Join the Atma Network for NGOs today!

Like many entrepeneurs starting their social organisations, Dr. Asavari Shinde, Founder of VASS (Vardayini Apang Seva Sanstha) – an NGO that works with children with dissabilities in Mumbai – was struggling with things like how to get the organization more organised!

This is the reason why she joined Atma Network: “We are a very young NGO and have no expertise in areas like Fundraising, Marketing, Strategy or Monitoring. In this sense, we are able to learn a lot from Atma Network”, she explains.

The Atma Network is a free, online platform for entrepreneurs starting and scaling social companies or NGOs. It offers them relevant and quality material and tools to develop and improve their organisation. “We have made a new brochure for our organisation using the tools we found in Atma Network, and even the presentations that we make to our prospective donors are based on information from the Network”, explains Dr. Asavari Shinde.

Atma’s Executive Director Mary Ellen Matsui says, “Atma Network helps organisations save time and resources by establishing efficient operational mechanisms and organisational systems. The best thing is that it is free of cost and anyone with access to internet can use it.”

The Atma Network helps organizations like VASS to determine which areas  the organisation needs to work on, and how they can be solved. Dr. Shinde explains how they used to worry about “how to go forward and what to do. Now we think about which area the problem belongs to and open that module on Atma Network”.

The platform comprises a total of 90 projects, with several hundreds of documents, templates and guides. “You'll find samples, modules and examples that are so perfect that we know for sure which direction to go to”, states Dr. Shinde.

“More than 70 NGOs, from different sectors and countries, are currently members of Atma Network. The Network also allows its members to connect to each other, ask questions, share successes and discuss best practices,” says Matsui.

Atma Network was created by Atma, a Mumbai-based organisation that helps education NGOs to achieve sustainability and scalability. The platform is based on years of expertise and work with social organisations.

“We are very happy with our experience with Atma Network”, explains Dr. Shinde. “We feel we have achieved a lot in 6 months, and we have started investing our time in bigger projects.”

Atma Network wants to bring more organisations to the platform, to participate and give feedback, thus creating a solid community in which they can share knowledge and experience. Any NGO or Social Enterprise can become a member of Atma Network, just by registering online on the website

A true philosophy of giving – Part II

In our earlier piece we mentioned being struck by the fact that Mr. Mohandas Pai’s philosophy of giving was also a ‘philosophy of living’. It wasn’t a statement of how much money he gives to charity each year. It’s not about which NGOs he supports. It’s an expression of the values that govern his work and influence his actions towards others. Curious? Read on!

The principles of philanthropy:

  • Duty: One got the sense that Mr. Pai believed that doing good towards others is a duty that he has to perform. Rather than CSR, he felt that individuals taking up responsibility would drive social change. He mentioned that one should consider donating 10-20% of one’s income to charity. There is a caveat – donations should not be made with the intention of seeing one’s name on a plaque somewhere, or cleaning off sins. A duty-bound donor is driven by a desire to pay off one’s debts to society and see everyone around him or her prosper. Mr. Pai expresses gratitude to the receiver who has provided Mr. Pai with an opportunity to give back to society. He never fails to he join his hands in front of the receiver and believes that ensuring that the recipient’s dignity is respected in the act of giving is paramount.
  • Accountability: Pai mentioned that he, like millions of Indians went to a low-cost government school. Subsidised fees made it possible for him to get a good education and access to a job market. As he said ‘Somebody paid for me.’ This country has given a lot to many of us. It is therefore up to us in turn to pay for other people. Imagine if all of us operated with such a strong sense of accountability towards others! Many of our social problems would reduce immediately. He also mentioned that for every student who received a subsidised IIT education, a hundred have probably died of hunger. If we are part of this society and enjoy these privileges, we should also give back to our society. Mr. Pai even took this one step further. Our time on Earth is one thing, but what happens when we meet our maker? Should we not be able to answer the question – What did you do with your life? Did you leave the world better than what you found it?
  • Giving back to one’s community (ies): Mr. Pai mentioned his personal philosophy of giving – first to the country you belong to, then the state, city and finally your own community. He mentioned various initiatives that he is part of that reflect this focus:
  • Country: Founding team member of Akshaya Patra which currently works in 7 states
  • State: Supports scholarships for deserving students through the Manipal group of colleges and a scholarships NGO in Karnataka
  • City: Mr. Pai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and other prominent citizens have spearheaded the Bengaluru Political Action Committee (BPAC). Political Action Committees are popular outside India. They work as a vehicle through which citizens come together and advocate with governments and elected representatives for their common interests. The BPAC hopes to improve governance of the city of Bengaluru, create infrastructure of global standards and improve the image of the city.
  • Community: Mr. Pai, a member of the Konkani community pointed out that his community numbers only 2.5 million in India’s population of 1.2 billion. He supports the provision of scholarships for students from the Konkani community.

This is a wonderful principle to follow indeed, as most of us have an identity of being citizens of India, live and work in a particular state and may belong to a community that is not part of that state. Each of these groups have different priorities, and it would be necessary to direct time, money and efforts towards each in a different way to achieve results. In this manner, we can work for the welfare of all the groups we are part of without neglecting a single one.

  • Ownership: Yes, we may belong to different states and communities. Yet Mr. Pai emphasised that every time he sees a child in need on the street, he feels for him as if it were his own child. As he said, many of us are well-off because our parents took good care of us, and we in turn take good care of our children. This should not result in a world view where we are only concerned with the welfare of people who are related to us. As Indian citizens and members of society, it is upon us to look out for all those in need.
  • How to choose a cause: There is an old quote that states, ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’. This philosophical sentiment was also echoed by Mr. Pai when he spoke of his choice of causes: ‘Pick a problem that is so big that you cannot achieve it in a lifetime’. Wouldn’t it be easy to say ‘I donated at Diwali time, I have done my part’, or ‘I gave away all my old clothes, there’s nothing more I can do?’ Real generosity lies in taking a long-term view of a problem you cannot solve alone, and making a start anyway. At Akshaya Patra Foundation, they took the view that they would not shut down the programme if even one child was hungry. There were a lot of times when the organisation was short of money, or did not know how it would meet its expenses. They soldiered on anyway.

Having such a value-based philosophy ensures that you bring about the maximum good towards others and the most peace towards yourself. It is an approach well worth emulating!

A true philosophy of giving – Part I

What does it mean to live a good life? Is it having all your material needs met? Or is it feeling fulfilled?

We had the honour of listening to Mr. Mohandas Pai, former CFO of Infosys, current Chairman of Manipal Group of Education. Mr Pai has many successes to his credit from the corporate world – notably being judged Best CFO while at Infosys, the first Indian company to list on NASDAQ, and even conceptualising their revolutionary stock options scheme for employees.

Even as he achieved these  landmark successes, Mr. Pai experienced a feeling that something was missing. As he said in his speech, many people achieve success in their career or business. Yet a question keeps nagging at them – ‘what should I do with my life?’

This question marked a turning point in Mr. Pai’s path to philanthropy. He found himself , in conversation with Mr. Madhu Pandit Dasa, President of the ISKCON temple in Bengaluru  (and an IIT educated engineer!). Mr. Pai suggested to Mr. Dasa that he run a mid-day meal scheme for children, and with a donation from Mr. Pai and others the project was on its way!

The mid-day meal grew to feed 30,000 children, and soon citizens of Bengaluru started to write in, asking them to feed more children. The scheme was formalised as The Akshaya Patra Foundation. They gained support from the Government – Murli Manohar Joshi, then HRD Minister, gave the NGO its name. (Akshaya Patra in Sanskrit means an inexhaustible vessel that never runs out of food.) Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat invited them to set up operations in his state, as did Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan. Children eating the food performed better on health and improved their educational attainments! The NGO currently feeds 15 lakh children a day in 11,500 government schools across India, and is one of the largest feeding programmes in the world.

Listening to Mr. Pai gives one the feeling that he has received more than what he has given. He said he feels a renewed sense of purpose, and now works harder than he did at Infosys! He feels that working for a cause has given him tremendous energy to achieve more – not for himself, but for his country and his society. It is truly a selfless sense of giving, driven by the cause and those that benefit rather than any personal sense of satisfaction. Indeed, Mr. Pai says that he is ennobled to be able to work like this.

How many people do we know who have so much meaning and purpose in their lives? True humility evades many successful people, though Mr. Pai does not seem to be one of them. His philosophy of giving is ultimately a philosophy of living – it does not have to do with how much money you make or how much you want to give.

It is driven by a desire to create value for others. As he said, it has given him more energy and purpose to achieve this objective. This energy is indeed present, and infectious!

Donate old electronics to NGOs in India

Your new phone has arrived, and you're not sure what to do with the old one. Ever consider donating it? Your old phone will get a new lease of life and bring value to someone who cannot afford one. 'MeraByte', an initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation aims to provide connectivity for underserved and marginalised communities by providing them with gadgets that people routinely discard. These gadgets may be inexpensive for us, but they are unaffordable for many. 

Mobile phones, tablets, SD cards and pen drives are all welcome. They will ensure that your donation will reach a deserving NGO in rural India through their networks in 22 states and 8 districts. Click here to find out how to get your electronics to them!