Monday, May 25, 2015

From Desk to Changing Destinies

As Director of Social Welfare Institute in Raiganj, I was working directly with communities, toughing the lives of over 200,000 children, and thousands of families. One of the most important part of satisfaction was the employment I was able to generate for hundreds of families through various interventions and programs. In India, if one can do a great service, it is giving employment to another person. Many of those staff moved into better positions, and good number of them joined various low level government positions in health sector. 

In Kolkata, when I worked as State Inter Agency Coordinator (2009-2010) in the post-Cyclone Aila response, though not much of controls were with me in the response days, the information I processed and provided enabled reaching out to several deserving communities. I also focused on state level capacity building of humanitarian agencies. So, number of partnerships were developed to strengthen human capacity to respond to disasters. As State Emergency Response Coordinator with Core Group Polio Project, (2011-2013) again I got the opportunity to work in the thick of things, with services reaching out to the unreached children, specially those denied of vaccination by those who are supposed to protect the children: their own families. Managing partnerships, reaching out to over 200,000 children, with more than 300 staff engaged in the process was an amazing experience. 

The Uttarakhand experience in a sense was desk based work, leading a small team of highly qualified humanitarian workers who had lot more experience than I did. However, soon I knew why the UN Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) had placed me there. It was a whole lot of negotiations that were conducted patiently with various levels of government officials, designing and setting the course of action, clearing the paths for early recovery of communities through appropriate guidance, advice and advocacy in the Districts and State. Soon I found that we had achieved more than we had hoped for. We had built a new way of doing things! We had influenced the way services would be provided to hundreds and thousands of people who had been affected / impacted by the disaster of May 2013. It was an incredible experience. 

The experience of working on the Multi-Hazard Vulnerability Mapping (MHVM) project (2014-2015) was an unique experience in the seven months I was engaged with the project. Key outcomes: the name of the project had to be changed to increase acceptability at the government level, designed how the project needs to be implemented for better long term impact, and set the course of action through a government owned process. The Uttarakhand amd MHVM project experiences have increased my confidence in working with government, and my negotiation skills. I have learnt how to strike at the root without being too vocal in public. I have learned how to analyze systems and power structures, so that the interventions are truly owned by the stakeholders and give the maximum output.

Then I had the break from mid-Feb to mid-April break to welcome our son Rajarshi. I began working from 15 April at UNICEF India Country Office as Consultant - Disaster Risk Reduction. Highly desk based so far. If someone asks me what do I do, I say, " I am like the housemaid. I do whatever comes on my way, besides some regular tasks....". People laugh and wonder! As of now, the tasks are multi-fold. I prepare number of TORs for various positions and consultancies, attend some meetings, prepare several types of reports. Some of the key documents I reviewed and gave inputs on include: Government of India's policy document on Smart Cities (and prepared a brief and a presentation on the same); prepared a beautifully designed Risk Profile of Bihar State (albeit with limited data); and a document on School Safety.

Present tasks at hand besides making of TORs that don't seem to end, (a) preparation of a district level risk profile for all states of India along with two colleagues in UNDMT; (b) designing program on preventable disaster risks; and (c) planning for expanding program interventions in the country on DRR. One key problem: I am still not able to measure how many people would be positively impacted by what I do. It is only that information can satisfy my heart. 

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