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An Interview with Dileep Ranjekar, CEO - Foundation

You are one of the few NGOs which work with State Governments. What are the pros and cons of working with the Government? When over 90% of elementary education in the country happens in government schools (especially in the 600,000 villages across the country) there is no way anyone can impact education without actively and constructively working with the Government. It is the government that has the infrastructure, a large organisation and most importantly the experience to work in education at a large scale. We preferred to make efforts to impact the larger system (even if it was slow) than creating fewer islands of excellence which anyway exist in pockets of the country. Therefore, all our efforts begin with discussions with the state governments of the states we work in (we have signed MoUs with Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka for instance). Our experience with the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka has been very encouraging. There are so many good people in the government. We found that like in any other large organisation, the normal distribution curve applied in this organisation as well. We decided to focus on what is good than what is not good. It is a very motivating experience when a cluster resource coordinator or a block education officer or director of a department shows complete involvement and guides us to achieve better results in our programs and intervention. In all our programs, we work shoulder to shoulder with the government education functionaries and the community representatives. We are always asked questions by many on the impact of change in the government in states. We do not feel political change in the leadership of the state would impact our work. Education is too important for any political party and for any government. Besides, we are only adding and supplementing to the system and not subtracting anything from the system. Thus, any government would welcome our working with them. In our day to day work, we have practically no interaction with the political leaders we work primarily with the education functionaries at both senior and the grass-root level. In peoples mind, there is a very strong association of Azim Premji Foundation with Wipro and therefore with IT. They do not realize that our Foundation has no linkage with Wipro at all. Yes, we have experimented usage of IT effectively to enhance the curricular learning of the children as well as to create excitement in the schools. The CD based, child centric and interactive curricular content in local languages that we have developed is today being used by over 600 schools and 169, 000 children.During this academic year, it would be used in over 6000 schools in 5 states benefiting over 1.7 Mln children. Research has established that the content are positively influencing the learning of the children in relevant subjects and the attendance of the children is significantly up on the days they are scheduled to work on the computers. Our vision on using IT enabled education is to make learning play, assessment fun and to be able to provide the same quality of education to all. Many people say that we have two countries; Bharat and India. And use of IT in Education is for India and not Bharat because in Bharat there are schools where there is no power. So how can

you use computers and hence IT? Azim Premji Foundation is very much aware of both the faces of our country. Yes, there are problems about power in Bharat sometimes, but it is heartening to see the overwhelming response that IT gets in the villages. In fact, the thought of introducing computer enabled curricular education came to us through the feedback the parents of these remote villages gave to us. When we asked them what their ambitions about their childrens future were - they expressed their aspirations as we want our children to work on computers and we want our children to be able to speak in English. There is solid response from parents of children studying in rural schools to the introduction of computers as a tool for learning. We would like to emphasize here that our focus is on using computers as a tool for curricular learning and not on computer education. The problem of shortage of power and low voltage did lead us to experiment with solar energy that is affordable. In Hochihalli village in Kadur, Karnataka, the Foundation has devised a cost-effective power pack that can generate sufficient power to provide backup to six computers. This is in addition to a step up stabiliser. How are you trying to bring a balance between quantity and quality? India currently has about 35 Million children out of school and about 157 Million children in the school. Over 75% of these schools have multigrade teaching wherein one teacher teaches children in several grades in one classroom at the same time. The Foundation began its efforts with issues related to quantity. We soon realized that the state governments are making significant efforts to get the out of school children in the schools and are also working towards building more schools/classrooms etc. We therefore decided to focus on quality of education and what happens inside a school. Today our programs are either focused on building the accountability for learning among the key stakeholders (the Learning Guarantee Program is one such program) or in demonstrating proof of concept that can be replicated at a large scale in the government system (The Accelerated Learning Program and the Child Friendly School are examples of such programs). Of the 41 CDs on educational content that you have devised, how many are based on the curriculum? Nearly 95% of our educational CDs are based on the curriculum. The rest deal with co-curricular activities. The CDs have presently been translated into Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Oriya. Soon we may have translations in Gurmukhi for schools in Punjab.By March 2005, we plan to have 120 CDs that will cover the entire gamut of curricular modules for children in standard 1 to standard 8. How can other NGOs benefit from the CDs developed by you. Are they free or for some minimal costs?

NGOs working in the field of education can make use of the content in the CDs. The CDs are free for all government schools anywhere in India. For non-government schools that cater to children from socio-economically weaker sections, the CDs would be free. Other schools can have it at a very nominal charge, say Rs.50 per CD. The only condition that we have is that teachers have to be trained to use the CDs as an effective supplement to classroom teaching, before the schools can use them. Recent research studies on the effectivenes of using technology as a tool for education has shown that the CDs work best in places where the teachers are completely involved in using them. In government schools, the government has to make the arrangements for this training. Even if you do not enter all the states of India and limit your interventions to a few states, can you develop CDs in those states, so that NGOs in these states have good support material? The CDs can be used by people in any state. States like Pondichery, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have already shown interest in procuring the CDs. We already have CDs in most South Indian languages. In most North Indian institutions, the medium of instruction is Hindi. So the CDs can definitely make good support material for NGOs in all such states. Many Corporates with large budgets work with a lot of NGOs in a lot of states with limited infrastructure of two people handling the entire CSR programme. Would you advice them to get focussed on just one state to get better measurable impact? Not many corporates work on a national level. Most corporates limit their activities to a small radius around them. And there is nothing wrong in that. For CSR to be effective, there needs to be a long term commitment and continuous quality inputs in your programs. For instance, work does not stop with building a school for employees children. The company must make sure that the school is delivering learning, that best practices are in place, that the children are developing in the manner planned. CSR must include sustainability and credibility and must go beyond a mere brand building and image enhancement exercise. If your program is genuine and is delivering the results, the brand and image will anyway follow. We believe in using existing systems in society and governments to make them more sustainable. We constantly monitor our own work to make sure we are on the right track. Therefore, all our programs have a base line, rigorous monitoring systems and periodic evaluation of the program.

Can you offer one day sharing programmes with large NGOs and large Corporates on scalable projects? We can most certainly offer one-day sharing programmes with NGOs. Over the last three years, the Foundation has gained knowledge in the field of education especially in rural India. We have also done a lot of research and documentation. Our studies on Learning Guarantee Programme, ComputerAssisted Learning Centres, Accelerated Learning Programme and Technology Initiatives have just been completed and will be placed on our website for sharing with all those who would want to know about the same. Azim Premji Foundation is also in a process of building talent and knowledge base towards being a resource centre for organisations working in the education domain. A lot of potential donors - NRIs, Individual Indian donors and small companies- who feel that their small contribution of a couple of lakhs cannot make a significant difference - are not giving funds because they are not sure about the credibility of NGOs. Would you give them the opportunity to give funds to community through you. How can it work? We can definitely guide potential donors. With our experience in grassroots education, we have come across several, promising experiments in quality education. We can identify these projects so that potential donors can fund them. E-nabled experiments require huge funds due to capital costs of hardware, and donors can support these projects through us. Wherever donors want their visible identity to be built for their significant financial contributions, the same can also be done. As a policy, Azim Premji Foundation does not supply hardware.Even in schools, we do not normally participate in the funding or construction of infrastructure. But we are aware of where funds are needed, and we can thus direct donors towards these needs. How is Azim Premji Foundation different than Wipro's CSR? Azim Premji Foundation and Wipro are two different companies, the only thing being common that both the organisations are focused on education. While the Foundation works in the field of elementary education in rural schools, Wipro, through its Wipro Applying Thought in Schools Programme addresses the education issues in urban schools. Wipro also has an educational Forum that connects educationists from all over India and facilitates sharing of educational initiatives. The Foundation and Wipro CSR are looking at a synergy in most of their work. What are your views on NGO Governance? NGOs are driven by people with passion for a cause.

A person in the NGO sector has an understanding of the grassroots, and a good social perspective. But when it comes to governance, accounting practices and measurement of results, they need to take a look at the way corporates function. How can NGOs enhance their credibility? NGOs can enhance their credibility by their the results they produce! NGOs should have accountability and transparency. NGOs should measure their impact to see whether the process they have adopted is taking them where they want to be. Capacity building as another important part of increasing credibility. The effort has to move from being individual focused to organisation / institution focused. With capacity-building excercises, more people can be trained to do different jobs for the organisation. There has to be not just islands of excellence but an entirely institutionalised approach to running an NGO. The Foundation sees itself recruiting varied type of individuals in the future as well --- they could be psychologists, social workers, managers, researchers, documentation experts, educationists and counsellors. We would like to systematize every aspect of our work so that the models we create are easily replicable, on any scale. How do you measure the impact of your programmes? We have just come out with our research documents on our various programmes. While the baseline and midline studies are conducted by us, we also use outside agencies to evaluate and carry out the endline studies. Our programmes have very definitive goals, and these are measured constantly. For instance, the study on Learning Guarantee Programme conducted in 900 rural government schools, is just out. While 40 were winning schools (schools that guaranteed learning, according to the conditions laid out in the program) there were 860 schools that participated but did not reach the goal. But the fact that these non-winners considered themselves worthy of stringent evaluation itself proved that they had come a long way in the race to become winning schools after becoming part of the Learning Guarantee Programme. This is in itself a measure of the impact of this programme. Can you share values of your team? When we started the Foundation, we had practically no experience in the field of education. What we probably brought to the table was a burning desire to make change, passion to contribute to the education domain in the country and an uncompromising integrity of purpose.

We also brought some experience to work in a professional manner, experience to manage large organisations, experience to develop people and build capacity. We do not look at our work as social work but an effort to contribute solving a large problem before the nation in a systematic manner. We have over 100 full time professionals working with the Foundation and over 1000 program based volunteers In our organisation, we want to bring in the best from development and corporate organisations. We want to have the passion, dedication, selflessness and social awareness from the development organisations and transparency, professional way of working, result / measurement orientation from the corporate organisations. Interview by Mala Kumar, Bangalore.