BNHS: World Environment Day Special

June 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Environment, NGO Stories | Leave a comment

Mumbai’s famous winged visitor, the Lesser Flamingo, is threatened. So are several other species of birds. The number of endangered bird species has shot up to 154 in 2010 from 149 two years ago.

Guess who blows the wildlife whistle to alert the government and alarm people and conservationists? Well, if it is Mumbai then trust the over a century-old Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). This report is the latest of a study by BNHS with the international conservation body BirdLife International.

“Five new species worldwide have now entered the list of threatened birds including the great slaty woodpecker, black-chinned laughing thrush, great knot, grey bulbul and Japanese quail,” BNHS spokesperson Atul Sathe says.

“The great knot, which has been spotted in Maharashtra’s mudflats, was till recently a part of the least concerned list,” he says.

Research and conservation is a hallmark of BNHS with its projects spread across more than a dozen locations in India now.

BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society), a membership-driven organization, has been promoting the cause of a natural India for the past 126 years now.

Founded in 1883, by eight Mumbai citizens, of which two were Indians. The Society’s guiding principle has always been that conservation must be based on scientific research – a tradition exemplified by its legendary former president, late Dr Sálim Ali.

The Society’s Mission Statement “Conservation of Nature, primarily Biological Diversity, through Action based on Research, Education and Public Awareness” aptly describes the organization’s scope of work.

Photo courtesy: BNHS BNHS is headquartered in Mumbai at Hornbill House and has Conservation Education Centres (CECs) in the suburb of Goregaon in Mumbai and in Asola Bhatti in Delhi.

Research at BNHS contributes towards identifying, monitoring and mitigating the adverse impact of unplanned non-sustainable developmental on natural environment.

Photo courtesy: BNHS (Vulture Conservation - Vulture slender-billed) BNHS has been involved in many research projects till now. The recent ones include Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres (VCBC) in Pinjore (Haryana), Rajabhatkhawa (West Bengal) and Rani (Assam); restoration of Point Calimere (Vedaranyam Swamp) eco-system and Migratory Birds Study Centre (Tamil Nadu); migratory birds tracking in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh; Caecilian Project; study of Great Indian Bustard; Project Elephant and identifying important bird areas (IBA).

BNHS runs ENVIS (Environmental Information System) Centre to study Avian Ecology and Inland Wetlands. Established by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, the Centre primarily deals with Avian Ecology and Inland Wetlands.

“Our conservation department of BNHS aims at surveying, networking, creating awareness and implementing conservation projects; often in association with corporates, Government and other NGOs,” says Atul Sathe.

BNHS conservation projects include conservation of Giant Clams (Lakshadweep), Eco-restoration of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (Mumbai, Maharashtra), Satpuda Landscape Tiger Program (Nagpur, Maharashtra) and Project Mangrove in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

BNHS has one of the most comprehensive natural history collections. The collection has a total of over 1,20,000 specimens, which include nearly 18,500 mammals, 29,000 birds, 5,400 bird eggs, 8,500 amphibians and reptiles and 50,000 insects.

The collection, which dates back over 100 years, covers the entire South Asia, including Afghanistan and Myanmar. The specimens in the natural history section of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya have also been contributed by BNHS.

BNHS also has a library that is one of the oldest and the largest on Natural History in India covering topics like Wildlife, Ecology, Zoology, Botany, Conservation and Sustainable Development. It also has an antique and unique collection of old books, rare lithographs, photo negatives and coloured transparencies of eminent naturalists.

The publication arm of BNHS is highly revered. BNHS publishes periodicals like Hornbill, BNHS Journal, Buceros and Mistnet. It has published nearly 40 books and 5 CDs on nature related topics.

Photo courtesy: BNHS - Collections The premier institution has been conducting scientific research in collaboration with international and national institutions like US Fish and Wildlife Service, BirdLife International, Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), Zoological Society of London, Wildlife Institute of India and University of Pune, to name a few.

Despite being an organization as old as 126 years BNHS is not resting in it past laurels. It has a series of new projects and collaborations lined up.

“BNHS plans to continue its conservation mission with renewed vigour and a scientific and professional approach by liasoning with various stake-holders in the civic society and reaching out to more and more people,” says Atul Sathe .

Its future plans thus include taking forward the vulture conservation breeding activity, conducting more research to identify more important bird areas.

For further details visit:

Written by: Thryza Dow


Shooting Stars

June 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in Photography, Workshops | Leave a comment

by Sujoy Dhar

bhaskar1 Dwimalu Brahma is a teenaged boy from New Dimapur village in Assam’s tribal-dominated Bodoland area. His mother Maija Brahma, a widow, sells local beer to eke out a living. The family from Chirang district near Assam’s border with Bhutan owns half a bigha of farmland.

Dwimalu can create furrowed patterns in his field with a plough but he had never touched a camera before. But when his first brush with the magic instrument arrived in April 2010, it was baptism by D K Bhaskar, one of the famous India-born Natural History photographers residing in the US.

So as Dwimalu and 38 other boys and girls of villages in Chirang freaked out with the camera and came up with some of the moving shots of life in his village, D K Bhaskar the mentor found a muse for his commitment to the society.

Bhaskar says he lives in a virtual world with his motivation to capture and share extraordinary images with people.

But the Assam experience left him wonder struck in true sense. “I was fascinated by what they captured during the workshop. I want to showcase their works now in India and the US,” says the Mysore-born photographer.

A permanent resident of the US now, Bhaskar wanted to give back to the society in India what he perfected as an art and profession over the years. So he planned the workshops for children in some of the border areas of India, beginning with Assam’s Chirang. He is now planning to organise more workshops in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Lakshadweep, and Rajasthan.

“I was looking for an organization to help me. I found ANT or the Action Northeast Trust ( After six months of interaction with this NGO, I could finally come to India and conduct the workshop,” says Bhaskar.

“Chirang district is in Bodoland in Assam. The villages are about 30 to 45 km from the border (Bhutan). Many of the villagers are well-off agriculturists, but they have no resources.

“But the whole experience of photography workshop galvanized the children and became an eye opener for me. I myself learnt a lot from the children,” says Bhaskar, president of the International Photography Partnership, USA.

Founded by legendary photographer Frank Christian, International Photography Partnership (IPP), USA uses the creative medium of photography to give both children and women in the villages an opportunity to capture some of the rarest moments of their lives.

“The camera could be a new tool that can educate, entertain and help them to create a document of their life through their eyes. It could help them look at both their surroundings and themselves in a new light,” says an official of The ANT.

According to ANT, sponsored by Nikon USA, the cameras will be taken to villages, different in topography, different in language, culture and lifestyle and children will be trained to use the instrument.

The villagers will be encouraged to chronicle life around them – their environment, education, health, domestic life, culture, and the role of women. At the end of the workshop, a review of the participants is done and certificates issued for each of the participant.

Children who have had absolutely no feel and touch of cameras ever before (they were selected through an application process) in this region were given the opportunity to keep the camera with them, think creatively and shoot according to the subjects assigned.

Livelihoods, school, children, nature, home and family, religion and rituals, bazaars and shops were some of the chosen topics. The objective was not to give them too much technical information but rather make them use it creatively to document the life around them.

“After I reached Chirang, we called the people for a camp. I showed the children, all aged between 14 and 17, the basics of camera. Selected from ten villages, I asked the boys and girls to go out and shoot for two bhaskar2hours whatever they like.

“Then I divided them in seven groups next day. What they came up with was astounding. It was simply amazing,” says Bhaskar.

“They captured a Bodo tribe wedding. I think there is hardly any such documentation of a Bodo wedding available except for the only captured only by their cameras. They emerged as true ambassadors of their places,” he said

“I want to do more in the border areas. In those areas very little is known. Many border areas are often famous as tourist destinations. Millions in India live in the border areas under difficult circumstances.”

Bhaskar now wants to exhibit the work both in India and the US.

While Bhaskar is gearing up for the exhibitions, IPP is also working on creating a book with the choicest images.

“We hope this educational exercise would open a unique opportunity to understand the intricate life and cultural inheritance of people and their surrounding landscape,” says Bhaskar.

Dharavi: Rags to relief

May 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Posted in NGO Stories | 4 Comments

By Preeti Pooja

The snapshots of filth and fantasy in the biggest slum of Asia – Dharavi is by now a much romanticized subject on celluloid to capture the wide canvas of a shantytown and the struggle, hope and hopelessness of its over one million residents. acorn1

Dharavi is home to vital unorganized industry workers, mostly children, who sift and collect 8.5 metric tons of filth, garbage, plastic, metal and scrap everyday.

Most of these rag pickers, come as migrants from every part of India. They often live in conditions worse than that in refugee camps. Many are malnourished. They are constantly exposed to hazardous toxins and diseases.

Their subhuman living conditions provides little access to basic education, sanitation, water, electricity and healthcare. Dharavi has severe problems with public health, due to inadequate toilet facilities, compounded by the infamous Mumbai flooding during the monsoons.

This is also a place where Mumbai’s underbelly of drug peddlers thrives. Low house rents and access to livelihood like rag picking has attracted minorities and the poorest of poor from different states to Dharavi. The economy here is based on recycling besides some pottery, textile factories and leather units. Dharavi is home to more than 15,000 single room factories.

But Dharavi is not just a haunt of film and documentary makers on a bounty hunt of poverty and filth as creative ingredients. Some NGOs have chosen to work here to better the living conditions of many of its uncared for residents.

Acorn Foundation (India) is one of them. The Acorn Foundation (India), which is affiliated to ACORN International, is supporting, Dharavi Project India. They are working to improve the lives of the rag picker community in Mumbai besides Delhi and Bangalore. Acorn is also doing extensive study on urban solid waste management in Mumbai and trying to implement actions to alleviate this issue.

Vinod Shetty, an advocate by profession, is actively involved with Acorn Foundation (India). Mr. Shetty narrates some of the heart-rending realities of life in Dharavi.

“Any big city survives on the services of rickshaw pullers, sweepers and rag pickers. It’s them who are at the bottom of the pyramid and ensure that the city keeps running. The society must acknowledge to the services of these people who live without any social security,” says Mr. Shetty.

Acorn firmly believes that this community of unorganized labourers is an invaluable human resource to the city.

“Mumbai would have been reduced to a dumping yard creating havoc with serious sanitary issues had there been no rag pickers who recover, recycle and ensure reuse of the waste,” he says.

ACORN, under the Dharavi Project, tries to organize this vulnerable section and train them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling.

acorn2 Currently there are 35 members of Dharavi Project working at different levels of recycling. Some of the initiatives taken by Acorn Foundation (India) are like providing informal schooling to the children. ACORN organizes health clinics, cultural programmes and workshops where the beneficiaries learn music, photography and arts.

Celebrity shows and concerts like BOxette are also a part of the initiative to bring a crumb of entertainment to the disadvantaged community. In a recent eco fair organized in the Maharashtra Nature Park, presence of celebrities like Katrina Kaif, Shankar Mahadevan and Suneeta Rao spiced up the event.

One of the most exciting programmes of the Acorn Foundation is in association with Mumbai’s popular nightspot Blue Frog. Musicians and celebrity rock bands conduct workshops for these children.

Recently the international BeatBox group, the Boxettes, (beatboxing is vocal percussion) held workshops for the children while the Sout Dandy Squad (Tamilian rappers) performed with several international artistes too.

“The purpose behind these events is clearly to showcase local artistes and give the youth of Dharavi a chance to witness international artistes up close which they never dreamt of. They bring cheer among these children, though short lived. The musical celebration is often themed with graffiti art and sculpture,” says Mr. Shetty.

Acorn has provided the members of the Dharavi Project with identity cards and recognition. They have formed their own committee to conduct waste awareness programmes.

“One programme is exclusive for children who are taught about waste management in primary schools.  Under this programme students are given lessons on how to reduce and manage waste at home,” he says.

Besides entertainment, Acorn also organized multimedia campaigns on Water Day, highlighting issues of water conservation, water filtration and use of renewable energy sources.

Acorn Foundation (India) entrusts the faith within these rag pickers to make them feel a part of the society and live the life of a respectable citizen.

For details visit Acorn Foundation’s (India) Website:

The Road Less Travelled

May 7, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Posted in Team Update | Leave a comment

I remember Anna Hazare addressing the students at my school while I was in class 11. He spoke in Hindi, and even though I suspect I missed out on several large chunks of the speech (I passed class 10 Hindi with some difficulty) there was a simple beauty to what he said and I remember walking back to my hostel that evening feeling very quiet.

Those were the days when my (gently) suggested reading included Kum Kum Tandon’s ‘After 10+2 And Beyond – What To Do? How To Guard Against You Ending Up Starving On the Streets’ (or some such).  Two days after my somewhat-epiphany (see above) I donated my career guidance books to someone who didn’t want them either and decided to study to become a lawyer, which seemed a good, solid option – faint hearted well-wishers in my extended south Indian middle class family wouldn’t find too many objections with that and it seemed the best educational tool to work at bringing about structural social change.

Law school however, was a different deal altogether.  Most of it was uninspiring, and that – in combination with the fact that I’m an uninspired person most of the time – did much to wear the keen edge (as Hamlet may have said) off of my driving force. I did initially shout a lot (without much effect) about local causes that were either too obscure or subtle to bother most people and I soon resigned myself to feeling frustrated and somewhat scared by life in general.

I worked with a law firm once I left law school. I’d told myself at the time that this would be a stopgap option, and that my calling would suddenly strike me one day as I sat in front of my computer tapping away at something. I worked with a team of marvellous people, ate interesting and expensive food and became shockingly fat.  The work though was rather stressful rather often and I soon found myself wondering why I was losing so much sleep over matters that I, quite frankly, didn’t quite care about.

So, with some difficulty, I left and relocated to a small town in rural Tamil Nadu for some months. I volunteered my time with (and imposed my fat presence on) a wonderful social organisation that works in the areas of tribal rights, education, public health and community trade.  I learnt a lot, contributed a little, and then found my way to Samhita – whose principles and aims resonate hugely with what I have by way of an ideology.  My colleagues at Samhita and I are set to work very hard at figuring out and implementing ways to help people to do good, better – so keep watching this space and our portal at

The Genesis

April 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Team Update | Leave a comment

In a country where more than 300 million people live below the poverty line, more than 50% of the population is illiterate and millions are deprived of food, education, healthcare and livelihood, NGOs play a key role. Yet, they struggle to survive let alone scale their impact.

As we looked around for an innovative approach and business model that would allow us to create large scale social change, we realized that there already existed a million social organizations working at the grassroots. Instead of setting up yet another organization, it made sense to start off by supporting the existing change agents with information, financial and non financial support and incentives essential for them to sustain themselves and increase their impact. Over time we would build a better organized, more accountable, efficient and effective social sector.

We began by conducting an online survey of 330 NGOs in collaboration with NGO Post, to identify pressing problems. This was followed with a phone survey of 65 organizations. We asked simple questions – What do you do? What challenges do you face? What do you need? How can we help? Most NGOs had similar needs. They wanted reliable sources of long term financial support, experienced and committed talent that was willing to accept lower than market salaries, reliable service providers, market linkages, knowledge resources and advice from experts. A common complaint was the absence of an enabling support system.

In parallel, we conducted an online donor survey in collaboration with our partner, The Global India Fund. 120 donors responded within 2 weeks. Donors cared about credibility and wanted periodic feedback to understand how their money was being used and its resultant impact.

We also interviewed several social entrepreneurs to understand if their needs differed from their non-profit counterparts. While their capital needs were different, their organizational requirements were similar to those mentioned by the NGOs – they too need high quality, affordable talent, mentors who could shape their organization, reliable service providers and market linkages.

Our first initiative, Samhita, an online portal was born out of the hundreds of suggestions that we received. While our online technology allows us to reach organizations across the country and engage people from all over the world, our offline support services help us understand our stakeholders better and provide personalized support. Samhita will address the most critical needs faced by NGOs – funds, talent, knowledge, market linkages and reliable service providers. In parallel, we also want to ensure that anyone who wants to learn about and engage with the sector is able to do so – easily and effectively.

We want to organize the sector – by making updated, reliable information readily available to the masses, by ensuring that the NGOs that are profiled are credible and transparent, by providing them with a wide range of support services, by helping them use these resources effectively, by encouraging them to build organizational capacity and create lasting social change.


April 16, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Posted in NGO Stories | Leave a comment

Apnalaya Project Office, Dumping Grounds at Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, Mumbai

I am disturbed and impressed.

I spent my morning in a mountain of rubbish surrounded by children – some playing in the garbage, others collecting it so that they can sell it and make some money. I peeked into huts, made of rubbish, sitting on rubbish and smelling like it too. I saw families of eight huddled together in a tiny room. There were little kids, some suffering from malnutrition, their young sisters tending to their needs instead of attending school. I saw women fighting over water that costs them Rs. 15 per can. The wires that lit a tiny bulb in the dark rooms were illegal, fixed by the local mafia for Rs. 60 per connection. An expensive luxury.


I was at the dumping ground in Mankhurd where 5000 tons of solid waste is deposited, sorted and recycled by informal workers every day. The primarily migrant, Muslim workers face every imaginable adversity.  Everything is in short supply except for garbage and children (families are exceptionally large because of religious reasons and an absence of women’s empowerment) – lack of awareness, education, sanitation, water, electricity and opportunities. There is one government school that provides education up to grade 7, at which point most children drop out and start looking after younger siblings (if they are girls) or collect and sell garbage (if they are boys). When I was there, the government school teacher had gathered a crowd around herself and was screaming that a young boy had snatched her phone. The Apnalaya staff told me that it was her excuse to stop coming to school. Who wouldn’t be disturbed?

Earlier that morning I had walked into Apnalaya’s office and within a fraction of a minute, was handed their annual report, a brochure, a bottle of ice cold water and a much needed cup of tea. Before I could remark on the efficiency of the staff, I found myself seated across Manoj, a friendly, passionate and dynamic social worker who has worked with Apnalaya for 18 years. For the next one hour he patiently explained their remarkable work, their struggle to empower the local community and their latest decision to move away from becoming a service provider and instead focus on advocacy, awareness and training.

In the midst of scarcity and hopelessness, the Apnalaya staff bustled around, feeding children, teaching them nursery rhymes, patiently listening to people’s complaints. Most of the staff has been with Apnalaya for over a decade. Apnalaya started off providing by asking the community what they needed. Most of what the community asked for, Apnalaya tried to provide – education programs for children, heath camps, savings groups for women, livelihood training, ration cards for procurement of subsidized food, slum rehabilitation programs. Today, driven by the realization that the community needs to understand their rights and fight for them, Apnalaya is moving towards a training model where they empower the community, educate them about government schemes and facilitate collective action within the community as well as with partner organizations.


I am deeply touched by the commitment that I saw today – Manoj, Pushpa and Muhammad have been with Apnalaya for 18, 16 and 6 years respectively. All those years of doing back breaking, often thankless work, convincing parents to send their children to school, helping migrant families get ration cards, fighting for the rights of slum dwellers so that they can move into government provided flats and then helping them adjust to their new surroundings – teaching them how to use elevators and bathrooms that are situated within the house instead of on the road. 38 years of seeing an entire community graduate from abject poverty to economic stability. 38 years of seeing small, subtle, life changing changes.

Apnalaya has certainly saved a generation from misery. We hope that we can help others do it too.

About Apnalaya

Apnalaya was founded in 1972. They focus on urban community development projects in Mumbai’s poorest slums. They work closely with the community to identify critical needs and involve the local people to help plan and execute projects which include:

  • community empowerment programs that include awareness creation, capacity building and training
  • day care centres, study classes, recreation activities and scholarship programs for children
  • health camps, immunization of infants, nutrition programs for children, HIV counselling and prevention programs, general and gynaecological clinics and family visits by community health workers
  • women empowerment, savings groups for women, livelihood training, procurement of ration cards for subsidized food

Partnership and participation are key to all of Apnalaya’s activities.  Apnalaya’s programs are carried out by over 60 trained and dedicated community based staff who work hand in hand with 7 professional social workers and 3 doctors. For more details please refer to

Born into brothels – Apne Aap Women’s Collective

April 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Posted in NGO Stories | Leave a comment

A little girl was asked what she wanted to become when she grows up. “Maadam” she replied. Maadam here refers to the lady who directs prostitutes in a brothel. This young one’s mother is a victim of commercial sex trafficking in Mumbai and Maadam for her is a symbol of power.

She was asked the same question after a few years. “I want to become Manju aunty” she replied. Manju Vyas is the CEO of Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC) – an NGO that works with women victimized by the exploitation of sex trafficking and their children.

The story of this little girl is one among several that the Apne Aap team has to share. Apne Aap envisions not changing the world but making a small difference. However, the difference they have made for more than a thousand lives is by no means small.

We met the founder trustee Mr. Sudarshan Loyalka and CEO Mrs. Manju Vyas at the AAWC office in Mumbai. They described how a few people came together in 1998 to help the victimized women and formed AAWC. AAWC works with the underprivileged women in brothel based prostitution from the Kamathipura area in South Mumbai. AAWC aims to provide solace, care and support to the women and helps them fight for their basic human rights. They equip their daughters (whom they fondly call ‘sparrows’) with skills and support to pursue a dignified life, thus breaking the cycle of prostitution and poverty. They also work towards getting their children used to an educational environment at a formative age to reduce drop-out rates.

Apne Aap Women's Collective Team

They spoke about their difficult journey and how every hurdle gave them even more strength to face the challenges ahead. They expressed how satisfying it was for all of them to see these girls successfully step into the society and live a life of dignity.

For more information about Apne Aap Women’s Collective visit or write to them at

A Challenge or an Opportunity

April 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Team Update | Leave a comment

I think it was the TATA Jagriti Yatra that opened my eyes to a new world of challenges and opportunities – a world which is not often talked about and rarely celebrated. Why didn’t I know about the Barefoot College before? Yes, I had heard about Amul, Aravind Eye Care and the Green Revolution. But there were so many other successful people and organizations I hadn’t heard about. Is it because I lived in a closed world or it is because these successful organizations, which have changed the lives of millions, are really never talked about? I later realized it was something else.

With a thousand questions in my mind, I began my summer internship with Samhita, erstwhile Ethos Advisors, in May’09 through a program called Engineers for Social Impact. When I came in, the name ‘Samhita’ was not there and all we had, was a lot of information about the sector, some data in the form of survey results and a lot of ideas. An online survey had been conducted to understand the problems and needs of NGOs. 330 NGOs had responded and there were several interesting results. Fund-raising, human resources, financial management and IT – NGOs mentioned struggling with most functional areas. We followed up the survey with more personal and detailed phone conversations with a smaller group and heard the same problems in more detail.

This is the understanding that I began to develop after conducting the surveys –  international agencies such as the UN, World Bank, Ashoka, government departments and businesses contribute to the development of marginalized communities by addressing critical issues. While I admire their much needed efforts, most of these agencies support a small number of social organizations, which are the “chosen” ones.  There remain a large number of social organizations, that are committed to  creating social change but lack the support system required to sustain their operations and scale their impact.

We had two main choices before us when we started out –

  1. Support a small number of organizations that have the ability to create large scale social change. We would employ the venture philanthropy model and provide significant financial and non financial support
  2. Create an eco-system that would provide thousands of social organizations scale their impact, utilize the power of and strengthen every stakeholder currently existing in the system and make sure that every social organization in this country gets an equal opportunity to raise support and grow.

We chose the latter, not just because it is much more challenging but because we believe that by choosing this option, in the long term, we will be able to make much more difference.

On a personal level, I am not just excited about helping NGOs (or non-profits) but also reaching out to for-profit enterprises who, a lot of people and organizations believe, will define the next generation of successful enterprises and create a paradigm shift in the way businesses run and create value. I think that we will always have/need organizations who lie on various points of the spectrum of the double or triple bottom line. No matter what these organizations do, sustainability will be always a key factor in growth.

The challenge however is to help every organization who exists on this spectrum and we have decided that we will help all but do it one by one and really focus on NGOs to begin with. What’s the reason for that? NGOs was far more in number, they struggle more and their needs are more urgent.

What has made me stay persistent with the idea of Samhita from a very early stage to the present day, is the idea of scale and that if we are successful, we would be able to make a good contribution to the development of India and that too, at a point in history when all eyeballs are stuck on this huge demography.

Coming back to the answer that I found, it was simple. For people who live in the world of jet-lags, NGOs are really not a cool thing to talk about, not to judge anyone here. For those who are struggling for livelihood, they have neither the time nor the privilege to think of anything outside their own day-to-day issues. For everyone else, it’s a race from the latter to the former. Amidst all this, I do see empathy in all these people and our idea is to tap that effectively. Whether one sees this as a challenge or an opportunity is a very subjective question.

Missing task environment factors

April 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Team Update | Leave a comment

While working on a livelihoods project to support artisans and micro entrepreneurs I worked closely with NGOs in Kolkata and Santiniketan. I was deeply moved by the stories of the founders and their constant struggle to improve others’ lives. Endless stories of the social entrepreneurs and their examples of leadership, courage and optimism in the most difficult situations reaffirmed my decision to work in the social sector.

Almost all of these organizations have common constraints like lack of funding support, limited information, inadequate human resource and unaffordable services. They have to constantly outperform the expectations of the beneficiaries and the donors to maintain their faith but are severely ill-equipped to do so. The constraints confine their efforts and reach to a particular locality or area thereby limiting their impact.

While reading case studies and reports about NGOs in other countries I tried to understand the factors that have enabled them to work more effectively and create a larger impact. I realized there are several task environment factors that enable the NGOs to be sustainable, make a large impact and collaborate. Several reports have stressed on the synergies of effective collaboration in the sector and all stakeholders responding appropriately to changes in its task environment. I realized the significance of an enabling environment for NGOs which quite literally was missing in the Indian context.

I was on a quest of agencies or organization working towards creating such an enabling environment when I heard about the Nadathur initiative – Samhita. I could instantly relate my thoughts with the noble idea behind Samhita. Samhita has all the perfect ingredients to make it happen – a thought leader like N S Raghavan, a young committed team of professionals and an environment open to innovative ideas. Being a part of Samhita team has given me an opportunity to contribute my efforts to create a large scale social impact by sustainably empowering the NGOs.

What’s your wish?

April 6, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Posted in NGO Stories | Leave a comment

About three decades ago, Christopher Greicius, a young boy in the US who was suffering from Leukemia wanted to become a police officer. His worsening health would have never let his wish be fulfilled. Christopher was miserable until a family friend and the local police department made Chris the first honorary DPS patrolman in their State’s history. On May 1, Chris was presented with an official uniform and the officers arranged a motorcycle proficiency test so he could earn wings to pin on his uniform. Chris passed the test with flying colors on his battery-operated motorcycle. On May 3, Chris passed away with his wish fulfilled.

Gandhar Joshi of Mumbai who was also suffering from Leukemia in 1995 has a similar story. Gandhar wanted to see Disneyland and agreed to go to the US for treatment on the condition that he be allowed to visit Disneyland. In the course of his treatment, Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteers met the Joshi family and went about fulfilling Gandhar’s wish in a way that surpassed all his expectations. They few in his sister from India to join the family on a 6 day trip to Disneyland. Gandhar passed away soon after their return to India.

Chris inspired his mother to start Make a Wish Foundation and Gandhar inspired its Indian chapter. Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has given hope, strength and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. From fulfilling one boy’s wish to be a police officer, they have evolved into an international organization that grants a child’s wish every 40 minutes. Toys, clothes, visits to theme parks, wishes to become a doctor or lawyer. The list is endless. Make – a – Wish has truly given these children what they have wished for.

We spoke to Mukul Gupta, CEO of Make-a-Wish India, and his team, on March 12th. We discovered that Make–a–Wish has fulfilled 16371 wishes. Volunteers are the backbone of this organization and in Mumbai alone, they have 75 dedicated housewives as their field volunteers who identify wishes and also help with the wish granting process. They have partnerships with hospitals and clinics that refer ‘wish children’ to them. They have offices in Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur and New Delhi.

The wishes are categorized into – ‘I wish to be’, ‘I wish to go’, ‘I wish to meet’ and ‘I wish to have’. Some interesting wishes they have fulfilled include a wish to be a teacher, to go to a zoo, to meet Sachin Tendulkar and to have a Playstation. The unending stories of humble wishes and the happiness of having them fulfilled touched our heart.

If you are interested to know more, do visit Make-a-Wish’s website. You can also write to them on

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