Engaging the young

Article Source : Livemint

Date of Issue : 3rd October, 2015

Title of Article : Engaging the young

Details :
Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India. I have been in the development sector (funny how the word “development” can hold such wide meaning) for three months or so. I have some initial observations about the people in it which I thought you may find interesting.The first thing is that it makes me optimistic about India. That is saying something because, as readers of this paper will know, I have long held a very negative (some would say prejudiced and overly cruel) view of this country’s inhabitants. This is being eroded, gently, by my immersion into this habitat of the very civilized.

The second thing is that it is shot through with very qualified people. It is a sector akin to banking in that sense. It is not unusual to have people from the Indian Institutes of Technology and National Law School and the School of Oriental and African Studies and such places. By my estimate, I am the least qualified person in the Amnesty India office and I am not being modest.The third thing is the salaries. How shall I describe the state? In some organizations, it is better than others and in many, including my own, quite good (some colleagues will disagree). But there are others in the space who works for little or no money at all.

Heroines and heroes to me. People who are committed, passionate in the right sense of the word and highly motivated in the face of hardship, and yet almost always cheerful. The fourth thing, and this ties in with the two above, is that the development sector has very bright young people. I was editing a newspaper at 25 and was made editor-in-chief (a grandiose, meaningless title but indicating that I oversaw newspapers in three languages) at 30. So I know a thing or two about working with super bright young people. This is different. It will take you back, I guarantee it.

The fifth thing is the preponderance of desis in the international aspects of this work. Amnesty International’s secretary general working out of London is an Indian passport holder (Salil Shetty, an Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad/London School of Economics man and, more importantly, a Bengalurean), who is one of the great reformers of the sector. Greenpeace worldwide is run by Kumi Naidoo, an African of Indian origin. People we should be very proud of.

The sixth thing is the egalitarianism of the space. Like journalists, we are all on first names. At Amnesty India we have hot desking, meaning no fixed spaces to sit (including for the executive director) and those who come in early can take whatever seat they want. Meetings are less top-down and more involved than in the corporate world.The seventh thing is diversity. Most important is gender diversity (no matter what caste and class one is from, if one is a woman, one is disadvantaged in the face of prejudice). But also in other spaces.

We have begun affirmative action for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and the disabled, and nothing stops the corporate world from doing this.The eighth thing is processes. They seem almost sacred. For someone who has run things as a tyrant for so many years, and my former colleagues will please forgive me for this, it is something of an education. The ninth thing is the issues that we work on. These are the things that are left to the state in India because we have no capacity and little interest in Afspa, or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and violence against Dalits and Muslims and in gender and sexuality and manual scavenging and such things. This is stuff Indians expect the government to take care of. It cannot and will not. It is civil society (a wonderful and accurate phrase holding two meanings) that must step in.

That brings me to the last thing. Which is that these wonderful young people do this work because they love their country and, more particularly, its people. It hurts me to see the asinine manner in which their work is dismissed, without real assessment, as being against India.Enough writing for now. To the barricades.

The changing face of fund-raising Puja Marwaha, chief executive officer, Child Rights and You (CRY) Puja Marwaha.“When we make sure every child goes to school, the India of our dreams will truly become a reality.” “Changing the lives of children is a continuous process. Nothing can be done in a limited period. As individuals, we have to continue to give support by way of financial help, time as well as other resources.”These are simply the voices of our committed donors, the ones who understand why giving is important. India’s tryst with philanthropy began primarily within the individual giving space and was largely concentrated within personal networks.

It was a matter of trust. We supported people whose commitments we trusted, especially if they were about our immediate community concerns. The late 1970s and early 1980s altered the philanthropy arena quite a bit, with the starting of both Indian organizations like Child Rights and You (CRY) and international organizations like Unicef and HelpAge. There were new avenues for giving and there was a realization that much larger social issues could be tackled at the national level. The scope and spread of working towards change had just broadened.

As change-makers and individuals working to create a sustainable impact in tackling issues of poverty, illiteracy, global warming, etc., we realize that organizations too have evolved over the years. Our ways of enlisting help from people interested in seeing change in the lives of the lesser advantaged have evolved too.A case in point is CRY’s journey from being the organization that raised funds with the humble greeting card retailed atRs.3, to making that leap towards raising funds to support grass-roots-level organizations that want to do great work for children.

We learnt how to value our donors and understood how to communicate to them the impact that their funds had brought about. We also walked the tightrope of making the right investments required for fund-raising. The focus on being professional certainly worked. From an organization that relied largely on face-to-face fund-raising and snail mail, we made that jump to looking at other ways to reach out to more and more people and enlisting their support. Any change fosters growth, and that’s exactly what happened.

Technology had a role to play. We knew that to be heard and seen and to be viable, we needed to cater to the altered younger demography in their language, in the medium that they were conversant with. Younger minds wanted to see change, they were in fact participating in creating social change in their own unique ways and we had to make them understand what we were about. It was about getting them on board to understand that there is a race against time to change the childhood of millions of out-of-school children, children engaged in labour when they are supposed to be studying, children who don’t have access to adequate healthcare, who are at potential risk of abuse and exploitation. It was about adapting to the brave new world in an increasingly changed environment that had veered towards enhanced personalized engagement.

Today, we understand that the donors of tomorrow indeed are committed to creating change and want to be involved in understanding the actual impact of their support. Peer influences are important, especially among the youth. Social media, digital engagement and convenient payment technologies have a considerable role to play. Individual giving will span a wide range of supporters, from impulse-driven donors to committed high-frequency donors, to high net-worth donors who bring, along with funds, strategy and definitive thinking on how to address pertinent issues.

In the end, both giving and raising funds for a not-for-profit is all about having that collective shared belief that change is possible. To me, whether it is the little old lady who year after year walked into the CRY office in Mumbai to share her precious Rs.240 with us for children or the tech-savvy young corporate executive who wants to share his many thousand rupees, it is the spirit of giving and taking action for others that triumphs.