Budding corporate leaders sow seeds of social responsibility

In the year 1990 at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangal­ore.

Bangalore: In the year 1990 at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangal­ore, a group of students decided to do something for the children of the construction workers on campus. The students decided to educate them on campus, to help them integrate into mainstream society.

The informal initiative soon turned into an IIMB tradition. Today, Vikasana, the student-run not-for-profit organisation is one of the busiest in the institution, with volunteers working tirelessly to make a difference to society, no matter how small.

About a dozen students show up to meet me at the IIMB campus, all part of Vikasana’s core team, it turns out. How do they usually spend their Sundays? “Assignments,” they said at once, almost in unison.

It’s a busy life, no doubt, although a fortnight rarely passes by without a vikasana initiative. “We find the time,” said Aditya, a PGP student at IIM and a member of Vikasana. “Of course, something else must take a backseat, but we can’t really help that, can we?”

Education has always remained the centre of what they do, although Vikasana has, over time, branched out into several other issues. The volunteer-based teaching initiative, which is their flagship programme, was renamed ‘Teach to Transform’ in August this year, through a collaboration with Youth for Seva.

“It used to be really informal, but now, we have a structure,” said Srikanth Prabhu who is the current president, Vikasana. “We don’t always teach children what is in their syllabus, what we do is impart practical learning, which they rarely get.”

This has been the most active year for Vikasana, the initiative has really picked up pace over the last 3 years, said Professor Padmini Srinivasan, the group’s faculty advisor. “There was a time when very few students wanted to join, now, they’re queuing up,” she remarked. Freshers at IIMB get man­datory exposure to NGOs at the start of their first term. “We take them all out to see how NGOs work and what problems they face,” explained Srikanth.

It does get slightly incongruous to see a group of ambitious young men and women, who have been marked out for glowing careers as the corporate leaders of tomorrow, devote so much time and energy to helping the underprivileged.

When I ask them how many have actually considered making a career out of this, every head at the table nods vigorously. “A few years down the line,” put in Dheeraj, a second year PGP student, adding with a grin, “First, we have our loans to repay!”

Each year, the 20 stude­nts who make the Direc­tor’s Merit List receive grants of about '3,000, which, as a tradition, is handed over to Vikasana. “We collect about '70,000 and use it to buy books,” said Srikanth.

“They needn’t just be textbooks, we buy them storybooks and books on science as well.” Vikasana also makes a monetary contribution Jee­v­an­lakshya, in an initiative called Vidya Vika­sana, to support atleast one child’s expenses for a year.

“The cost of sending a child to school for a year is about '10,000,” said Srikanth. This year, they garnered '2 lakh — enough to support twenty children. They also organise a scholarship for the children of the mess workers on the IIMB campus.

This scholarship branch­ed out into a mentoring programme, with each child assigned two or three student mentors. “Giving out scholarships only happens once a year, we wanted to do a little more,” said Utkalika Mohanty, another member of Vikasana.

The team is proud of their Joy of Giving Week, which, they said, was a roaring success this year. “We tied up with the Make a Wish Foundation,” said Utkalika. “We contributed about '1,15,000 to them.” Make a Wish Foundation works with making wishes come true for children who have terminal illnesses. “We didn’t work directly with the kids, unfortunately,” she added.

Nevertheless, members of Vikasana make it a point to spend birthdays and special occasions at orphanages and NGOs. “We try to give as much time as we can to these children,” said Srikanth, who had just returned to campus from Snehasa­daan, a nearby orphanage.

All that apart, they also collect and sell old newspapers from across campus and also do collection drives for clothes. All proceeds are distributed to orphanages. Wouldn’t it be more effective for them to focus on a single issue, instead of doing so many things? “We tried that, a couple of years ago,” said Professor Srinivasan. “But we have students coming and going each year and all of them have so many different ideas. We had to give up holding onto a single point of focus.”

Social work, in all honesty, is like trying to win a race when you’re tethered to the starting line. Do any of these young, ambitious business students see a future in social work that involves a profit? Again, they nod vigorously. The institution offers a course on social entrepreneurship, they reply. “I think a career in social work will remain on our minds, somewhere down the line, we will want to go back to it,” said Srikanth.

Blood donation camps are a big part of what Vikasana does as well. “We maintain a database on the students at IIMB and send out emails asking them to donate blood when it’s necessary,” Srikanth explained. During the Joy of Giving week, they took it upon themselves to cook and serve lunch to the mess workers and all the other supporting staff at IIMB as well. “They work for us everyday, we wanted to do a little something for them, too,” they explain.

Fundraisers, blood donation camps, teaching programmes — these students rarely have a moment to spare. Whether or not anything will come of this in the future is up to them, but that streak of altruism is definitely heartening to see. Maybe kindness will inherit the world after all.

( Source : dc )
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