Priyanka Chaturvedi

It's all about me!!My people, my favourite things, my raving and my ranting too!

Project Chirag: Lighting homes, lighting lives

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(I wrote this piece for India Youth Congress’ newsletter Yuva Desh. Here’s the link http://yuvadesh.com/mumbai-youth-light-up-village-homes/ )

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We have heard Mahatma Gandhi’s quote often ‘be the change you want to see in this world’ and how many of us have actually tried to bring about a change? We as a nation have become prone to pointing fingers at others but do precious little to bring about a change in ourselves. The Indian youth also has many a times faced flak for not participating actively in the ‘process of change’ or contributing to the society. But once you read the Project Chirag story it will not only motivate but make one believe how we can quietly bring about a change if we have the will to do so.

When some students at H.R. College sat down in their college canteen to decide on their social responsibility project, they came up with the idea of lighting up homes in rural areas.  Keeping their motto “It is not about talking, its about doing; it’s not about problems, it’s about solving them.”   firmly in mind they went about executing an idea that came up from this canteen discussion. They decided to light up 33 villages in 8 months providing light to 1000 rural houses in Maharashtra.    What started out as a small effort soon found a lot of supporters and today Project Chirag is ambitiously taking this movement into many more rural areas in the country. Project Chirag is not only conceptualized by the youth but also implemented by them at the grassroot level. Students from the age 12 upwards joined hands and pledged their vision of “Light for All”.

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How do they go about in making this change?  Project Chirag provides solar based home lighting systems to the beneficiaries of this project, those who have had no access to electricity for decades together. After successfully completing the  target of 100 rural homes in Maharashtra the students took on the challenge to light up another 1000 rural houses, and this time, in just a month and not only in Maharashtra. In just one year, students have been able to light up 68 villages impacting 2100 households across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Incredible isn’t it?  Their mission continues stronger than ever!  While providing solution to lightless homes they also managed to  impact 9 paraplegics, 6 deaf and mute and 10 physically handicapped individuals, each of whom have been involved in the core value chain of the project. Individuals from these communities have been involved in the assembly, quality testing and after sales service of the solar lights provided.

As Swami Vivekanda once said ‘Practical patriotism means not a mere sentiment or even emotion of love of the motherland but a passion to serve our fellow-countrymen.’ Project Chirag amplifies these words.

We witness people starting out something with a lot of enthusiasm but then slowly and surely it seems to reduce and finally on facing challenges such projects are abandoned but that was not the case with the team. When asked this question this is what the team had to say “Project Chirag is something that has grown onto each one of us team members. Though it started as an initiative to provide solar lighting to just one village, the satisfaction we achieved on being witness to the output, the sight of seeing a young child run across to his blind, but hopeful grandmother shouting out “Aaji, bijli aali”, just made us realize that this was just the beginning. And it’s no surprise that each time we reach out to even one additional household, the implications of the same leave us highly motivated.

Like any other youth involvement you can see them actively use social media to provide real time updates on their Facebook page. Their FB page tells us that they have successfully managed to cover 3383 homes in 33 villages till now.   So what’s the biggest challenge that these young people face in this project and pat came the reply from the team that initially as a group of youngsters approaching large corporate houses for funds it became difficult to be taken seriously by them but then the team chose to approach them only after having impacted the first few villages, So once the credibility was established it became a lot easier for them to convince people about their seriousness for the project. And this is how the amazing journey continues.

This is what we mean when we say never underestimate the power of the youth. Let’s not just talk but choose to do, however small a step it may seem. If you see a problem, try finding a solution rather than becoming a part of the problem. It is all about participation and contribution, what may seem like a small doable idea today could be a winning solution and change of tomorrow. So why wait for tomorrow, set out to do something for a cause you strongly feel about today! 

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Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 29, 2012 at 9:43 am

CSR- A brand building exercise for companies in India?

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Corporate Social Responsibility activities in India are not a relatively new phenomenon; the likes of Tatas, Birlas, Godrejs have been involved in various activities pertaining to social issues.  But yet there are only handful corporate houses in India who take Corporate Social Responsibility seriously and it is an idea which has still not grown into its own in this country.  Moreover lots of these companies look at CSR as a corporate exercise for profit maximisation or building brand equity.

There is no clear defined policy by the government on any CSR activities to be taken up by the private sector, though it is encouraged, it is not mandatory for any company to participate in CSR related activities. The Companies Bill 2011 proposes a minimum 2% allocation of net profit average in the immediate 3 preceding years for companies that have a net profit of 5 crores and more, again not mandatory. The government though has a set of guidelines for PSUs to mandatorily create a CSR budget; however loss making companies are exempted.

A recent piece in this week’s edition of Open Magazine http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/arts-letters/how-my-conscience-was-abducted-in-dantewada , talks about how a company’s CSR activity turned out to be nothing but a corporate propaganda. The company in question is Essar Group. Essar is the largest private sector investor in Bastar region and has been operating there since the last 10 years. It operates a beneficiation plant and a 267-km-long slurry pipeline from Bailadila to Vizag. The company had signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in June 2005 to bring in Rs.70 billion investment in revolt-hit Dantewada.  It definitely hasn’t been an easy ride for the company to do business in that area. So it is obvious that the company in order to maintain long term healthy relations and build a trust factor with the residents would want to invest heavily in people relations. What better way than the CSR route? The company’s official site gives reader a glimpse into the various CSR activities the company has taken up for the tribal people residing in this region.

But then in this particular initiative, which the author calls nothing less than a sham  will show you just how a well intentioned effort can go awry if you do not have a planned, well thought out idea in place. The article goes on to say thus about the event & gives the reader an idea just how disconnected the organizers were from the on ground realities.

The scorching sun was no deterrent for the hundreds of children gathered together for the first-ever Essar Kahani Utsav, organised from 17 to 19 April in Dantewada (a district in Chhattisgarh where the media and government celebrate their own attempts at storytelling). They were used to the heat and this was their day out—a fantastic picnic party that the rich sponsors had thrown for them. Set aside the fact that the children had never been on a bus before and many were throwing up or fainting, this was a rare moment in history. They were going to be part of a celebration, a novel idea for cultural upliftment, a feather in the cap of the district administration and of the Essar Group, which claims to provide the children with ‘a better future’.

The kids going without food, in the heat waiting for an event to begin, the event doesn’t take off as it awaits the collector who is invited as a special guest. The entire extravaganza for the kids is handled by an event management team and this is not just any other team but the one that organizes the Jaipur Literature Festival every year.

No expense spared but also no thought spared as to what the people there would have really wanted.

While discussing this on twitter today this is the interesting exchange of ideas that came up to understand how social initiatives can work best http://storify.com/priyankac19/how-an-essar-csr-initiative-went-awry

An earnest CSR initiative is usually a long term, well planned initiative, usually in conjunction with an NGO which is already doing ground work in the area. In this case it was clearly an ill planned, inefficiently handle initiative which came out looking like a PR exercise for the company. A controversy, which the company could have clearly done without.

This fiasco should also be a lesson for many such companies who wish to actively participate in causes but then instead of getting involved headlong into it usually hand it over to a third party to manage.

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm

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Dharamshala: A trip to remember

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While scheduling our vacation this year it was pretty clear to us that we were to plan a trip anywhere which could give us a peak in to the Himadri mountains, this was our 9 year old son’s demand as he was learning about it in his school. We chose to go along with it.Dharamshala, in Himachal Pradesh

 

was our ideal choice and considering its rich history we were looking forward to the trip. And the place did not disappoint us one bit. There is a lot one can do in Dharamshala and the people are friendly, transportation easily available.

“It is said that Lord Elgin, The British Viceroy Of India (1862-63) was very  enchanted  with the beauty of Dharamshala . Legend has It that he liked Dharamshala so much that he had wanted and suggested  the British Monarch to make it the summer Capital Of India. However, the proposal was ignored. Lord Elgin, while on a tour died in 1863 and he now lies buried In The Graveyard Of St. John’s Church-in-Wilderness, The church happens to be one of the most beautiful churches I have seen, most ly for its beautiful location. Unfortunately couldn’t see the inside of the church as it was shut. But just the beauty and serenity of the location will take your breath away.

Besides this the place has some breath taking views  of mountain ranges and valleys, waterfalls. The natural beauty abounds. There are lots of  well known temples in and around Dharamsala such as Jwalaji devi, Chamunda devi and Mata Chintapurni. All considered important  destinations by the Hindus. Then there is also the Bhagsunag temple which is considered important for the people residing in Dharmashala.

Dharamshala is also the winter capital of Himachal Pradesh. Of course there is another significant part of history that is connected to Dharmashala that of its connection to Tibet. The Tibetan settlement of Dharamshala began in 1959, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet and Shri Jawaharlal Nehru allowed him and his followers to settle in McLeodGanj. There they established the “governmentinexile” in 1960. So because of this connection there are lots of monasteries besides the temples that you get to see in Dharamshala.  We managed to cover a lot  of temples and must say all were clean, well maintained with courteous people around to help.Also a must  visit is the Chinmaya Tapovan Ashram which also happens to be Swami Chinmayananda’s last resting place.

McLeodGanj is sometimes known as ‘Little Lhasa”, after the Tibetan capital city, or ‘Dhasa’ (a compound of ‘Dharamshala’ and ‘Lhasa’). It has become an important tourist destination. We visited the Nomgyal monastery which has got to be one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. The location is as usual breathtaking. The calmness around the place fills one with a sense

in, nicely documented and pasted outside on a notice board. Unfortunately he wasn’t around as per the notice. Once you step out of the monastery  of peace. You can see lots of people quietly chanting and praying around the monastery.  The residence of Dalai Lama is also within the monastery and what I found extremely interesting was his schedule for the entire year, with dates and city he is going to be

there are rows and rows of tiny shops managed by Tibetans selling all kinds of things, trinkets, jewellery, books, woolen garments. The lane for a shopaholic like me managed to keep me occupied for hours.

Since we are vegetarians it is always a worry for me when I am travelling with the kids who as it is are fussy eaters on the eating options available, the same stress began when we were planning the trip. But thankfully there are lots of eating options, and was never a problem during our stay. There are lots of trekking activities around too for those interested, since I am not one of the trekking and adventure sports enthusiast I did not really tried gathering information on that!

All in all with a beautiful weather and scenic location Dharamshala should make it to everyone’s must visit place in the country.

 

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

So who says the world is losing confidence in investing in India?

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No I don’t say it read for yourself the data compiled by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).  This particular news story caught my interest while catching up on news on the web http://t.co/mHK4ULGI . To prove my point here’s another link a survey by Ernst&Young http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-01-30/news/31005696_1_fdi-inflows-total-fdi-attractiveness-survey

Some figures: Mar 2011 : India’s FDI inflows was worth USD 1.07 billion and the story in Mar 2012? It stands at USD 36.50 billion. That is an eight fold increase in FDI! The month of March itself attracted inflows worth USD 8.1 billion in the country. A great news for the country, for the economy.

But again it is something which one will not hear everyone talking about as it goes against the topic of the season- India’s doomed economy, policy paralysis, corruption, inept government etc. It will be buried because it speaks about something positive about the nation. S&P downgrading India ranking was BIG news but of course this kind of new story about India attracting FDI goes against the news trend. 🙂

Which are the areas that are attracting inflows in the Mar 2011 – Mar 2012 period?  As per a DIPP official it was in the services sector, pharmaceuticals, telecom, construction, power and metallurgical industries.

It should be a matter of great pride that despite the negativity, the gloom and doom scenario that is being projected the country is steadily managing to attract foreign inflows. The world hasn’t lost its confidence in our country and these figures prove it.

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 10, 2012 at 11:53 am

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My DNA column: Harried Mum’s Guide to Summer

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So the summers are here. What is the first thing that comes to your mind as a mum? For me, it is always the summer vacations. With two kids and two months of no school, it is seriously an effort to keep them busy, considering that this is a generation, which, if they have nothing to do for five minutes can go into an ‘I am bored’ mode. As a mother, it is a task to keep them suitably occupied. It is a job most mums today take very seriously.

The summer vacation planning for a mum begins well in advance. It starts with planning a holiday during the summers to escape the Mumbai heat. In this department I am found wanting at most times. I can’t plan meticulously, or in advance, so most times the husband is left with the job of planning something perfect, as per our wishes.

If travelling is not on the agenda, then how does one make the same city they live in as exciting as possible for the children? In this, I manage to do a decent job. Ask me how? It is simple, I just pack a few things to eat, and plenty of water, and head to the beach or nearby garden. If weather conditions are favourable, we just pack the kids and go to the zoo or a long drive outside the city.
My kids are given a lot of time for unstructured play — whatever they want to do — and most importantly, I push them to head outdoors to play. Though my son would much rather prefer sitting at home with a book in his hand, watching television or playing on PSP. Well, honest confession, I let him have a fair share of such days too.

If not exploring the city with the children, the next best thing is to enroll them for some summer camp, which keeps them away from home as well as keeps them suitably employed. I have usually been the herd mom. What is a herd mom, you ask? She is someone who will choose an activity for the child depending on what the majority of moms are doing with theirs. So most decisions depend on what others are doing.

Organising something as simple as a play date becomes a huge task, as most kids have better planned mommies and they are out vacationing somewhere or have already enrolled their kids for some exclusive summer camps with limited seats. I have noticed just before the school shuts down, the most discussed topic moves to what the plans for the summer are. Most of the times, I am left ooh-ing and aah-ing hearing others’ plans or their travel destinations.

The best thing to happen to every mum is the mushrooming of various activity centres for kids right in the vicinity where they reside, since during the holidays almost every second house becomes a day care/activity centre for kids of all ages. With the option of flexi hours, this is the ideal choice for most of us. At such times, quality of activity takes a backseat, and convenience becomes a priority. For most of the working mums, it is a blessing in disguise. Most of the schools also are not far behind in organising summer related activities.

This is how the story unfolds for me every year. I have also hurriedly put a plan in place for my kids, which is a mix of all of the above.So tell me, fellow mommy, what is your summer story this year?

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Column, DNA

For all the mommies!

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Saw this fabulous P&G ad for London Olympic 2012 games and absolutely had to share it! Most of you am sure would have seen it but still….Mommies worldwide…take a bow!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lmgPODFXAQk

Go watch it now!

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

To regulate or not to regulate. My take.

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A simple Wikipedia search will tell you that ‘Elements considered essential to a democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them’ . As citizens of a democratic country we consider free speech as our right. And why shouldn’t we? But in a rapidly shrinking world and free flowing information scenario are we taking this freedom of speech a bit too far especially in an online medium?


As an avid social media enthusiast and someone who cannot live a day without blogging, tweeting and facebooking I was aghast when I heard that a suggestion like censoring social media platforms was being considered. But then I chose to read what was being suggested and I calmed down.

The IT Rules, 2011, which have been cause of much debate states that the websites shall inform users not to publish any posts that are blasphemous, incite hatred, are ethnically objectionable, infringe patents, threaten India’s unity or public order. The websites will have to remove any content within 36 hours on a complaint. Legal or police action can be taken against the website owner if the content is not removed within the specified time frame. Even our constitution while giving us this fundamental right goes on to say thus in article 19  ‘Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence’ The IT Act 2011 reinforces that but yes definitely there is scope for improvement in the Act.


I maybe much hated for saying this but the fact remains that there’s a lot of content that has no business floating out there on the net. Forget political and religious content being inflammatory, the personal abuse and slander is also something that cannot be overlooked. Just because you have a medium does not mean you have the right to abuse it. Some self restraint is a must. As a user of these platforms myself I am sometimes taken aback with the kind of venom that goes as freedom of speech, a privilege that one gets for being a citizen of a democratic country.


The Indian army ‘coup’ that never was one created much outrage and recently it was Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to the RS, or the AMS episode that led to much outrage. Lots of permutations and combinations were reached at by the users of this medium leading to intense debates, accusations etc. Such was the outrage that it led to a national debate and we had clarifications coming from every quarter. By the way we the people on such platforms love outraging, we can create a controversy out of thin air. We can intensely and passionately debate on anything and everything. Trade insults, be sarcastic, nasty etc. but still end up saying all is well. Yes that is us. Some public personalities who are on such forums end up facing a lot of flak for just being available on them. There is little applause but more outrage reserved for these personalities.

Having said that I wouldn’t want to throttle the voices, the more we hear and read, I believe the more we learn. Everyone’s opinion matters and these platforms especially forums like twitter and facebook if used effectively can give shape to ideas and policies through public participation. If we look at a few examples around the world we will truly comprehend the power of this medium.


In late 2010, the Arab Spring made the political power of this medium apparent. Protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, etc, released real-time video footage and Twitter updates as they fought on the streets. We saw similar use of the medium in Iran too. The significance of this medium is apparent when office bearers worldwide use it effectively to communicate with the people and our own government is in the process of finalizing a policy draft exhpting the importance of the medium and encouraging government departments to actively engage with the people through these platforms.


Even if we were to look at statistics The Nielsen Company along with Absolutdata conducted a research on social media in India & here are some of the findings. With 30 million users already members of social networking sites and over the next six months 45000 to join each day clearly shows the growing importance of social media platform in the country.  20 out of the 30 million Indians spend time on social networking sites daily and most Indians spend more time on social media than they do checking personal email. Social Media in India is growing at 100 percent and is likely to touch 45 million users by 2012. The numbers are huge; the outreach through this medium is quicker.


Also very clearly in a diverse country like us social platforms prove to be one of the most unifying factors. With so many diverse voices and opinions and every person wanting to contribute this could very well turn out to be a formidable and powerful platform to garner opinion of the people at large, especially in democratic countries. But then we must also keep in mind that every country has different social values, different sensitivities, and different issues to handle. So many of these platforms should also adhere to the norms of the country they plan to do business in. No this is definitely not shutting up the voice of the people but rather making it a more effective, refined and streamlined process.


In effect censorship of social media is not what democratic country needs, what is needed is self-restraint, self-censorship on the end users part, clearly defined policy framework in conjunction with the government policies by such service providers so that the ambiguity and animosity is reduced and a continuous exchange of information is maintained.

 

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 2, 2012 at 6:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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