Thursday, 30 April 2015

Change your thinking-Change your life.

For  this post I am going back to notes taken a few years back during a knowledge sharing session (KSS) organized in our company.In the KSS held on 27th Oct 2010,social activist & daughter of former President of India, Mrs Padma Venkatraman shared her thoughts, experiences & insights gained over a period of 15 years , from working for the benefit of leprosy afflicted citizens in our society .There was a lot of learning and take away  for the Corporate Sector also  from the session. Ms Padma Venkatraman went down the memory lane to share with us the circumstances under which she became passionately involved  in projects for instilling hope and providing a  better quality of life for leprosy inflicted individuals.

At that time, in view of her husband’s employment, she was living in Austria and engaging in social welfare activities in that country. Once on a visit to India, children afflicted with leprosy approached her for alms. She was in confusion as to whether or not to give money as she was not sure that it solved the real problem. Such gestures she felt only motivated them to continue to beg and not become self-reliant. Yet the faces of these children continued to haunt her long after she returned to Austria.

 On another visit  to India,Ms Padma had the opportunity to visit ShahDhara colony in Delhi where around 4000 leprosy patients lived while the infrastructure was sufficient for only  1500 people. Their condition was inhuman , pathetic and highly unhygienic. Although touched by their plight, Padma felt that their problem was too huge for her to handle. She  sought the  counsel of  the reputed social worker Shri Anna Hazare of Maharashtra who also advised her not to take up an intervention of such a huge magnitude that she would not be able to handle.

Padma returned to Austria; but the people of Shah Dhara colony kept contacting her over the phone (at a time when international telephone tariff was prohibitive) urging her to intervene and do something for their upliftment. Emboldened, she got involved in the FAO/All India women’s conference project. The project made available micro finance and constructed houses for around 800 families and changed their lives forever, making them self reliant. in the colony. Ms Padma later became  involved with the DANIDA funded major leprosy rehabilitation  project spread all over Tamilnadu. Micro credit, channelizing repayments through revolving fund and augmentation of available funds  were the hallmark of this successful project.

While narrating about the project Ms Padma shared the story of a lady who was under acute  depression and shunned by the whole community as useless, not capable of any productive work.She sat listless in the room while others accepted “ turkey birds” for rearing. Even the husband of the lady had given up on her. When Padma wanted to give the remaining last three birds to her for rearing,everyone warned that repayment cannot be expected from her and that credit given to her would be on the sole risk and responsibility of Padma.

All the same Ms Padma decided to give the birds for rearing to the lady and the rest is history. Within a short period, her self esteem went up.She started doing a good job of rearing the birds that others started requesting her help. She had become the expert! She also began to make money from her efforts. She was able to buy a silver belt for her husband to wear over his veshti(dhothi).The husband who earlier had a poor opinion about her ,Started posing proudly wearing the gift from his wife. This lady overnight had become from zero to hero.

In another effort to raise self esteem,self worth and earning capacity of leprosy patients, MS Padma started the Bindu art school.She invited her artist friend from Austria to come and teach the patients the methodology  to draw and paint in spite of their deformities. Although initially apprehensive, they developed the skills to create world class paintings.Thier paintings were exhibited in Austria and in major art centers in India and abroad. Of the earnings 1/3rd goes to the artists, i/3rd to the corpus fund  and 1/3rd for setting up new schools. Some of the artists who had accompanied Padma to the Hyundai plant happily narrated their experience of visiting foreign countries and posh hotels where their work was exhibited. They said that they feel proud that their art is appreciated and are honoured to share their experiences.Their world class paintings were exhibited in the foyer and after the session participants of the KSS got an opportunity to see, enjoy and interact with the artists.

Learning for the Corporate sector:-

 As revealed by Ms Padma , her initiatives changed the mindset of people from “I can’t” to “I can”. If physically challenged persons who are also affected psychologically, can raise their self esteem to the level of being self reliant and create world class products, sky is the limit for the normally abled individuals  in industries for making remarkable contributions.

When contemplating on the ShahDhara project in New Delhi, Ms Padma had a number of apprehensions; but once she started she found support from many people and many directions. According to her “ If something is moving in a positive way, many people come forward to pitch in.” Learning for us here is go ahead and make a beginning. Many important steps are not taken or projects  begun because of anticipated difficulties.
Ms Padma revealed that her projects succeeded because of networking and and getting many people involved in them. Corporates can take a cue from this. In the industry, there is a tendency to be exclusiveMass based initiatives could give better results. rather than inclusive.

Acceptance is the key. It is this approach that transformed a written off village lady from zero to hero. Padma had the confidence in the value and ability  of the individual and the courage to stand by her conviction. Similarly in our industries, we would do well not to label people as “Useless”, “ average”, “half good” etc . Studies have shown that people raise their performance levels to the expectations their bosses have from them. We need to accept unique abilities of individuals instead of condemning or  labeling them

Finally, the success of the   Bindu art school initiative  is a testimony to the power of belief and acceptance. Padma pointed out during the session that today, the work of these artists are not being purchased by art lovers all over the world out of pity but because of  their world class standard. This provides an important insight to corporates for motivating employees in ways other than the traditional methods of focusing on 'star performers'.

 Today, it is imperative that we accept learning from diverse sources- from industries other than one's own, from strategies of sporting teams, from academic institutions etc. Learning from the NGOs  and  the social sector.was made available by the KSS.


  1. Dear Rajeev, thanks for sharing the path-breaking initiatives taken by Ms. Padma Venkataraman to go beyond the rhetoric and do something for the otherwise shunned folks to bring them to the mainstream. Let's hope her example serves as a good guidance point for the corporates to incorporate such initiatives in their CSR. Once again my kudos and respects to you for your meticulous documentation skills that enable you to share the vast repertoire of your knowledge resource that educates, enlightens and enables us.

  2. So true, when we change our perspective life changes. To a single man a baby crying is disturbance, to a mother it is the most beautiful sound. Sound has not changed, way of hearing it has changed. World is a point of view.

  3. Thank you Abhijit for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

  4. Respected sir :
    This content that you have shared reminded me a heart touching sentence -"YOU HAVE NOT LIVED TODAY UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE WHO CAN NEVER REPAY YOU".
    At last that is what life is all about.This is the single secret that brings eternal satisfaction.
    Thank you sir for sharing information from KSS.
    Awaiting to similarly benefit from your future write ups.

  5. Very good post. Well written.
    When one changes his thoughts and attitude his life automatically changes.
    Learning never ends... One needs to accept good things...

  6. Thank you Maliyekal for your appreciation and feedback!