What kinds of partnerships have you developed to make this course possible?
For execution of the social projects we have developed partnerships with several local-level government agencies, and a number of renowned national-level NGOs, such as Agewell Foundation, AROH Foundation, Asha Deep Foundation, Empowering Minds, Lakshyam, Project KHEL, Social and Development Research and Action Group (SADRAG), Smile Foundation, Sshrishti India Trust, Teach For India, and Udayan Care.
Our model brings business, government and the civil society all together. In various cases our students are working as part of programmes run by our NGO partners wherein an NGO is working as an ‘implementation agency’ for the CSR initiatives of some big Indian or multi-national companies. As you may be aware that India is the first country to introduce a ‘mandatory’ CSR provision in the Companies Act 2013, according to which big corporates are ‘obliged’ to spend certain portions of their net profit on CSR.
Our students have been involved in contributing towards certain flagship initiatives of the Government of India including (i) Swachh Bharat Mission (for anti-open-defecation campaign); and (ii) Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana which has the dual objectives of adding diversity to the incomes of rural poor families and cater to the career aspirations of rural youth. In collaboration with the local-level government agencies our students are working with government schools as well as Missing Children’s Homes situated in Ghaziabad.
What have been some of the challenges?
There have been many challenges, given that we are doing it for the first time. We are learning as we are developing the programme. First the programme involves a large batch of students, around 450, working on the ground and the programme had to be implemnented within a couple of months! But we have been able to convert that challenge into an opportunity, because it allowed us to work at scale and on diverse areas, with potential for greater impact. I have had intellectual and moral support in the development and delivery of the course from Dr Anurag Danda my colleague in the Initiative,. Our director and dean-academics, Dr Ravikesh Srivastava have extended whole-hearted support to the programme. Above all, we could not traverse the hurdles without constant support from my students, particularly Ayush Gupta and Udit Mathur who have been relentlessly working with me to make it happen!
Another challenge is physical safety and security of students, particularly girls. It has been a major cause of concern and demanded a no-compromise approach as and when students shared their concerns and worries.
It is gratifying to share that we have been able to conceive this unique model and bring it to fruition for the entire batch within a very short span of time. It is also delighting to see the impact that we can have and the extent of interest there is among the stakeholders to work with our students. In September 2016, I met with the local municipal commissioner of Ghaziabad to collect a list of slum areas in Ghaziabad where or students could work. When he got to know about our initiative, he proposed that our students could work with the Municipality to perform street plays (‘nukkad natak’ in Hindi) to generate awareness on harmful effects of open defecation on the opening day of the Swachh Bharat Week that was scheduled just two days from then. We brought together a group of 16 students who managed to stage it in slum areas of Ghaziabad with just few hours of preparation. People in the slum areas shared their concerns and plight to such an extent that these students came back motivated to do their bit for these under-privileged. One of our students created a video of that day (click here to view the link).
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
We are being contacted by other leading intiatituions in India who are interested in our programme and the lessons that they can learn from it, especially in terms of pedagogy which is very gratifying! Some advice I give them is;
- Have someone lead the initiative who believes in it and is passionate about it. Otherwise it’s very difficult to make it happen!
- Be clear about your objectives and deliverables.
- If you decide to work with partners then choose your partners and corresponding projects in such a way that these are in alignment with your objectives.
- Have your well-thought-out implementation plan in place well in advance. That said, when you are going out of the secured corner of your classroom and trying to work at the grass-roots, things may not go the way you plan as you will not have control over most of the external factors. So, be prepared to deal with unforeseen challenges and unexpected contingencies which may crop up out of the blue moon.
What’s next for the initiative?
The initiative is mid-way. Our first goal is to bring it to its conclusion to the best of our ability. We are also collecting in-depth feedback from students and all our stakeholders. The endeavour will be to take it to its next level in the next academic year by learning from the rich experiences we are already gathering in its maiden year. We are also in the process of including it in other programmes. For instance, we have just now introduced SSR in the curriculum of our Executive Programme. However, rather than replicating the model of the Two-Year Programme, we are trying to come-up with a tailor-made model to suit the architecture, timeline, deliverables and participants of that programme, as one size may not fit all!