Navaratnas of Professional Social Work in India : Women Social Workers Who Changed Millions of Lives Dr. Nalini Gangadharan
Flexible education, marketable skills and empowerment of the marginalized are the three basic elements of the massive poverty alleviation initiative of Dr. Nalini Gangadharan, founder Chairperson of the CAP Foundation. After her Master's Degree in social work from the Madras School of Social Work, Nalini had the opportunity to work closely with the late M.S.S.Nambudiri, Director of Seva Samajam Boys' Home, for nearly three and a half years first as social worker and subsequently as Assistant Director. Nambudiri was a champion of innovative education and skills development of the disadvantaged children and youth to enable them and their families to move out of poverty. Nalini, in later years, expanded these initial experiences into a great socio- economic movement in India and in other countries. As a student of MSSW, I found Nalini as a self-assured person with a purpose in life. In her life mission, she found the most appropriate life partner in Dr.K.R.Gangadharan, who was also an alumnus of MSSW. Gangadharan has a charming smile always on his lips and fast moving pace while walking. They met at Lucas-TVS where Nalini was a trainee under the Personnel Officer Gangadharan. It was the beginning of a satisfying companionship through matrimony. While Nalini expanded her frontiers by opening new horizons for the poor and underserved children and youth,and their families, Gangadharan preferred working with the elderly under the banner of Heritage elder care services at Hyderabad. Dr. Gangadhran rose to global heights in the field of ageing including the Presidentship of the International Federation on Ageing. Both Nalini and Gangadharan have been invited by the central and state gover nments to be in various panels. Poor nima and Pavithra, their dynamic daughters, are carrying forward the elder care activities launched by their father. Poornima's focus is on medical centre and home care services for the elderly, whereas Pavithra looks after the award winning assisted living programme called Kshethra. A blessed family whose family mission is service to humanity.
Former Professor of Social Work and a Former Principal, Madras School of Social Work.
Dr. Nalini Gangadharan is a pioneer in linking learning and livelihood promotion for the underserved. Even as a young girl in school, she knew what she wanted to do. Her first experience working for the under-privileged came when she hel ped orga nize a f lood rel ief camp in a po or neighborhood, near her school. Her father was a source of support in her early years. On completion of Master’s Degree in social work from the Madras School of Social work, she worked in the Seva Samajam Boys’ Home at Chennai for more than three years.
Dr. Reddy’s Foundation at Hyderabad was Dr. Nalini’s first attempt at independently setting up a separate institution. The path-breaking Livelihood Advancement Business School (LABS) that she initiated with a dedicated team was a game changer in skill development paradigm in the country. To build an impactful social enterprise, she realized that social work application had to move away from the charitable mode and adopt principles applied in business but with a focus on the bottom of the pyramid.
In 2003, Dr. Nalini founded CAP Foundation for rescue and rehabilitation of youth at risk. A community–based programme, the Foundation is engaged in providing educational-vocational-occupational pathways for in- school, out-of-school and post-school disadvantaged youth. Her dream translated into CAP’s vision of becoming an end-to-end community–based solutions provider in quality edu cati on t o bu ild safe r, h ealt hier and pro duct ive communities of youth capable of self-directed growth and positive citizenship.
CAP Foundation has a successful footprint covering over 2,50,000 youth across 14 states in India over 80% of whom have gained access to job placements through three well- demonstrated and now successful models:
1. Teen Channel linking learning and livelihood for school drop-outs and underserved adolescents. Over 25,000 drop-outs have successfully completed high school through this accelerated learning programme.
2. Basic Employability Skills Training for skill training and job placement among the deprived youth. The placement-oriented model helped over 2,00,000 youth acquire skills and 80% access jobs.
3. Child-Centered Community Development programme working through child councils on child rights to access health, education, sanitation and livelihood in 32 suburban slum communities in Hyderabad. Over 80,000 Muslim children in madrasas have accessed formal education.
These models are applied to trafficked victims, fishermen community, garment workers, displaced labour working on the land sold to make way for SEZs, migrants and youth who are at risk of taking up routes which are dangerous for themselves and for the nation. Over the last five years the focus is extensively on youth in conflict affected geographies including Maoist affected districts, youth along the LOC in Kashmir and Muslim minorities in madrasas. CAP also runs a multi-location community college affiliated to the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
In order to build long term sustainability to her mission, Dr. Nalini in partnership with the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) set up CAP Workforce Development Institute (CAP-WDI) in 2010 to demonstrate a successful ISO 9001: 2008 certified social impact enterprise on an earn-while -you-learn mode for disadvantaged youth. The Institute offers a range of services including training, job placement, capacity building and knowledge transfer to spread and scale up the CAP model.
Her vision has taken the programme beyond India to international locations. A presentation of the successful Employability Model to international donors of Sub- Saharan Africa showcased the relevance and potential of the model in the context of emerging economies of Africa and set the scene for CAP-WDI to take the programme to Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Kenya. Her team has helped local organizations and vocational training institutions train and place over 10,000 African youth.
To counter the misconception that all NGOs are unprofessional and adhoc in their ways, and to build credibility in order to foster par tnerships, Dr. Nalini positioned the Foundation on a strong accountability framework. She has raised over 120 crores in the last 10 years for her work with young people.
Dr. Nalini has travelled to many countries. She has worked across urban, rural and tribal cultures. She has served on several national and international working groups and forums on poverty alleviation, informal sector employment, safe migration, skills training, youth services, rural and urban development plans, and CSR programmes. She has been a frequent guest faculty at the National Police Academy at Hyderabad, Lal Bhahadur Shastry National Academy of administration for training IAS officers at Dehra Dun, YASHADA (Pune), ASCI (Hyderabad) and NIRD (Hyderabad). She has also addressed the World Philanthropy For um at Los Angeles in 2013, the Tie Entrepreneurial Summit in 2010, the National Conference of Social Entrepreneurship at XLRI, the Jeet and Khemka Forum 2011, the Resource Alliance in USA in 2004, the Microsoft Accelerator Summit at Seattle in 2010, and CII’s the First Young Indians Regional Summit in 2006. She is also a recipient of many awards including the Pearl of Hyderabad, the Manava Seva Dharma Samavardhani National Award for excellence in social work and the Jijabai Women Achievers’ Award from Shivaji College, New Delhi.
Three strong convictions have shaped Dr. Nalini’s life and work with young people:
• The education system in this country has failed its young people! Alternate solutions have to provide transition pathways to support those youth to get a second chance at learning and moving forward.
• Youth do not need charity or pity but access to opportunity.
• No organization can achieve scale and sustainability alone - collaborations and partnerships are inevitable. The guiding principle in her work is understanding and responding to the quintessential elements of youth which are dreams, energy, friendships, values and passion.
WHAT THEY SAY
Nikitha: I come from a family of 6, have a mentally handicapped brother and a father who earns a daily wage of Rs.300/-. I had to drop out of school in the 9th class when my mother fell very ill, so that I could start working part time to help my father support the family financially and to enable my younger siblings to pursue their education in a government school. I never lost my interest in education and hoped another opportunity would come along for me some day. Today, at 20, I have successfully completed my 10th standard through CAP’s part-time Teen Channel programme. I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and opportunity for self-development which CAP gave me. I feel accomplished with my new qualification and have secured a job in a retail store where I hope to practice all the skills. I hope to pursue higher education sometime in the future.
Kavita: My name is Kavita. I was born in a lower middle class family. My father earned enough to support 4 of us with no major problems. As luck would have it, I fell in love with a boy in our neighborhood when I was 17. All hell broke loose when our parents came to know about it. We had to elope to get married. Neither my parents nor my husband’s parents accepted us. We had to live on our own and my husband’s income was barely enough for us to live. My problems became worse when I discovered I was pregnant. What is considered a beautiful experience in a woman’s life turned out to be a nightmare for me. My husband took away my jewellery forcibly and sold without my consent. When I questioned him, he beat me up so badly that I almost lost my baby. My life turned into a worse hell when I delivered a girl child. Once my daughter was born, I developed an inner strength. I was determined to make sure that my baby survived. Thankfully, I came to know about Ek Mouka of CAP. I enrolled for Front Office course. I got placement as a receptionist in a clinic. I earn Rs.6,000 a month. I have moved out of my husband’s home and am confident I can give my daughter a decent life. Thank god I don’t have to put up with his verbal and physical abuses any more.
Murali Krishna: He is the son of an extremely poor farmer in the remote Munidevulapalli village in Ranga
Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh. After completing his 10th standard, he was at a loose end. “I used to feel so lost and rudderless after my schooling. I wanted to move to the city for higher studies, but my father’s income of Rs.100 a day was barely enough for us to survive. I had lost all hope. That is when the CAP’s mobilization team reached our village. I grabbed the opportunity without losing any time. I enrolled for the Pharmacy Assistant course. It wasn’t easy because I had to commute 30 kms every day to reach Patancheru centre but for me this was a ‘do or die’ opportunity. Now, I work i n Hetero Drugs and Pharmaceuticals. I earn Rs.6,500 a month and contribute financially to support my family.”
Reshma: I never imagined I would be financially independent ever in my life. In our community, girls are married off early. We are 5 sisters and 2 brothers in our family. My father drives an auto and whenever I requested him to let me study after my 10th standard, he said he would have sent me to college if he had money. I used to feel very hopeless until I came to know about CAP’s free training programme. I completed my training and have been working as an assistant nurse for the last 3 months. I earn Rs.6,000 and my supervisor has promised me to raise after 6 months. I am simultaneously studying for my Diploma now. My duty begins at 3pm and I attend college in the mornings. The facilitators are always encouraging us to learn more and help us with flexible timings to study. I am a focused and confident girl because of the life skills we were taught during our training. I have also learnt everything about personal hygiene and cleanliness around us. Now I am not scared about getting married because I know my husband will respect me because of my financial independence. I will also be able to bring up my children in a much better way than I was brought up.
Payal: I lost my husband over five years ago at the young age of 24. I found myself suddenly alone, dreams shattered, no direction and having to raise three small kids on my own. After the tragic death of my husband, I had to take up some job to feed the kids. I passed only a seventh standard, that took me nowhere and nobody was willing to offer me a job. So I started cooking in a home. This fetched me Rs.600 per month. This was so little to look after the kids. I would get very upset when they got hungry. During this period CAP Foundation came into my life. The team was doing road shows in our area. I went there to see what was it all about. I got interested as the team said job assistance would be given after the completion of the three–month training. I felt god had sent them for me only. I had heard the word called “life skill” for the first time during my life, and those were the motivating classes for my revival as an individual, as a mother and as a positive woman. After the completion of the training. I was selected in Sahaj super store as counter sales executive and offered a salary of Rs.3,500 per month. That was the day I cried a lot not because of dejection but because it seemed that my troubles were all over finally, and I will be able to feed my kids well and send them to school.
Zarina: I have to pinch myself several times in a day to believe that I am really working in a hospital. Where I come from, even for drinking water, we had to walk for miles. Forget about electricity, we couldn’t even afford candles in our homes. But I knew I had to go to school no matter what. So a bunch of us girls would walk 20 kilometers one way to get to the only government school in our village. But we persevered. Our prayers were finally answered with CAP’s course where we got an opportunity to stay in the hostel and complete our training. The Zarina you see today is a far cry from the Zarina in Malegoan. Then, she would shiver to utter a word; now she confidently works and lives on her own.
Anil: Anil was born a weak child. He started walking much after most kids of his age did. Despite his limitations and lack of nutrition, Anil tried to do his best in his studies, but his mother’s ill health and father’s penury compelled him to drop out before secondary school final examination. He was disheartened but he did not give up. Something kept telling him that he would find a way out of the menial job he had to take up. He learnt about the CAP Foundation during a mobilization programme in Anisabad. Customer Relations and Sales seemed like just what he wanted to do. He enrolled immediately and passed with flying colours. His joy knew no bounds when he got a placement immediately in an automobile accessories store. He earns Rs.9,000 and is expecting a raise. “I am looking forward to a bright future. My parents are proud of me,” he says grinning from ear to ear.
Ruby Bano: At 20, Ruby Bano speaks like a 40 year old. When you mention that to her, she says, “I started doing housework from the age of 3. And I started looking after my younger siblings very early because my mother’s health was always delicate. May be that is why,” she smiles as she explains. Life, for most young girls in Patna like elsewhere in India for the underprivileged, is extremely tough. She dropped out from school after completing 8th standard. Ruby grabbed the opportunity provided by CAP and took up Customer Relations as her option. Today, she works in an eatery for a salary of Rs.8,500 which she hands over to her mother for household expenses. “My employers are so happy with my work that they offered me a promotion with a raise next month. If I hadn’t got this opportunity, I would have been married off by now. I have no words to thank the CAP Foundation.”
Nalini My Wife
Nalini underwent field work training in Lucas TVS during 1980 when I was the Personnel Officer responsible for Employee Welfare. It so happened that we had an opportunity to know each other when we lived very closely in Chennai when I was a college student. We interacted and got to know each other and we were married a year later.
Our first daughter Poornima was born in 1982 and being in a joint family, Nalini adapted to the system well. However, I felt that she being a Gold Medalist, she must use the inherent potentials in her and therefore requested Prof Nair to find a placement to utilise her skills, economics not being a factor in such a decision. She found a job placement in Guild of Service Seva Samajam Boys Home and over a period of time, we decided to move in to live in Seva Samajam Boys Home, thanks to Mr. Namboodri who provided us a two bed accommodation where we lived for about three years. Our second daughter Pavithra was born in 1985 when I was the General Manager (Operations) of Apollo Hospital, India’s premier cor porate facility. I remember that six years of my career with Apollo led me to spend very little time with the family and Nalini stepped up her efforts to keep the family motivated.
At this stage, Nalini became the Project Officer, Plan International, Guild of Service Seva Samajam Boys Home where she experienced functional autonomy. In 1989, I decided to move to Hyderabad to become the Chief Executive of Medwin Hospital and Nalini had to quit the job that she enjoyed well. Neither of us regretted her having to quit. She spent plenty of time with the daughters. She made a huge difference to the kids who today are very responsible citizens of the society devoted to social enterprise management. Nalini became a Representative of Ashok Fellows that was not full time in nature and therefore she could manage the activities according to the need. She travelled when needed to elect fellows in South India and travelled few times outside the countr y. She also did consultancy to a hospital, an industry and a development organisation which meant she had to switch her profile to suit and meet the needs of each of these organisations. She did extremely well. The daughters enjoyed her attention and this facilitated me undertake more responsibilities in life.
In 1992, both of us travelled to the USA where I spent plenty of time in hospitals. While we were in St Louis where we spent a month, she spent time visiting Nursing Homes meant for elderly patients managed by the CEO of Deaconess Hospital. T his was the beginning of our conviction to establish a geriatric facility at Hyderabad. I quit my job a day before I was turning 40 in June 1994. This was not planned as I felt unless I resolve it before I turn 40, I cannot establish our own organisation. Nalini stood by my decision and on Vijayadasami day of 1994, Heritage Medical Centre, India’s premier exclusive geriatric facility with 35 beds was born. The name Heritage was suggested by Prof. T.K. Nair, meaning tradition of caregiving, and it has become the brand name of all our services. A Foundation was simultaneously established. Dr. K. Anji Reddy, Chairman of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) accepted our invitation to be the Chairman of the Governing Council. He interacted with both Nalini and me as he was very excited about an exclusive hospital for elderly. In 1996, he offered a job to Nalini to set up a Foundation and since then, Nalini has been making a huge contribution to the cause of youth employment by developing skills and thereby creating livelihood among the poor families in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The daughters had grown and their dependence on Nalini was not as much. Nalini’s potentials were so well ex ploi ted by h erse lf a nd she foun ded L ive liho od Advancement Business School – LABS which Dr. Reddy became passionate about and that became a national programme with plenty of support coming from various quarters including the Governments. The extremely dynamic Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh flew in a helicopter to inaugurate a new campus that was created by the Foundation and there were so many good words mentioned by all those dignitaries present and media spoke so high about Nalini’s work. Nalini identified a Deputy Commissioner of Police who was willing to support her bridge school and the Government of Andhra Pradesh nominated him as a Mentor to the programme which was christened as “Child and Police,” popularly known as CAP. This was an incubator programme to become independent over a period initially supported by DRL. Sometime in 2005, Nalini decided to take this programme herself through a MOU signed by the Foundation and she moved out of DRL. CAP today is one of a large size foundations with about 500 staff across the country training on an average about 30000 youth annually. She maintained excellent professional relationships with colleagues within and outside of her organisations and one such relationship led to establishment of CAP Africa based at Nairobi, Kenya in 2010. It is operated as a company. She engages full time staff to train African youth in Kenya and the neighbouring countries and is well supported by Master Card Foundation.
For my daughters and me, Nalini is a pride possession and we collectively support every effort of hers. The family remains her strong supporter to take on what she desires doing and her journey goes on. We are able to balance the family and professional career and we believe that we have the Grace of the God and Blessings of our families and well wishers.
Dr. K.R. Gangadharan,
Chairman, Heritage Elder Care Services & Heritage Foundation, Former President, International Federation on Ageing
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