May 24, 2005 Comments Off on Partnerships
Spending a day with Chetan Sharma was the perfect, passionate bookend to my week in India.
There is much I could say about Chetan. He runs a 3000 person outsourcing company called Datamation that gives shares to its employees. He and has wife Sarita lead a small foundation that takes a holistic approach to empowering women in poor communities, with telecentres blended into this approach. He never sleeps. He is alot of fun.
All of this is interesting, but not as interesting as Chetan’s approach to partnership.
I saw how Chetan plays with partnership first hand as we tumbled out of the car onto a busy northeastern Delhi roadside. We were standing in front of the Madrasa Babul Uloom, a Koranic school and orphanage. As we climbed slowly up the steps behind the school, I saw that we’d also arrived at a Datamation Foundation telecentre and sewing school.
Datamation is without doubt a secular organization. But it is also an organization that is committed to reaching across boundaries to create opportunity for women, including women in this poor Muslim neighbourhood. Making good on that commitment means taking partnership seriously. In this case, Datamation has partnered up with Maulana Zafaruddin Ahmad, the progressive local leader who runs this school, to create a space for their work.
As we walk into the telecentre, we see about a dozen women paired up in twos or threes, working on various projects. Following a self paced Flash course on Aids. Playing with PowerPoint. Making invitations for their weddings. Smiling. Laughing. Learning. All of this is a part of a computer skills development course they have signed up for at the telecentre. They’ve each paid 50 rupees (about $US1) to take the course for a month. Separate courses are offered for men in the evenings, at 200 rupees per month.
As we watch, we get a chance to talk with Guddi – the young volunteer who started out at the telecentre as a student and is now teaching the class. Between translations, Chetan asks her: how has your life changed since you started learning computers here? She giggles, and looks away. Then she looks back at us: “I used to be so shy. Now, my mother says I am a chatterbox. I never shut up.” Watching her lead and mentor the other women in the room, it is almost impossible to imagine that she was ever shy.
Clearly, this place is built on the principle that partnership flows both ways. The school is providing space, and helping the community it serves. Guddi is gaining confidence and voice, and then helping others to do the same. Similar partnerships are embedded throughout Datamation’s work. Partnerships with Open Knowledge Network, HP, Microsoft and many others thread into this – testing software, sharing local language content, helping to create livelihoods for the poor. None of these partnerships are based on pure charity. They all go both ways, and they are all grounded in meeting real needs for everyone around the table.
Driving out of East Delhi, I wanted to ask – and write – about each of these partnerships in detail. But time was running short, and the conversation started to fragment. I sat back and accepted that the inspiring time I’d spent at the Datamation centre was enough for now. There is still much time to learn from this passionate approach to partnership … and to see how it connects into the work ahead.