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Until a few years ago what was your image of the “average” social worker? Positive or negative? Did the person inspire confidence or trust or did you get the feeling that he or she was in the NGO sector for purely the wrong reasons, not to serve the community, but more with an eye on the funds (phoren) perhaps, or looking to use the route as a short cut to media coverage or publicity or to further his/her own personal agenda. Sounds like an exaggeration? The truth is while there existed notable exceptions of people who did outstanding work, the average social worker evoked pretty much the above response.

It was precisely with the motive to equip the prospective social entrepreneur with the necessary wherewithal and skillsets to run his/her NGO efficiently, to shore up his image by enabling him establish his credibility through sustained development, and most importantly to manage the voluntary organisation profitably without having to go around with a begging bowl that the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) was founded by corporate honcho Mr. P.N Devarajan, former Group Vice President, Reliance. In simple terms, CSIM is a business school for social entrepreneurs.

What prompted Devarajan to launch CSIM was the realization that while the sector was peopled by NGO founders who had dedication and fire in their belly, conventional social work knowledge alone was far from enough. Lack of critical skills retarded their progress and stretched their capacity in the early stages. What was clearly missing were/was management skills and leadership orientation, which probably resulted in the temptation to go in for shortcuts. A customized training programme for social entrepreneurs was just what was necessary to put them through their paces, besides mentors to do some handholding in the initial stages. Says Mr. Devarajan, “As we face the twenty first century it is increasingly clear that non-profit managers and leaders face many challenges—growth, new social problems, government funding cutbacks, and public scrutiny. Non- profit organizations must become clearer about their mission; better at managing people and money; and more effective in marketing and fundraising. These challenges call for modern skills, adoption of tried and tested business strategies used by leading businesses and non-profit enterprises, continuous evaluation of client outcomes, and performance indicators amongst other things.”

Starting off with 8 students in the year 1999, in the face of severe skepticism, CSIM has so far trained 252 Prospective Social Entrepreneurs (PSE) through its one-year PG Diploma in Social Initiative and Management, and four-month Social Entrepreneurship Outlook Program. Of these, 117 were heading their own NGOs at the time of enrolling in the course.

CSIM started in Chennai, but has today spread to Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Mr. Devarajan’ s vision is to have about 100 centers across the country that will become a one-stop shop for social entrepreneurs.

The currciculum for the one-year full time programme and short-term programme was evolved after a great deal of deliberation with social change agents, academicians, industrialists, and volunteers. A combination of classroom learning and practice school training (field visits, block placement) exposing students to existing NGOs, interaction with development personnel was formulated.

A lot of ground is covered in the courses that CSIM offers. From managing social change to NGO business planning, to Financial management, People management, Communication, Fund raising, Public relations, Legal aspects, Documentation and Networking , Human rights, Gender development, Human behaviour, Values, Ethics, Counseling, Project monitoring and exposure to various issues in the development sector— nothing is left to guesswork.

At the end of their graduation PSEs learn to create an operating model that will adapt and sustain in any situation, understand the need to be transparent, and apply successful business practices while retaining the service mission, appreciate the advantages of working synergistically with other NGOs, and most important of all figure how to get better bang for their buck .

The changing profile of the PSE graduates is also gratifying .While 42 students have gone on to start their own NGOs—thirty in number, others have returned to their jobs in the social sector armed with practical knowledge that enables them to function more effectively.

Incidentally CSIM has looked at the exercise with service mindedness. For many students who cannot afford it, the fee is completely waived or highly subsidized. At this juncture it is relevant to record that CSIM is the project of a registered public charitable trust called Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhini. The Trust gives away the prestigious Sadguru Gnanananda awards to renowned women social entrepreneurs and offers fellowship to social workers. Yet another idea initiated by this trust is the DOS scheme i.e. dal, oil, and sugar distribution scheme to benefit needy NGOs.

In order to raise social consciousness, trigger action, catalyze social change, and make the world a more equitable place, CSIM has tried to engage a cross section of society. It offers modules on social entrepreneurship to college students and NSS students of IIT Madras, besides organizing Social Action Group lectures and conducting capacity building workshops for NGOs. Foraying into research activities CSIM has been recently commissioned by the US Embassy New Delhi to undertake a study on the feasibility of establishing a Women’s fund in Chennai.

So what has CSIM’s impact been like on Prospective Social Entrepreneurs and what kind of a difference has it made to their thought process? Perhaps the best testimonials come from the alumni themselves.

Says Kalpana of Ramamoorthy Educational Trust which runs a home for children: "My aim in life has always been to become a social entrepreneur. But, I simply didn’t have the courage. I was also very shy by nature. CSIM gave me the confidence to follow my dreams and communicate my ideas to people. I learnt how to demonstrate my involvement in a practical way."

Chezhian, a visually challenged person who runs Mercy Charitable Trust says: "CSIM was instrumental in the links it provided to several NGOs. I was also exposed to subjects like auditing, accounts, documentation, fund raising, etc. The exposure to other NGOs gave me an idea of how communities were developed and how programmes were organized."

As the need for credible and effective NGOs that can address the problems of society increases steadily there is no doubt that CSIM will continue to play an even more pivotal role in the years ahead.

- Sudha Umashanker
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