CSIM's workshop: An analysis continued…

30th May 2009
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In the first of the two-part analysis of CSIM’s Workshop on Empowering the underprivileged through Innovations, I analyzed the pre-lunch session of  presentations – Harsh Bhargava, professor from ICFAI Business School, on Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, Karuna Gopal, president of Foundation for Future Cities, on scope for innovation for urban poor, and A. Ravishankar, Center for good governance, on sustaining a social initiative. In the second and concluding part of the analysis, I will outline the proceedings on the post-lunch session and draw my conclusion on what the workshop offered to the audience, comment on the success in achieving its purpose and some suggestions for improvement.

Partners and NGOs talk

Immediately preceeding and succeeding the lunch were presentations by event partners Dr. Reddy’s foundation and Rotary International. The audience also had the benefit of getting to know about lesser known but very effective NGOs like Make A Difference, an organization working on basic education for orphans, Institute for Remedial Intervention Services (presentation on autism), and a student-initiated organization called JustChange dedicated connecting well funded educational institutions (like colleges) to educating local poor children. During the tea and lunch breaks the audience were shown visuals of event-partners Rang De, an organization facilitating peer-to-peer social investing and  Make A Difference, who also set up a stall at the lobby.

Post-lunch: Mainstream presentations

The post-lunch session was dominated by presentations directed at various aspects of rural intervention. TLS Bhasker of Byrraju Foundation highlighted their initiative named Project Chetana, which aimed at spreading rural social awareness by means of audio-visuals. B. Ravishankar of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) talked about their various initiatives that involve the beneficiaries as stakeholders, in the areas such as Self-Help Groups, micro-lending, food security, maternal health etc. Following this, Sridhar Muppidi of Education for free, presented his organization’s pilot based on the unique idea of using video-conferencing to connect urban teachers to rural students. In his presentation he observed that their pilot program of virtual classroom is technically feasible with infrastructure support from partners. But they have not yet started assessing the impact of their teaching model on the students.

How did the post-lunch session go?

Though the presentations by Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, Byrraju Foundation and SERP provided very good insights about their respective organizations and their initiatives, the primary objectives of the workshop – “to inform” how the audience can participate in such initiatives “to empower” them with ideas of innovation if they were to start-off on their own – were not adequately touched on. For example, one thing common to all these presenters is that most of them are the products of urban education system who are using urban infrastructure to address rural problems. Had they focussed their presentations on exploring ways of making the urban infrastructure work for rural development, it would have made the workshop truly unique.

Even Sridhar’s presentation, though insightful, failed to adequately address the objective of the workshop. Education for free is laudable initiative, again, because it uses cutting-edge technology for the improvement of rural education. But, given that he is a techie-cum-social-entrepreneur, I would have welcomed his observations on unexplored avenues in using technology to address social issues and inadequacies and the scope for common man to participate.

In general, the afternoon’s proceedings fell short of achieving its true potential, given that the presentors were experts in a field (bridging rural-urban divide) not very well understood by the common urban populace.

Summarizing the day

I aim to assess the possible impact of the workshop on an open-minded novice to social development and innovation. The workshop introduced a lot of organizations and their initiatives to the attendees that they would not have come across otherwise. For an audience that views social development as an act of good will, it convincingly presented social entrepreneurship as a more sustainable approach. The workshop also took a stab at presenting innovation as a driver of social change. But this idea was not sustained throughout the day. For example, Harsh Bhargava provided examples of organizations for which innovation ensured sustainance. But the other presentations didn’t explicitly emphasize the difference made by innovation in their own initiatives. So, only the perceptive few could have realized the importance of innovation in social initiatives.

Food for thought for CSIM

Considering that this was organized for the first time by students who didn’t know of one another six-months ago, the event was organized well with little inconvenience to the attendees. Since CSIM is planning to conduct the workshop on a regular basis, they should evolve metrics and parameters which would help them assess the value the conference added. For example, they may track the number of people who signed up as volunteers in an NGO present in the conference. A simple survey of audience’s take-home from the conference would give a lot of insight.

Conclusion

Finally, the workshop was a moderate success taken as an individual event. But repeating and tweeking this workshop to making it a more interactive platform, where people can make friends and forge partnerships should bring the day closer when the various social institutions empower the underprivileged not only through innovation, but also through co-ordinated effort and well-optimized processes.

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