Pragati 2009 – Connect, Share, Leverage
October 02, 2009
by Sasi Tadepalli
Pragati 2009, a first of its kind conference for all the grassroot projects supported by Vibha, started this morning at Vishranti Nilayam in Bangalore. Vibha, a resource and funding agency based in India and the US, is a completely volunteer run organization, with a mission to educate, empower and enable every individual who wishes to make a positive difference in the life of the underpriviliged child. Founded in 1991, Vibha currently supports 37 active projects in India and 5 in the United States.
At 9:00am today, Pragati 2009 kicked off the first day with participants from 29 NGO projects and volunteers from across India and the US. Ron Victor, the President of Vibha and a long time volunteer came from San Jose, CA to attend the conference. He is the CEO of Quantawav, a stealth-mode startup in wireless networking and is one of the founding volunteers of Vibha.
Dr. Preetam B. Yashwant, IAS, MBBS, was the Keynote Speaker for Pragati 2009. Dr. Preetam is the Commissioner of the Department of Settlement & Jagir Director, Land Records & Consolidation, Govt. of Rajasthan. Dr. Preetam talked about the role of government in the education and helath of a child and outlined some of the various schemes and plans that the government has in place to help the underpriviliged child. His talk led directly into the first session of the day – “How to Leverage Government”, with panelists from five Vibha projects, Sikshana (Bangalore), GVT (Gujarat), Swanirvar (West Bengal), AURED (Mumbai) and Shristi (Bangalore). The panel discussed issues like the scope for NGO-Government partnership in at official level with role clarity on each side. NGOs like Sikshana and GORD that are successfully working with the government in upper primary and higher education intervention outlined the process through which they have been successful. Dr. Preetam also talked about dispelling common myths about government “babus” and said that everything works in a bell curve model. Take the best and worst parts out and you have the average government official, like him who is very interested in working with and listening to NGOs like those present there.
Deep Ranjan Rai, Associate Director of Dasra, Mumbai was the Guest Speaker for the second session of the day, “Staffing Issue at NGOs”. Ms. Rai has over 25 years experience in management, humar resourcecs and organization developmemnt work. She has worked with agencies like ActionAid, Plan International, Save the Children and UNICEF South Asia and with NGOs in South Asia, facilitating the strengthening and sustainability of their organizational processes. This session also saw a big enthusiastic participation from the participants and the panelists – Vidyarambam (Chennai), Hope School (Bangalore), Corp India (Mumbai). SEA (Mahabalipuram), SVVPS (West Bengal). Issues like the relation between staff retention and project impact, concepts of human resources becoming an integral part of a small NGO without neccessarily having a separate HR department and employing local staff, not fully qualified yet familiar with the people, language and customs versus non-local professionals who tend to relocate easily and who may not understand the local culture were discussed and argued at length. Another important aspect that was discussed was the role of women employees on the field and how to retain them through major changes in their lives, like marriage and motherhood.
Session #3, “Monitoring and Tracking Performance Metrics” involved Door Step School (Pune), Nav Jyoti (New Delhi), Sevalaya (Tamil Nadu) and Alamb (New Delhi) as the panelists. Squeezing this vast topic into a couple of hours, the NGOs outlined, from their experiences, the various tools they use for monitoring their respective projects. Monthly, weekly and daily repotrs, data collection at different levels and tracking tool for employees and stakeholders were discussed as some of the means for monitoring. Most importantly, the differences between monitoring and evaluation were put forth and it was widely agreed that just collecting data would not suffice. Use the data to analyze and implement changes in the coming project cylces. Ms. Rai iterated the fact that Output, Outcome and Impact are fancy terms to use but unless understood and used correctly, they would lead nowhere.
The last session of the day, “Effective Use of IT for NGOs” was very interesting for most participants, who are at ease on the field but not very computer oriented. The Guest Speaker, Mr. Sreekanth Rameshaiah is the Co-founder and Executive Director for Mahiti Infotech Pvt. Ltd., an IT company that provides solutions for NGOs using free and open source software as its central focus. Mr. Sreekanth has conducted several workshops, trainings and advocacy programs globally and is closely associalted with the social sector, with 13 years of experience. The panelists, CTF (Mumbai), DSS (Pune), Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (Visakhapatnam), HEARDS (Chittoor) and GORD (Madanapalle), all talked about examples of tools, software and applications that they use on the field. Issues discussed included IT as a communication tool within and without the NGO, setup of the IT infrastructure and effective training in the NGO, resource IT organizations, like Mahiti, which can guide the NGOs and other commonly available resources that can be used by the NGOs like WikiBooks.
The first day was an excellent learning platform for Vibha and the participating NGOs. Pragati 2009 will continue the panel discussions over the next two days.