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The Dasra Social Impact Experience
Life Skills: A Key to Women’s Empowerment

"People say, some things change your life. No one who signed up for the Dasra Social-Impact, Cohort-6 programme in July / August 2011 would have thought this would be one of them", feels Kusum Mohapatra.

This guest blog from her for Dasra was also published in Sankalp’s newsletter edition of April 2012.

We were, correction, are, a crazy variety of people, with that one common denominator: Craziness and passion. Let me not get started on the variety but it should suffice that the oldest in the group was three times older than the youngest – some came from a corporate background, some totally new in the development sector and some veterans and pioneers of change. Some doing sport for development and some working in core service delivery. Some represented the non-profit and some the for-profit social enterprises. The reasons people had signed up was also very varied as well. Some out of compulsion, some with an interest, some with curiosity, some with desperation and some just for the heck of it. Who had thought that our lives would change in the three weeks spread over the six months.

The first workshop in October at the Fountainhead in Alibaug (an exotic location by the way) brought us together with some hilarious team building exercises, jumping over each other, running around, laughing our heads off and in the process jumping over the barriers and forming a close bond. We started by sharing what we thought about our organizations and sharing our work. We were introduced to the concept of an elevator pitch and like giggly school children, put on timers, to time our pitches, which, we were told was to be done in 30 seconds. We did it in 30 seconds, alright, but we just didn’t say anything that we should have about our organizations.

As the days went by, we were introduced the concepts of business plans, pitches, requirement to think long term, scalability, fundraising, communication skills in the classrooms, helped by the ever smiling superwoman – Neera, the knowledgeable – Deval, the calm – Vikas, the ever energetic – Tushar, the super backhand: Aakif and everyone at Dasra. Beyond them were the amazing interns and a great peer-group. Even though we were told we would learn more from our peers than in the classroom, we probably didn’t realize how much by the time we ended the programme.

The next two workshops went by so fast, and I seriously cannot believe that it was six months. We met with our peer groups in the interim, prepared our business plans, did our mock pitches in the January Workshop. (This is the space for a thank you to the office people and the families who helped us even when we were being absolutely annoying creatures, trying to get everything together). At the finale in March, we were all, each one of us, so confident, doing our perfect 30 second pitches in front of the huge crowd in Taj in Mumbai, smiling, receiving our graduation certification. (I wish we got to throw our graduation caps though).

That doesn’t tell you the revolution that has gone on in the background of each pitch. Some have started a process of change in their organization, some have created amazing business plans, some have gone from just an idea (Ketto) to being an online platform, and some have collaborated with each other. Earthy Goods and AICA have come together to form the Artizen. Each organization has received at least one award and recognition of some kind. Some have started a process of realigning the mission and vision. Some have redesigned their theory of change. Some have unlearnt the organization’s lessons and re-learnt them. Maybe all of us have done each of this in different measures. And thanks to Dasra, we all have undergone a transformation.

Beyond this is the relationships built and friendships established. In our peer group itself, when Dr Anand goes on a trip to Mussorie with her friends, Avinash comes to meet her at the train station in Meerut where the train stops barely for 3 minutes. The passionate Eldred doesn’t kill us when we all get stuck in meetings and cannot meet the appointment at the last minute. (Eldred spearheads an amazing organization called SANKALP that is a leader in its domain nationally to provide preventive, curative and rehabilitative services to drug users. His energy and passion is a motivation for all of us ) Ketto gives us the first priority for free on his website, Ankit treats you to great dinners when you visit Pune, Dr Anand gives you the most amazing hugs, Eldred sends the pictures of the cutest puppies in the world one of them whose been named “Chikni Chameli” , Avinash has extended an open invitation for the group to make a trip to Meerut, Dhun is our woman Friday with her calmness, Narender gives an amazing insight into his life and inspires us with his story, and Louis and Renganayiki are torchbearers who teach you that at the end of life is the beginning of another journey.

We all know for sure, in this world when finding true friends and inspiration has been so rare, we have been able to forge strong friendships and have been inspired by the great group of people, besides, in the process, learning a lot about setting up an organization, managing it and creating models that can create impacts at a much bigger scale.

Kusum Mohapatra heads the Magic Bus programmes in Maharashtra, and recently represented the organisation at the Dasra Social Impact Cohort 6 Programme 2012. Magic Bus won an award among 41 competing organisations for its ability to create impacts, its model for scaling up and its credibility as a strong development NGO in India.

Read more about this in our summer edition of Magic Buzz.