We just created a mailing group firstname.lastname@example.org to provide some personal updates as the trip goes along and also to encourage people who are part of the group to give their comments and initiate discussion amongst people interested in similar activities. If you are interested in getting added to the group, email Amarjeet at email@example.com
We update our posts on tour-blog tab – Please visit that tab to see the most updates posts on the places we are visiting and our experiences.
Our primary objective is first-hand assessment of the “socio-welfare gap” – a gap in technology used on field and the technology developed in academic environment which never gets utilized; a gap between a traditional way to solving a problem and an innovative approach that helps in easy adoption. We plan to travel across diverse places in India, spending time interacting with local people and local organizations that are seemingly doing great work for the upliftment of the underprivileged in these regions. All through, we will try to understand why certain things do or do not work in certain scenarios – How culture, geography, religion, market forces, and other demographics play a role in deciding the success of a program (specifically in technology and education). We hope that our studies will spark interesting conversations and knowledge contributions towards supporting rural underprivileged by bringing together different stakeholders such as engineers, managers, policy makers and local leaders from diverse backgrounds ranging from non-profits to governmental institutions to private sector.
What is it all about?
When Amarjeet visited Michael and Swati in Mozda last year, one thing that stood out was that the electrical grid had reached even a remote place like Mozda, Gujrat – but why do houses still were dark? Only a very few families could afford to pay for the electricity bill and hence did not have electricity at their house. Michael bought some batteries which they gave to a few people, set up a windmill at their house and asked people to bring back the batteries to get charged again at a very nominal amount they could afford.
It brought electricity for the first time to a lot of houses in the village. However, with time another problem was created. People did not understand the charge cycle and used to consume the battery till it dies down completely thus reducing the life cycle of the battery completely. This increased the overall cost involved with bringing electricity to the poor.
This made Amarjeet realize that addressing the problems in diverse social strata involves solving a much more complex problem that spans much beyond technology and accessibility. Ever since 1991, when India opened up its trade policies, big urban cities in India joined the race to become cosmopolitan but the same thing cannot be said about rural India. Our understanding of rural India and its culture still remains very limited, especially considering the rich diversity of India where language, culture, tradition, tastes and almost every other thing changes almost every 200km.
There are a few other examples that come to my mind which further exemplify the divide. I visited Gram Vikas in January this year, a non profit working for improving sanitation and other health and living conditions for in rural tribal areas about 200kms of Bhubaneshwar. I got a chance to talk to Joe Madiath who is currently leading Gram Sabha. While discussing with Joe about the greatest challenges he had faced, and he said that the biggest challenge was not in constructing the toilets but in getting tribals to use them, because they found them to be suffocating and they would rather use open space. Similarly, another non profit working for education of female kids realized that one of the major reasons for girls not coming to schools was the lack of separate toilet facility for girls in the school premises.
Sometime back when Amarjeet and myself were talking about working for doing something concrete for social development, specially in rural India, (Amarjeet is interested in rural technology, whereas my interest has always been in education) we thought that first it would be a great idea to first travel around and try to understand the existing social landscape across the diverse India. It is not the case that both of us have never stepped out from our air-conditioned offices and have never stepped out of urban surroundings. On the contrary over last ten years, we have volunteered for a number of non profit and social welfare organizations doing credible work in rural areas, including Association for India’s Development (AID). As part of our experience, we have been fortunate to meet up with a number of people involved in amazing grassroots efforts and visit organizations and non-profits silently transforming the lives of people. This diverse exposure includes places like Barefoot College that has pioneered the art of imparting relevant rural skills, to Vigyan Aashram which has been doing significant work in vocational based rural education.
However, we want to take it a step further in our quest to decide the work where we can put our skills to the best use and have the most impact. We want to candidly look at some of these organizations, study their models and meet up with people already doing great work as well as the community they are trying to help improve. Our journey will be a pursuit to identify the gap that currently exists in the social sector in India – trying to understand how specific environment influences the success of social initiative. We want to figure out how we can replicate some of models that have been proven to be very successful in certain regions in India. We also want to understand if the new models such as market driven models can be successfully used to increase the pace of the development work.
To materialize our quest, we are planning a small trip across India, visiting some of the people/organizations that have been doing phenomenal work in their own domains, as well as the communities they are working to help. As of now, the trip is planned for sometime from September-November, 2009. We have listed down a set of things we are planning to do at each of the place we visit during the trip, on our quest page. We would love to have your feedback/suggestions on things we can do – see collaborate page for more details on how you can be an active part of this trip as well. We also welcome requests by other organizations if they would like to have some additional specific data being collected during our trip – see the institution page for more details.
We are also working towards short listing places, people to visit during our trip. These are included on the map page and mapped on a google map. If you know of any NGOs/people who, in your opinion, are doing great work, please drop in a comment below, we believe that any comments will be really helpful.
We are going to use the tour-blog page to give up to date information about the trip. As days go by, we are going to keep this blog updated.
Do feel free to drop in your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.