Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Including the Right Brain - Breaking Boundaries

Students and the Master
Students and the Master

In a mudra
In a mudra

Salaam Baalak Trust put up a dance show last week. It was out of the ordinary performance compared with performances by children from NGOs, that I have typically seen. The youth at Salaam Baalak (mostly kids who either do not have parents or have parents who dont want the kids) were trained by Astad Deboo in modern dance. The performance was brilliant and quite comparable to professional troops from Europe and Americas!! As Astad himself said on the stage that the students had shown immense persistence, hard work and picked up the 'modern dance vocabulary' in a very short time of 4 months. Astad lives in Mumbai and these youth are a mix of girls and boys spread over various Salaam Baalak homes in Gurgaon and Delhi. So Astad had to come periodically to train these youth. And the outcome is amazing.

So then what is so special here?

Let me begin with what I saw -- there were 20 youth - girls and boys who were dancing on the stage like professionals. The demeanor and whole attitude represented confidence and satisfaction in self -- a clear 'am equal to you' feeling. And this with a short training of 4 months. Some of those youth are now going to get into professional dance units and make a career out of it as well. The earning in this profession starts at what a typical Engineer gets on graduating after 4 years of study.

I am thinking that we have been really working hard to give all left-brain skills to the underprivileged with the assumption that such training will raise their being, make them employable, and move towards equitability with the rest of us. The process is slow, and quite frustrating.

But here it was right brain activity and completely broke all barriers that might have been perceived. It appears that right brained activity is accepted much more readily and creates self-confidence and self-esteem. Of course they are being trained by Astad Deboo -- that does make a difference. But when I start looking at cases where students have taken up right brained activity they have actually been more successful -- whether it is photography, or dance or painting or even puppeteering. Salaam Baalak actually thrives on such.

This is a point I would appreciate inputs on.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sixth Sense -- Game Changing Technology

Recently, Ron Mukherjee forwarded me an amazing link on game changing technology from MIT Media Lab. Am sharing the link and video here. At this time it is not clear how far away this is from commercial application though they expecting the cost already to be same as a good mobile phone. But whenever it comes the applications suggested in the video are only a limited view of the enormous possibilities it opens up. They have linked a mobile with camera with video projection and built intelligence in the system to resolve and take decisions on the basis of video imagery and actions of 4 fingers. So a simple view is the projector projects a key board on any surface and as you touch the keyboard - -the camera picks up and takes the alphabets touched as input to any computing device/telephone etc. The thing is getting developed by a person of Indian origin - Pranav Mistry. Enjoy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Slum-based Learning Centers

Last week we inaugurated our second slum-based learning center. We are calling these NIIT Yuva Star Career Development Centers. Another 18 are in the process -- by Sep 09 - all will be operational.

The centers are focusing on providing key employability skills in a short time frame to the employable youth inside jhuggi jhonpri and settlement colonies.

Why slum youth?

In the last two decades urban slum population in India has more than doubled. Rural people move to urban centers in the hope of better livelihood. However, lacking the necessary skills required for employment in the fast growing industrial and knowledge society, most of these people continue to live in abject poverty. And even though the living conditions are worse than their village life, they continue to stay on in the cities with hope and are just not able to go back to villages. They and their children see the wealth and opulence just next door causing helplessness with an increasing feeling of deprivation. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that a high percentage of them are susceptible to exploitation and crime. The life of misery continues from one generation to the next.

These centers, that we are setting up, are focusing on providing the same quality of training as any other city NIIT center. The key difference is that the slum youth get this training at a fraction of the regular center fee. The other key aspect is ensuring corporates come to the center and recruit from the trained youth.

The challenge is sustaining and scaling.

Check out for more on this initiative.