Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CSIM session 10

Sustainability was the topic of this session. Ms.Lily Paul of Ashoka was back to explore this with us.

Yep, like every other week we started with the basics of understanding what we were about to talk about. This session began with an exercise making each of us think what sustainability is all about the factors that would affect it.

We all defined it in our own terms, based on our perspectives and past experiences. We settled something like -- It is taking your goals forward through the times in the same way or in an improved way. We then summed the different factors that affects sustainability. Then Lily helped us classify these in to 3 broad categories.

1. Mission [You need to have a mission that will make the goals a reality]
2. Strategic plan [The plan is how part of the mission]
3. Leadership [Good leadership is needed to stand the test of time]
4. Organization relevance [How is your org. going to add value in whatever it does]

1. Funding [No funds.. not gonna be there for long]
2. Budget plan [To know how much funds we need]
3. Self-sustaining strategies [Most important factor, think what will happen if all donors disappear coz of economic recession!!]
4. Diversify resource sources [Find different sources of funding]
5. Transparency [In terms of accounts n processes]
6. Fund raising and reporting [Report to donors on how the fund was used]
7. Building collaborations [Join hands with related NGOs]

1. Sharing org. values and mission [This makes people understand the org. better]
2. Community participation [Make the community participate in the mission]
3. Networking [Needless to explain]
4. Building acceptance with stake holders [So that they realize the importance of this work]

Well, if all that sounded so much theory here comes the big surprise - a man who has each of these in his organization and has shown us the true meaning of sustainability.

The big surprise was Mr.Ayappa Masagi. He is an Ashoka fellow, founder of rainwater conpcets and Water Literacy Foundation. A man so filled with passion for his work who firmly believes in 'Doer first teacher next'. He has brought water to more than 80,000 bore wells across the country. His book 'Jala-Nela-Jana' talks about the various technologies he uses to conserve and reuse water.

With a mission to 'create a water literate India' he founded the Water Literacy Foundation in 2005. He has 100+ self developed technologies for bore well, stream water harvesting, rain water harvesting.

Initially he started working out as an individual who was trying to save his farms from drought. He found some innovative ways by which he could conserve water. Then, he went about taking his work to farmers in the drought prone areas, some corporates who were spending huge sum on water. All his projects became huge success. He has now worked on projects worth 40 crores with people involvement.

Talking more about people involvement - this is one of the prime factors which we termed as community involvement for sustainability. He worked with the people in proving his solutions, thereby making them participate in many activities and see the change for themselves. This helps in a big way to achieve credibility.

As he kept explaining to us about his projects, we were so curious to know how he spreads this message to people being the one man army. He then told us about how he organizes awareness programs at customer's venue. This hints around the point of diverse resource sources. He also sells books, cds and uses that money back in to running projects.

As in every other social venture, funding is a big problem here too. You either don't get funds or you get it but not at the time of need. It is no different for Masagi. He is now hoping to tackle this problem by coming up with some self-sustaining models. He has established rain water concepts which is a profit making company. A part of the profits from here will be used for running projects in WLF. Also, there is another strategy where he is planning to form a group of farmers and invest an initial sum in doing projects in that farm. He will then take a part of the profit which will be used for doing further projects. With multiple iterations of this, there is will be enough money to get this model going.

Coming back to doer first teacher next - it is so true to see that he has all systems in place at his home where now bore water comes at 3o feet when compared to 1500 feet it would take for water to come.

He is someone who is so full of passion, knowledge and the desire to spread the awareness around. At the end of the class, we were so fascinated by his work and someone (none else than a software geek could ask this Q.. ok its not me) asked a question on why he has not patented any of his technologies. Yea, what else can people like us think when we are so used to listening to patents and IP mining every other day. Masagi's answered asking why he should patent his idea when all he wants to do is to spread awareness of water literacy. Well, that's what happens when you are a social entrepreneur - you don't own your idea and stick to it; you just want to see the benefit of it reaching multiple people.

That was how our last session was - theory filled with practicality and kannada poetry. Masagi is a poet, he recites poems as he speaks. I wish I knew kannada to understand and appreciate it all.

CSIM Session 9

This session was by Ms.Sangita, CFO Dream-a-Dream. She spoke to us on Financial management for NGOs.

I did not take notes, so not much to blog here. The session was more on the importance of finance management - how to budget, allocate funds, classify expenses and file them regularly. It was a pretty informative session.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What's wrong with me?

For a change this weekend I feel I have all the time in the world and don't know what to do. I am wondering what's wrong with me. So, I decided to turn back and see what I did over the last one week.

Monday - Oh man!! seems long time ago.. Lemme recollect. It started with the usual Monday morning meetings. I had come back to office with all energy gained from the Wayanad trip and after hearing some inspiring session on 'Power of unreasonable people'. I was all charged up to take lot of work. Then interviewed some guy, it did not go all that well :-(. Then caught up on the Flex trainings.

Tuesday - The power and enthu still seem to be there in me. I was all set to go complete my work at office. After long time, I did some code changes and felt good about it though it was very minor.

Wednesday - Ahaa, there comes it. It was the day of saraswati pooja and did some tasty tashty chakara pongal, vadai and sundal. By the time we had brkie I was feeling too lazy to go to office. Took some sundal to office. And somehow managed to come home by 7 :-)

Thursday - Holiday, woohoooo. Got up and wore some new clothes. After lunch, me and pv set to accomplish our 5 month dream of ordering a book shelf :). Met our family furniture guy (like family doctor u see) and designed our shelf. When we heard his estimates, we decided to cut the frills in our design, made it plain and simple. That is our achievement of the month, rather months :-) Then did some roaming around for buying furniture for ACT. Then we went to Pinx for some dhaba chai and mini samosa. We then went to Prasidhi to do some diwali purchase and the day ended with superb tasty food at Oye Amristar.

Friday - It was a long day at work. One more interview to take. I wanted to come home early and go for a round of puchka but was getting late at office. By the time I came home I had a bad headache. Then some calls from office to fix some issue :( Bad day it was.

Saturday - Most of my excitement died down when I got a message that the CSIM class was canceled. Anyways, it gave me time to be at home and we all watched Sivaji. Then another round of diwali purchase :)

Sunday - Lazy lazy day. Did nothing at all. Finally got so irritated with myself, that we went out for a round of puchka. And now here writing this post. Waiting to goto office and do some work tomorrow.

Waiting to goto office? What's wrong with me?? Nothing, that's what happens when there are too many lean weeks :)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The story behind the Lehman Brothers collapse

Having heard and read little here and here about the Lehman Brother's bankruptcy over the last few weeks, I really could not understand what went wrong.

I was too lazy to ask anyone to know in detail. All I knew was people failed to repay home loans and that led to bankruptcy. That made me wonder how it could only happen with Lehman, it should be a common case. However, there were too many things that my mind had to munch in the last couple of weeks that this took a back seat.

Today, I came across an article in the Hindu Magazine answering all my questions and much beyond. I appreciate the way the writer has put down the facts that makes it easy to comprehend.

In short, this is how it works

Banks offer home loans to people --> Investment banks like Lehman Bros buy those loans from the banks. This is good for the bank as they get back the loan money at one shot and now they can issue more loans. Lehman brothers now coverts these loans in to funds which investors buy.
Each month the bank sends the EMI paid against the loan to Lehman Bros who then splits it and sends it across to its investors. These investors now get a monthly returns for their investments.

Isn't that a very interesting way of looking at the concept of home loans? Now, where could the problem come? What if the EMI is not paid on time? Well, as this concept emerged the interest rates for home loans were very low and there was close to 1% of defaulters. So, this was not considered to be a major risk at all.

Now you should see the strategy of Lehman. They now convinced AIG (Insurance) to insure these home loans. There being almost a minimal risk in the home loan payment business, AIG promptly signed the deal. Everything was going smooth. With more and more investors getting into this business, Lehman was buying more and more home loans. This internally pushed the banks to offer more loans. Slowly, the qualifying criteria of loan approvals detoriated and it seemed like anyone could get a loan. Around the same time, the interest rates all increased. All this mounted to a large number of defaulters.

As the EMI's were not paid, the banks could not give Lehman the monthly share who then had nothing to give the investors. This was when Lehman Bros felt the heat of the situation. AIG now had to insure all these defaulters and ended up loosing so much money in an area which was considered the least risk.

And the rest is history today...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

CSIM Session 8

What more can we ask for than to hear on Social Entrepreneurship and strategy from CSIM founder Mr.Devarajan himself.

The basic questions were asked - What is a strategy? It is a plan of action to reach goals/objectives.
Then came the point to ponder - When does one need a strategy? Inorder to realize a vision, one needs mission and to accomplish the mission one needs a strategy.

Vision is something which lasts for a long time, it is not something valid for a few years. The vision should be simple and not time bound. With this, each of us were asked to frame our vision in 3 words. Few examples that came out
Empowerment of women
Empowerment of children
Improve quality of life
Providing widow marriage opportunities
Removing economic barriers
Social transformation together
Providing timely help

Create a better world

Out of these we were asked to choose 3 which we thought were missions that would last for generations to come. We selected the ones marked in bold.

The next step was to create a mission. For this we worked to understand what a mission means - it flows from the vision, should be measurable and have a time line. We took the example of the vision 'Improve quality of life' and framed mission statement - Promoting spiritual wellness, emotional well being and physical well being.

While creating a mission statement, ensure that it has goals set against a time line and it is measurable.

Now comes the strategy which helps to accomplish the mission. Strategy is
1. a practical plan to achieve the mission
2. needs to have a time line
3. needs to be in detail
4. identify the risk and plan to mitigate them
5. internalize the risk by planning for resources needed to mitigate the risk
6. Identify the resources [time, people, knowledge, finance, infrastructure]

The cycle of the execution of the plan is more of a common sense.

During the multiple iterations of this cycle, there will be revisions to the plan. Then the process can be documented and shared, replicated to other NGO's. This will help in reaching out to many people and scaling of the organization.

Many times, intuition plays a role in strategy formation. Intuition comes from experience and is useful in risk management.

Then Devarajan sir read out some extracts from the book 'The power of unreasonable people'. This seems to a good read, an inspirational one. One extract had some good statistics that showed why the future of social sector and social enterpreneurs will be very bright. The author says that there are 4 billion people in the bottom of the economic pyramid. These people do very small jobs like the cobblers, masons, sweepers etc. The suprising fact is that the total revenue of such small jobs across the world is 5 trillion. To re-iterate

4 billion people in the bottom of economic zone ===> generate 5 trillion revenue

Isn't that amazing? The future lies in tapping the talent in this zone, by providing them the right skills. Now, who knows best about the people in this zone? NGO's. And that is why the world is looking for SE's to try new business models, study these groups and promote a social change.

CSIM Session 7

Hurrah!! I completed blogging on one of the pending sessions. Now comes session7.

If I were to describe this session in few words, I would say it was truly inspirational. This time we had Dr.Meena Jain talking to us about Looking Beyond. Meena Jain is the founder of Sambhav foundation which works for children with disabilities.

Most of our discussion in this class was on trying to understand ourselves, our comfort zones and how to build secure zones. It began with the question on what do I see when I look beyond me?

The above pic tells us that there is my family, relatives, neighbourood, community, country beyond me. As we interact with each of these, we have some barriers causing a tunneled vision.
For example, if I had an argument with my father and did not like the way it went, I don't have the courage to go and tell papa how hurt I am. Instead I would go to ma and ask her how papa could say like that and express how hurt I am. We are not direct in our conversations and that's when we have the tuneled vision.

Then we spoke about 2 key things
1. Comfort zone - which are built from our wants, they are temporary. Most of the time, we are not able to adjust when we are in comfort zone.
2. Secure zone - built from needs - like need for shelter, family, livelihood. These are permanent needs and we are able to adjust more if we have build a good secure zone.

This session was so much talking of our day-to-day issues on our families like I am unable to convince my parents of my career choice. Most of the times, when we talk to our dear ones we don't reason out our decision, we justify it emotionally. This makes the opposite party think that we are adamant for no reason. Always use your rationale mind to reason out decisions.

But hey, I know this is no way an easy job. I have tried it many times and failed miserably. As we raised such concerns in the class, Meena Jain gave us tips on how one can work towards it to improve ones EQ.
1. Become aware of your feeling
2. Acknowledge your feeling
3. Be in control of your feeling
4. Sense and identify the feeling of others

The key take aways from the class
1. Only if you have good relationships in your family - you can be at peace and serve others
2. Trust people and let your goals reflect in all your action, interactions like in your neighbourhood, family, community. This will automatically build the trust in people.
Above all, it all lead to

Stop talking, start doing

CSIM Session 6

This has been a long pending post. Today I am planning to clear of few of my TBD (To Be Done) tasks as this bucket is now overflowing :-)

We had Varsha Avadhany from Fidelity to talk on NGO laws and regulations. Like every other session we began with trying to understand the basic words under discussion - in this case 'Laws and regulations'. Then we moved to understand why should there be laws n regulations in a non-profit sector. We came up with answers like they are needed to have a discipline, transparency, standard operating processes.

Slowly we moved to the intricacies of the formation of non-profits, the different forms under which they can be registered
1. Trust
[This is the oldest way, a minimum of 2 members are required to form a trust. Can be started within by members of the same family]
2. Society registration
[A minimum of 7 members, not more than 2 people can be blood relatives. The board member cannot be an employee of that society]
3. Non-profit company
[Companies sometimes use their profit to start a non-profit (NP) company which works on the same line of business but don't run for profit]
Example of this - Maya organics, mobility India
So, the selling price of the product this NP company sells should be equal to the cost price.

This was already so much of gyaan for us, hardly did we know that it was just the tip of the iceberg :-)

We later covered aspects of tax filing, the different exemtions like 80G where there is a 50% tax exemption, 35AC where there is a 100% tax exemption. The FCRA act and its regulations were an interesting topic.

FCRA stands for Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (1976). For a NPO to get FCRA approval, they need to be functional for atleast 3 years. There are 2 ways of getting permission -
1. Apply for FCRA which will take atleast a year for the approval
2. Apply to the Central Govt. for prior permission for a particular project
On approval, the NPO can get foreign contributions.

The Ministry of Home Affairs grants FCRA approval and they have many rounds of processing and cross verification which makes it time consuming. All FCRA contributions are monitored by intelligence agency across the world.

At last the point that was dirven again and again in to our head was