Monday, March 25, 2013

What Happened at TechCamp Mumbai Feb 2013

What is a TechCamp ?  you may be asking .. A Techcamp is a forum where technologists come together with representatives/SME's [subject matter experts] from Non Government organizations from around the world to participate in  2 days of interactive sessions, participatory workshops on how technology can be an enabler , catalyze social change and more specifically help these NGO's to do their job better through expanding their reach.

The Program is part of a global effort called civil society 2.0 launched by Hillary Clinton and is guided by the US state department . After similar programs in Honduras , Kiev among other cities it was finally the time for Mumbai to host such event for the whole of south asia with attendance from Maldives , Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and so on . it was fascinating to see such diversity among the participants united in their efforts to advance the discourse on technology for social action. 

The trainers come from various organizations/ Foundations behind technology for social change like Frontlinesms , Ushahidi , OpenStreetMap and so on .  

Speed Geeking :

The day started with an awesome session of Speed Geeking where over 100 participants spent 5 minutes at every table hosted by a Tech Trainer and they rotate. in a period of 60 minutes the participants get to learn about 12 different technologies by spending 5 minutes in each table getting a taste of each . As a speaker with a table I get to meet a different group every 5 min and have to share /pitch the impact of Ushahidi. This exercise can be quite exhausting considering the fact that the environment will be highly chaotic , lots of sound thus important to keep the energy levels up. It was the first time I did this so was different but fun !!

Deep Dive Sessions :

This session was followed a 90 minute deep dive session of each of the technology and I had the opportunity to showcase Ushahidi and talk about it impact as a platform for social change in election monitoring , disaster risk and environmental mapping.The After noon sessions included facilitation of workshops around Problems that can be solved with Ushahidi . Its been an awesome experience interacting with so many participants , sharing and listening to stories from all over South Asia on social change through technology . Trying to find opportunities to where Ushahidi Could make maximum impact through understanding various needs on the ground was the highlight of the day .

Brainstorming Sessions :

The second day included brainstorming sessions with interested participants about the problems that they think could be solved with the Ushahidi platform , the session involved gaining a better understanding of the workings of the non profit orgs in their field of action , there was a lot of listening to be done here to understand context , impact and the ground level reality under which they operate. I had the honor of facilitating this discussion with Mikel Maron of the Ground Truth initiative . This exercise generated so much learning that would be hard to describe here , it did have a profound impact on my belief on the impact of technology on social action and sustainable development .

The two days went pretty fast , personally for me the biggest takeaway was the learning that was generated by the meeting of  so many awesome people from so many countries doing great work , I should add that when such meeting of minds do happen there is a release of an energy that manifests in sustainable action , this energy and learning when harnessed and exploited with coherence results in development of community/nation/world which is the ultimate goal of technology.

More on TechCamp Mumbai at:

TechCamp Mumbai Outcomes

Follow U.S. State Department led TechCamps at:techcampglobal.orgFacebook: TechCampGlobalTwitter: @TechCampGlobal

Friday, March 22, 2013

What happened at the Jagriti Yatra Jan 2013

A Journey of a 1000 Miles starts with a single Train...

Reflecting on what happened during a travel trip is pretty much like looking into a mirror , except that the person you see need not necessarily be you and the circumstances is obviously different . Doing this exercise can generate some profound insights about ourselves and more importantly about the world around us...

With that introduction let me know try recalling some of the experiences / learning's / stories had during an adventure called the Jagriti Yatra which literally means "Journey of Awakening" , I am not exactly sure it I was awakened btw .. So The Jagriti Yatra is a Train Trip Organized once a year where thousands of young Indian's apply to make a journey around India in 8000 km's over 15 days visiting 12 Role model social change organizations in different verticals of energy, health care, education, tribal welfare, Technology etc on a single train , 450 participants are selected along with 10 % from foreign countries. The Vision  shared by the organizers was that growth of the nation should be led by enterprise development thus the journey  takes the 450 youth around the country to be inspired to start their own ventures. Personally I felt it was like a 15 day university that assembles together on a train where the learning is experiential and the exploration is field based  [not case based like the conventional education system] , also the context/purpose being development of the Nation was interesting as these days education is seen as a tool of self development/ self growth. So there it was  : 8000 km's , 450 people , 15 days , 12 Places ,  1 Train . On a side note I was chosen as a facilitator which I thought was interesting , I would have my own group with whom we would learn together/travel and reflect.

We started off in Mumbai after a facilitator training and a session with the Mumbai Dabbawalas who are a co-operative business society that provides a service of delivering home cooked meals to the office workers in the city of Mumbai ,They service millions of customer in a single day with close to zero defect. what is really fabulous about them is that they are six sigma compliant . There were a lots of insights shared by the founder of the Jagriti Yatra which is Shashank Maani ,One thing that stuck with me was that the Journey washes away all the negativity and cynicism that we pickup over the years through exposure to media. 

Day 1 : Kalkeri, Darwad District

We started to travel southwards and the first stop was Kalkeri , a village in Dharwad district  , we were hosted by the Kalkeri Sangeet vidhyalaya , a Music school for under privileged children . There were several startling observances in the place itself :

The First being that it was Permaculture based  which itself was awesome , then the whole campus which was around 8 acres of land was off the grid i.e. it generated its own power through a sophisticated setup of solar panels and thus achieving sustainability through adjusting life styles.  The director of the academy Adam Woodward was very friendly and talked about various things to do with rural socio economic development. I took time to walk around the place and discover by myself and it was an amazing experience . Every building was built with Mud and had a thatched roof that housed students/facilities. 

I found the facilities to be modern but also to be a conscious sustainability effort . Some bunch of guys from the Solar service provide Selco had turned up to showcase various solar products [marketing] and we got to know about the opportunities in the Energy sector. on the whole it was liberating to go to a village after a long time to escape from the mask of the city, to breath pure air and walk among humble people. 

Day 2: Bangalore, Karnataka

Here we were in the vast sprawling campus of Infosys after a nights journey, one of the Indian Behemoths in software services , We were brought into their fancy convention hall and made to listen to a talk on entrepreneurship by some middle manager , it was pretty boring and I don't want to elaborate much on it as the memory has clearly faded beyond recollection or repair .

Day 3 : Madurai Tamil Nadu 

The Train traveled further southwards to the Holy city of Madurai were we had a packed schedule of visiting Arvind Eye Hospitals , we were hosted at their premises where they presented what they perceive about what they do , everything did look good on the power point presentation , different groups were then ferried to the various different operations of Arvind Hospitals,  I chose to go to the Auro Labs where they train High school girls to manufacture Introcular lenses that get exported to Latin America and other countries. The whole point of this exercise could have been to expose us the health care opportunities in India but some how I wasn't inspired here.

Day 4 : Chennai , Tamil Nadu

It was pouring rain and we took a bus to a village on the outskirts of Chennai , The Role Model for visit here was Mr.Ilango who was the Sarpanch [Village Chief] who had transformed his village which was once an alcoholic village where most men would Drink and beat up their wives into a model village for co habitation between different communities .Here was an educated man who could inspire the young audience with anecdotes, stories that were so personal. Being a Dalit himself he talked about overcoming challenges of the country, society , of oneself.

Day 5: Vishakapatnam , Andhra Pradesh

We arrived here and were hosted by the Naandi Foundation which works in the area of Food  Justice and distribution , in the evening we went to the India Eastern Navy dockyard and were hosted on the INS Shivalik , a Nuclear capable War Ship of the Indian Navy. Visiting the INS shivalik and getting a tour of the inside was certainly the highlight of the day , we came back after along tiring day to rest for the night while the train inched towards up north.

Day 6: Behrampur , Orissa 

We arrived a bit late to the campus of Gram Vikas , an NGO that works in the field of Tribal welfare and village sanitation . There was an initial presentation by Mr.Joe Madiath on the history of the Organization and the work they do which I found a bit fascinating . Gram VIkas which literally means "Village Development" has managed to created 100 % sanitation friendly villages by working together with the tribal villages , They have also installed 24 hour water supply in these villages by working with the villagers.  We went around the villages and saw clean hygienic surroundings that don't exist in modern cities where we dwell.

I was inspired to see action on the field which was beyond words spoken , empowering the locals by involving them in their development process was enlightening , the ability to see the tribal villagers as partners rather than recipients was exemplary . 

Day 8,9 : Deoria, U.P

The Only time we had to do an overnight stay was at a village called Deoria in Uttar Pradesh which happens to be one of the most populous and backward corrupt states of India. This was also the place where we were divided into groups and asked to develop business plans for potential local social enterprises. Each group was given time of a day to understand the context/ reality of the village/residents by interacting with them. I definitely felt that it was a remarkable exercise to get to know the conditions of Indian Villages but I am skeptical on how much you can understand in one day considering the world view/cultural conditioning of the travelers and their ability to see the reality of the conditions around them. To be frank lots of the travelers were tourists thus they saw themselves as outsiders trying to help the "Locals" , this is an outdated paradigm that needs to change.

Day 11 : New Delhi

Delhi was cold and smoggy , we first visited the IIT Delhi Campus for a Panel discussion with Sam Pitroda on the opportunities in technology when India becomes a country with a connected Billion. I should say that it was a profound lecture and quite informing. Sam Pitroda is the adviser to the Prime Minister and spoke about the challenges that young people need to solve. The next stop was a visit to a non profit called Goonj that recycles clothes and distributes to the economically under privileged in urban areas. The Founders story was remarkable. Anshu Gupta who started of as a Journalist once on the roads of Delhi saw a rickshaw with a label saying "Picks up Abandoned Bodies" , after following the rickshaw and tracking the house of the driver, he got to interview the driver who lived with his daughter in a very tiny shack. The Driver would pick up dead bodies lying around Delhi and give it to the general hospital who would pay him per body . Delhi has extreme weather conditions with many dying in summer when the temperatures go through the roof to hit 55 degrees and winter drops to negative degrees . In Both cases it is the poor who are the most effected and they die because of lack of proper clothing.

Anshu Gupta asked the small girl on how she keeps herself warm during the cold winters and she replied that when Daddy brings the dead bodies everyday and keeps them in the corner of the house to deliver to the hospital next day, she would go and sleep amidst the bodies  and it would make her warm. This story was quite shocking as it spoke about a reality in India that lots of youth haven't experienced. it was a story of poverty, a story of hunger, a story of Death. 

The Journey continued for another few days of travelling to Tilonia in Rajasthan where we visited the Barefoot college that has pioneered a new model of education and empowerment, it was a fascinating experience as it was a village that was so different from the ones we had witness until then. We listened to a lecture from the founders , got to go around their campus and then did some shopping at the village bazaar .

 We proceeded to Ahmedabad where we visited the Sabarmati Ashram of Mahathma Gandhi and then concluding with a valedictory function.Thus the 15 days of travel included  learning through role model visits/ workshops / Panel Discussion and so on. My favorite session on train was the one on making Visual Notes , the How of organizing information through pictures and symbols. I will let the pictures talk about our Journey north with out elaborating much on it . it was pretty rough and as an Indian who was never traveled in North India , it was Mind altering.

My Biggest take away was that doing such an extended trip by yourself is really hard and the logistics for the whole trip was managed phenomenally well .  It was so great to meet so many young people with so much talent from different parts of the country and also from around the world , some one happened to be a Organic farmer from Ghana to an ex US marine who served in Iraq . On the whole it was like a 15 day university that generated so much learning and friendships .