Monday, June 18, 2012

Strengthening Early Warning and Alert System

Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) will shortly launch an Interactive Voice Response System to strengthen early warning and assist in coordination during emergencies. The system will be available in English, Bangla, Hindi and Nepali - four dominant languages spoken in the region. CKS has invested on the hardware and software, and would be happy to receive assistance from INGOs, NGOs, well wishers and friends to strengthen the system. The running cost of the system will cost around 10,000 rupees a month. With the objective that the people of vulnerable locations can receive information without spending any cost this service is being designed. It will run on a toll free number: 1800 200 1424. The system is expected to come live from 21 June 2012 or latest before the end of this week. We seek your support, guidance and suggestions. With back-end support from Chennai, Pune and Jaipur, this system is expected to grow with all of you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Presidential Race

India will soon have a new President. In all likelihood the nominee of the ruling Congress party, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, would get elected and would be the President of India for the next five years. In India the President's role is very limited as it is the Council of Ministers led by the Prime Minister who have the maximum power. More English in this sense. The Indians do not vote for the President! Only the elected representatives of the Indian Parliament and all the Legislative Assemblies in the states are eligible to vote. Now, more interesting part is: even here, whereas the value of vote of all Members of Parliament is the same, the members of State legislative assemblies differ depending on how many people live in that particular state. So, there is all the drama packed in. Although Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is a well known person, currently the Finance Minister of India, someone who is known for his wit and wisdom, and considered by all as a Statesman rather than a politician, and also is from West Bengal, the ruling party in West Bengal led by Ms. Mamata Banerjee has opposed his candidature. So, this has thrown the election open. However, the main opposition parties led by BJP are also divided in their opinion as some of them want to support Mr. Pranab as he is a well respected person and a senior leader. Well, as the drama goes on and the TV channels went on a 24 x 7 mode on the issue, the common people have been forgotten. 

I went to some of the places in Ward 46 of Howrah Municipal Corporation (just inside Kolkata in a sense) and beside Santragachi train station. What you see is the highrises on the highway. But behind it all runs the filth of the city occupied on its sides by the poor and marginalized, the under-served. And they do not want to give polio vaccine for their children because that is the only time they see the government people going to them, and at all other times, they need to run behind the government officials to get even mundane tasks done, like birth certificate for their children. I saw a cartoon a few days ago in which the "poor people" are talking among themselves: "Hope after the politicians all together send one man to occupy the 536 roomed house (referring to the Presidential Palace), hope they will give some time to put us in a single room at least."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I rarely get to know people quickly. On Friday, 8 June, a friend who works in a software company in Chennai told me about a lady and he asked me to call this lady to solve a need for a special program that we are planning at our organization: Center for Knowledge and Skills. The program that we are planning (about which I shall explain on 15 June), has been a dream for me in the last three months.  Even after speaking to four different companies to work out a solution so that we can take it further, we had moved not an inch.  I called her up at about 2.00 pm on that day. And since then, almost after every thirty minutes she kept me busy over the phone. Although I felt it a bit annoying initially, I could see by 5.30 pm that we were not only on track, but had already started off on the journey. I had kept the target date of starting the program on 16 June. With hardly a week to go, that which had not taken place for three months was suddenly looking like..… almost happening! And yes, by night 11.00 pm, we had arrived at a deal, papers had been shared, and even advance had been paid. That was really pretty quick.

The Saturday was no less. Since morning 9.00 am onwards more tete-a-tete. And at 13.00 hrs she called me to say, another deal had been struck in which we we had saved huge amount of money as the company with whom we would be participating will give us the service on a deal! Ooh! And then she called me at 4.00 pm to give the final message. We would be on and ready for trial by 13 June. I couldn’t believe my ears. Rarely  I get to see women of steel. And here is one--someone whom you can trust with a job, explain it, and forget it.  It is just done. Thank you Navaz.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mapping Brick Fields for Goal India

CKS has got another partnership contract to map 100 brick fields for Goal India. All these brick fields have been chosen by Goal India for promotion of water, health and sanitation indicators among those who work as laborers in them. CKS has been asked to map the brick fields on Google Maps so that these places along with all data available including development indicators may be tracked, and appropriate embeddable links may be generated for web deployment as well.

The task started on 1 June 2012 is expected to be completed by 15 July. The field level collection of data is underway, and would be completed before the end of this month so enable mapping and link generation.

We thank all the staff of Goal India and their partners for their valuable support. Our special thanks go to Mr. John W., Mr. Sujay C, and Ms. Wendy H., of Goal India office at Kolkata for their guidance and suggestions that have helped to frame this mapping exercise as a model.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Training of Community Mobilizers

Four big long days. From 7 – 10 June I am in Kolkata training 65 community workers in mobilization skills so that they are able to deal with the resistant families and are able to take up the challenge of making them understand the need of polio vaccine for their children. The challenge for us has been much more! There is regular drop out of these mobilizers (mostly women between the age group of 19 – 28) as their own families resist these girls and women from going out of their homes to work! And they do not want their women to move from house to house, talk to men and women, convince them about taking polio vaccine because it is socially unacceptable to them. 

So, at times it happens that even on the day of training they drop out! How to convince those who are supposed to convince others? The days were hot and humid, but the evenings had a bit of thunderstorm. In fact the newspapers reported that 4 people died in a wall collapse inside Kolkata, and two persons died in nearby Hooghly district, about 30 kilometers from Kolkata, after a lightening stuck a group of people watching a local soccer match. 

Coming back to the training part, I had just one long session on the first day, and on other days it was mostly coordinating with the other three trainers, and step in whenever required. I also managed to have couple of meetings separately : one with the coordinators and another with the supervisors, to understand gaps, to motivate them into program implementation and achieve highest standards in reaching the goals set.