Looking Beyond Satyam Saga

If there were to be a NASDAQ for the world of philanthropy and social enterprises, Byrraju Foundation, incubated and nurtured by Satyam Chairman and the now fallen software icon of India, B. Ramalinga Raju, would have been one of the earliest to be listed. Yes, the Byrraju Foundation continues to be a blue chip in the world of philanthropy, despite Satyam biting the dust.

By Venkatesh Raghavendra &&dr Srinivasa Rao

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Published: Thu 12 Mar 2009, 9:44 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Apr 2015, 1:25 PM

In his op-ed piece titled “If IT merges with ET” on Oct 31st, 2007 in The New York Times well-known columnist Thomas Friedman talked about the kind of revolution that Byrraju Foundation has spawned in the villages of the state of Andhra Pradesh in South India. Despite the agonies that Satyam is going through, the quiet revolution of the Byrraju Foundation continues. But &the million-dollar question is for how long? What will it take to keep this great effort going?

Conversations with various stakeholders of the Byrraju Foundation – the top people running this mega philanthropic enterprise, volunteers helping out at various initiatives, various alliance partners, government functionaries collaborating with the programmes and, of course, the numerous beneficiaries of the effort - all express the same thing. The show must certainly go on. The cause of rural transformation &is much greater and nobler than any single individual.

The numbers and what is at stake is staggering and mind-boggling. The Raju family’s philanthropic universe primarily consists of Byrraju Foundation, EMRI [Emergency Management and Research Institute] and &HMRI [Health Management and &Research Institute].

The Foundation currently works in 200 villages in 6 districts of Andhra Pradesh -  positively impacting the lives of nearly 3 million people and has an annual budget of $5 million. The state of Andhra Pradesh has a Muslim population of nearly 9 per cent. &The Foundation has demonstrated secular values in its outreach and programme execution and minority communities are benefiting from the range of services as well.

By one rough estimate and going by the steady stream of visitors not just from within India, but from around the world who come, see, volunteer and learn from the successful development models here, the overall impact is 5 to 10 times besides the direct &beneficiaries. Byrraju alone employs close to 1500 people.

The Foundation set up in 2001 has been providing over 40 diverse rural services in a whole gamut of areas - healthcare, environment, sanitation, drinking water, school education, &adult literacy, waste management, women empowerment and livelihood skills development.

Holistic approach has been the mantra of the Foundation’s efforts.

The villages and the communities that have benefited thanks to these development interventions testify that it is no longer an aspiration, but holistic change is something that has become real.  What is at risk to be lost is not just the positive change that has been catalysed by the philanthropic investment. A greater loss will be the innovative and paradigm-changing social enterprise models that have been experimented over many years, refined and perfected in numerous villages and now poised for replication and scale.

A case in point is the GramIT a ‘Rural Business Process Outsourcing’ (BPO) initiative of Byrraju Foundation that turns rural youth into micro-&entrepreneurs and generates wealth for them by connecting them to global outsourcing opportunities.

The young people hone their computer and English skills for world class service delivery. Letting such initiatives die will be a severe blow to the field of development and the world of philanthropy besides directly hitting the sustenance of the millions dependent on these initiatives.

Another unique element of the efforts in these clusters of villages – clever deployment of technology and communication infrastructure to enhance accountability and effectiveness, track performance through numerous real time metrics and expedite and improve delivery of services. (Wish it were the same for the patron company!)

The philanthropic and rural development endeavours of the Raju family are worth saving and sustaining just for their own sake. But put in the broader context of the negative impact on the citizen sector and the development landscape, it becomes even more imperative that something needs to be done very fast.

The small heroic attempts of a &few individuals and their networks currently are not enough to keep this huge ship afloat.

The Indian government moved with surprising speed to resuscitate the crumbling software giant Satyam. Perhaps the compulsion for the decision makers was that the credibility of India and its I.T. success story were at stake.

The public services delivery in India’s 600,000 villages is woefully inadequate and inefficient and a lot of taxpayers’ money gets wasted.

The only ray of hope is to adapt innovative public private partnership models through out India, combining the best of management and technology practices bringing about much better efficiency, accountability and transparency as demonstrated by Byrraju Foundation’s initiatives.

Moreover, it happening at a fraction of the cost of what the Government needs to get the same results. While the leaders of the country are scrambling to save the ‘enterprise face’ of the country, it does not serve the nation’s &interest to let down the ‘development face’ of India. It is high time India realised that enterprise and social development are two faces of the same coin!

Venkatesh M. Raghavendra is the Senior Director of Philanthropy at the American India Foundation in New York. &Dr. Srinivasa Rao is the editor of Catalyst for Human Development, a magazine published from New York. Together, Raghavendra and Dr. Rao have 30 years of &philanthropic experience related to India and have an intimate knowledge of the citizen sector activities in India

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