Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Monday, January 31, 2011

Navigators Of Change : As government, corporates seek to engage with NGOs, they gain new significance

Brave NGO World?

  • The Planning Commission is courting NGOs for policy inputs, views on how to make plans work
  • NGOs and local activism forced govt to stall Vedanta, Posco plans
  • NGO opposition to snacks being served in schools changed plans to scrap hot meals
  • NGO have made the government rethink the Polavaram dam project
  • Their criticism of the leakage of NREGA funds led to the creation of monitoring mechanisms
  • NGOs have worked to enshrine education as a fundamental right
  • Matters related to environment clearance—like GM foods, mining —now go through public debate, thanks to NGOs.
  • NGOs played a crucial role in strengthening the nuclear liability bill, securing rights for gays

The jholawala is the latest lobbyist in town. He or she has top policymakers on speed-dial, is now feted by the media and sought out by companies eager to promote ‘India Inclusive’. It’s a remarkable, even heady, transformation. For long derided as irrelevant trouble-making activists largely focused on rural India, NGOs (registered arms of what is loosely called civil society) are basking in the warm embrace of recognition and relevance.

As recent events have shown, NGOs have played important roles in the big debates of the day. With a little help from fellow travellers—and occasionally backed by political support—they have been able to swing policy decisions in the citizen’s interest, be it stalling plans for Bt brinjal cultivation, or questioning the Polavaram dam project or bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills. The outcome has often hit the grand plans of corporate giants like Posco, Vedanta and Tatas. More lasting perhaps will be the civil society’s contribution in ushering in a range of rights regimes—information, education or livelihood, and soon, the right to food.

Given the apparently in-built adversarial relationship between NGOs, governments and companies, it’s a controversial thesis to put out. For every voice that celebrates the new power behind NGOs, an equal number urges caution and stresses that the ground realities haven’t changed. Is it right then to see NGOs as a necessary, important power centre? Are they really becoming indispensable in matters of governance, delivery of services or voicing the needs of the marginalised? Or is it just a politically correct trend that covers a few, high-profile outfits, leaving the vast majority just where it always was?

Experts differ in their assessment of the role and relevance of ngos. “Over the last decade things have changed. We are being sought for policy inputs. The demand is also coming from below—the community, the beneficiaries, the vulnerable sections—who know their needs,” says Farida Lambay of Pratham, an important NGO in the education space. With a growing grip on best practices, Lambay feels civil society is filling the space a pole that can represent the people’s concerns and aspirations.

Policy wonk N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council, paints a different picture. While giving credit to community health workers for making a big difference to health services without high-cost intervention, the development expert feels not all NGOs have a good knowledge of the grassroots. “In fact, a large number of them may have good intentions, but they look upon development as a zero-sum game (if the rich are losing out, the poor will gain),” he says.

Despite such concerns, the Planning Commission, backed by the prime minister, is envisaging a bigger role for NGOs in chalking out its strategy for inclusive development. For the first time, the panel is seeking inputs from leading civil society groups ahead of drafting the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) approach paper. In meetings with 15 groups, including women, the disabled, the urban poor, Dalits, tribals etc, panel members got each to arrive at a consensus on their specific requirements and innovative solutions for better utilisation of funds.

“There is a procedural change: take inputs before drawing the roadmap, instead of making the building and then asking whether you like it or not,” states Amitabh Behar of Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a coalition of scores of NGOs. Having been part of expert panels in the past, Behar has raised the bar of hope this time. “If we are able to influence the core philosophy of the approach paper, which is the guiding document for the Plan, it would be a step forward.”

Explaining the philosophy behind creating the new platform for NGOs, Planning Commission member Arun Maira stresses that many of them are implementing good innovative solutions in areas like water harvesting, literacy, skill development and panchayat-level governance without much money. The new approach is to help planners draw upon their views and “represent concerns of the citizens in a way that would be better understood by the policymakers.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time government has reached out to civil society. During the Janata Party rule in 1977, a group was set up in the Planning Commission to explore how best to use NGOs’ services. Since 1986, government funding has been provided to 12,000-plus voluntary organisations out of about 4 million registered bodies to help implement various development work, including training and advocacy programmes. Not everybody is in tune with this “privatisation” of social development work, as CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat puts it .

Economist Jean Dreze, for one, remains sceptical, given that NGOs are generally accountable to funders, particularly overseas ones, and not the people for whom they are working. Given their reliance on foreign, government and corporate funding, it is not unusual to see NGOs often display political, and in some cases, corporate leanings. The corporate influence seems to be growing, with many companies using NGOs to implement their corporate social responsibility activities, often a tool to win over local resistance to any industrial activity or land acquisition.

Though NGOs have the potential to be change agents, “it is rarely their strong point”, states Dreze, a strong believer in the power of collective action and “free” association. Dreze, who is linked to development issues like the Right to Food campaign, says that characterising civil society groupings as “the new power centres” is to give them far too much weight. Prof Neema Kudva of Cornell University, who has researched the “uneasy relationship” between NGOs and the state since independence, agrees: “If we are to change development strategy, it can’t happen through NGOs. They can’t be the primary change agents. The change has to come from the ground, from strong social movements and transforming politics.”

On the issue of relevance, however, many experts feel that despite the system exposing various rogue elements, by and large, they are able to voice the concerns of the marginalised—or else they would have no takers. But as Mohammed Haleem Khan, director general of CAPART (set up primarily to develop alternative models of development), states, “The government is yet to develop a good toolkit to assess the effectiveness and the role of NGOs.” A task force headed by Khan has recommended accreditation of NGOs to help weed out the rogue players.

As governments seeks to engage more closely with NGOs—beyond empowering panchayat bodies, monitoring NREGA or designing water harvesting schemes and sanitation models—more complexities can be expected. Take Delhi’s Mission Convergence. Akhila Sivadas of CFAR, which works with the Delhi government to maintain a Vulnerability Index through a live census of the poor and vulnerable, admits, “NGOs can no longer play an adversarial role as they are part of governance. We have to ensure a proper percentage of funds reach target groups.”

In a model copied from Brazil, NGOs are envisaged as pressure groups meant to ensure greater transparency and improved service delivery while maintaining control on the delivery cost, which together with corruption eats up over 80 per cent of development funds. Likening their role to “canaries in the coal mine”, which alert miners of approaching danger, Maira emphasises that in the last few years, some prominent NGOs, with their global exposure, have emerged as communicators, with their ability to represent issues in the language understood by policymakers.

Leading NGOs concede they can’t work alone if they want to scale up operations. The option then is to plan the government way, work the NGO way. Alternatively, many NGOs are opting for stakeholders outside government in health, education and such areas. Pratham, for instance, does not take government funding but works with states like Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Maharashtra and Punjab in policymaking and implementation of primary education programmes. It is the critical appraisal of government policies and programmes by the likes of Pratham and Wada Na Todo that has made the government take notice and strive to rope in their services.

Despite the pressure brought to bear on the government by civil society, Ramesh Ramanathan of Bangalore-based Janagraha admits, “Not even 10 per cent of our suggestions get accepted. But there is a direction of change as the government willingness is increasing.” This in part is due to success stories like Kerala’s literacy campaign or Karnataka’s outreach programmes in 22,000 schools with civil society help. As Anurag Behar, CEO of Azim Premji Foundation, puts it, “The government is an eager partner in improving the quality of education.” Reports from many states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab reveal a willingness of the government to engage with NGOs more effectively.

For instance, Bangalore-based ESG’s initiatives around displacement and town planning have led to a rethink on many city development projects. Similarly, Akshaya Patra Foundation in Bangalore has won over policymakers with its model for cost-effective and hygienic mid-day meals. West Bengal’s Masum is just seeing its efforts to get specialists to conduct autopsies on police torture victims yield results. Madhya Pradesh’s success in adult literacy, better rehab packages for Narmada dam oustees and improved IT infrastructure in villages are but few examples of NGO persistence.

It’s clear that many NGOs are helping government design schemes better. That by itself is a significant step. “NGOs have a responsibility to ensure that both government and corporates act with fairness, accountability, transparency,” says N.R. Narayana Murthy, chief mentor at Infosys. That smooth statement notwithstanding, NGOs remain wary—not necessarily of top political and bureaucratic pressures, but the last-mile link at delivery point. That is where all good intentions and partnerships perish.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Too Much Goodwill : With no dearth of causes, there’s no dearth of NGOs either.

NGOs To No Go’s

  • NGOs have mushroomed; so have instances of misappropriation of funds
  • Not disclosing expenditure and receipts; nor revealing who funds them
  • Not setting up NGO for the task it was funded for
  • Flocking to 'hot' topics, inviting accusations of singing to industrialists’ tunes
  • For every NGO supporting a cause, another springs up against that cause

NGO numbers

  • 3.3 million Number of NGOs in India
  • 2.5% Contribution to GDP
  • Rs 18,000 crore Annual revenue (2000)
  • 50% NGOs with revenue under Rs 15 lakh a year

The more the voices that speak up, the more the chances of them being heard. Except, in India’s NGO space, there’s increasing cacophony. For every NGO working against child labour, there is another clamouring to let children work, calling it an economic ‘necessity’. For every NGO against Vedanta mining in Niyamgiri, there’s a Ramjibhai Mawani willing to file PILs on behalf of a business group (Reliance Industries, as the Radia tapes reveal). Even hard-won rights, like the law against domestic violence, have resulted in ‘counter-NGOs’. Like the one fighting for men’s rights: the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF).

It’s NG VS NGO, and the unintended result is a spurt in NGOs, voluntary organisations and other non-profit institutions. From the early 1990s, coinciding with liberalisation, there has been a threefold jump in voluntary organisations. Many of them have congregated around “hot” issues. Take Bhopal, which has 165 of Madhya Pradesh’s 650-odd NGOs. Moreover, though all registered NGOs function under a handful of regulations that extend tax exemptions and other benefits, their causes are often at loggerheads.

“It is here that the problems began,” notes Mohd Haleem Khan, who heads CAPART, an autonomous body under the Union ministry of rural development, which funds NGOs and tracks their progress. For over a year, Khan’s organisation hasn’t funded new projects, and won’t, until new norms for the voluntary sector are finalised. The issue clearly is a blind desire for funding, says Dunu Roy, who runs the Hazards Centre in Delhi, which focuses on environment and media concerns. “What NGOs don’t do enough of is impart skills to analyse problems, select solutions and implement them,” he says.

Plagued by issues ranging from lack of transparency within CAPART and fly-by-night NGOs making off with its grants—883 were blacklisted last December—the watchdog is searching for the right balance between hands-off monitoring and absolute accountability. “We want Indian NGOs to follow some international norms of accounting,” says Khan. An online registration process, involving NGOs, the Planning Commission and the rural development ministry, is being developed.

One reason why CAPART froze funding is the mushrooming of NGOs. Non-profit body Karmayog listed over 1,300 NGOs in Mumbai alone, another 4,300 in Tamil Nadu (of which 1,100 are in Chennai, and 227 in Dindigul—a district of roughly 3 lakh people—a density of one NGO per 1,321 persons). The farther from Delhi or state capitals you get, the more NGOs you seem to find. Writer-activist Patricia Mary Mukhim says that after attending scores of NGO-sponsored events in the Northeast, she found little accountability. “If I am asked to evaluate my own work, how objective can I be?” she says.

Mukhim says she found the NGOs exaggerating the need for intervention. “One NGO said that 70,000 child labourers were employed in a coal mining district of Meghalaya’s Jaintia hills. Not even one-hundredth of this ‘70,000’ were actually surveyed. The same NGO said 40,000 girls were shipped to the Commonwealth Games as sex workers. This too was pure assumption and extrapolation,” she says, without naming the NGO.

For the government, NGOs are a tool to achieve what it can’t do, such as provide free or subsidised healthcare all around. But they are also a public finance hazard. The government funds development projects such as NREGA or NRHM not just directly but also via NGOs. Over 2008-09, CAPART channelled Rs 26 crore to 125 projects of NGOs it approved. Khan could not say what the overall grants have been since CAPART’s inception in 1986.

Within the NGO fraternity, however, the view is that to maintain independence, oversight must come from within. This view was sharpened by recent cases, such as during the protests against Korean steel major Posco in Orissa. One NGO, the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, for instance, claimed that Posco defrauded the government in getting environment clearances; other NGOs partnered with the steel company itself, enabling donations. Almost all large industrial projects, including British mining company Vedanta, now witness protests and counter-protests. In 2009, as protests against their plans in Orissa peaked, other NGOs were used by the state and the company to launch pro-project PR. This, in turn, was opposed by at least 20 NGOs.

Still, NGOs warn, self-regulation is the best option, though the government must do better monitoring. “Some NGOs are philanthropic, rights-based, wanting to do good, uplift. Others channel money, turn black into white,” warns Anjali Gopalan, who runs the Naz Foundation in Delhi. Noted advocate Colin Gonsalves says, “NGOs have become a place for the children of government servants, police officials and politicians to find jobs. They set up NGOs as they’re better equipped to deal with clearances and permissions required on a daily basis. This is what leads to their mushrooming”.

The norms are starting to trickle in, but it’s the voluntary sector that’s moving first. Non-profit body Credibility Alliance has proposed an accreditation and verification model. “The norms are more in the nature of helping NGOs get better rather than exclude others from accreditation,” says Robert Dequadros of Credibility Alliance. He says 200 NGOs agreed in an early survey that they needed to improve governance and make proper financial disclosures. It’s a complaint that the government often has—that NGOs questioning the governance deficit are often reluctant to extend the favour within. Dequadros promises an NGO verification model that’s “free of biases and fairly implemented”. To begin with, it will only require them to keep track of how much money they receive and how much they spend—as basic as possible.

Venkat Krishnan, who started GiveIndia, an online donation service that connects donors with NGOs, says he’s “deeply disappointed” with individual donors in India. “An ultra-premium car costs Rs 20-30 lakh; thousands are buying those. My total ‘collections’ are Rs 25 crore a year: a drop in the ocean. Bulk of the money for NGOs is coming from government or foreign sources. It’s like the case with voting: you get back a country depending on how much you give,” says Venkat. A pity. It lends strength to those who say that more the NGOs increase, more the problems seem to keep adding up.


We should have more Social Entrepreneur and every NGO should have an Exist Policy - you cant survive on your stakeholders for decades............stakeholders should be empowered and NOT made dependent on NGO

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

India Marches Against Corruption 30th Jan 2011: Come and Join the National Movement

Thousands of people will take to streets to demand effective anticorruption law.India Against Corruption is a movement created by concerned citizens from all spheres, and professions, who've come together to fight corruption in India.

Series of scams involving politicians and bureaucrats at highest places has shaken the conscience of the nation in the last few months. Despite public outcry, no worthwhile investigations are going on in any one of them. This is because of several systemic deficiencies in our anti-corruption systems.

This campaign is not aligned to or against any political party. We feel that every political party has misused its position whenever they have been in power or otherwise. Therefore, it is extremely important that the citizens of this country unite to demand systemic changes.

Join the march against corruption in over 25 cities of India and abroad on 30th Jan, 2011.

J M Lyngdoh, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Most Reverend Vincent M Concessao Archbishop of Delhi and others will march from Ramlila Grounds to Jantar Mantar on 30th January, the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, at 1 pm to demand enactment of a law to set up an effective anti‐corruption body called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in each state (the existing Lokayukta Acts are weak and ineffective).

Kiran Bedi, Justice Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan, J M Lyngdoh and others have drafted this Bill.Please visit our site for full text of this Bill. A nation wide movement called “India Against Corruption”has been started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Ramdev, Swami Agnivesh, Most Reverend Vincent M Concessao Archbishop of Delhi, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, Devinder Sharma, Sunita Godara, Mallika Sarabhai and many others to persuade government to enact this Bill.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi recently announced that Lokpal would be set up. However, the Lokpal suggested by the government is only a showpiece. It will have jurisdiction over politicians but not bureaucrats, as if politicians and bureaucrats indulge in corruption separately. And the most interesting part is that like other anti‐corruption bodies in our country, the government is making Lokpal also an advisory body. So, Lokpal will recommend to the government to prosecute its ministers. Will any prime minister have the political courage to do that?

Please participate in large numbers in this march to persuade the government to enact the Bill drafted by the people. Please turn overleaf to read how this Bill will help in effectively checking corruption.

Can India turn around?

There was much worse corruption in Hong Kong in 1970s than we have in India today. Collusion between police and mafia increased and crime rate went up. Lakhs of people came on the streets. As a result, the government had to set up an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which was given complete powers. In the first instance, ICAC sacked 119 out of 180 police officers. This sent a strong message to the bureaucracy that corruption would not be tolerated. Today, Hong Kong has one of the most honest governance machinery.

India can also turn around if we also had similar anti‐corruption body. Hong Kong government enacted ICAC Bill because lakhs of people came on streets.

Participate in Your City:

If you plan to join or volunteer with us, do call us: India Against Corruption , A119, Kaushambi, Ghaziabad ,U P – 201010, UP. Ph: 09717460029/ 09971900424 Email: ; . Website:

People for Social Cause & Silver Inning Foundation supports 'India Against Corruption ' national campaign . SAY NO TO CORRUPTION. STOP CORRUPTION.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How Aadhaar or the UID project can get you into deep trouble

The UID project which is being rolled out with much fanfare by the government has innumerable pitfalls. Here are a few of them

Aadhaar with its biometrics and the ability to facilitate convergence of information-bona fide or otherwise-has the potential to compromise privacy and put people in trouble.

When such privacy concerns are raised, the oft-repeated rhetoric among the educated middle class is: "I am a law-abiding citizen and I do not have much to hide and fear. So, why should I be concerned with my personal data, including biometrics, being stored under the Aadhaar project, especially if it can make my life convenient?"

Well, if you are one of those who thought likewise, here are a few plausible ways in which you could be in trouble, thanks to Aadhaar and its indiscriminate use in the not too distant a future.

Scenario 1: Techie tries to change his job…

Ram is an upwardly-mobile young techie who is proud of his status. He is in love with the digital world; not bothered too much about issues around privacy. He is active on most of the social networking sites. He is proud of his connectedness. He has been the first one to get Aadhaar; he felt it would make his day-to-day transactions a lot more hassle-free. He has submitted his Aadhaar ID to all his previous employers, since it afforded him some additional benefits and privileges.

Recently, he has got a call from an MNC promising him an overseas assignment. He is excited about the opportunity. He has had a successful technical round. However, to his dismay, he is rejected after the HR round.

Trying to find the reason, he contacts an acquaintance in the company. To his surprise, he comes to know that the culprit is Aadhaar. A background check using Aadhaar by a company engaged by the MNC has revealed his problems with his boss in one of the companies he had worked for a long time back. He is not given a chance to explain himself but is presumed troublesome and rejected. He curses himself for being overzealous in his usage of Aadhaar.

Scenario 2: Sham tries to buy Medical Insurance...

Though Aadhaar was optional in the beginning, most of the clinics and hospitals have started insisting on it citing identity reasons. Sham is a middle-aged IT manager who has seen the convenience of using digital identity cards in his office. It is logical for him to think that using Aadhaar would prevent any misplaced identity. He does not think twice when someone asks him for Aadhaar.

Over the past few years, given the stress of his job, he has had episodes of "High Blood Pressure", treated occasionally at a few local clinics. In all those clinics he has unwittingly used Aadhaar. His doctors have told him that there is nothing chronic or serious about his occasional high BP. He has been able to manage his condition with minor lifestyle changes.

Now that he is approaching middle age, he decides to take out a medical insurance cover for himself. Most of the insurance companies have started insisting on Aadhaar for enrollment. After completing all the required formalities, he gets his insurance policy. He is puzzled to find that he has been denied insurance coverage for 'heart ailments'. He versifies that his BP, ECG and other conditions were normal during the prescreening test. On further questioning, he is told that he has a preexisting high BP condition. The culprit - Aadhaar!

The insurance company has done a background search on him using his Aadhaar ID and found out that he had taken some medicine for high BP sometime back in the past, though he is no longer on any medication. His argument that he has no chronic heart condition goes in vain.

Scenario 3: Saralamma becomes a suspect in a crime she did not commit…

Saralamma is a retired school teacher; very law-abiding. As soon as Aadhaar is rolled out, she is the first to get one. Someone has told her that her pension collection and bank transactions would be a lot easier with Aadhaar. She is not the one who is too concerned about what data is being collected; most of which she does not understand anyway.

Recently, she has received some arrears. She has decided to buy some silverware for her only daughter. She has checked out a specific set, but decides not to buy, as the cost is beyond her budget. After a few days, to her surprise, she gets a call from a security agency. There is a theft at the same jewelry shop she had visited. One of the items in the set that she had looked at is stolen. As part of the investigation, fingerprints are collected from items in and around the set. They are run against the biometrics stored by the UIDAI managing Aadhaar.

Alas, one of the fingerprints on the silverware matches that of Saralamma. She is asked to explain as to why she should not be considered a suspect. Saralamma is aghast as she does not understand how she got linked to the crime she did not commit!

To Read More:
How Aadhaar or the UID project can get you into deep trouble - Moneylife Personal Finance site & magazine

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation(MBMC) corporators fly to Kerala on Rs.23Lakh study tour - wasting public money

The aam admi might be reeling under inflation but that hasn't stopped seventy corporators of the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) from embarking on a Rs 23-lakh study tour of Kerala. The MBMC, which has 84 corporators, will bear the cost, which includes flight tickets and accommodation.

The tour comes at a time when several crucial projects, including construction of roads and laying of sewerage pipes, have been put on hold due to paucity of funds.

According to sources, the study tour plan was passed by the civic standing committee without any uproar. Leaders from the ruling Congress-NCP combine and Opposition parties-Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP), Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Janata Dal-are part of the tour.

The netas, who will leave on Wednesday and return on January 24, will study the functioning of the municipal corporations in Kerala.

In the last few years, MBMC corporators have toured Nepal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jammu & Kashmir, Shimla and Darjeeling, to name a few, to study the functioning of local bodies there. However, not a single report has been submitted to the municipal corporation till date, said a source.

When contacted, mayor Tulsidas Mhatre defended the tour saying it would help the leaders improve the functioning of MBMC.

"If past instances are anything to go by, then the leaders would be joined by family members," said a source, adding, "After spending half-a-day on visiting municipal corporations, the netas will, in all likelihood, spend the rest of the week sight-seeing."

The tour comes at a time when several crucial projects, including construction of roads and laying of sewerage pipes, have been put on hold due to paucity of funds.

Source: Netas will fly to Kerala on 23-L study tour - The Times of India

This is just waste of public money, politician use public money for their useless study tour around India. Want to know what each one has learn from this tours and what has been implemented by the corporation . After so many years still the residence of this satellite twonship near Mumbai struggle basic amenities like water, road, drainage , cleanliness , medical facility , traffic .... The MBMC is one of the most corrupt Municipal corporation, most of the corporators are minting money when the common man is struggling for basic civic services. There should be judicial inquiry on corruption and work of MBMC for last 15 years.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Various International Programmes that are being organized by UN INIA for Ageing in 2011

The dramatic and unprecedented increase in the number and proportion of older persons in the World will lead to unique political, economic and social consequences. In developing countries, where by the year 2025, seventy-two per cent of the World’s older persons will live, this demographic development will pose a particular challenge. Although a number of developing countries have initiated various innovative and concrete measures aimed at meeting the needs of older persons, there exists an acute shortage of trained care-givers at all levels in the field of Gerontology.

See Various course in 2011:

UN INIA International Training Programme in Social Gerontology : 14 - 25 February 2011, Malta:



International Institute on Ageing, United Nations - Malta, 117, St. Paul Street,
Valletta VLT 1216, MALTA.
Telephone: (+356) 21-243044/5/6
Telefax : (+356) 21-230248
Web site:

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Trust built on vision

The Aravind eyecare organisation, which does 1,000 surgeries and 6,000 consultations every day, was inspired by the MacDonald’s model of efficiency and affordability.

After coping with myopia (near-sightedness) from the age of 7, I grew more than a little careless because my eyes didn’t seem to be getting any worse after years of heavy computer use. In my 40s, however, I needed an additional pair of reading glasses. Then things started going wrong. That was when I encountered Aravind, the world’s largest eyecare service provider -- in terms of surgical volume and number of patients treated. Aravind is a trust situated in the heart of Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

What is unusual about Aravind is the manner in which it was set up and how it grew. And the model it follows to keep healthcare within reach of almost everyone. It remains a mystery as to why Aravind’s efforts are well known to the outside world but barely acknowledged in India. Indeed, there is more information on Aravind on the Stanford networks and inspirational TED talks than there are articles in the Indian media.

Madurai, known as the temple city, is also said to be the oldest inhabited city on the Indian peninsula. This city of 1.2 million people is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. And it draws eye patients from all over India thanks to the dream of a retired doctor.

* * *

It was just past 6 am when an enthusiastic rickshaw driver dropped me at the hospital where patients were already beginning to queue up. In the clean, orderly reception area -- there is a crowd, but no pushing -- a notice board spells out the hospital’s mission: ‘To eliminate needless blindness’.

By the time I left Aravind, after eating a Rs 20 simple rice plate, I was impressed by a number of things including the efficiency, scalability, respect with which the hospital treats its patients (even the poorest), and above all, the organisation’s logic and deep insight into how to make things work in a resource-poor, talent-rich country.

If only other non-profits and trusts were like Aravind, there would be serious hope for change in our country. No longer would the business of doing good simply mean tiny, well-funded projects with insignificant impact and lack of scalability.

* * *

Aravind calls itself “the largest and most productive eyecare facility in the world, in terms of surgical volume and number of patients treated”. Besides its hospitals, it has a manufacturing centre for ophthalmic products, an international research foundation and a resource and training centre “that is revolutionising hundreds of eyecare programmes across the developing world”. Aravind says its focus is to reach people who need eyecare but don’t seek it as many live far from a doctor, or treatment is too costly.

Aravind’s figures are impressive: “From April 2006 to March 2007, including the work done in the managed eye hospitals, over 2.3 million outpatients were treated, and over 270,444 surgeries were performed.” (Source:

These are phenomenal numbers given the small network of hospitals (in Madurai, Theni, Tiruneleveli, Coimbatore and Pondicherry, and three ‘managing’ hospitals including one in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, and Kolkata). Aravind started out as an 11-bed hospital in 1978!

Without any sense of false pride, Aravind’s leadership team member Thulasiraj Ravilla (59) says in a TED talk: “I’ve come here to share with you an experiment, of how to get rid of one form of human suffering.” Ravilla is executive director of the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology. (See the talk here:

The video explains “what it means to be blind” by letting a Tamil-speaking village woman talk of her plight. Consider the figures: one in five Indians (a staggering 200 million) would need eyecare. Today, Aravind reaches about 5% of this figure, with 4,000 beds in five hospitals, 33 primary eyecare centres, and its managed eye hospitals.

On a typical day, they do about 1,000 surgeries, see 6,000 out-patients, hold five or six outreach camps, and offer 500 “telemedicine” consultations, apart from training doctors.

The inspiration to do all this every day, “and to do it well”, comes from Aravind’s founder, Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr V). Born in 1918 in a small village, Venkataswamy got a medical degree in 1944 and joined the Indian Army Medical Corps. But he was forced to retire in 1948 after severe rheumatoid arthritis left his fingers crippled.

This changed the course of his life. Venkataswamy continued in ophthalmology, training himself to hold a scalpel and to perform cataract surgery. He conducted an estimated 1 lakh successful eye surgeries.

Journalists who met him a short while before he passed away, were surprised to learn that Aravind’s eyecare model was inspired by MacDonald’s. Venkataswamy wanted to offer eyecare with the same efficiency as MacDonald’s, and build a “franchisee model” that would continue to grow.

At the OPD, everyone is treated with dignity and respect. And the charge is a mere Rs 50, except when additional tests are required.

Aravind’a reputation comes, apparently, from some smart thinking. It works to minimise downtime. Physician time is maximised by focusing on judgement-oriented activities, leaving other tasks to specially-trained “ophthalmic technicians”.

These technicians are young women who have passed high school and have undergone a detailed two-year training course in ophthalmic techniques. Four to five of these girls support each doctor, taking some of the pressure off the doctor. The ones I encountered at Madurai were capable and smart enough to run the patients’ arrival centre, taking rudimentary eye tests and preparing patients to be checked by doctors, etc.

“My eyes have been dilated,” I told the young lady who was peering into my pupils with a torch. “They’re only semi-dilated,” she replied politely but firmly putting a couple more drops into them.

Aravind’s global reputation also comes from software-assisted formal outcome monitoring, improvement programmes -- what it calls “standardisation without stifling innovation”, and collaboration and exchange programmes.
(See this audio interview

What’s important is that the organisation believes its work can be replicated in other eyecare ventures, and beyond. Oddly, there wasn’t “any plan to become what we are”. But vision and orientation played a crucial role. Together with caring for the needy, there is a private practice component that helps generate revenue. Free eye camps for the poor though have been operational right from the start.

Aravind has always tried to live within its means. This has made them cost-conscious and “very efficient in what we do”; something most non-profits and NGOs can learn a lot from. Every activity has been put through a sustainability test.

Online interviews call this “compassionate capitalism”. Others see it as socialism in action -- you pay what you can afford, and get the treatment you need. Nobody is forced to pay, though those who pay get better facilities and private rooms. The treatment remains the same.

Aravind has made real attempts to reach out to people who can’t afford to come to them; those not yet “part of the market”. They have worked with Lions and Rotary clubs, churches and temples, to extend their reach to villages.

As Ravilla says in interviews, they quickly realised that ‘free’ eye camps weren’t really free at all. Unless a really poor person gets his transportation costs to the hospital, food whilst under treatment, and medication for the post-operation period, he still will not be able to afford the so-called ‘free’ treatment.

Entry costs at Aravind are low; the consulting fee is just Rs 50. And that could last for three visits or three months! Costly equipment too is kept in use for much of the day, allowing them to earn and also finance their expansion.

Doctors, operating theatres and high-end equipment are never kept idle. Though I didn’t experience it myself, in the operating theatre a doctor has two operating tables ready for him, saving on time between operations.

Another small miracle is how Aravind manages to lower the cost of ophthalmic equipment by taking up some of the production in India. Aurolab (, the manufacturing division of Aravind Eye Hospital, offers ophthalmic consumables at affordable prices to other developing countries. Since 1992, Aurolab has supplied more than 7 million lenses to its customers in India and over 120 countries worldwide. Established in 1992, Aurolab has set up manufacturing facilities to produce intra-ocular lenses (IOLs), suture needles, pharmaceuticals, spectacle lenses and hearing aids.

Outcomes are monitored carefully and every attempt is made at standardisation. Collaborations with global institutions help.

Aravind has shown that being not-for-profit and being a trust does not mean one has to be small!

By Frederick Noronha a Goa-based writer.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Speak up, speak out

As the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan completes over 20 years, a story of the songs and street plays created by the people’s movement to demand accountable governance, confront administrations and inspire communities.

It is late-afternoon. There are sounds of marching from the white, single-storey building of Barefoot College in village Tilonia in Ajmer district of Rajasthan. In a dimly-lit room, a group of 10 men dressed casually in dhoti-kurtas and traditional local tie-and-dye turbans, march like a military squad, pause to ask a question, and then march on – “It is not my wages being cut, why should I bother? It is not my hut that is the house they set on fire, how does it matter?”

They go on till the one marching with triumphant indifference at the front looks back to realise that everything happening to those around him has become his fate as well, and the corollary, that nothing will change or get better until he works with everyone else to demand justice and rights.

The military-like formation dissolves, two men stoop to pick up a dholak from the floor, and the group breaks into a song:

Sona chaandi main nahin maanga,
Mahal maaliyan main nahin maanga…
Muster roll ki nakalaan, main maanga…
Panchayat ka kharcha, main maanga soochna ka adhikaar main maanga!

(I want no gold or silver, no palace, no gardens; I demand to see muster rolls, accounts of my village council, I demand the right to information)

The plays being rehearsed are Aman (Freedom) and Mazdoori (Labour), and the motley group rehearsing them are members of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Union for Empowerment of Farmers and Workers, a social movement that began 20 years ago in central Rajasthan. The demand for accountability these farmers and workers boldly voice in the song is one which they surprised officials with during their dharnas outside government offices in the 1990s; it is a demand with which they won the Right to Information in Rajasthan in 2000. MKSS members have gathered in this village in Ajmer to recount their stories and recreate and record the street plays and songs that became a powerful means to confront an apathetic administration and rouse the community in a struggle of 20 years.

“We were denied minimum wages for our labour at a famine relief worksite in Dhadhirapat. When we approached officials, they turned us out; we had to communicate what was going on to others in the village, so we picked up a dholak and a shankh and performed on village streets and panchayat squares,” says Shankar Singh (56), a founder-member of MKSS, describing the incident that led the group to first protest and mobilise others in their villages in 1989 (see box).

Most members of MKSS have not studied beyond class VIII; some have not seen even the insides of a classroom. The songs they have penned and the plays they have scripted are born out of their lives and struggles. For instance, in the play Mazdoori the group enacts how a drought forces several farmers of a village to migrate to a city for paltry earnings and a life in slums. It describes long hours at a stone quarry, in factories. It portrays workers’ helplessness in the absence of any support or security. Interspersed is a song, Pardesa su aayo bhayaa (‘My brother returned from a distant place’) that imagines an ideal turn of events that allows the workers to return home and find a means of livelihood in their own village.

“We pieced together what we had experienced working at a stone quarry in Bijoliya; those in the audience who had worked at similar quarries would watch and nod in agreement,” says Mohan Meghvanshi (75), or Mohanba as the others address the oldest member of the group, who wrote the play and composed this song with others in the group.

He describes how the group performed the first of these evocative street plays. “We carried a week’s supply of flour and moved to a forest near Tila ka kheda village to rehearse; Uma Shankar ji encouraged us to exchange our stories, to think of the plays as a conversation,” he says, referring to an impromptu workshop that Uma Shankar, a Kannada playwright, held for the group when he visited Devdungri village in 1989. Shankar had visited out of curiosity about the work being done by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, social activists supporting the demand for payment of minimum wages to workers at Dhadirapat work site. He stayed a month. Later, he and playwright Tripurari Sharma helped MKSS direct plays and give form to other ideas and protests.

Farmers in the group recall the oddities of attempting to act for the first time. “Uma ji would ask us to do exercises for our throats, what a sight it used to be to watch 15 of us barking and roaring every morning!” recalls Chunni Singh (52), a farmer from Palona village. Singh narrates how another obstacle at that time was caste – who belonged to which community and what were the implications of opening up to those who seemed separate. “I feared being judged by my community for what I was doing; when they would ask me who I was with, I would mention only Lal Singh, Shankar Singh, to draw attention away from those in the group who were from other castes,” he says.

Among the over 20 songs that the group created, songs such as ‘Pardesa hu’ are a lyrical narrative of many workers’ lives. There are others in their repertoire that are masterpieces of political satire. MKSS’ workers created them line by line during several weeks of sit-ins outside government offices. Poking fun at corruption and brimming over with irony and humour, ‘Choriwado ghano hogyo re’ laments that corrupt officials are eating even cement and gravel (pocketing funds for public works) and exhorts ‘koi to munde bolo’ (someone speak up); ‘Nyuntam mazdoor’ thumbs a nose at the administration and declares, not a paisa less than the minimum wage); others such as ‘Main nahin maanga’ asserts the right of citizens to see bills, vouchers, accounts for all public works.

“These songs and plays are powerful social critiques, they attract others in the community with their simplicity and humour without ever trivialising an issue,” says Nikhil Dey, a founder member of the movement.

The chai break is over, Mohan ba and Chunni Singh exchange turbans to prepare for new roles in the next play; the show, and the struggle for accountability, goes on.

By Anumeha Yadav is a journalist,reporting from Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat. She has volunteered with MKSS.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saving India's children

A year of scams and scandals is over. Can we expect 2011 to be different? If one had a wish list for 2011, topping mine would be a wish that the government make tackling child malnutrition in India one of its topmost priorities.

Everyone knows the glaring contrasts in India — between some of the richest men in the world and some of the poorest who also inhabit this country, between a high economic growth rate and increasing disparity and inequality, between unchecked consumption in our cities and the absence of basic survival needs of people in the villages and our forested areas.

What stands out as the worst statement about the state of India today is the fact that 46 per cent of our children are stunted because they simply do not get enough to eat. How can we accept this and at the same time boast about having moved up from the company of the poorest countries in the world into a middle-income country?

I began 2011 by looking again at the data on child malnutrition in India and it was like a cold shower. Sobering. Shocking.

India has more malnourished children than neighbouring Bangladesh which, until a decade back, was considered something of a basket case. Even African countries like the Congo, Lesotho, Tanzania and Rwanda are better placed than us.

Fundamental issue

v Why be so concerned about this one issue? Because the very fact that almost one out of every two children in this country goes to bed on an empty stomach is shocking in itself. Malnutrition is the principal cause of child deaths. Half of all child deaths in India could be prevented if this one issue was tackled. Children die because malnutrition lowers a child's resistance to infection. As a result, they become vulnerable even when they have eminently treatable conditions like diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

What is worrying is not just the high percentage of children who are malnourished, but the fact that the rate is going down so slowly as to be virtually negligible. Between 1998-99 and 2005-06, the rate only came down by one per cent. At this rate, the challenge of cutting down on the prevalence of malnutrition in children by half by 2015, a part of the Millennium Development Goals, will be impossible.

So why is this happening in a country where there is an enviable economic growth rate? Development economist A.K. Shiva Kumar points out in a recent article that the belief that malnutrition automatically comes down if the per capita income improves is not necessarily true. He points out, for instance, that 28 out of 37 sub-Saharan African countries have a lower per capita income than India's and yet also have lower rates of malnutrition. Within India, Manipur has a per capita income of only Rs. 8,114 (1997-98), yet its child malnutrition rate is 28 per cent. By way of contrast, Gujarat has a per capita income of Rs. 16,251 and its child malnutrition rate is 45 per cent.

Dr. Shiva Kumar's contrasting data on two Indian states, Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh also brings out another important angle to malnutrition, that of gender.

Sikkim has 13 per cent children born with low birth weight; MP has 24 per cent. Sikkim has 11 per cent ever-married women with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of less that 18.5 (considered very low); MP has 38 per cent. The 0-6 years male female ratio in Sikkim is 986; in MP it is 929. The age of marriage for women in Sikkim is 22; in MP it is 19. Female literacy in Sikkim is 62 per cent; it is 50 per cent in MP. In Sikkim, 89 per cent of girls in the age group 6-17 years are in school; in MP it is 71 per cent.

Vital link

In other words, women in Sikkim marry later, are more educated and are in better health. As a result, there are fewer children born with a low birth weight. The link between women's status — both in terms of access to education and health — and under-nutrition in children is obvious. Women who are themselves malnourished, anaemic (56 per cent of women in India suffer from some form of anaemia), and become pregnant when young, give birth to low birth weight babies who never catch up.

Interestingly, the National Family Health Survey – 3 (2005-06) that gave the latest data of anaemia in women also shows that while 56 per cent women were found anaemic, only 24 per cent men had the same problem. Clearly, there is a gender dimension even to anaemia. Also, 47 per cent of girls in the age group 15-19 years are anaemic. Furthermore, 59 per cent of all pregnant women in India are anaemic.

These might seem like a set of numbers. But translate that the next time you read about children dying in a village, or even in a slum in your city. Last month, people in Mumbai woke up to the rude reality that living in a fast-moving metropolitan city in India does not mean that poor children have better chances of survival. The story of 15-month-old Sahil Salim from the Shivaji Nagar slum in Govandi, who weighed just 9 kg and died from “fever and cold”, was a stark illustration of how hunger haunts the poor in city and village. Indeed, although the rate of malnutrition in children in urban areas is better than in rural areas, it is still unacceptable — 32 per cent or one in three children.

This is not the India we like to think about. Yet the numbers tell us that this is the India in which half of our women are anaemic, where just under half of our children have diminished chances of survival.

What do we do to change this? The government has to make this a priority and look again at programmes like the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) that was designed to deal with this issue.

But we need more than that. The media has run campaigns to save the tiger. That is a valiant campaign. I would suggest that India's children are also endangered. That they too need an active campaign by media, schools, colleges, politicians, corporates, anyone who cares, to see that we break this circle of poverty and hunger.

Email the writer:

Source: The Hindu : Magazine / Columns : Saving India's children

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Social duty first for Pune youth

What does it take to quit a well-paying corporate job and do nothing but teach children for two years? Just a firm belief that education can genuinely make a difference!

City professionals are increasingly taking a break from their jobs to impart quality education to children from low-income communities by being a part of various NGOs. Divesh Kumar, an engineering graduate from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, is a fellow with Teach for India (TFI) initiative and is teaching at a municipal school in the city.

It was not a one-day decision for him to join this movement. In college, he was working with an NGO called Dream a Dream which focuses on developing life skills through its plethora of after-school programmes.

“I wanted to be a part of the current education system and eliminate inequity. Just after completing my engineering, I joined the Teach for India fellowship. There was a month-long initial rigorous training where one is not only exposed to the idea of teaching but also to the current education system,” says Kumar.

Chaitali Sheth, city director, Teach for India, says, this nationwide education model has been a success because the youth today are socially-inclined. “These young professionals have a strong passion and they are working within the system to make that change. This is just like another freedom movement and TFI is the first step towards eliminating the inequity in education,” she says.

Ishpreet Bhatia, 28, who was working as a project lead with Infosys for five-and-a-half years, decided to seek satisfaction through teaching. Soon after completing her engineering in IT from Bharati Vidyapeeth College in 2004 she joined Infosys. After working in Pune for the first two years, she moved to Atlanta in the US and worked there for three years. “My life had become stagnant. I had two things on my mind—one was higher studies and the other was working in the social sector. I was more curious to know about the current education sector and wanted to be a part of the education system at the grass-root level,” says Ishpreet.

So it did not take much thought before she decided to join the TFI programme. “When I joined TFI, I used to think it’s no big deal but when we actually got into the technicalities of teaching, it was not easy. You have to not only make lesson plans but also need to understand the children’s psychology, what background they come from and what their parents think.”

There is a spark on every fellow’s face and all have come out of their comfort zones to be a part of this movement. Archana Bhat, who worked with Axis Bank before joining this movement and is now a TFI fellow says, “There is so much satisfaction in working for the children and giving them the opportunities to learn. We need to think and plan strategies and continuously aim at improving their performance.”

A brush with the education sector has turned many of these youngsters into believers. Kumar for instance sums it up by saying, “After my experience in teaching, I would love to continue working in the social sector—it is a powerful tool of change. It could be anything, if not just teaching.”

Source :

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Try thinking young to stave off ailments of old age

Those who think and dress in a youthful manner are healthier than those who act their age, researchers at Harvard have claimed. Mind over matter, it seems, can improve everything from blood pressure to arthritis and eyesight.

Even the development of heart disease and cancer may, at least to a degree, be staved off by refusing to grow old gracefully.

The intriguing claims come from researchers at Harvard University, who reviewed a series of studies into how the mind influences the body, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

Read More:
Try thinking young to stave off ailments of old age: Wonder Woman - Who are you today?

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.