Thursday, November 27, 2008

Look beside you for faster social change

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I have been associated with the movement for social change in my own small way, both at my work place and outside. I have interacted with NGOs catering to the same "social sector" (say education, public health). Each of the organizations I have worked with have numerous achievements under their belt and undoubted credibility. However I find one critical aspect missing. Probably THE critical aspect that prevents the respective interventions in the "social sector" from adding up, synergize and emerge into a global movement. The missing aspect I am talking about is "sharing best practices".

To put my point into context, let me elaborate my observation. Hyderbad, a fast growing tier-I city in India, has around a thousand government schools and a large percentage of such schools ail from shortcomings such as poor basic infrastructure, lack of teachers (good or bad) and poor attendence rate. There are also quite a few NGOs working with the schools to mend these problems. Many of these NGOs have come up with very similar initiatives (for example taking volunteers from corporates to teach Spoken English in schools to improve job prospects). Yet, when I speak to the representatives of each of these NGOs, they are completely ignorant of the initiatives of the other.

This leaves a lot to ponder. If there are 1000 schools, and 10 NGOs doing the same thing, and if each of them cater to 70 schools, that leaves 300 schools with absolutely no help and nobody would know! Further different NGOs may use different models to deliver the same services. One model may be more efficient than the other. This provides for an opportunity for other NGOs to learn from their peers to improve their operational efficiency. But only if they spend some time and resources to research the whos, whats and hows of their peers. But sadly that doesn't seem to be happening in a scale that is required.

There are a few initiatives like NGOpost that work towards encouraging peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. But even they have a few limitations. Though the participation in the forum is very encouraging, often the purpose of the initiative is misunderstood.

In my opinion, looking beside at your peers, knowing them well and co-ordinating your efforts to achieve a common social goal are critical aspects to achive a tangible social change in a much shorter duration.


Saraswathi said...

I totally agree with this aspect. If we could derive a "process" by combining all the best practices of various NGOs, the progress made can be faster. As they say, "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants", we can learn a lot by knowing all the past and present initiatives in the field and come up with some best practices. I think blogs and forums will help us bring out the best practices of various NGOs