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The Anjana School Project: Part 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 7 of 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

When Dr. Channa Raju asked the school children to raise their hands if they would rather work on the computers versus taking a break, every single child immediately raised their hands…enthusiastically.

Anjana School Child Raising Hand Our trip was a very memorable one.  Two of the many memories I will never forget revolve around two words – 1) enthusiasm and 2) connection.  I saw the enthusiasm in the children when Channa asked them to raise their hands if they would rather continue working on the computers or take a recess.  Every single child in the room immediately raised their hands.  It was an enthusiastic and instinctive response by them.  One immediately followed by their smiles when Channa told them ‘okay.’

The other was the connection a group of four girls made with my wife.  These girls, sitting by the computer in the far corner of the room, showed Cheryl what they created and learned on the computer.  She stood behind them.  After a few minutes, I heard laughter coming from that corner.  I turned around and saw Cheryl sitting with them.  She tells me that the girls asked her to sit with them.  They were all working on the computer together, laughing, connecting and learning.

As I stood there watching these excited children using their computers to learn new things, and the adults helping them and teaching them the valuable message that they are the change-makers who can improve the lives of others, I thought about how nonprofits and their partners strive to measure the effectiveness of the work that they do.  Or, in business jargon, how do you measure the rate of return?

If a picture really speaks louder than a thousand words, I think these pictures clearly provide the answer.

Anjana School Children Using Computers to Learn

Anjana School Girls Really Interested in Learning

Cheryl told me recently that it’s more important for nonprofits to measure accountability than effectiveness.   She might be right.  Sometimes it is difficult to measure ‘effectiveness’ – there are so many variables involved with an infinite amount of time within which to measure them.

This is the complexity of nonprofit work, especially when you think of it in business terms, as I tend to do.

By focusing on accountability, self-sustainability, and fostering long-term relationships, perhaps effectiveness will automatically fall into place.  And sometimes, it might be well after our lifetimes.

Whether an organization is directly involved in creating global change, and regardless of the methods it uses, the world is also changing on its own.   And that change is primarily driven by business, connections and technology.

I remember Channa and I explaining the message of Friends Unite to the children, that “no man is a failure who has friends.”  What they see and what they have is through the hard work and collaboration of many old friends and new friends, and many for-profit and non-profit enterprises.

We told the children that they should work together to solve India’s problems.  After watching those children that afternoon, I have no doubt that they will.

The Anjana School Project: Part 4 – The Solar Solution

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 4 of 7 – The Solar Solution

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?  The Sun.

Approximately two years ago, I was introduced to Channa through a mutual friend, Sonny Gupta.  I had known Sonny for many years and told him that I was going to start a non-profit based on the idea of friendship and long-term relationships.  He immediately recommended that I speak with Channa.  Sonny is the founder of Maintec Inc., and his company supported Channa and Brahmi for years.  Sonny gave me some background on Channa and his school, and we scheduled a time for the three of us to speak.

I remember that phone call well.  Channa first gave me some background on himself. I was quite impressed.  Here is a person from that same small community who worked hard to get an education and ultimately received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), India’s finest educational institution.  However, Channa’s enthusiasm in talking about founding the school, educating children who didn’t have access to it, and giving back to his own community impressed me even more.

He spoke with real passion, and I listened intently.

Channa had spent considerable time founding and running the school.  He described their achievements so far, as well as the challenges they faced.  His focus was electricity, or more accurately, the lack of it.  Having lights would help the children read and learn better.  In addition, Channa believed having a computer lab in the school would improve the children’s education.  Consistent electricity would help them power it, thereby providing the children with access to modern technology and educational tools that others around the world enjoy. Channa believed this was the next step to help these children achieve their academic goals.

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?

The Sun.

Sonny took the lead to identify companies in India that provide solar solutions to energy problems.  He scheduled the first conference call with a company a few weeks later.  Personally, I was ‘green’ to all of this.  At the time, close to two-years ago, I lacked enough knowledge about this technology to determine whether it would work in a rural setting.   Furthermore, I wondered about the costs involved, and more importantly, its sustainability.

During that first call, I listened more than I talked.  Sonny and his colleague at Maintec, Naveen, were both more knowledgeable about the subject than I was.  They asked the company representative the right questions about the delivery of the power from the panels to various parts of the school, as well as how the solar energy would work in combination with grid-electricity.   After all, why use the solar batteries when grid-electricity is working? Our goal was to make the most efficient use of all resources.

While Sonny and Naveen focused on the more technical aspects of power delivery, I again focused on cost and sustainability. By sustainability, I mean the cost of repairs, who would pay for them, how long these systems last, what pitfalls to expect over what period of time, and whether Brahmi and that community could handle these issues on their own.  That was the most important aspect for me – that this need Channa identified for his community should ultimately be their responsibility.   Channa assured me that this would be no problem, and agreed that his community was responsible for themselves and this new technology.

Click HERE to read Part 5 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India