How Rohini Nilekani discovered buddies and mentors on the highway to philanthropy

It was solely in 2007, a full 15 years after I began working within the civic sector, that I had a lucky encounter that helped crystallise these early experiences right into a philosophy and motion framework. It all started with a dialog on a bumpy four-hour automotive experience from Patna to Khagaria district in Bihar. Sunita Nadhamuni, CEO of Arghyam, Eklavya Prasad of Megh Pyne Abhiyan, and I had landed on the Patna airport on the night of fifteenth April, 2007. We had been on a area go to to Bihar for eight days to see the work of Arghyam’s companions.

Our flight had been delayed significantly and Sunita’s luggage had not arrived, which led to an impromptu cease at a generator-lit buying strip close by. So, once we began on our journey to Khagaria district it was already darkish. However, our amiable host, Prem Kumar Varma of our native CSO accomplice Samata, assured us it was nice and off we went within the sturdy Scorpio taxi. On the way in which, Premji, as he’s broadly identified, regaled us with many tales from the Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) motion spearheaded by Jayaprakash Narayan, to the state of latest Bihar, its determined poverty, and the then extremely lively Naxalite motion.

“Just yesterday,” he stated, “Maoists had clashes with villagers; homes were lit and trashed; and dozens were killed.”

“Er, where was this?” requested Sunita nervously. “I’ll show you tomorrow, that’s where we are headed now,” he replied sanguinely.

It was throughout this memorable drive that Premji shared his core understanding of latest India and the facility shifts that had taken place through the years. “In the good old days, Samaaj used to be on top. In some sense, the Sarkaar was below it, even in kingdoms and fiefdoms, as the representatives of the Sarkaar would carry out Samaaj-related functions and Samaaj had its own strong organisational structure. The Bazaar was well below the Sarkaar,” he opined.

Although I used to be undecided about his principle of ‘the good old days’, we listened in fascination because the Scorpio ate up the miles and the mud. Behind us, loaded vehicles and petrol tankers blared their horns on the nationwide freeway, their headlights blinding us all.

“During the British Raj, the Sarkaar climbed up to the top of this triad,” he continued. “Samaaj was forcefully pushed to second place and the Bazaar stayed at the bottom. Post-Independence, this continued, but with a nascent struggle between Samaaj and Bazaar. Bazaar was trying to get closer to the Sarkaar. People had been left pauperised and weak. After globalisation and liberalisation, the reversal is now complete,” Premji declared.

“The Bazaar has managed to move past Samaaj and even Sarkaar. Now Bazaar is on top, Sarkaar is in the middle and Samaaj is in third place. That leaves Samaaj completely shoshit (exploited), unable even to defend and help itself.”

Premji’s story and this framework of the Samaaj, Sarkaar, and Bazaar had a strong impression on me. Five days later, I skilled one other poignant second after I visited Bhitiharwa, Gandhiji’s first ashram in India, and stood in tears in entrance of a plaque with my grandfather’s title. It was precisely 90 years since my grandfather, Babasaheb Soman, had joined Gandhiji there in 1917, leaving his work and household to hitch the Champaran agitation. And over the subsequent few days, as we witnessed the deep poverty of the individuals, the flood economic system, the latent violence of the Naxalite motion, the brutal response of the state, and the early indicators of massive enterprise making inroads into Bihar,

I had a variety of time to let Premji’s phrases sink in. When I returned, I began to do my very own studying on the altering relationships and energy equations between these three sectors. I began to develop and refine this framing, which has since grow to be the cornerstone of my work. I owe an important debt to Premji for setting me off on this journey.

Around the identical time, one other one in all my mentors, Anupam Mishra, who was then the Director of The Gandhi Peace Foundation and an professional on conventional water conservation practices, had additionally impressed me to see the facility of Samaaj in a brand new gentle. An unbelievable storyteller, he would regale us at Arghyam with tales from the pre-colonial period, when communities, particularly in water-scarce geographies, had developed ingenious methods to preserve and share valuable water assets.

The actual work forward, he would say, was to revive the boldness of individuals in their very own skills to handle key pure assets.

He spent years documenting conventional rainwater harvesting practices in Rajasthan. Along with many protégées like Farhad Contractor, he demonstrated how, with only a few assets, it was doable to bind Samaaj along with an inclusive imaginative and prescient and a sensible motion plan. He guided the collective motion wanted to preserve each drop of the scanty rainfall that fell over the land.

One fascinating customized they helped revive was the laash. This is a convention the place villagers invite neighbours from surrounding villages to assist full a public mission corresponding to digging a water physique, with their shramdaan (labour as a present). These reciprocal occasions had been all the time replete with a feast courtesy of the host village, and far merriment after the work was achieved.

The laash system was the important thing to group concord, resilience, and sustainability. Anupamji’s narrative all the time rescued hope from the tyranny of despair. It led us to grasp how communities might take again the locus of management and the way Samaaj might reclaim its rightful house, which had too typically been yielded to the Sarkaar or the Bazaar.

I used to be additionally fortunate to have buddies like Rajni Bakshi, the Gandhian scholar and writer of books like Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi and Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom. For years, we had been speaking virtually every day about problems with Samaaj, particular person motion, and eco-political life. Slowly, underneath the steerage of many specialists like her, Arghyam started to root itself in a brand new understanding.

Here’s only one instance from the various improvements Arghyam was in a position to again – along with hydrologists and different scientists, we supported communities throughout India to follow Participatory Ground Water Management (PGWM).xiv Our CSO companions helped make invisible floor water seen, and educated village communities to grasp native aquifers and develop sound processes to make use of the finite, although renewable, water extra sustainably.

Slowly however certainly, many fashions developed throughout the varied hydro-geologies across the nation. And the PGWM mandate discovered its manner into coverage paperwork for water administration in any respect ranges of the state. Together, we had discovered a option to work with Samaaj to affect the Sarkaar.

This people-first, society-first method started to infuse all points of my philanthropy over the subsequent few years. As I went past Arghyam and water, to help problems with entry to justice, gender fairness, impartial media, lively citizenship, and the atmosphere, it grew to become more and more clear to me that strengthening Samaaj in all its sides was vital in my quest for the nice society that I needed to be part of. So, we seemed for the very best concepts, people, and establishments that had been working to resolve social points from inside society itself.

We seemed for leaders who had been passionate, dedicated, and of excessive integrity – and we discovered so many. Importantly, regardless of which sector we work in or help, the only thread that unites all of it is the need to construct a robust, resilient Samaaj.

Today in lots of societies all over the world, there was quickly escalating financial inequality, with the staggering rise within the wealth of the highest 1%, paradoxically even through the pandemic. This has invited a rethink on the position and duty of wealth. I imagine no Samaaj can tolerate the rise of such wealth for too lengthy, until such wealth creation is seen and believed to be performing within the public or nationwide curiosity.

Charity and strategic philanthropy can each play a vital position in mitigating some inequity. In truth, civil society organisations depend upon the ethical creativeness of the privately rich to hold out their societal work. In India, there has lengthy been a convention of giving ahead, however the rich can and have to do much more.

A wholesome Samaaj requires such corrections by non-public residents, when an imbalance within the Sarkaar and Bazaar creates an excessive amount of private wealth in too few arms. It is with this in thoughts that we give ahead from what we’ve got been given.

Excerpted with permission from Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar: A Citizen-First Approach, written by Rohini Nilekani, (© Rohini Nilekani, 2022), revealed underneath a CC BY 4.0 licence at

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