How to feed the hungry with dignity

August 31, 2018

Any programme that feeds the hungry is welcome but few challenges always remain: respecting the dignity of hungry people; reducing the waiting time for people before they are served, avoiding wastage, and above all, making the effort sustainable.

In this context, Kozhikode, Kerala, a south Indian state, has developed a good model.

Fully funded by the people of Kozhikode, the initiative – OPERATION SULAIMANI – aims to ensure that no one in the city goes hungry.

People can collect a free meal coupon from any of the distribution centres and walk into any restaurant in the city, where a meal is served without asking any questions with full respect for the dignity of persons. The volunteer team has placed donation boxes across the city, into which anyone can donate. This money is used to reimburse the meal coupons that are collected at the restaurants.

At the initiative of the district collector, the Kerala State Hotel and Restaurants Association has engaged over 125 city restaurants to become a part of this innovative scheme being successfully implemented for over two years now.

Operation Sulaimani is doing so well because it is a voluntary effort with the participation of community, leadership of the district collector and the fact that the capabilities of existing systems are being utilized. No big kitchens are built, there is no food wastage; and funding comes from the community itself with no dependence on big donors. People are served food with full respect for their dignity in city restaurants, where everyone else goes to eat.

While some people may feel that this facility may be misused. Some non- deserving people may also take the free food coupons and eat at a restaurant. But should we be worried about it? It should not be seen as wastage. It is just a spin-off effect of a big initiative that aims to ensure no one should go hungry. I am sure that after eating a few times, people will start donating if they can. We must trust people. Everyone wants to be part of a good cause.

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One bag for you, one for others

July 19, 2018

If you go shopping on Saturdays in June and November in Switzerland, chances are that you will be welcomed by a volunteer at the entrance of the supermarket who will offer you a small bag with a gentle request: As you shop for yourself, please buy something for charity, put it in this bag and give us. You can buy things for poor and leave the bag with the volunteer as you go out.

The effort is organized by a non-governmental organization called Samedi Du Partage (Saturday of sharing). Since 1993, the organization has been organizing collection of non-perishable food and hygiene products in different supermarkets, with the participation of volunteers.

I participated in one such drive on the 2 June 2018. Over 900 volunteers collected items at over 70 stores across the city. Tons of products were collected. Volunteers would now spend weeks in sorting them out before distributing them to the poor people through over 50 charitable organizations.

It was heartening to see the willingness of people to donate. They did not ask questions. They trust the work of ‘Samedi du partage’. They have been doing it for years. During the rush hour, as we could not offer the bag to each person entering the shop, some patiently waited for their turn and asked for the bag. A young student came in and handed me a few things. What he had bought for himself was just a water bottle. When I asked he simply said, “I came to buy water for myself. Saw you guys here and thought of joining this effort.” An old woman made three trips, and each time she donated something, saying she finds it difficult to hold much weight at a time.

I decided to write about ‘Samedi du partage’ as it presents a very good model. It makes it convenient for people to help the poor while doing their daily chores. It is also an excellent example of mobilizing volunteers and reaching the needy in partnership with a large number of charitable organizations. I wish such a model is replicated in different places as well.

I am sure most people will be willing to help if a reputable organization approaches them and makes it easier for them to support a good cause. Even if no volunteer approaches us when we go shopping or eating out, we may consider keeping aside a small amount with the intention of helping others.


Three qualities of a leader

June 29, 2018

Some soldiers were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success. Their leader was standing simply watching as his men struggled. A rider passed by and asked him why he was not helping. He said, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider went up and helped the soldiers lift the wood. With his help, the task was accomplished.

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief. He quietly mounted his horse, went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

The story brings us to three key characteristics of great leaders.

Leaders take actions: They don’t wait. They don’t just talk or order. The join their team whenever they feel the need. Imagine the morale of the team when its leader joins the team members and works with them to achieve something.

Leaders optimize resources: Leaders make the most of the resources – time, finances and human beings – that they have at their disposal. They keep an eye on all the three. Leaders are excellent managers in this sense. A leader has to be a good manager though the reverse is not necessarily true.

Leaders Inspire: This is the most important quality of leaders. They inspire people/teams with their vision, commitment and actions. Leaders trust their team members/followers. Their communication is inspirational too. They don’t just discuss ‘what’ is to be done, they discuss ‘why’ it is to be done and what ‘impact’ it would bring in. People give out their best when they know that their individual effort is linked to a bigger goal.

Ken Blanchard sums it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


Three ways to developing patience

May 30, 2018

A young Japanese man wanted to learn martial art. He went to the best teacher of the time. Meeting the teacher he asked, “how long must I study in order to become the best in martial arts?” The teacher said a minimum of ten years. The young man thought it was too long. So he asked the teacher, “What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?” the teacher said, “twenty years.” Running out of patience, he asked again, “What if I worked day and night with all my effort, how long would it take then?” “Thirty years,” was the teacher’s response.

The young man got confused and asked, “ How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the teacher responded, “The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

I shared the above well-known story to expand on the profound response of the teacher that actually tells us why we don’t patiently pursue our dreams. We want to achieve results quickly and that dilutes the focus on efforts.

Patience is the ability to accept delays, obstacles or challenges without getting annoyed or disappointed and persevering with the effort to achieve the goals.

How can we develop patience?

Identify the situations which make you impatient
It could be anything like prayers not being answered, efforts not yielding the desired results, delays in flights, being stuck in a traffic jam, delay in food being served in a restaurant etc. Identify the situations in which you normally lose your patience.

Recall how you behaved in some of these situations
Reflect on your impatient behaviour in different situations. And, then think of the outcome of that behaviour. You might regret your instant reaction out of anger, frustration etc. This realization would prepare you to respond differently next time such a situation arises.

Anticipate delays and challenges
Things don’t always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations or some other facts that can cause delays and irritate you. It will be good to think ahead and plan for at least those factors that you can think of. For example, while learning a new skill, tell yourself repeatedly that everything is difficult before it is easy. For avoiding traffic jams, see if you can factor in some extra time in your schedule.

Patience is key to success. It is an attitude that we all must develop. Problems of life are like the red light on a traffic signal. If we wait, light becomes green. Let’s learn to wait.


Your social media usage defines you

April 29, 2018

Do you know that more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush? Do you know that grandparents are the fastest growing users on twitter?

Social media has over 3 billion active users now. 61% smartphone users look at their phones within five minutes of waking up and 74% check about 15 minutes before going to sleep.

84% people use social media to support a cause or issue they strongly feel about. Imagine the amount of goodness that can be done or promoted through social media, if we select the right cause.

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There are many positive examples: someone finding a kidney donor through Facebook, funds being generated to support a social cause, people raising their voice against sufferings in Syria, Palestine or Yemen, human rights violations; sharing of inspirational stories of people fighting a disease or helping others.

However, what is worrying is that social media is also being used for promoting hatred and divisions. While it feels good to find an old friend on Facebook, it saddens me to see old friends fighting on grounds of politics or religion.

How can we use the power of social media for promoting goodness? Here are some tips:

Define your purpose: Remember, your social media usage defines you, your personality and your character. Your post, comment or even a like means you believe in it. The purpose needs to be clear in mind in order to decide on content that we post, like or share.

Say “no” to hatred: Stay away from reacting to posts/comments that spread negativity and hatred. Don’t follow the groups or people who do so. If such posts reach you through your networks, don’t comment or get involved in discussions.

Treat opinions and posts with respect: You may get hundreds of messages, many of which you may not agree with or even dislike. Don’t respond harshly. Be respectful to people and don’t make personal comments. No response is better than a bitter response! It will break the cycle of negativity.

Think before you post or share something: Remember your purpose. Ask yourself, what impact my post, or comment is going to make? If it is going to do well, go ahead, else abstain.

Social media has given all of us a voice which our earlier generations did not have. We have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world by sharing good ideas, inspirational stories, speaking for the voiceless, creating peace, harmony and love. Let’s use it for this purpose.


Transitioning into the university life

March 29, 2018

There are very few people who can give young people precise, practical and inspirational advice. Dr Amrita Dass is one of them. She is the Founder-Director of the Institute for Career Studies, (ICS International), Lucknow, India.

I recently watched her in a 2.5 minute TV interview where she gave some profound advice to youngsters who are completing their final school exams and getting ready to enter college/university.

In an attempt to get answers to some of the top-of-mind questions that youth have on this topic, I interviewed her. Here are some excerpts of the interview:

1. How can one make the best of his/her university life?

Dr Amrita Dass: Students need to bring together capability, copability and responsibility. Capability is enhanced if the undergraduate courses they have chosen resonate with their aptitudes and interests. Self-discipline, effective time management wherein students prioritise the ‘musts, shoulds and coulds’, maintaining good relations, leisure activities, a nutritious diet and a positive attitude are the essential building blocks of copability. Responsibility encompasses meeting all your commitments to the best of your ability, being dependable and accountable for your actions.
Moreover, during under grad studies, students should explore possibilities of internships as this will give them valuable insights into the world of work and develop the essential employability skills. The Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (AIESEC) is a global organisation with a strong presence in colleges and universities that provides such opportunities.

2. If you don’t like the course you get the admission in, what can you do?

Dr Amrita Dass: There could be many reasons for not liking the course you have got into. You may find that the teaching is not up to the mark, or the classes are not held regularly or the overall environment is not conducive and you are finding it difficult to adjust or you are in a city, far away from home and homesick.
Remember that you are not the only one facing such problems which I would describe as “teething problems” and therefore temporary. Become an intrinsically motivated learner by reading reference books, researching and doing project work. Make new friends, participate in extra-curricular activities by joining a society/club in your college and seek avenues that will tap your potential to the fullest. I believe that “when the road gets tough, the tough get going”!

However, if the course is one that you had not really explored and you discover that it does not gel with you, then the earlier you opt out in favour of the right course at the right campus, the better!

3. If one does not get admission in the desired course, is it OK to take a gap year? If yes, how to make the best of the gap year?

Dr Amrita Dass: Please avoid taking up any course that you are offered randomly as this will not tap your potential to the fullest. A gap year is advisable if you are not sure about what course you wish to pursue or have not managed to get the course of your choice at a leading campus.
There are many ways to make your gap year a meaningful and enriching one. You could, for example, pursue some interesting free online courses delivered by eminent faculty through coursera.org. Alongside, you could take master classes to hone your talent in art and design, music, dance, acting, culinary arts or sports etc. A gap year could also be utilised for community service which is a huge learning experience and also adds value to your application to top universities, or internships to provide insights about careers you are exploring.

Before I close, I want to share what Dr Dass had told me years ago, “If you have good communication skills and a positive attitude, no one can stop you from achieving your career goals”. This has remained a mantra of life for me. I would like my young friends to work on improving their communications skills and developing a positive attitude.


Five ideas to help you “Do it Daily”

February 26, 2018

Want to lose weight? Exercise regularly; Want to learn a language, study every day; Want to get good marks, study every day; Want to master a skill, practice daily.

‘Do it daily’ is the advice we keep receiving. The issue is how to do something daily. We start and give up after a few days. I would propose the following five ideas:

Set small goals
My French teacher had a very practical suggestion. She asked me to spend just five minutes every day to revise what she had taught. It worked! When I was setting myself one hour to study every day, it was not working out. But finding five minutes was easy, even if it was just before going to bed. To my surprise, I ended up studying more than five minutes daily, sometimes even an hour or more.

Don’t Make Comparisons
It is natural for us to make comparisons with peers. However, people are different. Some learn something quickly than others but it does not mean that others can’t learn. It is better to have targets for your own progress rather than comparing your progress with others.

Give up making excuses
Most of the times, we give up doing what we want to do daily on small pretexts. For example, no walk if it is raining; no study if there is a festival; and no music practice if there are guest coming over. Doing something daily means actually finding time to do it every day, without fail. The only liberty we can take is to adjust the time, if something else comes up.

Reward yourself
Reward yourself when you achieve your small goals. For example, If I could do it daily for 30 days, I will have dinner at my favourite restaurant or go to movie with friends. These are social activities we do regularly anyway but linking them with a personal sense to achievement will act as another motivation.

Find someone who pushes you
We all know people who are our true well-wishers, and can give good advice. Share your goal with one of them. He/she will keep reminding you of the goal and help you overcome challenges that come in the way. Moreover, this will also enhance your accountability towards your commitment.

Everything is difficultly before it is easy. With consistent effort and perseverance, we make incremental progress. Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violists, once said, “I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.”
This is the best way to emphasize upon the importance of doing something daily if we want to excel at it.