Remembering Rippan as always on what would have been his 64th birthday….
Every year I sit down to write about Rippan on his birthday and I know if he could reach me, he would yell at me to stop wasting my time and get on with what I have to do. He was like that. Hated talking about himself. Never let people know that he founded CRY. Always referred to the founders as ‘they’. And once when the Rotary wanted to give him an award, he agreed to go only if they gave the award to CRY and he picked it up on our behalf! It’s what allowed CRY to not just survive his premature death, but grow, change and thrive.
Thankfully he cannot reach me and I can write my little Rippan note in peace. Though honestly even if he could I would not listen. Because I believe his is a story that must be told. Shouted from the rooftops and celebrated with every possible award. Because Rippan’s is truly the story of one man’s pure courage, heart, passion, conviction and commitment to creating a movement and mobilising people, that would fundamentally transform the way we responded to children and giving in India.
Today national and international NGOs across the country, raise resources in India. In 1979, India was an ‘underdeveloped’ ‘poor’ ‘beneficiary of foreign funds’ country. It was unthinkable that we could raise money in India. There was no liberalisation, few multinationals and rare millionaires let alone billionaires.
Into that world came a 25 year old airline purser with an unshakable conviction that Indian children were an Indian responsibility and that the resources and people existed. They simply needed to be asked. And he did that powerfully. Astonishing people who said yes to this unknown frail young man who had come and made quite an outrageous ask.
Like Mr K.L. Bhargava who ran the finest printing press in India. He agreed to print 3000 cards without a rupee in advance. Unthinkable in that business. He had never met Rippan before this, but had said yes in response to a simply clear and sincere ask! Rippan taught us how to ask for and receive money with grace and boldness and conviction.
At a time when the social work scenario was dominated by either activists in the field or by affluent men and women in cities who did charity, here came a fledgling volunteer group led by Rippan talking of building a professionally run organisation that would uphold the highest standards of accountability, transparency and profitability, while ensuring large scale impact. All to serve the best interests of the child. And the professionals came. For salaries ranging from Rs 2000-3500 p.m! From the Tatas, P&G, HDFC, SRF, ITC….all discovering new potential, passion and a place to use their vast corporate and management experience that could make a real difference. This was 1989. Before social entrepreneurship, philanthropy and impact investing. Today the development sector both in India and internationally is full of people who grew up in what I call the ‘CRY school of social work and management’! People who discovered their calling in CRY and have gone on to do seminal work across the globe.
At a time when the norm in the social sector was to accept the evils of child labour and look at everything from the lens of ‘but India is a poor country and cannot….’, came this slowly evolving organisation that funded individuals and groups who were passionately committed to transforming the lives of children. So pioneers like Shantha Sinha for the eradication of child labour, Andal Damodaran, Gloria D’Souza, the Kurriens of CLR, innovators in education were all supported and funded by CRY with minimum fuss. Awards have poured in for them and their extraordinary work. But not for Rippan.
I know he would be fine with that. His approach was simple, “What I can do I must do”. His allegiance utterly clear, ” CRY is my home, family and life.” But his heart always and forever belonged to children. Just an hour or so before he died, he told one of his oldest and dearest colleagues when she asked him how he was feeling, ” I can see the faces of smiling children outside my window.” I cannot think of a better way to leave the planet.
As for me I will keep telling his story over and over and to as many people as will listen. So that a new generation of system transformers will have real heroes and role models to learn from. And that regular folk will recognise that within each one of us, no matter who we are or what we do (remember he was an airline purser), lies Rippanesque potential waiting to be born.
By Pervin Varma (Trustee, CRY)