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Authority vs Power

The anatomy of the poor

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When I volunteered at Mother Teresa's

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Authority vs Power

2017-01-07         Shukla Bose

Last week I had an interesting discussion with my school leadership team about the difference between authority and power. We call these informal discussions in my office, at the end of the day, our “Chats for Clarity”. There is no agenda, no time hard stops, and lots of coffee, fair amount of giggles and intense discussions on issues that may have cropped up recently and our take on that. These issues could range from school affairs to personal matters but what is most important about these chats is the analysis we do to check if we are all on the same page. I find it useful for bonding, reviewing where we are, and what we have learnt recently. 

So, as we chatted this particular evening, we realized that although power and authority stem from the same concept, they are both very different as they contain deeper meanings.

The main difference between power and authority is the degree of control and influence they have for individuals. While authority is the sanctioned right given to a person to get things done in an official capacity, power is the ownership of authority and control to influence the opinions, movements and behavior of others. Traditionally and technically, authority is the right given to a person to give orders to subordinates; power has a wider scope and enables one to do what they want. Again as per the textbook, authority can be taken away as it is official, whereas power cannot be taken away because it is personal and linked with the individual’s personality, wealth and not designation.

As we continued chatting that evening, we realized that in Parikrma we experience the concepts of power and authority very  differently. We realized that here is another way Parikrma is so different. Right from the day we started our organisation, our education philosophy discouraged any hierarchy and bureaucratic processes. So, while we have some teachers who have more responsibilities and are made more accountable, they are in no way more formidable and definitely never, above questioning. Our open-door policy of dealing with issues leads to transparency in decision-making and greater degree of ownership of the outcomes by everybody. I remember that in the early days of our operation there was a great deal of discomfort amongst the newly hired senior and experienced teachers because they felt that they had no power and authority and would not be taken seriously by their colleagues. It has taken us several years to define the norm that power comes from designation but authority comes from attitude. Our approach to the concepts of “order and discipline” is a total antithesis to the textbook and tradition. We believe that leaders need to author their own style and processes, which gives them the authority, that comes from within and not from any designation or label. In Parikrma we believe that power comes from external factors and is prone to corruption and artificiality. In our schools, we believe that each one of us needs to author our vision for the organization and that is what gives us the authority that has little power but high degree of will.

 

It is with these beliefs that we have survived the last fourteen years and shown impact that has been unprecedented. We are now poised to take these beliefs to a larger number of state-run schools and see how we can influence change in a greater scale.

 

Each one of us in Parikrma has immense authority but very little power. And, with this we are empowering our students, our agents of change to bring a difference in the quality of life of their family and community. And that change is on….

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The anatomy of the poor

2016-12-26         Shukla Bose

THE ANATOMY OF THE POOR

I have been working closely with people in the slums for around 18 years. The people I work with from around 72 slums in Bangalore are the parents of the children that come to the schools run by Parikrma Humanity Foundation. While this is my most recent and longest experience, I have had some exposure to slums in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Nepal, Bangladesh, New York and Mexico City. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the slums, I do have data that has been time tested about how desperately poor people in the slums look at themselves in the role of parents.

When you talk of slums it conjures up images of squalid hutments, over flowing drains and cows and children feeding together on garbage. These are the images that we are familiar with. Books like Shantaram and movies like City of Joy, Salam Bombay and the recent Slumdog Millionaire have done their bit to reinforce those visuals. And, these visuals are very real albeit a little difficult to digest.

Bangalore, known for its salubrious climate, has emerged as the Silicon Valley of India in the past two decades. It is the home for many multinational IT companies and people from all over the world come here for employment and career growth. This has resulted in ever growing real estate development and the steady migration of unskilled labour from rural India. These nameless people have made the streets of Bangalore their home with the hope of bettering their lives in the near future. According to an official report, at least 1.4 million people sleep in slums every night in Bangalore. But most of us think that the number is way higher. According to the Karnataka Slum Development Board, the city has at least 600 slums. However, the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA) has said that the city has over 1,500 non-notified slums which are not counted by the government and that at least 25% to 35% of the population resides in slums all over Bangalore.

Without getting caught in the quagmire of numbers, I would like to state that considering Bangalore claims to be a modern new age city, it is surprising that such filth and squalor co exist with luxurious gated communities. But then, it has always been true that there is a symbiotic relationship between the rich and the poor, for where there is the rich you will also need the poor to serve them. The spirit of the city depends on how invisible is the poor made out to be.

Slum infrastructure is also not what I had set out to write about today. I want to talk about the mind of the slums. We started our NGO nearly 14 years ago with two things in mind. We want to provide equality and opportunity to the children living in slums through the vehicle of quality education. Towards that end we have 4 schools and a college that provide totally free but high quality education to 1700 children from several slums and orphanages. Most of my highly dedicated and committed team is familiar with my oft-repeated phrase  “Parikrma’s mission is not just to take the child away from the slums but to take the slum away from the child”. If we ponder on this for a while, we will realize the enormity of this task. We are no longer talking about an education that will equip a child with the knowledge and skills to acquire a good job however cherished it may be. We are now talking of a sea change of mindset, thinking and approach to living.

“Nothing has a stronger influence on their children than the universal lives of their parents,” said Carl Jung (1875-1961)

If we were to go by these words alone, however true it may be, we would not have got started. Changing mindset that has evolved out of generations of the collective unconscious what Jung calls “the universal lives” is a daunting task. And, the overwhelming numbers on top of it makes it no easier. However, we know that Passion, Perseverance and Patience can create miracles. And, we are seeing small miracles slowly emerge.

What does “taking the slum away from the child” mean? 92% of our students have someone close in their family having gone to jail. 98% of our fathers are alcoholics. 75% of our fathers have multiple marriages and 80% of our mothers are victims of domestic abuse. And statistics that are not openly talked about are even more distressing like that of rape, sexual abuse, child labour and contiguous marriages. This is the universe that impacts the child’s experience and exposure. This universe shapes the child’s expectations from life which defines his or her aspirations.  It abridges life plans to short-term goals and reduces the glitter of the future ahead.

In schools for slum children, attendance, continuation of studies, homework, following instructions, preparation for exams, gender stereotypes are very challenging issues. In Parikrma we have managed to bring attendance, drop out rate under control but continue to be challenged with discipline issues, peer pressure, foul language, and resolving conflicts with aggression. I tell our teachers that it is important to take our life perspectives away from this equation and begin to really see what is in our children’s lives and minds. They will most naturally respond to situations with what they are familiar with. It will take them several years to respond the way they have been taught in school. But it will happen one day and that is when the true potential of the child will get unlocked.

Most NGOs are challenged with the reality of being either taken for a ride or being taken for granted by their beneficiaries. And it is this fear that often inhibits them from giving their hundred percent. The question I ask here is, is giving the minimum enough? If we are to be true to our philosophy of helping our students live life on equal terms then should we not give them equal opportunities?  Then how is the basic, enough? Is sustainability of the program more important than living out the true philosophy of the mission? I pose these questions because many a times NGOs have to dovetail their program to meet the guidelines set by donors who don’t really know the mind of the slums.

I have often been told by well meaning donors who are successful self-made people, that our students must rough it out so that they can cope with challenges ahead. When I rue that we cant give a bus to our college students who have to travel 18 km one way to college by public transport, I am often told that the interested students should not have a problem. Here the question I ask is, would we not consider the distance to school and college an important parameter for choice as is quality and expense? How many know that most of our students have had to stay up the night resolving a father’s drunken brawl, or an elder brother’s anti social activities? Would not that also influence a student’s mind to just give up the grind of getting up at 5.30am, change three public buses and be in college on time? When a student sees constant fights in the household for money to buy rations, how many can grit one’s teeth and do their homework rather than quitting everything and start earning themselves? How many girls can resist the temptation to run away with a rowdy who is attentive and flattering and apparently promises a better life financially?

It is also these experiences that are not extraordinary but the usual, that shape the mind of the children from slums. They feel no shame to use foul language because for them it is just common parlance. They feel no despair in failing the exams because they are anyway the only ones that have even gone to school. The only entertainment they have exposure to at home, is the sitcoms where the hero teases the girl in the beginning of the song and the heroine falls in love with the him by the time the song ends. How can well-wishers like us, encourage our students not to get sucked into the usual but become the unusual? How can we teach our students not to just escape away from the slums but find something to escape into?

So, next time anyone says that they too have come from poor homes and yet have made something of themselves, we should ask them very directly if they have come from the slums. It is very important for us to acknowledge that there is a difference between living in a poor home and living in the slums. Living in slums is spun with a sense of oppressive despair, greater fragility because loved ones die quickly because of negligence. Girls in the slums are the most vulnerable because of lack of attached toilets, which expose them to licentious scrutiny of unruly youth. Here the act of suicide is a powerful weapon used against failed love, as a piece of blackmail, as revenge for years of torture and domestic violence .We encounter at least 2 to 3 suicides every year in the communities we work with.  Financial deprivation and poverty exaggerates the issues but it is again years of living and experiencing that shapes the mindset.

In Parikrma, we have tried to reverse the tide and trend by complimenting the harsh reality with love and nurturing, to create a slow shift of allegiance. We have tried to bust the myths about slums that exist in the outer world and the myths about the world that exists in the slums. It is undoubtedly a long journey but it is a journey that has to be taken. And, we hope that in the process we can create a generation of new world citizens who may live in the slums but don’t think like the slums.

 

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Of awards & inspiring teachers

2016-09-12         Shukla Bose

In the month of July, we got to know that Parikrma had been nominated for the CNBC Digitizing India Award 2016 in the category of Digital Innovations driving Social Impact. This award was a collaboration of CNBC and Cisco and aimed at recognizing and celebrating the digital transformational journey of entities across corporate India and government institutions. It was amazing to be recognized at the national platform. Because our numbers are few as compared to the millions of beneficiaries that many other entities serve, we never thought that we would be at all eligible for such an honour. Parikrma was conceptualized with a focus on quality and on “how well” a job is done and not on “how many”. So, keeping that in mind to have grown to 4 schools, a Junior College and a Teacher Training Centre serving about 1700 children and nearly 20,000 in the communities, seems to us a large number to manage although it may pale as compared to the needs in our country. We have never tried to compete with other NGOs that are doing an amazing job serving millions of children every day. In fact, I have great good will, respect and tons of admiration for such NGOs. But we are different and that is our strength.So, when I got the mail from the Managing Editor of CNBC inviting us to go to Delhi to receive the award on the 15th July, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was in a bit of shock, to be honest. I was also very touched when the organisers invited two of our students to travel to Delhi as well. In a business forum like this no one is that thoughtful. So I decided to take Amruteshwar from our Nandini Layout School who scored 97% in his Board exam and Pavithra from our Sahakaranagar School who scored more than 94%. It was just perfect, one girl and a boy. And it was the best incentive we could ever think of giving our high achievers. But Parikrma’s celebration is never complete if we do not acknowledge the key architects of our success, our teachers. So I decided to push our luck and take along Kalpana Singh who has been the longest serving, highly motivated, supremely committed teacher for the last 13 years. She is today the Head of Academic Administration and knows the names of all our children from nearly 72 slums and 4 orphanages and every student that has graduated from Parikrma in the last six years and which college they are studying in and where they are working. This event was held at the Taj Palace and the first such experience for our two kids. Amruteshwar’s mother is a sweeper in the Corporation and Pavithra’s father is an office peon. For both of them every single moment starting from the flight, plush hotel, grand buffet and meeting all the VIPs was an event that will always be etched in their memories and shape the days to come. Thank you Cisco and CNBC.But it does not end there. Kalpana and I decided to take them sightseeing in Delhi the next day. They saw the Red Fort, the Qutub Minar, the Parliament and Rastrapathi Bhavan. It was such a wondrous experience for me to view these sights through the eyes of children. I took a pause and thought to myself about how blessed I was to get this award because of the hard work of so many Parikrma members back home, to see the old sights of Delhi through the unblinking eyes of children and share it with someone like Kalpana who I have always counted on. The award was for digital innovations in education that will change the trend of learning, in a historic city like Delhi and poised to be taken forward by future generations of children that will come out of Parikrma who will redefine the meaning of equality, success and responsibility.Parikrma has really made hope work.

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When I volunteered at Mother Teresa's

2016-09-06         Shukla Bose

The 4th of September 2016, Mother Teresa was declared as a saint in Vatican. She will from today be called the Saint Teresa of Calcutta. We hear of celebrations in Kolkata, Vatican, and the hundreds of Missionaries of Charity centres across the world. I have such mixed feelings about this canonization. I am of course delighted that none other than the Pope of the Catholic Church is bestowing her this honour considering she had the courage to leave her convent in 1976 although she had taken a vow never to leave it. I have heard from the some of the early nuns, some of who are no more, about her inner turmoil and struggle to leave the Loreto Convent. I too was a Loreto student and studied in the Loreto Covent in Darjeeling where Mother Teresa started one of her earliest centres. That was the beginning of my volunteering days with Mother Teresa. I volunteered with her for seven years in Kolkata right through college and higher studies. I was just one of the many volunteers she had but she was the one amongst many for me.Amidst all these celebrations I wonder what would Mother Teresa say if she was alive. She truly demonstrated selfless service and had no personal benefit in mind when she would roll up her sleeves to take away the maggots one by one from an infected wound of a dying man. I have seen her do that so often in Nirmal Hriday, a hospice that she started in her early days to tend to the sick and abandoned people in Kolkata. There were hundreds of patients with terminal illnesses like cancer and sometimes very infectious diseases as well. This centre actually smelled of death but you could never believe that when you saw the tenderness with which Mother Teresa would speak and handle the dying. I know Mother had no ambition of recognition and awards, leave alone canonization, when she served the poor. Her only ambition was to make people around her feel love. Mother Teresa was such an antithesis to the images one creates when one hears about a world leader. She barely had any physical presence…I will always remember her as a diminutive, bent and wrinkled figure, shuffling around in her large sandals. She was a leader who had none of the qualities that a traditional leader is expected to have. She was so soft-spoken that it was sometimes difficult to hear her. She was never good at oratory but whenever she spoke there was a pin drop silence. Her eyes were soft and kind and not the piercing eyes that leaders are reputed to have. I believe she was the best CEO I have ever worked for because she had thousands of us doing things for her without her ever asking us to do it. But she was not at all conscious of her image and the impact she had on people. I remember when I had taken one of my friends from Denmark to meet her; she was quite shocked that Sonja had come all the way from Europe just to meet her. She thought all that was so unnecessary. I remember that even when I would go to Nirmal Hriday during the weekends, which was adjacent to the iconic Hindu Kalighat temple, I would hear the rumble of criticism about her. She has been criticized for hobnobbing with tyrants, for taking photographs with political leaders but mostly for “converting” the dying with her Christian prayer. I would be often asked if that was true. I of course saw her pray with and for the dying. It was the most poignant and serene sight. I don’t think Mother was ever conscience or even aware of the religion of the sick she tended. To her it was the suffering that mattered. Her prayer brought calmness around all of us and many times the patient died with a smile. I learnt from Mother that the best gift one can give anyone is the sense of dignity and that does not require any money or material wealth. And so I sit here wondering what would Mother Teresa do to see all the “tamasha” to use her own words, around her canonization today? I think she would just quietly kneel down and pray.

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