Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Helping without hurting!

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Vinay, one of the founding editors of ThinkChange India (TC-I) made a casual visit to CSIM Hyderabad on January 10th. We had also invited Rubina Mazhar, a social entrepreneur and alumni of CSIM for an informal chat. His co-editor of TC-I Aishwarya Mishra (who has expressed his willingness to join the SEOP session that starts the February) also joined us. Very soon we slid into a discussion on wide range of topics concerning social equity and development. Though it is next to impossible to capture all the points discussed, quite a few perspectives that may not be taught in any educational center have surfaced during the discussion. I will try to highlight at least one of them in this post.

Aishwarya Mishra, through the Teach India program, volunteers as a tutor in Government High school, Rasoolpura, adopted by Bhumi, outlined their flagship Dhronacharya-Ekalavya (D&E) program. D&E program mainly works by assigning a mentor who acts as an "elder sibling" or a role-model to each of the children that Bhumi covers, so that the child looks up to the mentor and learns to become a responsible person as against growing without a role-model.

While recognizing Bhumi's work on Rasoolpura, Rubina Mazhar pointed out a potential risk that may be ingrained in the mentorship approach in general. She opined that a mentor who is not from the same background as the child (all the children are from a slum and most, if not all the volunteers are not) cannot be "unleashed" on the children without proper training about their culture and way of life, since the mentor's belief system usually consists of a lot of ideas that doesn't fit well with the belief system of the child society. For example, Rubina cited that in a typical family from the lower economic background, the general mentality would be to proscribe girl children beyond a certain age from going out on her own without the oversight of the family. A volunteer from an upcoming middle class family with no or inadequate training about the social psychology of the girl's family, may try to instill "modern ideas" of independence, which may cause her to "revolt" against her parents and face undesired consequences.

While one may or may not subscribe to her quoted example, the general point made is not only valid but also extremely relevant to social development. An initiative for social development should be carefully crafted and implemented so that the existing social fabric (to use Rubina's own words) of the target group doesn't get disturbed. This further lends credibility to why a social initiative should consider a beneficiary as a partner rather than a receiver - a point made in earlier post in order to emphasize sustainability.

This point also shatters another common, but wrong belief that some social initiative is better than no social initiative. On the contrary, a social initiative should be a learning process carefully adjusted to ensure that it helps and doesn't cause another damage elsewhere in the process.