Non Profit Gives The Best Returns – Vikas Singh’s 60 Days With An NGO – XLRI Jamshedpur
In the aftermath of the two and a half day long, bloody, sweaty battle of SIP, as dust (of the after-party) settled and people counted their wounds and in-Hand Stipend, the greetings around the campus turned from “which lecture?” to “which company?”
By the end of the first day, I had started enjoying the variety of reactions on people’s faces when they heard where I was going to be interning. You see, I was amongst the scarce 1% of students in XLRI who had opted to intern with an NGO under the “Parivartan” Scheme of XLRI.
So, as all my friends hopped on their company sponsored flights to their company-sponsored accommodations, I threw my backpack in the train and was off to Bangalore, to Intern with eVidyaloka.
eVidyaloka is an NGO that enables volunteers from around the world to teach children in rural Indian villages by connecting them through technology. With their head office in Bangalore, they cater to more than 250 schools across 13 states in India.
Two days later, I found myself standing in the middle of a residential area, frantically searching for the eVidyaloka “Office” only to realise half an hour later that it is located, in a house.
And, contrary to everything I had expected, with neither any induction nor any orientation, I was assigned to my mentor and was shown to my nomadic office space (bean bag) to get on with my project.
So I quickly ran to my mentor to introduce myself and decide on a timeline for deliverables, and as I went to her office, I was greeted with a rap song, with my mentor as the lead performer and 2 of her colleagues beat-boxing in the background.
And that, was the best ice breaker I had ever seen. As I looked around, I realised it wasn’t the run of the mill corporate “culture” that I was so acquainted with my 2 years in Bangalore IT Industry. I was way out of my comfort zone here, and Man, I wasn’t complaining. It was like working in a company where everyone was everyone’s best friend.
My project was organisational capacity building, and the first feat to accomplish was to design, develop and run and pilot training program for proposed Academy.
The academy was to be designed to train, certify and provide consulting services to all eVidyaloka stakeholders in order to improve operational efficiency and risk mitigation and improve overall operational efficiency.
The work breakdown schedule for the pilot itself ran into pages and as I was contemplating the sheer amount of work required, I realised that the work culture was not only fun but also highly performance driven.
Most of the people logged in at 7 am, when schools started in Ranchi or Tamil Nadu and worked close to midnight and perhaps not surprisingly, they were doing it all with an amazing amount of enthusiasm, People wanted to contribute more as they could see a direct effect of their efforts on society, every hour and every day.
And with my half workaholic and half-crazy mentor, I deep dived into designing the pilot so that we could collect maximum useful data. In the week that followed, while deciding on the control group and pre-test data to capture, we somehow transformed from a mentor-mentee relationship to that of two partners in the project, with equal stakes and say.
We worked crazy hours and had just as much fun. Pratima’s (My mentor) sense of humour was something to envy and her compassion something to admire. We discussed, debated, laughed and at times, gave deadlines to each other pertaining to parts of projects (she found the deadline of 00:59:59 given by me to her, really amusing).
I quickly realised that my one year at XLRI had a little help to offer in the non-profit sector. There was no revenue, no operating margin, contribution or sales to track, and I cursed DuPont under my breath. The impact had to be assessed in terms of human lives improved per dollar spent, and my level of preparedness for that would have made at least a few of my profs stop and question their career choice.
eVidyaloka flew in candidates as per exact prerequisites requested by us from Jharkhand and 4 days of hectic pilot training followed, at the end of which we collected the data and the second phase of the project started.
The next month involved mailing out my “Cry for Help” to batch mates and professors who were kind enough to quickly get back with data, techniques and a plethora of reading material on every problem I faced. The bi-weekly meeting with the CEO strengthened the cohesion between my mentor and me, and we formed our own team. After 25 days into the project, I was finally finding my footing.
In The days that followed, I completed various modules required for academy including writing and compiling the “eVidyaloka Bible” (Service Model Handbook) which was launched in the eVidyaloka Annual National Partner’s Summit and running the Bangalore Marathon as an ambassador of change to promote eVidyaloka’s cause.
It was also during this time, that I was exposed to the impact eV was making in the lives of rural children, through interaction with students, teachers, the parents of teachers and dozens of stories coming in every day. I could witness the lives they were improving and smiles they were bringing. It taught be compassion and joy and reminded be to be grateful and humble in for everything I have in life.
And then I was informed that my project launched was scheduled for 25th may, during National Partner’s Summit, wherein 25 NGOs from all parts of India come together to share best practices and learn from each other.
As an HR student, that week I learnt that eVidyaloka has achieved something a lot of corporates aspire for. To have their culture not to be confined to the walls of their office. The run up to the NPS was an uphill battle and everyone pitched in, way beyond office hours or premises.
The Academy launch was declared a success by the CEO and a hard earned and awaited party followed. As I packed my bags and said goodbyes, I reflected upon my learnings from this Internship.
And I can probably list down a ton of jargon such as capacity building and kirk Patrick framework, but most importantly, I learnt a new perspective. A perspective that Non-Profits operate almost just the same as corporates. In fact, the survival of an NGO depends on the fact that it maintains its operations, expansion, Supply Chain and finances exactly like a corporate and the critical success factor for NGOs include Cost Efficiency, Customer Satisfaction and Branding, just like any other business.
And in spite of functioning like a Corporate, they work so differently. It’s a world where people await Mondays rather than Friday and passion meets occupation.
It gave me a perspective to look at things differently, maybe I was looking at it all wrong, Maybe the eVidyaloka office isn’t a House after all. Maybe, it all works, because it’s a Home.