All Talk and No Action Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Social activism is a buzzword these days.

I refer to the current crop of university students in most Mumbai colleges.

With good intentions (colleges cross their hearts over this), many Mumbai colleges have introduced an SIP in their curriculum. The programme is compulsory in nature and requires all students to devote a minimum of 2 hours every week to NGOs of their choice.

Much due diligence has gone into the selection of the NGOs and record keeping and maintenance.  

These institutions hope to churn out socially responsible men and women - who will understand India and her myriad problems better.

This could have been very touching.

But who in hell thinks that forcing a bunch of collegians to pledge their time to an NGO will benefit the collegian and transform her?

In my experience, compulsory anything (where personal choice and interests are concerned) is a recipe for failure. 

I personally interact with such college volunteers and can vouch for how some of them hate doing what they do. At least two of them will have washed their hands off any kind of volunteering by the end of their SIP.

Also, some clauses of such internship programs are ridiculous. Most of these programs recognise only classroom teaching. Anything beyond the classroom is not recorded or appreciated. Why? What if I want to go light a bulb or plant a tree or feed a stray or do grocery for the elderly or help save the tiger?!

Most volunteers that I work with, contribute way more than what is expected out of them - all by means of classroom content design, PR activities, community initiatives, parent counseling, etc. Such an in depth contribution helps us immensely and makes the volunteers far smarter and in sync with reality than a classroom ever can.

At the other end of the spectrum lie free riders who fudge their weekly hours and get away easily. Of course, the NGOs that accept such students on their roll are equally responsible for adding to the sham.

All of the above is not to say that NGOs don't require volunteers or are in a comfortable position. Baring some of the big-wigs, most NGOs in India find it fairly difficult to get by without a sufficient pool of volunteers. Also, most NGOs appreciate the monetary help but would give anything to get more hands on the deck. Time is valuable and few people donate it.

But, I don't think the SIP strategy is the right medicine.

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