The Compassion Union

Posted by Meghna Banker on May 6, 2010
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This is the third installment of a series (see Thinking Big, Living Small and Nandan's Experiment with Shoes).

I will use questions from Mazarine's comment to my second piece as the stimulus for this piece: "I love the idea of growing horizontally, and living simply, but can you give us some clues about how you did that? Are you a cooperative now? Do your workers have a union? Are you organized differently?"

Growing horizontally: Thinking back, I feel our biggest concern was "branding" (it goes hand-in-hand with "trust"), not just within the organization but also outside. We were not able to completely rely on delegation of work to others. There was always this unknown sense of being responsible for everything that happened at the organization. Everything had to be under our control, because we thought we knew better. Measuring the steps that were taken, assuming the impact it would cause and producing a result that we thought would be most appropriate became our preoccupation. In short, we were working "only" from a pool of knowledge that we had and limiting it to that. A very dear friend puts it very well: "How can we trust what we know, when everything we know, depends so heavily on what we know". :)

If a volunteer came in, we would steer him/her in the direction of our work, not leaving them much room to try something new. If we did any collaborations with other companies or organizations, we made clear what our deliverables were and what theirs for us would be. e.g. We host the "I am the change film project" every year. Until 2008, it was all about the sponsors, media partners, newspaper partners, radio, television etc. And we always found ourselves telling them what we needed (from our limited knowledge) and what we can give in return. Again "interpreting knowledge from interpreted knowledge".

After our move to Ahmedabad, we saw how Manav Sadhna operated. From the outside, it looked like a very laid-back organization. People wondered "how are they able to do so much work when all we see is people laughing, having fun, chai (tea) and just enjoying?". However, if you dig deep, all the responsibilities are so well laid-out that they don't feel pressured at all. Whoever comes in is welcomed home. Volunteers who'd come in for an hour, day, weeks, months, are given a chance to observe what they (Manav Sadhna) do. Volunteers are then offered the opportunity to be a part of something that exists, or work on something that inspires them, or just enjoy being in the moment. The emphasis is on going with the flow. The results from this approach allowed the founders/volunteers/employees (empowerers) to grow.

They heard stories beyond their capacity of interpreted knowledge and were able to expand their experience by orders of magnitude. Inspite of the work being delegated, there was so much freedom and trust. And not being attached to the outcome made the whole process come alive. Every employee/volunteer is a head of their own designated project (process). Therefore, making each individual, an organization in itself. (Thinking Big, Living Small). This resulted in so many heartfelt experiences, stories, lessons to share and growing; a community of organizational soul-force (Growing Horizontally). It is a great truth that when we come from that space of freedom, then suddenly our perspectives change.

We followed just that. In 2009, in our living-small phase, we decided to scrap everything and go zero. No branding, no logos, no publicity for partnership, no give-and-take, no awards when all are winners and no designated employees. It was about going with the flow. Instead of taking help from the newspapers, we decided to go college to college, personally talk to students, friends and our online groups about this new approach and the new process of I am the change. Instead of having the competition once a year, we decided to have it on throughout the year and celebrate the participation by organizing a film festival to showcase ALL the films made, bringing the changemakers and filmmakers on one platform in an inter-transformational sharing. This step, however, cut down our application by at least 50%. Which was nice, because this time, it was more about growing a community of organizational soul-force.

After all the film submissions, we started working towards the Film Festival. We had no idea where we would start, but we knew we wanted to do this without fundraising, stay completely volunteer-run and keep it small (CharityFocus style). Little did we know after taking this jump, we were in for an even bigger surprise.

As the Alchemist says: "When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person realize his dream". One day, at Seva Cafe, Madhu (my husband) came across Murli, a student from Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad (IIM-A, India's most-coveted MBA school) had come there to volunteer. In conversations, Madhu mentioned our grassroot initiative of I am the Change Film Festival. He was so excited on hearing it that he immediately offered to help setup a collaboration with the Entreprenuership Cell at IIM-A to make this possible. The cell had a seminar called Dream Big India around the same time as our festival dates, and they offered to make I am the Change Festival a part of their festival.

It took us a long time to realize how difficult it is to even put up a flier in that university. And here we were offered whatever we wanted to make this possible. :) And so our journey began. The event was not only successful without branding, and without fundraising, but we had around 15 guest speakers from different walks of grassroot initiatives, almost 500+ visitors and approximately a total of 25 volunteers come in from Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Baroda, Ahemdabad at their own expense.

How did they find out? - Word of mouth / Online social groups. Why did they come? They were inspired by the online stories, the changemakers and most importantly they felt that they could be of service. :)

The film project however is a small part of what we witness in our day-to-day life. The volunteers and co-workers come in with different ideas of what they feel can be utilized best with the media tools and we find ourselves immersing into new transformatory experiences through them.

Our fellow volunteers have no unions other than the compassion union and this is how we are organized!

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Comments (2)

  • Abhishek wrote ...


    Beautiful post....

    Often there is a temptation to see one path and tag it as the 'right path' - which in my case for Blue Ribbon is often an internal conflict - what is the right path

    Because as much as the path of growing effortlessly and going with the flow draws me, there is a feverishness at the same time to grow it within a structure, with some push from my end, with a certain goal....

    I've struggled with it for a while...

    Where I stand now is that even this feverishness is a part of the now - its not right or wrong...its for me to be present to what is. And for now, it is this desire - to go with that desire is also to go with the flow of the moment....

    As in a forest there is grass and creepers, there is also the pine and the oak that grow to be large magnificent trees... as beautiful....

  • Viral wrote ...

    dear meghna -- so well-articulated and crystal clear! we have to get you to continue writing :-) also appreciated abhishek's exploration. to continue what he started: >>"And for now, it is this desire - to go with that desire is also to go with the flow of the moment...." the way i see it, being in the moment is a part of the equation, but the other part is being balanced. so if, in a moment, we notice a desire, are balanced with it, and then act, this is different than acting on the impulse generated by the desire. like the viktor frankl quote: 'Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.' just one view. >>As in a forest there is grass and creepers, there is also the pine and the oak that grow to be large magnificent trees... as beautiful.... beautifully put ... here also, doesn't it depend on the seed? in other words, in some moments is the potential to grow as a creeper, in others as an oak. the question again seems to come down to: "How authentic am I?" thanks for sharing, both of you!