Francisco Noguera

Guest Post: Day One at Deshpande Foundation’s “Development Dialogue”

Lesley2Guest Blogger Lesley Pories is a Deshpande Foundation Sandbox Fellow, working with the Water Literacy Foundation in India.

Before taking on this role, Lesley worked as a Research Analyst with the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute. A graduate of Emory University, she double-majored in International Studies and English and minored in French.

By Lesley Pories

Small excited confusion abounds as people scan the collection of buses for the signs that designate which program each bus is going to see: livelihoods, education, health or agriculture. But soon enough, people are generally settled in and the still-inevitable puffs of smoke let everyone know the buses are moving and the day has officially begun.

I write from Day 1 of Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue, their second annual collection of NGOs, academics, businesspeople and socially-minded others who share an interest in the development of Northern Karnataka (nicknamed the “Sandbox” by the Deshpande Foundation), India. In an earlier guest blog post, I described the work of the Deshpande Foundation and its commitment to promoting development through entrepreneurship.

As a Sandbox Fellow working at local water conservation NGO Water Literacy Foundation (WLF), courtesy of the Deshpande Foundation, I’d been hearing about this event for months. It was both exhilarating as and exhausting to help it take off.

Desh F LogoThe morning started with the 250+ participants piling into buses that spent the morning visiting one or two sites of Deshpande-funded NGO work in the nearby area. My group started with a brief visit to see the work of my NGO, WLF, in nearby Girls English High School in Deshpande-Nagar, Hubli. We arrived before classes had begun and so avoided too much awed giggling from the schoolchildren. WLF’s Director (my boss), Ayyappa Masagi, showed and described the system we had installed for catching rainwater from the roofs and channeling it the bore-well instead of letting it run off the side of the building, unused. I piped in with the occasional English-to-English translation for our non-Indian guests (1 lakh = 100,000, for example), and overall the visitors seemed to appreciate the system at work. A representative from the school was also there to answer more questions about the use of the water and its impact on the school’s functioning.

From there, we got back into the buses and headed out to Chandapur village in Haveri District, where we were visiting a project site of Habitat for Humanity/India and NEEDS, a local self-help group that invited the international NGO to assist them in meeting the housing needs of its community. A simple but nice welcoming ceremony was laid out for us in Chandapur, where we heard some thank you speeches before walking around the village to view 3 homes that Habitat was in the process of building. Each home was at a different stage in the process, so it was kind of like watching a home go up in slow motion. It brought me back to the Habitat builds I had done back in college, and I was quick to speak to the main people and volunteer to bring a group of us Americans to help build a house one of these weekends. Though I was also aware I’d be coming back to this village anyway, as my organization was to assist in the project by outfitting these new homes with rainwater harvesting systems…

The sun had been hot, and the ride back to Hubli was quieter than the previous journey, where everyone had been in an excited mood and eager to learn from the experience of everyone around them.

After lunch, people had the opportunity to walk around various booths and learn about the projects that had been carried out this year by LEAD students. LEAD is another of the Deshpande Foundation’s programs, in which students with ideas apply for a very small stipend to carry out a social idea or innovation in a nearby community. In a culture which is only beginning to inculcate the value of community service, these students had reached out to slum communities and other target audiences for a number of different projects, ranging from children’s education to nutrition to sanitation to water conservation to the arts, etc.

“I’m running around getting so many ideas for new partnerships, and its really inspiring me,” commented Polai Av of the Stevens Center for Innovation at the University of Southern California. “Although, it’s hard NOT to be inspired here.”

Some of these projects included selling things – I am now the proud owner of a small vase that was painted by an orphan after a group of LEAD students came to his orphanage 6 times in one month to teach painting on ceramics. The profits from my purchase are going back to the orphanage. Who could resist that?

The Dialogue was officially kicked off in the evening with some remarks by the Deshpande Foundation’s co-founder, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande of Sycamore Networks. Over the course of his words of welcome, Deshpande outlined his vision for the Sandbox for 2020 and the Development Dialogue’s role in that vision: northwest Karnataka as one of the best experimental sandboxes for social entrepreneurship in the world, with the Development Dialogue sharing best practices all over the world and therefore playing its part in furthering social entrepreneurship worldwide.

Indeed, several special guest attendees at the conference are Ashoka Fellows from Kenya, Peru, Colombia and Spain.

While the bulk of the actual Dialogue will emerge over the next few days, it is clear that people are already inspired and motivated by the little they have witnessed so far.

“It is really striking to me to come here from Boston,” remarked Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation. “Based on the day and a half that I’ve been here, the global possibilities here…[are] really interesting.”

One day down, three to go. Let’s see what else emerges.