During the budget session, I learnt that new GST laws taxed wheelchairs, Braille tools and hearing aids at 18 percent; I campaigned to make them tax-free. Taxing me for my wheelchair is like taxing the able-bodied for walking. The tax rate now stands at 5 per cent.

TBI: What is your opinion on rural women with disabilities?

NM: Rural women face double challenges. They have to face the divyang stigma as well as the gender issue. The challenge is huge in rural areas as there is lack of toilets for them, the schools are inaccessible. Since they are not encouraged for education, they are considered as liability by the families. Following which they cannot be employed due to lack of education. This is an area of concern and the policy makers of our country should actually look into this.

TBI: How do you think people can be sensitized on these issues?

NM:There is a need to sensitize kids at a young age. Just as sex education is taught in school curriculum, even disability should be taught. They should be told inspiring stories about persons with disabilities. They should be taught that if somebody has a disability, it doesn’t mean that the person cannot live a normal and complete life. Also, a critical factor is to impart training for all teachers to work with children with disabilities.

TBI: How is Nipman Foundation working towards sensitization?

NM: Nipman Foundation tries to sensitize people by doing accessibility audit in the corporate sector. This helps companies with all kind of accessible solutions for their infrastructure. The foundation also helps the corporate to identify jobs for persons with disabilities. Many companies have begun employing them. For instance, a courier company in Mumbai employs deaf and dumb because the company realized that they don’t really need to speak to the customer. There are lots of Call Centres and BPOs which hire persons with disabilities. Besides this, persons with disabilities should go out and celebrate. To facilitate the same, Nipman Foundation is partnering with big events in the country where we provide wheelchair facility and ensure ramp access. We were the accessibility partners at Serendipity Art Festival in Goa and at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

TBI: What did you hope to achieve with the Nipman awards?

NM: The Nipman Equal Opportunity Awards were instituted in 2014 to recognize companies which employ persons with disabilities. This was the category in which we started the awards in. But today the awards have grown much more beyond just employment.Microsoft is our official title partner for the awards. Apart from our existing award categories-organizations’ that are employing persons with disabilities, the use of Innovation and Technology by organizations that are enabling them in leading a better life, we also have awards for entrepreneurs with disability who are not only an inspiration to others but are creating jobs for others as well.
This year, we have introduced other categories like: architectural firms that promote universal design and accessibility and awards for schools that promote inclusive education and integrated education for persons with disabilities. We also wanted to highlight these examples to motivate other companies to employ persons with disabilities. Also, our endeavour through the awards is to include them in the mainstream. Last year, a company called Sunrise Candles from Pune won the award. The company was commendable as it is run by blind. Since blind people are gifted with the quality of strong sense of scent, they are making candles. These awards have become one of the biggest platforms for such companies. The Nipman awards are growing bigger and we hope that they serve as a platform to highlight their lives through these awards, motivating more and more people to learn from them.

TBI: What are your future plans?

NM: There is still a lot to achieve. My vision is to see my country as an equal opportunity country to all people irrespective of their caste, gender, disability or the region they belong to. I will continue to work for this.

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A journey extraordinaire!

By Monica Joshi

At an age when most people retire and live a comfortable life, she works tirelessly even at 73 to bring fresh lease of life to children and women in distress. Wearing a heart of gold and driven by an indomitable spirit and passion Prof. Hilda Rayappan, the Founder Director of Prajna Counselling Centre has dedicated her entire life towards fulfilling the mission to rehabilitate and protect women and children who are marginalized, exploited and distressed, through the process of awareness building and self-empowerment.
Right from Santwana- the 24-hour, seven days a week free telephonic help-line service for women in distress, to Swadhar Centre- the short stay home offering shelter, care and protection for neglected women in distress, the de-addiction rehabilitation Centre, to destitute cottages and foster home for children in village areas, the heart and soul of Prof Rayappan and her colleagues is reflected in each programme being run by Prajna.

Thirty years of conviction and grit

A professor at the Roshni Nilaya Institute for Social Work, Prof Hilda was passionate about helping women and children needing help. In 1987, Hilda started a public trust Prajna Counselling Centre with her colleague and neighbor in Mangalore. After her co trustees could not continue due to their professional engagements, Hilda continued to nurture this infant, with utmost dedication, care and sincerity. The journey embarked upon 30 years back continues to serve the social cause wherein the Counselling Centre has been working relentlessly towards empowering helpless women and children. The organization has grown with 87 employees, managing 19 different programmes for women and children, with 12 or more centres. Funded by central, state and local government grants, Prajna many times faces delay in getting the grants. Rayappan, often has to use her own pension money to meet the running costs. Her employees have been with her for long as they too espouse her cause that is to alleviate the sufferings of the women and children in distress.

Sensitizing at grass root level

Prajna has relentlessly strived to empower the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the deprived sections of people in the community irrespective of caste, creed, sex & religion. Prajna believes in addressing various issues of women and children at grass root level by sensitizing the multiple stake holders and concretely helping women and children who are deprived, distressed and exploited. Concerned upon the increase in crime against women and children, Hilda says, “raising awareness through education and training sessions is the key step to contain crime against women and children. Awareness should start at school level. Gender equality should be a part of school curriculum. Parents should raise their children both boys and girls as equals. Educating general public on Protection of women from Domestic violence Act (2005) and POCSO Act 2012 is also very important.”

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Building the ‘trust’ bridge

With transparency in dealings often challenged as having a hidden agenda. Rayappan states that trust is a big factor when it comes to social work. “When I initially began working towards the objects of Prajna, people were finding it difficult to place their trust in me. I worked towards the objectives of the Prajna Trust with a lot of zeal. I had a masters degree in social work from Mangalore. After which I was granted a special fellowship of UNO and I completed my post graduation in Counseling and Psychotherapy from Manila, Philippines. As a continuation of this fellowship, I had an opportunity by the UNO to travel to different South East Asian Countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, North and South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Bangladesh. During these visits I was assigned to introduce subjects like Counseling, Psychotherapy and Women’s Development. On my return, I wanted to put all that I studied and gained from different countries into the curriculum of Social work education and practice without anything in return. Only as the years passed by, people realized that I was genuine, hardworking and honest in my dealings. My hard work paid off gradually. People placed themselves in the hands of Prajna whenever they needed my support.

Credibility and recognition

Prajnas’s greatest achievement has been the credibility it has created among people and the local administration. When any woman is found in distress or abused or when any child is found in distress, abused or on the streets, the name that comes to the minds of the people to help them out, is Prajna Counselling Centre. Over the years, Prajna has gained recognition for its work and received many awards like Sandesha Special Recognition Award – 1997 from Sandesha Foundation for the work on battered women, Child Welfare Award – 2001 from Govt of Karnataka for the excellent services rendered in the field of Child Development, IPS – KB Distinguished Service Award – 2003 from KSB, Indian Psychiatric Society for the services rendered in the field of mental health, Republic Day Award – 2006 from Govt of Karnataka for the services rendered in the field of Women and Child Development, Indo-Nepal Friendship Award – 2012 from the Global Achievers Foundation, Kathmandu, for outstanding contribution in the field of National social activity, Best Service Award – 2013 from Labour Department, Govt. of Karnataka for service in the field of child labour eradication and child development, Spandana Award 2014-15 from Indian Psychiatric Society, Karnataka chapter for the services in the substance related problems which include rehabilitation, medication, support groups, and talk therapy.

Rising through challenges

With corruption being rampant across functions, Hilda takes pride in sharing that “I have never paid any bribe till date with any of my dealings with the government agencies. When initially I began the Trust, it was difficult. The files were being stacked but no work was being processed. But I was very adamant and consistent in my approach. There were delays but the work used to get done. But now, that is not the case. Initially we had no support, now we have some support and respect among the government agencies and bureaucracy, they are rather helpful. The big problem we are facing at present is that the grants from State and Central government have been delayed. Hopefully we receive them soon.”

 Work to speak for itself!

Commenting upon the less advertising seen by the social work firms, Rayappan says, “I have always believed that your work should speak for itself. Publicizing initiatives will involve a lot of money. Instead of using those funds on advertising, it can be used for the needs of people and causes we undertake.” Asked whether the era of the 70s and 80s was better and more conducive time to carry out such work than today, Rayappan is optimistic of the present times and says, “The scenario at present is better as people come and seek help (reporting has increased). The Prevention of domestic violence act of 2005 and POCSO Act of 2012 have been helpful.” .

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