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My Journey as an Ashoka Fellow (PART II)

Suresh Saggar : October 9, 2011 1:33 pm : Blogs

Ashoka Innovators for the Public has emerged as one of the world change maker’s organization that keeps building up a global family. It is a home of innovators of new ideas and working methods, in its service to the needs and requirements of the people across the world. Ashoka Innovator for the public has therefore a rich reserve of resources for strengthening the net-working capacity, spread out in different countries.

This is the impression that I had obtained during my visit to Ashoka Innovator for the Public headquarters at Washington DC on June – 2008, as an extended visit while attending the Global Health Conference on Health. A liberal and at the same time in depth sharing of experiences of a fellow and Ashoka team at the headquarter coming from different backgrounds and different countries, it is indeed wonderful.

All along I had been in touch with Beth Inabinett in regular intervals and I was looking forward in meeting her in. person who is active in net-working with international  volunteers making constant contacts with other fellows in linking volunteers to Fellow and through Beth, a lot of International volunteers had joined Impulse.  And I was link Bethany Brady Spalding who was responsible for arranging my appointment and getting my interactive scheduled in place during my visit .It is through  these linkages and E-mailing, that made me decide to share experiences at Ashoka headquarters, specially connected along my journey as a fellow, mainly because of the innovative Meghalaya Model, which fetch me the fellowship.

The 3rd of June- 2008, I also met Judy Frater – another fellow from India at the headquarter, which was an interesting meeting of two fellows from the same country, sharing the similarities and also differences in a more intimate manner. In the presentation programme to the Ashoka Team at the headquarter, I had listened earnestly to the presentation made by Judy, which was a reflection on myself, of the work which I am involved in terms of passion, commitment and enthusiasm a fellow has within oneself.

My Presentation was focused on the strategies and approaches applied in taking forward Impulse and also on the impact that the organization made, the building of inner confidence and the realization of ones strength and weakness in course of scaling up of the initiative in itself which was indeed a self- introspection. The challenge and difficulties that I came across, the sharing of experiences, all these flashed on my mind,  going through thick and thin, when overcoming all these, brought into me a sense of achievement and a smile on my face to talk about it..

To me the day spent at Ashoka Innovator for the Public indeed enjoyable especially, analyzing current changes through a series of inter- audio and video reviewing with the communication team at Ashoka was really fun and great experience

The meeting with ‘Ashoka’s Law for all Initiative Team Francisco Campolini was interesting and thought provoking. It is this arm of the law that can extend legal support especially in confusing difficult situations, equipped with a social entrepreneur advocate, of a high level quality. This support should certainly strengthen the confidence in all aspects of working, whether at the local level in the country that I work or in the international level, especially that Impulse has been entrusted to extend work in other South East Asian countries. Therefore the technical, and legal backing is needed an urgent need for implementation of the various projects to be able to scale up.

The meeting with the team of the ‘Citizens Based Initiative’ is strengthening the sustainability of organization. Any organization for that matter cannot entirely depend on funds support from outside or from governments. So learning process and techniques is a new exercise.

Change Markers Team, was encouraging me to participate in a competitive innovation based, competition also on what in various subjects including global online, open source and coming up with solutions on different topical subjects connected with community reforms and building the overall changes which have brought about, one of the topics is  obtaining solution on anti- trafficking, which is a topic of which I am conversant and having worked on the issue for a while. It happened to be a topic connected with my fellowship, based on the Meghalaya Model, and to further address the problem in a holistic manner, thereby I was convince to participate. A submission was made with the help of a volunteer who joined Impulse through ASHOKA, Caitlin Burton, who had earlier came to Shillong to volunteer with Impulse, and had gained the experience in understanding the subject. Meeting was held with Mavish Ahmad being an Ashoka support in net-working in the United States and India. There were a lot of brains storming sessions with her and various suggestions evolved during the discussions. These would certainly help me in net- working in the United States and India as well.

Surprisingly enough, on my returning back home, discussions over email was held to and fro, how the net-working can be further build up and strengthened. The other discussion was with Beth, which I felt was very touching and that there was a good response from the international volunteers which is unique for the positive respond that I received as an ASHOKA Fellow. The strategy is that assignments given to the volunteers, ensuring that they make use of their expertise, according to the requirements towards the growth of the organization. In this connection research monitoring and evaluation of ongoing project, content for website of Impulse work was undertaken by volunteers..

Beth had offered to come along with her husband for volunteering at Impulse in the coming year as the outcome of our discussion, it was suggested that volunteers can share their testimonies to be uploaded in the Ashoka website. I had then agreed to contact all the volunteers and four of them had already responded and their testimonies are uploaded on their site http://www.ashoka.org/volunteer/testimonials

It became a mutual and internal learning of the volunteers and the team as well, and I kept on sending feed backs to Beth, how to encourage more volunteers in sharing their testimonies to encourage more volunteer to come to North East India.

The volunteers therefore need to come up to the region so that they can document the various development process in their true perspectives, by working in tandem with other organizations who are partner of Impulse, institutions and universities. A clear image and impression on the different aspects of the developmental process of North East India can be conceived. People like Jenny Ho and Caitlin Burton, can therefore engage themselves along with the various linkages, including Beth. In this way the region and also the Impulse as an organization, can be further exposed its work capacity and capability can be enhanced, in the right direction. It would certainly be a new beginning of scaling up the work, specially in skill capacity and resources as well as institution building.

My Journey as an Ashoka Fellow

Suresh Saggar : October 9, 2011 1:21 pm : Blogs

As I reflected being selected as an ASHOKA Fellow. It came after years of involvement as a social entrepreneur, which was a long journey of learning, experience and understanding. It was fifteen years ago that promoted me to bring about a social change in a small village Syntein in Meghalaya, to uplift the livelihood of the people specially the rural artisans. As a social entrepreneur no efforts were spared for planning and adopting strategies, skill building, capacity support and marketing linkages, in bringing about changes for economic livelihood.Today as I look back and review the initiatives taken, it has given me a clearer vision and meaning of being a social entrepreneur- a change maker in uplifting the different sectors of the community. The second aspect is the involvement of young people in community education, adolescent health, life-skill education, which had been taken up and adopted by the government of Meghalaya as a curriculum in schools. I also witnessed the change process that evolved, being identified by young people that help me to carry out and introduce new dimensions for young people participation, to make them realize that each of them can be a change maker.The fellowship period that I had undergone, had somewhat changed my whole outlook in a wider perspective, reflecting upon myself as a social entrepreneur, of each step that I had taken in my self capacity building. For me it was a soul searching exercise focusing on my inner strength and also my weakness. This had brought about a clear concept, in molding Impulse NGO Network, into systematic functioning and gain maturity. Thus the determination level is raised and strengthened to boldly face challenges.

My role as a social change maker took better positioning during the selection process for me to be included as a Ashoka Fellow, at the time when Devashri Mukherjee, Director Youth Venture – Ashoka India, came to Shillong to analyze my change maker strategies, innovation and present me to the panel of selection in June 2006. The panel interview was in-depth and took into account the innovations and strategies which have room to scale up, in order to bring about a larger change process in the community.

The induction ceremony in January 2007 brought together Ashoka Fellow of Asia. I would say that it was one of the most interesting processes that were initiated for Ashoka Fellow that had brought them together as one big family, discussing similar challenges faced by each one of us. This had brought out the inborn leadership qualities and also the desire of each one of us to further improve in the different aspects of social sector and taking the role of solving pressing problems the world is facing, specifically for each one of us, representing different corners and region.The workshop during introduction period had opened new vistas through exchange of views among Fellows from Asia and constantly keeping the ears open of what each Fellow had to say. However there is one tipping point that is the close similarities, in spite of the different working areas that each Fellow is engaged with. The enthusiasm never to give up is inherent in each Fellow, though at different level of approach.It is interesting to note that initially each Ashoka Fellow, like me as an individual feel being alone in the midst of work. However in the induction ceremony, the solitude feeling gave way to a different feeling of belonging to a larger community, having that drive, enthusiasm, facing similar problems and difficulties, and having a stronger support system under one umbrella. Here we learned more about Ashoka, the support system it offers and the linkages that can be build upon. It was indeed a vast kind of network of diverse issues. It was something much more than the stipend received. It therefore depends much on the Ashoka Fellow to utilize resources and strengthen the work involved with, which is most important. To bring about a larger network system to each individual and organization, the resources including the Human resources development, have to be chanelize properly to bring about the required benefits.

These observation, for me as a Fellow had helped to streamline and steer my network, enabling me to channelise the expertise gained, to a wider and broader network. Above all being able to meet and interact with Bill Drayton the Founder of Ashoka Innovators for the Public in person was indeed an encouragement for any social Entrepreneur, and the knowledge one take back with oneself is a lifelong inspiration.

During this period my interaction with Siddharth  Barthakur North East Representative Ashoka New Delhi was something that took forward and in course of time started to mentor my abilities to strive and focus towards my goal further, and his visit to Impulse and helping in team building exercise with the core team and staff was indeed a wonderful effort to build up my team towards realizing the value of social entrepreneurshipDuring June 2007, I received an email from Women Forum France to fill up an application, informing me that I have been selected as one of the Rising Women Talent. It was a surprise for me and later came to know that Ashoka representative Silvia Giovannoni London Office had nominated me for the same. During the process I was finally selected and was invited to go to France in October 2007. I informed the Ashoka London Office Silvia Giovannoni and Andres Falconer that I would like to visit the office and she quickly responded by saying that she would organize networking meeting with other organizations in London, based on my work background that I am involved and also linking me with ASN members of Ashoka, during my visit.The ASHOKA team in London got the opportunity to bring together a Fellow as a process to mentors, as an opportunity for interactions during the ASN dinner which was very candid among ASN members and Fellows. Personally I felt that the ASN members were interested, to understand the challenges face by Ashoka Fellow their commitment, especially Mr Paul Cheng Charities Aid Foundation and Mark Cheng Ambac Assurance UK Limited and his brother, being great supporters of ASHOKA sharing with me thoughts and view about my work, exchanging of resource prospect with intent understanding on the issues and different areas, that each Fellow undertake was indeed a good net working prospect for Fellow. The other ASN member which was I briefly had the opportunity to interact is Bier Rob from SPARCK, above all my interaction Elaine Yew of Egon Zehnder was indeed in dept and had a lot of deliberation and exchange, moreover, as a Rising Talent her company in France was one of the sponsored ,in which I inform her. The most interesting follow up as I was concluding this report  first week of August 2008,I received a call from her, and I was very touch that She inform me that She has also become an ASN member for Ashoka as She was motivated after her discussion with me, and looking forward to assist me in future

There was networking meeting from October 16 to 19 2007. Grace Kang, a volunteer of Ashoka – London helped in networking appointments, keeping in view the background of my work, as well as the Fellowship that I received for combating child trafficking in North East India, the innovation called the Meghalaya Model.
Tuesday, 16th October 2008 – meeting with Jacqueline (Jacqui) Hunt – Equality Now, Director. Equality Now is an international human rights organization, dedicated to action for the civil, political, economic and social rights of girls and women, specially drawing public attention to human rights violation against women.

I was already acquainted with Equality Now – what it is focusing at. However visiting the office in London was an opportunity of inter exchanges of methods, the policy level that cover issues over exploiting women and children, and the part played  by 19 NGOs from different countries of the world involved in UNGIFT – Similarly there has been a lot of such exchanged of viewpoints in Vienna on anti – trafficking issues of Asia.Meeting with Farrah Bokhari – ECPAT, Information Officer – (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual purposes); Through ECPAT on going programme of research, training and advocacy, has been able to raise awareness in government of the plight of children trafficked into UK and inform campaigning efforts.

ECPAT London has been working on similar objectives, worldwide, including many activities in terms of research, which is rather different as compared to ECPAT – Thailand office, which I had visited earlier

Meeting with Alexander Chiadi House (NSPCC) – National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It is a London based society founded in 1884. In October 2007 NSPCC, launched the first advice and information line to protect children trafficked to the UK, for sexual exploitation, forced labour, drugs transport, benefit graud and other crimes.

The work has been interesting, because it brought similarities with Childline India Programme which is the same kind that Impulse NGO Network is working at. The methodology is however worth learning, which I had introduced the system in some ways, in our on going projects.

Thursday 18th October 2007: – Meeting with Bex Keer – Stop the Traffik Campaign Coordinator. Stop the Traffik is a global coalition over 800 organizations in more that 50 countries working together in areas of advocacy, education and fund raising for the combating of human trafficking. The meeting had linked us up with other funding agencies and also the strengthening work with OASIS India, in common projects developed by Ashley Vargese, which will certainly strengthen the Meghalaya Model. The teaming up also serves as a support system, which Impulse NGO Network can acquire.

Meeting with David Philips – Immigration Officer (Intelligence Section). My meeting with David is in fact an additional update in UK immigration procedures and new policy intervention. Although not a part of work appointment with Ashoka, the meeting was indeed fruitful, as we had got acquainted to each other since 2002 in the United States, during the International Visitors programme. His work with governments had given a better insight on the issues of human trafficking and migration.Meeting with Sue Gilbert International Social Service of UK (ISS) is an organization, a part of an international network, working for child right and focus on inter country liaison especially to established contact with parents in country of origins offering care and support and protection.

On my return, Impulse NGO Network was able to pick up in net-working, expatriation of an Indian girl trafficked to India. The case is going on. It is rather fortunate that I brought my organization into networking with Caste-Infor-Centre, which Impulse is in regular touch with them. The international networking has greatly helped in repatriating girls from India. The outcome of the meeting had therefore brought a working relationship of their organization and my organization.

Meeting with William Edmunson – BBC World Service Trust
While I was visiting London, just after the UNGIFT programme in New Delhi. I was contacted by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC), for a live interview.Friday 19th October 2007 – Meeting with Aarti Kapoor – Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Policy Advisor – Child Trafficking. (CEOP) – The Centre is driven by Intelligence, works across the UK and maximizes international links to deliver a holistic approach that combines police powers with dedicated expertise.The most fruitful follow up meeting was with CEOP, that Aarti recommended my name to be part of the child exploitation and online protection in the International Advisory Congress, scheduled from July 15 to 22 -2008,in which I had the opportunity in taking along two youths representing India and Asia. The two youth delegates were a part of the 150 youth representatives from across the world. For them it would be a new beginning of long term networking. The opportunity has also opened for me, in expanding my work concerning children, rights with special focus on child exploitation and trafficking. The networking produced by Ashoka, during my visit last year has greatly helped in introducing online protection for children in India.Meeting with Glynn Rankin – UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) – Head of Legal Services – A multi – Agency centre, coordinates work being done by various stakeholders. Also conduct research, develops training packages for UK Law Enforcement partners, and works to get a strong understanding of the way criminals associated with human trafficking operate.

The experience was indeed an enriching experience and fruitful networking, which I gain as a social entrepreneur.

Personal Experience During Bali Trip

Suresh Saggar : October 9, 2011 1:09 pm : Blogs

My personal experience during the trip to Bali was not only exciting and wonderful, but it was also something different, from other places I had visited in Asia and other parts of the world, as I had closely observed the varied cultural aspects of the people and was also enchanted by the picturesque landscape.

I had read about Bali and heard about it, especially after the tragic Tsunami episode. There are many legends associated with Bali, since the time when it was believed that the island was flat and barren. There is also the belief that Hindu Gods descended upon Bali and created mountains. This is the reason why the people of Bali regard their mountains sacred.

Despite the prevalence of strong cultural roots, Bali has marched ahead with the availability of modern facilities. I had earlier had a notion that Bali like many other neighboring countries there were religious and political conflicts on different issue, which may have affected the economy of the island. However the ground realities were not so as I had imagined. The people are engaged in their day-to-day activities, leading normal and peaceful lives. The local people and also visitors and tourist throng the beaches, the blue sea gently lapping its waters and I sensed the hospitality of the people, where strangers feel safe and secure visiting interesting and historical places and also in going out shopping.

I can see that there is a strong influence of Hinduism. It is pleasant and refreshing to walk in the streets of Bali, where every house has a decorated gateway, connected with performing of rituals and prayers, having striking similarities of the religious fervor of the people of India. Trees and flowers grow in abundance, which is reflected in the passion to decorate their gateways and also temples having carvings and paintings of religious significance. Definitely the people have an inbuilt artistic touch, which is evident in their woodcarvings and other crafts like the making of masks.

Though the people belong to a close knit patriarchal family, yet the woman folk also have an important part to play. It is the women who prepare offerings to various in the household shrines and also elaborate presentations of flowers and food, which they would carry on their heads to the temples. People pray together in feasts, the men remaining seated and the woman kneeling before small statues. These statues are made of sandalwood, gold and even coin tied together.

The economy of the island is mainly based on the natural resources that the island has. The sea provides food and fishes, and the shells from which toys and souvenirs are made for tourist and visitors. In the homes pigs and poultry are reared. Rice is grown extensively, besides coconuts, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables and also coffee. Bali is also famous for its traditional massage, which is similar in many ways to the Khasi massage of my homeland, different from that of the Thai massage.

Bali indeed, has become a tourist destination, but not to the extent of commercial exploitation and damaging of the environment. Unlike Goa in India, the people of Bali are very aware of the preservation of the environment. Bali therefore has its very own uniqueness. So also the food, which has a spicy specialty, like the state, a rice preparation pepper by peanuts. Rice however is a staple diet.

Another remarkable uniqueness of Bali is the handmade lace, having an extra ordinary style and texture. These beautiful pieces of lace are used in costumes and temple ceremonies. The skills introducing lace is traced back since 1930s, which are popularly known “Uluwatu”. The tradition of weaving lace by foot and bamboo looms and by hand is being preserved till today. It takes five days to produce a single piece of lace and the workmanship is very fine and neat. Most lace available in the world, even in Indonesia, is produced by electric and computer guided machines.

A question is often asked of my perception of Bali. My immediate reaction is the people of Bali are cordial and friendly. In spite of the fact that in the course of time many kinds of people from other parts of the world had come to settle in Bali. Yet nothing has changed the work culture of the people, having a strong spiritual background. It is certainly not a fast life, and there is no evidence that many problems exist. The spiritual and religious belief and life itself goes hand in hand. The most important duty of a person is to perform and complete the cremation rights and rituals. It is not exactly an occasion for mourning. Dances and shadow plays are performed, on the eve of the cremation, as the soul is believed to be completely from the body.

Bali makes one feel at home. It is the first time that I travel without a roadmap, although the streets are something like Paris. I did not even have a list of places of which I am to visit I took things as they came, in a cool and leisurely manner matching the characteristics of Bali itself.

This was a travel on invitation not crammed by programmes, instruction and formalities. It was more exploring and discovering, guided by a friend Steve Koons an artist and poet and hosts Reef Addison his wife Sooyun Park which are not brochures oriented, allowing me to be free, for closed and open observation and interaction. It was really a cultural and learning experience, where I was staying with a host family friend of Steve, of mixed cultural backgrounds, a combination of Korean, Japanese and American, without any complicity.

This is a true reflection of Bali culture and religion. My trip to Bali is indeed an adventure and I should say the artist in Steve, is indeed why He choose Bali and his exploration of artwork in the market of Bali is an interesting experience. Reef has the knack of being a truly experience holiday planner and with the experience of exploring the uniqueness of Bali. And Sooyun is truly a Fashion Consultant taking me around to explore fashion and I am glad I took her advice to buy real good collection especially the Balinese lace outfit.

Hinduism was brought about eight hundred years ago, but it was merged with older traditional belief the worship of ancestors and the spirit of natural features like the mountains and streams. Bali had even come under the influence of a Buddhist kingdom. But the core of the religion is the belief that the island belongs to one supreme God. All this had a great impression and impact on me, as back home this is crux of the belief having different cultural backgrounds and food habits, yet there is nothing in conflict.

This therefore is the true spirit of living in understanding whatever the differences, which I have found and discovered in Bali, which I would always remember and cherish.

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