Being with Desmond was a nice feeling, it was fun and I learnt a lot of thing both for my professional and personal life. Many things that he shared did not make meaning when I was with him. But later the meanings Unfolded and fell into the context. He was great because he was simple and practiced what he preached. My take away from Desmond is plenty and priceless. In different context and with different people I have enjoyed sharing my interaction with Desmond; here in this context I would like to share the following.
Desmond was a hard core democrat. He believed in democracy and he preached democracy. The difference is that he has not only preached but practiced it in his life and in the management of Deeds. Deeds weekly meeting was a structured democratic SPACE for the meeting of the staff. It was here that we would report of the work done in the week, future plan for the next week and then there was a space for the open discussion. The power of the space was that you could question anybody and everybody including Desmond. In this space you were heard. Your idea could be anything but you had the right to be heard. I have seen many times when Desmond would disagree with what you say but fight for your right to express your thoughts in public. This is some thing I feel what he was able to prove in his weekly meetings. In these meetings he was successful in creating a space which is devoid or hierarchy and transparent.
Looking back I feel that Desmond believed very strongly in innate the dignity of human beings and then from this emerged his strong belief in democracy. It is this concept that I have taken from Desmond. I have benefited a lot form this take away. Today, when I am dealing the programs of huge scale. I make it a point to religiously have meetings of all the people involved to share and end engage themselves. I call them review meetings. In Deeds we used to have these meetings for a small group of eight. But now, we have a group of fifty. I did experiment with having regular meetings for more than 100 people. I have heard people complaining that democracy will not work when the number is huge. But my experience is that with meticulous planning and detailed preparation you can have the democratic space for any numbers and this will elicit a lot of respect for you.
Preparation, Preparation and Preparation:
“What are the most crucial aspects for a success of training program”? This is the question Desmond asked me in the initial days of my joining Deeds. I listed out many crucial aspects of training like concept, method, materials, atmosphere etc. Desmond looked at the list and with his usual style looked at me. I new from his face that I had not got the answer right. I waited for his answer. He said “No.1 preparation.” I was curious to know the second one. After some time he said “No.2 preparation” and paused a little, I was guessing and he said “No. 3 PREPARATION!. He not only said that but this is how he used to prepare for his trainings. Once the training dates are confirmed he would concentrate on the preparation. His strength was collecting relevant and new material. He would collect them from all types of sources. Those were days when we had no computers and network.
But Desmond had his own networks to collect information. He was using the print media and radio very creatively. He would find out and identify relevant program from the BBC and listen to it in the middle of the night. With the collection of the materials, he would focus on the design of the training and in a log book design the entire training program session by session. Details of minute by minute planning would be neatly written by him. In my long association with Desmond, I have never seen him even once going to a lecturer without preparation. Even if it is a small crowd, the topic insignificant, organizers not serious, Desmod would be serious! It is Desmond who gave me the funda that your preparation time should be four times of your performance. So for a one hour lecture he will sit and prepare for minimum four hours without any distraction.
This funda of Desmond I have taken seriously. It is this preparation which has helped me a lot. Now when I get offer for training programs which is new and huge, I always think of Desmond. I collect enough materials on the topic then I focus on preparation. In fact I know that if people like my training it is not because of the magic I do or my superior intelligence. It is simply because I do more preparation.
The first training program that Desmond and Margaret conducted was very well documented. Most of the learning comes from this document. revisiting it, re looking at it, re designing it and re building on it. The same document evolved in to the famous Training manual. “From a Developmental worker to an activist”. Desmond was very particular about the Documentation. That's why I feel that the older minutes of weekly meeting of Deeds can be accessed even today. Desmond had very interesting way of helping people document. Whenever we shared with him some new thoughts and interesting ideas he would give a piece of paper and say “write it down for me I will look at it later”. After a few days when we have forgotten about it, It was Desmond who came to us with that same piece of paper and asked us to elaborate on it.
While conducting the training program he would ask us compulsory to write the process in detail. I was irritated since I was not confident of my English. His concept was very clear he would force me to write immediately after the training program and after few days give it back to me with his comments on the report. The comments would never be judgmental. It would be of higher order asking for clarification, questioning some statement, asking for evidences to substantiate few statements. To correct the language, he would have a single thumb rule “READ IT LOUDLY”. He would say”” If it is smooth and sounds right for your ears, it is fine, if there is a jerk and distracts you , the sentence needs correction do it immediately and repeat the process!”
This rule has helped me a lot while writing. I followed Desmond's dictum of setting high standard for the journals and magazines that I have edited. He would always say you should have the courage and guts to dream. When ever I complained of writing to Desmond he would say “ Uma you speak very well why not write as if you are speaking to me” It is only later that I was able to comprehend what Desmond was speaking was based on authentic theory of learning and language learning.
I think it was my third month in Deeds. I was in -charge of training programme and was handling the cash. At the end when I wrote my expenditure statement things would not tally. There was a deficit of some one hundred and fifty rupees. I submitted the statement to Fransis our accountant and looking at the statement he said speak to Desmond. I knew that Desmond was a nice person and I was sure that he would accept the statement and give me some advice to improve my accounts.
Looking at the statement suddenly Desmond became serious and angry. Before I could say any thing he gave his decision “pay the deficit amount immediately'' this was shocking for me. I had not expected it from Desmond. Any how I paid it. A week later Desmond spoke to me and said there should be no compromise on integrity. You have to be very strict and uncompromising on this issue, you have a responsibility and you are answerable to people's resources. It was Desmond who strengthened this value of integrity in me. He would never give in. This value of his sometimes would land him in trouble and disadvantage position but his stand was always clear. No compromise on integrity. This uncompromising integrity has stood by me in all my major assignments where I had to deal with crores of rupees. I still remember the 150 rupees I had to pay Desmond for not keeping the accounts.”
Little things matter:
For all of us Desmond was important. why? Its was after many years that I found out the answer. It was not because Desmond was a great trainer, not because he was a great writer…it was because we were important for him. Each one of us who closely worked with him could feel this” For Desmond I am important” he was concerned about us and had showed that concern. He would find time in his busy schedule to talk about our family, our plans, our apprehensions, our fears and emotions. He had a passion to excel in professional engagement and at the same time he took personal relationship very seriously. His relationships were very intense and deep. I remember when he invited us on Christmas day the invitation was so powerful and intense that even now we keep visiting Desmonds house without fail on Christmas Day. It was nice to see him cook special dishes for us and bake special cakes for our children and treat us with love and care. For him each one of us and every thing was important. Things which appeared silly for others were serious and important for him. He would understand what a small child needs in the midst of a huge crowd and cater to that child. The best part of the Desmond was his out look towards life. He would say when ever you get in to the process of change the path is full of hurdles. Don't worry and don't panic ask your consciousness if it says you are right do not worry even if the whole WORLD is against you, proceed happily, they will follow you later”
Head, Child Friendly School Initiative, Azim Premji Foundation, Bangalore