Month: October 2005

Transcending Challenges

Transcending Challenges

Special children have been in the news recently for their remarkable achievements. Here’s another bright feather in their caps. Since last month special children from Anand Dighe Jiddh School and St John the Baptist School for Children in Need of Special Care have been learning a sport that not many students attempt – roller skating! And what’s more, according to their trainers, these children are learning the technique of skating twice as fast as other children. The special children never fail to surprise us, do they?

Special Skating.jpg

Team Galaxy International Roller and Ice Skating Club of India, based in Mulund and with several offshoots in Thane, approached the special schools and offered free training to their students. The founders of the institute thought that because special children hardly ever get to play such sports, a free course will do a world of good to their athletic abilities. Besides, training them in skating will enable these students to participate in the Special Olympics next year.

So, from September 2005, every week, the trainers have been carrying free skates to the schools and training the special students in the art of roller-skating. When the trainers, Avadoot Tawde and Rahul Panandikar first started their training, the special children had never even seen a pair of roller skates before. But in no time, they got the hang of skating and soon wanted to try it themselves. According to Tawde, “Though it was difficult to train them initially, they learned faster.” Pandandiklar adds, “They respond to demonstration and action more than verbal explanations. Other than that, we don’t see much difference in the skills between them and other children.” There’s one important difference that is reflected in their attitude towards the sport: because special children don’t get to dabble with such sports often, they seem to value it more than others.

Unlike other children, skating is not merely an enjoyable sport for the special children, it is also a means of physical activity that improves the coordination of their body movements. According to experts, skating is beneficial to special children because it tends to balance vestibular stimuli and improves reflexes of the skater. The resultant psychological benefit is increased self-confidence, which helps them in living a more positive life.

Come December, these students will participate in the skating competition organised by Team Galaxy, which will, for the first time, have an event reserved for the special children. They will once again prove that they can transcend from their mental and physical disabilities and rise to the challenge. Perhaps these children are called ‘challenged’ because time and again they challenge every obstacle that comes in their way. And in doing so, they challenge our notion of them as disabled.

Special Scientists

Special Scientists

Special achievements need special recognition. Three students of Anand Dighe Jidd School have proved that they are indeed special by becoming the first mentally challenged children whose project has been selected for the regional round of the 13th National Children’s Science Congress (CSC). While children from Thane have always excelled at the annual CSC, the Jidd School students have made this year extraordinary.  

Special Scientists

Creating records is not new for Thane. Last year our city outperformed all others cities as four of its projects reached the national round of CSC – the highest from any city. Another highlight of last year’s CSC was that for the first time, students from TMC-run schools also participated in the CSC.  

The district level round was held on Sunday, 9 October 2005, at MGM School in Nerul. Out of the 93 projects at this level, 20 moved up to the regional level, of which 11 are from Thane city, 7 from Navi Mumbai and 2 from adjacent areas. The Jidd School project was on “techniques for purification of water”. State coordinator for CSC, Surendra Dighe of Jidnyasa said, “What’s impressive is that their project was evaluated and selected for the regional round on the merit of its quality.” Manali Kulkarni (Group Leader), Vikram Desai, Laxmi Patil and Tushar Kharker comprise the project team while Vaishali Shirke is the Guide Teacher. Much of the credit goes to Shirke, whose perseverance and belief made this possible. Sandhya Dharde, the district coordinator for the CSC, also took personal interest in Jidd School’s project.

Whether or not students of Jidd School reach the national round of CSC, they have proved that with faith and conviction, you can meet any challenge and succeed. Like the Jidd School students, many special children cope with their challenges head on and set an example for the rest of us, teaching us that challenges are simply opportunities that are disguised.

For readers who are unaware, CSC is organised by National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), an apex organisation that endeavours to popularise science and technology by stimulating scientific and technological disposition. NCSTC has been founded by Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. The State Science Council of all the States along with prominent NGOs working in the field of science are the members of this organisation. CSC is an opportunity for students to learn science by participation. Children are given socially relevant themes that need scientific solutions. Each theme lasts for two years. This is the second year for the theme “Water resources and their future utilisation”.   The regional round will be held on 20 November 2005 followed by state level eliminations before the national convention that is held every year in the last week of December in the presence of the President of the Country.   Keep reading this column for updates.

The Write Opportunity

Since the last ten years or so, city-based student-welfare NGO Jidnyasa has been publishing a magazine called Shaleya Jidnyasa. What’s unique about this magazine is that it is produced entirely by students – everything, from editing and article contributions to page layout and cover design, is conceived and executed by students from various city schools. The magazine is published in English and Marathi and is circulated among students in the city.

Jidnyasa is in the process of expanding the scope of the magazine to include more relevant and contemporary content. For this purpose Jidnyasa will form an editorial board comprising students who are inclined towards writing and content creation. If you are in class VIII or IX, like to meet other students, and are creative and innovative, then you may find this a good opportunity to try your hand at the craft of writing. The NGO is also looking for a student who can be appointed as an “Editor” and who will coordinate the production of the magazine. Students learning mass communication or journalism might find this a useful experience.   Call Jidnyasa on 98201 37576 for more details.

Elders’ Day Out

Elders’ Day Out

In an era when apathy towards elders is becoming a norm rather than an exception, when grandparents are looked upon as a burden and are often abused, and when increasing number of crimes are being committed against senior citizens, it is reassuring that there are still people who respect the aged.

Elder's Day Out

A couple of weeks ago, more than 200 elders attended the thoughtful programme organised in their honour. The occasion was World Elder’s Day and the organisers were their own grandchildren and students of Sri Ma Group of Institutions. This year’s theme was ‘Respect for Elders at Home’. The children applied tilak, conducted aarti, and sought blessings of their grandparents. An elocution competition on the topic ‘We and Our Grandparents’ and a slogan-writing competition added to the emotional energy of event. The children also presented entertainment programmes and played games in which grandparents also participated.

The next day, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti, the elders experienced another round of compassion when they participated in a free comprehensive health check-up camp, complete with specialist doctors to check every ailment. The camp was organised by Sri Ma Senior Citizens Welfare Centre, which also sponsored follow up consultations, x-rays and other tests where required. The trust also undertook the cost of operation and its pre and post-operative expenses of those elders who were diagnosed with cataract but could not afford the operation. Elders were shown a documentary on hearing aid.

Refreshments, free transport and free medicines for the participants were other highlights of the camp.

The government of India recently announced that it is going to introduce a bill to safeguard the interest of senior citizens by ensuring that children provide for their parents, both financially and emotionally. While it’s great to see the government making such a move, what is painful is that the need for it has arisen due to the indifference of the young towards their old. The children often forget that they owe their lives to their parents and grandparents. They forget that someday they will become old too.

Woman worshippers
Goddess Durga, with her multi-dimensional aspects, represents the supreme power in the female form. Mother of Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati, Durga Ma protects us from misery by defeating evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger and ego. In that sense, Goddess Durga is the ultimate projection of womanhood. No wonder a group of women from the city celebrate this feminine energy by dedicating one of the ten days in the Durgotsav festival to the spirit of women entrepreneurs.

Every year, on the fifth day of the Durgotsav festival (Panchami), women from Thane’s New Bengal Club, an NGO that works for the underprivileged, the variously disabled and women-related issues, organises AnandaMela, a fun-fair that showcases products and services of woman entrepreneurs.

This year too, about 50 women entrepreneurs from Thane and Mumbai participated in AnandaMela to sell jewellery, women’s wear, readymade garments, fashion fabrics, handicrafts and many more items. The Bengali festive spirit was evident in the wide array of sweet delicacies and the typical attire of the bhadralok and the bhadramohila. The chief guest for the evening was entrepreneur Smita Mahajan, who is the chairperson of Bombay Management Association’s Thane chapter and also of Matru Shakti, a city-based NGO.

The proceeds of AnandaMela are used for humanitarian activities and including donations to charities. For the beneficiaries of the proceeds, AnandaMela is not less than the blessing of Goddess Durga, who reveals her omnipotence in mysterious ways.

Walking like Mahatma Gandhi

Walking like Mahatma Gandhi

In spite of what some people think, Mahatma Gandhi’s values and principles are more relevant now than ever before. Today, even as his ideologies are being criticised by people of far less stature, we would do well to remember that the world’s most respected thinkers openly declared their reverence of the father of our nation – Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, George Bernard Shaw, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Sardar Vallabhai Patel – the list is endless.

October 02, 2005 was Gandhiji’s 136th birth anniversary. It was also the seventh consecutive year of the Shanti Yatra or peace march in the city. The focus was on children this time, with more than 500 students from 12 prominent schools participating in the march. Like in the past, the march began at St John the Baptist High School and ended at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Shivaji Path. People from all religions participated in walk that covered prominent city areas like 3 petrol pump, Hari Nivas, Naupade Police Station, Ice Factory, and Dr Ambedkar Road.

85-year-old Cardinal Simon Pimenta came all the way from the Archbishop House Colaba to participate in the Peace March. Notwithstanding his old age, the Cardinal walked the entire stretch of five kilometres without a break. Such was the Cardinal’s regard for the Mahatma that when come concerned volunteers offered him to sit in the car that was travelling alongside as a precaution, he replied, "If you’re tired, why don’t you sit in the car?" Commissioner of Police, D Sivanandan, Dr Homi Dhalla, president of the World Zoroastrian Cultural Federation in Mumbai and Dr. Dawood A Dalvi, ex-Principal of DnyanSadhana College were among the other dignitaries who participated in the march.

Shanti Yatra started as an initiative of Garden School at Cherai in 1999 and then in the subsequent years, several city-based NGOs joined hands to participate in organising the march. The peace march receives the support of hundreds of peace loving residents of Thane. The purpose of Shanti Yatra is to spread the eternal wisdom of Mahatma’s values. Observing October 02 as a holiday and paying a tribute to the great man is not sufficient. What we need is to remember what Gandhji lived and died for. Throughout the march, nobody shouted slogans, but instead carried placards with Mahatma’s messages written on them.

After the March, Pranjali Deshpande, a class VIII student from Vasant Vihar School spoke spiritedly about the significance of ideals such as self-reliance and simplicity that Gandhiji strongly advocated and practised. The participants of the march also sang Gandhiji’s bhajans. Cardinal Pimenta spoke about Gandhiji’s philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence), while Commissioner Sivanandhan congratulated the organisers for the rally and stressed on the need for embracing Gandhiji’s values in the present times. "We must follow his teachings to make this country a better place," he said. The participants then took an oath read out by Anand Turakia from NGO Sevadham. Loosely translated from Hindi, it read thus: "We pledge that we will follow the path upon which the apostle of non-violence walked. We will assimilate the essence of all religions. We will give importance to humanity, non-violence and peace. We will strengthen the bond of love between people and we will strive to make our country a haven of peace."

Most of us tend to become discouraged when we think about the sorry state of affairs that surround us today and wonder whether it is possible to adhere to Gandhiji’s principles. At such times, it would be wise to remember what the Mahatma once said when describing how the British would react to his winning strategy of non-violent activism: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Let this philosophy of persistence guide us along our way so that we never give in to hopelessness; let us walk the path of peace like the Mahatma did.

Street Smarts Usually Trump Academic Brilliance

Street Smarts Usually Trump Academic Brilliance

Philip Anderson
Philip Anderson | INSEAD Alumni Professor of Entrepreneurship
Philip Anderson is the INSEAD Alumni Fund Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, in Singapore. He is also director of the 3i VentureLab and director of the International Centre for Entrepreneurship, which includes the Caesarea Rothschild Entrepreneurship Centre in Israel. His undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics is from the University of California at Davis, and he received his Ph.D. in Management of Organizations from Columbia University. Manoj Khatri caught up with him on his visit to India.

How would you define entrepreneurship in the modern business context? What are the different aspects of entrepreneurship?

That’s an interesting question because different people have different answers. For example, is the self-employed owner of a one-man repair shop an entrepreneur? Is the founder of a venture-capital backed start-up whose stake has been diluted to five per cent an entrepreneur? If you identify entrepreneurship as owner-management, only the former is, but economic policy is oriented toward creating more of the latter kind of enterprise.

For us at INSEAD, entrepreneurs build companies that are specifically crafted to exploit a particular opportunity. This gives them an advantage over older companies that were designed in response to challenges of the past and must change to adapt to today’s requirements. Entrepreneurs can build new companies. They can also rejuvenate existing companies via buyouts and turnarounds. They can also build new companies inside existing companies, which we would call corporate entrepreneurship.

There are two key aspects to entrepreneurship. The first is forming or reforming a company. The second is that entrepreneurs behave like owners, not like people who are maximizing some other shareholders’ value. They may or may not have ownership stakes that are actually significant, but their interests are completely aligned with those of the owners. They behave like principals, not agents.

What are the key forces that govern the success of entrepreneurial ventures? What makes a successful entrepreneur? Can entrepreneurship skills be learned or are they always innate?

The single most important factor is quality of management. Most ventures do not end up doing what their business plans envisioned. High-quality managers adjust to unforeseen situations; because they build the company as they go along and behave like owners, they win by being more nimble and adaptive. The next most important factor is that successful ventures attack real problems or needs that people are willing to pay them to address. Far too many entrepreneurs create value propositions that customers find "nice to have" but not "must do." After quality of management, the best predictor of success is whether a venture is attacking a problem that is causing pain for an attractive group of customers they can reach without burning too much cash.

The will to spot opportunities and take risks in order to realize them is part of a person’s overall makeup, which is partly innate and partly a product of his upbringing. The best way to learn how to be an entrepreneur is to work at the side of a successful one. The problem is that entrepreneurs are understandably reluctant to hire those who cannot help them immediately. Therefore our role in business schools is not to teach people how to be entrepreneurs. It is to impart skills and insights that allow our graduates to hit the ground running and make an immediate contribution to an entrepreneurial venture. That allows our students to learn from a veteran entrepreneur those lessons that can only be conveyed by working together.

Can you bring out the significance of the role of entrepreneurs in a developing nation like India? What lessons can we learn from the entrepreneurs of the developed world?

It is difficult for a company in a developing country to do exactly what a rival in a developed country does, because it is not a level playing field. Foreign companies have access to capital, technology, human resources, and infrastructure that often give them an advantage. Of course, Indian firms can compete on cost, but such strategies will keep Indian wage levels at subsistence levels and run the risk of foreigners pitting India against China to see who will work for the least pay. Therefore, the best way for Indian companies to create value is by seizing opportunities that foreigners have not spotted or cannot use to their advantage. Often, existing companies are not optimally configured to exploit such opportunities. Even great companies like Tata or Biocon can’t be in every business and can’t pursue every economic possibility. India needs entrepreneurs who can build companies that either do something foreigners are not doing, or that do the same thing in different ways.

There are many lessons India can learn from entrepreneurs in other countries, and it is fortunate that so many great entrepreneurs are of Indian descent and passionately desire to give back to their mother country. One of the most important is that savvy, toughness, and high energy usually count for more than sheer intellect. The most highly educated person who does well on tests often does not make the best entrepreneur. Indians are used to the idea that you need to be a top student from a top university to make it into the most prestigious companies or the civil service; the rules are different for entrepreneurs. Street smarts usually trump academic brilliance.

Another important lesson is that risk-taking and opportunism can go along with frugality. Really good entrepreneurs squeeze as much as possible out of limited amounts of cash. They leverage the money of others, and never invent the wheel when a good, cheap one is available in the marketplace. By keeping the rate at which they burn cash low, entrepreneurs can try a lot of ideas, most of which do not work, without losing because they ran out of money before they hit upon a workable value proposition.

What are the unique challenges that entrepreneurs face in a vast, multi-faceted country like India? How should an entrepreneur prepare to counter these?

Indian entrepreneurs often look to America for examples, and quickly realize that the relative homogeneity of the US can be a great advantage. Something that works in one part of the country can often be rolled out to others without much modification. The US is a national market; build a better mousetrap and you can sell it without having to reinvent your business every time you enter a new city or state.

India is a more diverse mosaic. Sometimes, expanding a business within India can be as challenging as expanding it across borders. Also, India’s infrastructure is improving, but more progress is required before it stops being a hindrance. In some parts of India, it’s easier to travel to, say, Singapore than it is to get to another domestic hub.

The most important thing to get right is the people you have representing you when you expand beyond your home region. You need key employees representing you who are in tune with other regions where they represent you, but who are still in touch with your values and ways of doing business. Pay close attention to the calibre of the people who help you expand outside your initial home base, whether you expand domestically or overseas. It is really difficult to run a growth venture in India centrally; you need to hire people you can trust and listen to what they say if you want to expand.

How does a successful entrepreneur become a successful business manager, once his entrepreneurial venture succeeds?

The real breakpoint seems to occur when a company gets past 60 or 70 employees. The company makes a transition from one where the founder/
managers know everyone personally to one where many employee relationships are impersonal. At that point, the successful entrepreneur has to make a transition from "do-er" to "orchestrator." That is not to say she or he takes a hands-off approach to the business. It means using information and control systems to supplement personal observation, and being able to communicate purpose and direction to people who do not see or work with you every day.

Someone who has never worked this way, where one has to control an enterprise indirectly instead of directly, can only survive the transition with help and mentoring. The entrepreneur has to hire and trust people who will operate on his behalf. After the breakpoint occurs, the most important skill for the entrepreneur is no longer knowing how to do everything or what to do next – it is the ability to size up people, hire the right ones, retain them, and motivate them. That’s hard to do without trusted advisors, whether they are part of senior management or provide counsel from the outside (as friends, service providers, or directors).

What are the difficulties that intrapreneurs face? What are the benefits of encouraging an intrapreneurial culture in an organisation?

On the plus side, intrapreneurs usually start with an infrastructure, working routines they can transfer from the parent company, and perhaps a well-known name on their business card. On the minus side, they often don’t have the freedom to build an organization that is precisely configured to exploit the opportunity they are pursuing. The more they have to conform to corporate guidelines and policies that were designed for different businesses, the more they are handicapped. The most subtle and difficult burdens are often cultural. It is extraordinarily difficult to build an organizational culture that fits your opportunity when the people in your organization bring with them a culture that was designed for other settings and other challenges.

There are three important benefits of encouraging an intrapreneurial culture. First, a company is more nimble when individual employees see it as their job to spot opportunities and pursue them with a sense of urgency. Many opportunities disappear in the time it takes to bubble them up to the apex of an organization and gain senior management’s assent to exploit them. Second, a company is better able to attract and keep talent when employees see that bright, opportunistic people who make money for the company are encouraged and rewarded for being proactive. Intrapreneurs are usually result-oriented, and if they are not given an alternative to corporate politics and career ladders, they usually leave before they create a fraction of the value they are capable of generating. Third, intrapreneurship is one of the great general management training grounds. Someone who has built a company inside an existing company has garnered knowledge and skills that will be invaluable when s/he takes on broad responsibilities, such as running a plant or a division. Intrapreneurs are a crucial part of your talent pool, and their experience often makes them the best choice to open a new office, launch a joint venture, turn around a troubled operation, pioneer an innovation, or undertake similar challenges that cut across functions and change mindsets.

A Mahabharata of Skills

A Mahabharata of Skills

A mini Mahabharata took place on Sunday, September 25. About 200 warriors from four special schools participated in the annual combat organised by the Chinmaya Mission, Thane. The battles were fought in the premises of Jidd School for special children and Vasant Vihar School. The difference in this Mahabharata was that whoever fought, won.

It was the fifth annual Gita Utsav 2005-2006, an inter-school competition that aims to promote the eternal wisdom of Bhagavad Gita among children. As many as 2,000 children from 16 normal schools participated in the competition. But this year was special because it was the first year when children from special schools were allowed to participate in the competition. Principal of Jidd School, Shyamashree Bhonsle, graciously offered her school’s premises for the event and students

From four special schools, namely St John’s, Holy Cross, Snehadeep and Jidd School, fought the battles with enthusiasm.

This year’s theme was Mahabharata and the 200-or-so mentally challenged children clashed in three main areas – recital of Gita slokas, drawing, and fancy dress. To ensure fairness, the special children were grouped as per the severity of their challenge. The judges for the drawing competition were Neelam Manchanda, an art and craft teacher and Smita Gawand, who runs a nursery school in Thane. Asha Sunil Kumar, director of Sanskruti Fine Art Academy and Sudha Skrikant, Principal of a nursery school, judged the fancy dress competition.

In the sloka recital contest, four mentally challenged children from Jidd School recited nine slokas from the fifth chapter of Bhagavad Gita, competing with students of class I and II from normal schools. In the drawing and colouring competition, while the hearing impaired children competed with students from normal schools, the mentally challenged children competed amongst themselves. The severely challenged were given a simple pot to colour, the moderately challenged were given a pot with Krishna, and the mildly challenged were given a pot with Krishna posing in nature. The participants were judged on neatness, colour combination, overall effect and presentation. In the fancy dress competition, the children had to not only dress up as a character from Mahabharata, but also utter a few lines. It was this competition that stunned and fascinated the judges. The mentally challenged children dressed up as Vasudeva, Poothana Krishna, Bhima, Vidur, Eklayav, Kunti, Gandhari, and Draupadi. The children mimed the characters with such finesse that the judges rated their performances comparable to, and in some cases better than, normal children.

Bhonsle was impressed by the well-planned manner in which the event was organised. “The contest was fair. Children were judged purely on the merit of their performances and nothing else,” revealed Bhonsle. She was also glad to see the enthusiasm of parents of the special children, without whose efforts, the children would not have been able to participate or perform.

The mini Mahabharata ended with all participating children winning not only cash prizes and certificates, but also the blessings of Lord Krishna in the form of wisdom of Bhagavad Gita.

Because parenting special children is so critical, a special workshop has been organised on October 15 at Sahyog Mandir, Thane. For more details contact Jidd School on 25427231.