By the Seaside…

This week on the blog, our programmes officer Judith shares a few exciting details about the team’s upcoming strategy meeting–taking place in an unexpected location.

Oftentimes the closest the Jeevika Team gets to a beach when we work in India is on a visit to the crab cultivation ponds on Mahinsa Island.

But oh, we do love to be beside the seaside.

Livelihood projects in India

So this is the team’s annual treat: to sit within sight of the sea, preferably in the sun (wearing a hat, of course), with a local coffee in hand. Where else but in Brighton, England–an hour’s train journey from our London office.

The aim of this unusual location for a charitable organisation that works in India is for our team to write its Strategic Plan, one which will chart Jeevika’s course for the next three years.

Never an easy task.

But doing it in Brighton by the seaside has always helped.

Armed with ideas from our five partner organisations in India – in particular, their development priorities for the villagers with whom they plan to work over the next three years (and numbers of ideas of our own), we will decide whether Jeevika will keep on charting the same course or whether we might expand our horizons:

  • Perhaps we will expand our current activities in Tamil Nadu and Orissa (or Odisha as it is now known) into one or more of India’s other states? 
  • Perhaps we will look to expand the number of partnerships with which we work?
  • And, of course, there is also scope for looking at new ways of doing the same things:  that is always the challenge.

We will be in Brighton during 26-27 June and once the sunshine has been assured (we are keeping our fingers crossed on that one), the horizon has been contemplated and these two components have been suitably mixed with dynamic ideas and a sea breeze, we will let you know how we got on.

Watch this space!

Brighton Pier and Seaside

Ps:  if you, too, wish to be beside the seaside, visit: Brighton photo courtesy of Paradise in the World.


A weekend journey with Jeevika in Tamil Nadu, part two

Last week we heard from our director Andrew Redpath, about his recent visit to the Shiva Nataraja temple in Tamil Nadu. Today he shares the second part of that journey…

Proceeding from the east gate towards the west, my private wish that I might get to speak to a worshipper about his relations with the temple was more than fulfilled by a polite approach ‘Where are you from’ by a handsome man, with naked top like the priests whom we had seen flitting back and forth, and the standard white gold-trimmed lunghi.

Here was an object lesson in genteel and accomplished brand-building and fund-raising – Jeevika’s own top challenges: Mark and I listened in appreciation for the next hour. He is from the hereditary deekshithar community of Brahmins, who have tended and managed this vast temple – some 300 of them – for centuries.

Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu

According to him, the Nataraja temple in Chidambaran is unique in not being Government-owned, and its huge maintenance costs are raised without official subsidy. In his caste you cannot become a priest until you have passed through brahmacharya (education) and marriage, thus subtly ensuring the hereditary line.

His own father was engaged in rituals in the Raj sabha or inner hall of the temple where the effigy or form of the Nataraja Shiva resides – an extraordinarily peaceful, narrow-chested (compared with his robust son) man whose brown eyes looked as youthful as his son’s.

Father preceded us into the inner hall of the sabha, after we had removed our shirts, where he proffered to us a small tray of prasad for the deity, which we had to first touch with our right hand, then answer questions about our birth dates and star-signs and the names of our nearest and dearest, then open both hands over the tray which he then bore away to seek the Lord’s blessing for us all.

We then stood in the light of many flames, in a gently seething group of naked male torsos all edging to gain darshan of the deity, with our friend urging us forward all the time. Here is the mystery: here is the visible deity, in the form of ‘dancing Shiva’, while the form-less deity is present in the sanctum sanctorum, symbolised by the invisible lingam of Ether, the fifth element of the universe, to which this temple is dedicated. He garlanded both of us with sweet carmine and later warned us that when the garland is finished it must be lain upon a body of water with our shoes removed.

What had been an unforgettable insight and privilege was followed a day later by our dutiful laying of the two wreaths on the great River Kaveri, and a month or so later by the start of an e-mail dialogue with our friend (whose ‘day-job’ is as a Professor of Electrical Engineering), a donation for the temple and an open door to further communication.

Hindu rituals in Tamil Nadu

What are some of the temples you’ve visited in India (or elsewhere)? We’d love to hear about them!

The need for a trisector approach

“A tri sector approach is needed: the government sector for legal support, civil society as facilitators and social mobilisers, and the private sector for technology, finance and market”.

– Schumacher Centre, Delhi

My Vodafone World of Difference placement finished at the end of last month. Working for Jeevika Trust intensively for two months has been a very rewarding experience and has enabled me to organise some important awareness and fund raising opportunities.

Corporate reception

UK MP Vince CableMost recently, our local MP and the Government’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has agreed to host a summer reception for our corporate stakeholders.

This event will give us the opportunity to bring together companies with operations and interests in India’s booming economy and make the moral and commercial case for them to address the vast poverty in India’s villages.

India’s impressive growth rate, still running at 6-7% despite the financial crisis, is undoubtedly reducing poverty. Recently released Government Planning Commission figures claim that the number of desperately needy rural inhabitants earning 22 rupees or less a day fell by 52m over five years. Access to education, phones and electricity has also increased.

However, three hundred million people in rural India are nonetheless being totally left behind by India’s growth. Their access to water, shelter and sanitation, health, nutrition and food security, shelter and education is more fragile than ever. According to the UN, India is not on track to meet any of the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015 (although there is insufficient information to assess progress on four of the targets).

A tri-sector approach

Jeevika believes strongly in a ‘tri-sector’ approach, whereby companies, government and NGOs work together to address the huge poverty challenge of the ‘other India’. Our partner Schumacher Centre in Delhi has brought together business, NGOs, politicians and civil servants in workshops to discuss how it can work in practice, providing a much needed fresh approach to rural development.

NGOs in Delhi, India

Training at Schumacher Centre, Delhi

With regards to partnerships between business and NGOs specifically, there are many ways they can support organisations like Jeevika. These include sponsoring an event or publication, funding a project, offering us cause related marketing opportunities, nominating us a ‘charity of the year’, payroll giving, gifts in kind, donating shares, match funding, displaying collection tins and leaflets and engaging staff in fundraising and volunteering.

In return for such support, Jeevika can enable companies to fulfill their CSR objectives, create positive branding opportunities, enhance their reputation, differentiate themselves from their competition, benefit from tax incentives and engage staff, suppliers and customers in new ways possibly leading to increased sales and customer loyalty.

My Jeevika colleague Mark Roberts describes the benefits of supporting Jeevika’s cause thus:

  • Sustainable Business – business models need to mitigate the increasing threat of climate change as well as the social and commercial costs of profound inequalities in wealth and prosperity;
  • Future Markets – how the poor can be given access to markets as a part of commercial business interests driving development, 80% of all poverty reduction stems from business growth, accroding to the Department for International Development;
  • Brand and Reputation – companies that take CSR seriously perform better in terms of the bottom line, on some estimates 75% of the valuation of the average US company is now in the form of intangibles.

I very much hope Jeevika will be able to develop its existing corporate partnerships and develop some new ones as a result of its summer reception, especially with the Vodafone Foundation!

Photo of Vince Cable courtesy of In the Dark.

A weekend journey with Jeevika in Tamil Nadu, part one

We apologize for the gap in posts as our team has been travelling everywhere from Belgrade to Marrakech. We’re back this week with director Andrew Redpath sharing a story from a recent trip to India…read on for the first part of his journey!

Travelling between cities in India reminds one of the country’s vastness – 3-hour flights, endless rail journeys and hectic bus journeys are often the norm. Meeting up with our Indian NGO partners in Delhi, Orissa (Odisha) and Tamil Nadu, to keep in touch with them and understand the village communities we aim to help, needs planning and logistics. And weekends come in very handy.

One weekend last November, we covered a lot of ground physically and metaphorically. My colleague and fellow-trustee Mark Hoda had not travelled in rural India for several years and joined me on a trip to Tamil Nadu. He brought great energy to the whole trip, and has constantly referred back to the value he obtained from seeing some of our projects in the field.

We first flew into Delhi where we met up with our sister organization, the Schumacher Centre (SCD), founded by us in 2001 under the leadership of Dr Dusmanta Giri. SCD and Giri are going strong with substantial projects in Orissa and Haryana, which this trip did not allow us to see. But that’s another story…

Chidambaram Shiva templeOn a Friday evening we flew down to Chennai, planning to sleep in the former French protectorate of Pondicherry, and on the Saturday headed by bus for the small city of Chidambaran, seat of Shiva-worship.

Our two modest suitcases were not welcome on board, as the driver made clear as did the jostle of passengers milling around us: his bus had no stowage space above, below or behind so everyone came on board with their baggage, but smile as we might he was not happy with ours!

After inveighing against us in Tamil, as gently reported by the woman sitting behind us, he finally accepted we were not moving and asked for the fare in faultless English – a mere Rs 69 for both of us (that’s called subsidised rural mobility!).

At Cuddalore, halfway through, a throng of people wedged themselves on, all standing, so it was virtually impossible to budge. With continuous two-tone horn blasts from start to finish we were the biggest beast on the road, ploughing ahead through impossible gaps and obstacles with horn full on. With this, and screechy music and Indian sitcom female voices all the way – not a moment to nod off.

Our main destination was the Shiva Nataraja temple, on its 40 acres in mid-town: the god Shiva takes form as the famous dancing figure in a circle of flames – the Lord of the Cosmic Dance.

Four stupendous gopurams, tapering multi-storey towers, with painted human faces of every kind staring forever down at us (actually these all date from around 17th century).

Entering at the south gate, leaving our shoes, passing by the big tank with an elderly woman bathing in brown water in a diaphanous brown sari, we passed to the east gate whose portals are rich with carvings of the 108 classical natyam dance postures: we counted all but 4, each carefully depicted in bas relief panels, along with some standing figures of Shiva, Parvati and one blackened, garlanded one behind a caged door whose identity was unclear…

Check back next Monday for the second part to Andrew’s story from Chidambaram. Do you have a story to share from your own adventures in India? We’d love to hear them!