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Down the memory lane

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(This article has been published by Deepalaya on it's 30th Anniversary)

Passing out as a professional social worker first from Visva-Bharati and then from Delhi University I had always proudly boasted that I had learned very few things about 'professional social work' and 'development' from my college and university. Probably it was my problem that I did learn a little in these institutions.

When Ms. Jo Sharma wanted me to look after Deepalaya's South Delhi Office I had practically no knowledge regarding administration and accounts. Mr. T. K. Mathew reminded me that consulting for welfare programmes and implementing the same are two very different things. I am grateful that Ms. Sharma and Mr. Mathew had faith on my 'latent' abilities and believed that I could fit in. Well, my days of learning professional social work started in a very comprehensive way from the very first day I joined Deepalaya.

When I look back at my career and think what do I know which Deepalaya did not give me, I find that there are very few things which I had learned outside Deepalaya. Some of the things which I have learned outside Deepalaya are a macro view on education of deprived children, best practices around the country on educational initiatives, efforts put up by governmental agencies and the liberal economic theories to deal with developmental issues including education. But I did not become a pure libertarian or started looking at issues the way the government does. Otherwise, I am a Deepalayan and would continue to remain so until the time all our children go to school and they strive for a better dignified life.

So, what did I learn from Deepalaya? Counting would be difficult but let me mention few crucial things here. I have learned that we are not doing any charity rather we are in the business of welfare where we spend somebody else's money. So, we have to be double transparent, triple cautious and quadruple cost effective. I have learned that the slums and villages in which we work need to be self dependent. We must come out of these areas leaving behind self reliant people within shortest possible time. I have learned 'poor has no fraternity' – our job is to create this fraternity in the areas in which we work, so that they do not need us anymore and fight for themselves. For many of you, these are not new things. We all read these in books and articles, listen to the same things in lectures and seminars. But I am fortunate to practice all of these on ground in Deepalaya and I have started implementing the same in my present organization.

Very few NGOs and professional understand how important is accounts and administration in Social Work, how crucial it is to be transparent in all aspects of our operations. As a result the NGOs in India do not have a better image than the government or political parties. People look at us with suspicion; very often we become objects of sarcasm. In Deepalaya we believed that we all have the responsibility to change this image. Today Deepalaya is considered as a model NGO on transparency and accountability. Many of us are accountable to our funding agencies and partners. In Deepalaya we were most accountable to the people for whom we work.

I have told you that I have learned countless things in Deepalaya but the last thing I would like to mention here is 'positive discrimination'. If we really want to bring up a particular section of a society and facilitate the process of putting them at par with others then we must practice positive discrimination. Many claim on what they have done and aspire to do for the girl children and differently abled children. I would suggest them to come and see the fantastic results we have achieved for these children through practicing 'positive discrimination' at all levels of our operations.

While taking up the top job at Tomorrow's Foundation I knew the only strength I have to take up such a responsibility was that I am a Deepalayan. I always remember the teachings and advice of Mr. T. K. Mathew while taking crucial decisions, very often I consult my ex colleagues from Deepalaya – they have always been kind and forthcoming. I know I do not posses many skills and abilities which are required to be a successful head of an organization but I also know the principles and values I had learned in Deepalaya would help me to overcome those lack of specific skills and abilities.

During last 4 years many have asked me whether I would like to go back to Deepalaya since I talk about it so much. I tell them that I would rather be happy considering myself successful if I am able to create another Deepalaya! My God! I thought I would write a light hearted post on Iliyamma, Irudayam and Kuldip but it turned out to be a pretty serious one!