CSIM’s Workshop on Empowering the underprivileged through Innovations: An analysis
I have attended the first workshop conducted by the students of CSIM Hyderabad under the title “Empowering the underprivileged through innovations” that was previewed in my earlier post. The workshop’s purpose is to
..”Develop” the social consciousness among people, which can “Inform” those in need of answers and which can “Empower” those in need of support for their ideas. “
The day was broken down into two sessions of four presentations by invited speakers on either side of lunch.
An Academician-cum-environmentalist’s view on innovation and social enterpreneurship
Proceedings in the morning session was kicked off by Harsh Bhargav from ICFAI Business School. His presentation introduced the idea of innovation especially in the context of social entrepreneurship. He succinctly emphasized that innovation is involves thinking (up a good idea), doing (to realize the idea) and sustaining. He provided real-life examples of successes due to innovation.
Few mentionable ones:
- An innovative, sustained fund-raising initiative by collecting and selling newspaper by Hyderabad Council of Human Welfare
- The Bicycle Project that collects, refurbishes and donates bicycles to rural children that resulted in improved school attendance.
More importantly, he also provided an example of an great, but un-sustained project reducing noise and sulphur pollution during Diwali, in which a school in Delhi initiated a student movement to discourage the community from bursting crackers, which brought down pollution levels from 50% to 24% (number unverified and quoted as presented). But as the core group moved out from the school, the project disintegrated due to lack of effective follow-up leadership.
Shifting his focus briefly to social entrepreneurship, he urged the audience to take a different view of social entrepreneurship as a “non-loss organization” as against “non-profit organization” to re-emphasize that money has to be made to a certain level to ensure sustainability.
His presentation was a good way to start of the workshop as it nudged the audience to re-think the basic tools of empowering the underprivileged – social entrepreneurship and innovation.
An visionary’s thinks aloud on empowering urban poor
Following his presentation, Karuna Gopal,President of Foundation for Futuristic Cities, gave an off-handed talk sans presentation slides. In her talk she ventured to provide pointers on scope for innovations that would help the improvement in urban poor’s quality of life and urged aspiring social entrepreneurs to consider them as a project idea.
A few compelling points :
- While there is transformational research in academic institutions, like Rs.500/- laptop in IIT Chennai, the focus on incremental research and development that would ease the life of urban poor is lacking (the example she quoted was “..we see a lot of suit-cases on wheels in airports. Why not have buckets with wheels that would reduce the burden of carrying water over long distance?)
- In the information dissemination space, she pointed out that the technology that enables improved communication systems that allows us conferencing from across the globe hasn’t adapted to help avoid losses like diarrhea-related child mortality which needs nothing more than the knowledge of oral re-hydration solution (sugar-salt-solution)
- In statistics and survey, she pointed out that arriving at a commonly acceptable estimate the population of urban poor is an important area of intervention, as agencies associated with poverty alleviation like the government and the world bank have independent and often varying estimates to arrive at budget allocations.
- Education, she mentioned plays a key role in the empowerment of the urban poor. She mentioned for example, that a person working in house-keeping during the day can also be a driver in the evening, to drive home the point that educators for the poor and employers should focus on how best to educate or employ the “conventionally uneducated” so what “she can be multiple employees rolled into one”.
Fundamentally, Karuna Gopal hoped to provide general areas of intervention that needs urgent attention for the bettement of the urban poor. I found that a few of her “for the future suggestions” are already implemented. Her example of “buckets with wheels” already has a solution in the form of Rollable water container. But the fact that such empowering innovations are not widely available for use, only makes her point even more relevant.
An entrepreneur’s take on sustaining a social initiative
Following her talk, A. Ravishankar of Center for Good Governance, used his experience in designing and implementing a project called e-safal to earn better livelihood for cotton farmers, to provide a “to-do” list to run a successful social initiative. The most important aspects of which are
- Research your focus vigourously to understand the current status
- Start small and the scale
- Form a process to remove ambiguity in execution
- Create a model and perform a Social Return on Investment testing
- Actively involve stakeholders and have an exit strategy right from inception to achieve sustainability
How the day went so far?
With this the mainstream presentations for the morning session came to a conclusion. In my opinion, the morning session was a resounding success in terms of quality. The presenters were from varied background like education, social development, business entrepreneur-turned-social entrepreneur. More importantly all the speakers very closely stuck to the objective of the workshop – to kindle the audience to generate ideas, inspire them to intervene and empower them with information of existing means to do so! On the downside though, the attendance was close to a hundred people, a considerable percentage of which are associates of CSIM. This probably gives some inputs to the organizers on reviewing their propaganda strategy.
In my next post, 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 for its second phase.