Development Dialogue – An Experience
7-8th Feb, 2015, Hubli
When I boarded the Volvo to Hubli (my first sleeper Volvo ride, that too all alone), I was indeed a little apprehensive. More so at what awaited me at the end of the ride. I was visiting the Development Dialogue, a mammoth 2 day event with speakers like Kailash Satyarthi and Narayana Murthy, an event that came with its own app to help navigate!
The day started with a warm welcome by Desh Deshpande (of the Deshpande Foundation) followed by the keynote from Nobel Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi. All through his hour long discourse, what struck me was the simplicity of what he was saying, things that we could all understand and relate to. I was not surprised when I saw a lady in the audience wiping off tear drops after a heart rendering story of how a mother had lost her eye-sight waiting for her son who was lost in child labor trafficking, how she recognized her son from a single touch even though it was after 5 years, how both of them cried for more than an hour after the reunion, and how touched was Mr. Satyarthi at being present there, and being able to make the mother and child meet. What struck me was that he did not emphasise facts, figures, statistics related to his work, he shared stories that touched all of us and inspired us. And he also mentioned that winning the Nobel Prize, in fact, has increased his responsibilities, that he is called from across the world to save children and that he seeks to save them all. It was not surprising that he got a standing ovation at the end of his highly inspirational keynote.
A. Succeeding to Proving & Proving to Scale
There were 4 discussions that took place in parallel and we were free to attend any. The one that I attended was on last mile in delivering health. The panellists included Shiban Ganju (Save a Mother), Aparna Hegde (ARMMAN), Sandeep Ahuja (Op-Asha), Sujay Santra (ikure) and Anjali Sastry (MIT) (moderator). The discussion showcased the importance of technology in scaling, Op-Asha uses technology for monitoring and implementation of health care using finger prints, ARMMAN uses mobile technology to send voice messages to pregnant mothers, ikure uses tablets to take medical services to rural areas. Another theme that came was the need for repetition in messaging. Save a Mother believes that the approach taken by religion in putting across messages can be replicated in health care and uses slogans and songs in local languages.
Two points came across very strongly, that to scale, programs need to be simple and that there is a need for collaboration between multiple stakeholders (community, government, other partner NGOs, corporate etc.)
B. Scaling by Proving
This session had a star line-up of speakers with Narayana Murthy (Infosys), Jeffrey Bradach (The Bridgespan Group) and Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa (The Akshaya Patra Foundation), moderated by Kasturi Rangan (HBS).
Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa shared the amazing story of how they have reached out to ~1.5 million children. He shared that the two levers that led them to grow was to have technology innovation done for their specific cause and needs (not getting limited to using generic options available in the market for their kitchen) and to have a professional team for marketing and fund raising. And it was inspiring to know that in spite to reaching the mammoth scale, they have an even bigger plan, a plan to appropriately innovate and reach rural children with their mid-day meals, a project ambitious in terms of number of kids to reach and distances that need to be covered to reach them!
Mr. Narayana Murthy shared his journey of scaling of Infosys. He mentioned that there were two things that were of prime importance when the time was ripe. Here I must mention an interesting fact that was mentioned by him, Infosys took 23 years to reach a billion dollars in revenue, 23 months to reach its next billion and just another 13 months for the 3rd billion! While in 1991, Infosys was presented with this immense opportunity, it took strong stance in two aspects, one, that it shall not compromise on quality in its growth quest and second, that everyone must have the same view of the internal parameters of the organization. While technology once again played a major role in the scaling, systems, methodologies and processes were built-up well in time.
C. Proving to Impact
This session tried to highlight organizations that are not only working with people at the margin but are also striving to mainstream them out of poverty towards prosperity. In the two sessions of 3 parallel discussions, there were leaders of more than 25 organizations. From the 2 sessions that I attended, one on building end-to-end value chain for rural artisans and the other on scaling social innovations, I met multiple social leaders.
Sumita Ghose of Rangasutra, Sreejith of Upaya Social Ventures, Siva Devi Reddy of Go-Coop and Neelam Maheshwari of Navodyami discussed and debated on what it meant for rural artisans to reach the market. There are craft side issues on design and inculcating a practice of ensuring timely delivery. There are issues in working capital financing. There are issues on reaching out to the customer be it B2B or B2C. It was clear that all these organizations had managed to reach their scale by tackling these issues.
The session on scaling up social innovations introduced us with 8 social leaders – Mainak Chakraborty of Greenpower systems, Ketan Deshpande of FUEL, C.P. Viswanth of Karadi Path, Devi Prasad Rao of Arohana Dairy, Shubhasis Pattnaik of Gram Vikas, Prema Gopalan of Swayam Sikshan Prayog and Shelly Saxena of Sevamob. What was striking was the diversity among these organizations.
a. Karadi Path is exploring a new method of teaching language by defocusing on teaching words and exploring the natural ways in which one acquires the mother tongue.
i. FUEL is looking to provide career information to rural students.
ii. Sevamob is providing primary healthcare delivery via mobile clinics.
iii. Green Power Systems is trying to solve urban waste problem by using waste to generate power using bio-reactors. The fact that the Akshaya Patra kitchen has implemented this system talks volumes of the multiplier of good that it can create in the society!
iv. Arohana is using dairy farming to empower people and is looking at the government as their final exit option.
v. Gram Vikas believes in a regional focus and scaling for them means going deeper into the community.
D. New Approaches to Philanthropy
Panellists Dilip Mody, Raju Reddy, John Harthorne and Karina LeBlanc spoke on the need to incubate social entrepreneurs and the role of the catalyst. While Raju Reddy and Dilip Modi have taken the sandbox (similar to Hubli Sandbox of Deshpande Foundation) to Kakatiya and Benares, Karina LeBlanc runs the sandbox in Canada. All of them agreed on the need for such a platform. What came up as critical was being patient as an incubator and not gunning for immediate result. John Harthorne of Mass Challenge shared his experience on incubating innovators. He mentioned that it was very important to ensure that one was creating value and not just capturing value. A larger pie will always have enough to meet needs of all stakeholders! They also shared that some of the qualities of the innovators was that they were patient, adaptive, flexible and disciplined.
E. Proving to Dreaming!
Anshu Gupta (Goonj), Ramji Raghavan (Agastya International Foundation), Atul Bhatnagar (NSDC) and Vinita Sethi (Ek Soch) shared their insight with the audience. The passion of these leaders was clearly reflected in their words. Anshu Gupta mentioned that over the course of his work, he has seen people in villages dry cow dung to sieve out grains to eat; he has seen that women have absolutely no clue of menstrual hygiene. All of these make him despise being called development personnel. He mentioned that development is moving people from 0 to 10 or 15 and a large part of the country is still below 0. Ramji Raghavan shared the need to instil curiosity among children. He also mentioned that the kids exposed to Agastya on being asked, mentioned that the greatest impact of Agastya was that they were no longer afraid to come up and speak! What I took from this highly inspirational session was how important it is to not lose sight of real ground realities and work relentlessly towards the dream.
F. Corporate Social Responsibility: Naming the big elephant
With the 2% CSR rule, there had to be a session on the ‘big elephant’! Deepa Reddy (Apollo Hospitals), Birger Stamperdahl (Give2Asia), Phanindra Sama (Ex-Red Bus), Deval Sanghavi (Dasra) discussed the implications of this rule to the sector. There was a general agreement on the fact that it is a welcome rule and presents immense opportunity for the sector. Ms Reddy presented the corporate view and the group agreed that from being the last 5 minutes of a board meeting, CSR will play a more central role for the corporate.
In conclusion, I must mention that the mix of people attending the event was amazing. In the many networking sessions, I met a wide plethora of people, a lady who had travelled from London just to attend the event, budding young entrepreneurs still testing their ideas and leaders of remarkable organizations. A large takeaway was also being able to meet these people and get a peek into the inspirational work that they are doing. Also, for anyone seeking to scout for NGOs, this is quite the perfect place!
Some other pictures: