Millennium Post

Hand in hand

Owing to the monumental challenges in India’s social sector, the cooperation between the private and public sector is absolutely vital to achieving comprehensive reforms

After the unprecedented crisis in the coal sector on account of the alleged scams, most of the issues relating to coal sector had been sorted out by 2016 as coal production reached hot record levels and we were even toting with the idea of exporting coal to Bangladesh. I had suggested to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) that the Coal Ministry should be merged with the Mines Ministry. This never came about but I, arguably the most 'uneducated' civil servant on account of my lack of experience in this sector, was transferred to the School Education Department in 2016.

Word went around about my 'illiteracy' and soon I hordes of 'advisers' descending to advise me on what afflicted school education in the country and how could it be managed. There were examples given from all the lands of the world that included Finland, England, Holland, Scotland, New Zealand and Iceland. I was soon to ask one of the advisers whether they had the occasion to look at the motherland that drew a blank. Hence, I decided to take a look around the country. I travelled to 23 states of the country during my initial phase as Secretary, School Education and Literacy. I chose to look at some of the interior areas to assess what was happening in the hinterland. The first two districts I visited were Bastar and Sukma in the state of Chattisgarh. I had the occasion to travel from Pune to Goa by car, dropping down on the way to look at the schools in rural areas. I even travelled from Srinagar to Leh by road, not taking the national highway. These visits enabled me to appreciate what was and what wasn't happening in the country in the context of school education. However, the biggest benefit was in terms of the fabulous homegrown models of school education that were flouring in the interior areas and these had the potential of being scaled. Unlike the 'imported' models of school education, these homegrown ones did not require proof of concept. In many cases, they were being replicated. Hence, they could easily be scaled. Another aspect that struck me was that the success of most of these models was based on public-private partnership.

I recall having walked into a government primary school unannounced. It was lunch break and I had the occasion to eat the mid-day meal. The quality of the food was incredible. I had heard all sorts of stories (most of them negative) about the mid-day meal scheme but here was an example of delicious and nutritious food being served. On arriving at the state headquarters, I inquired about it and I was informed that 'Akshay Patra' was the agency responsible for this high quality of food. I was blissfully unaware of this organisation. I was soon to fly down to the headquarters of 'Akshay Patra' in Bangalore to see how the Government could assist in expanding the delivery of such meals in more districts. This was one of the finest examples of public-private partnership in the social sector. Soon. elaborate plans were put in place to scale the operations of 'Akshay Patra'. It was a win-win for all the stakeholders. Hence, it happened and continues to happen.

Consequent to the visit to the states, 110 successful models were picked. Those associated with the roll-out of these models were invited to Delhi and over a period of six days, an attempt was made to ascertain how success was achieved in making-it-happen. Apart from other factors, what was common amongst all these success stories was the association between the NGOs and the state governments. However, most of them were not operating on a scale. The task was now to facilitate their scaling. This was done through regional and state-level workshops wherein 24 selected models were road-showed. Thus, Sampark Foundation that was doing exemplary work in Chattisgarh under the inspired leadership of its Chairman, Vineet Nayar, moved out to a number of other states. 'Akshara Foundation', led by its dynamic Chairman, Ashok Kamath that was impacting learning outcomes in some Districts of Karnataka not only expanded its domain in Karnataka but moved out to states like Odisha. The founders of 'Kaivalya Foundation', Aditya Nataraj and Manmohan took their good work well beyond Rajasthan where they had tasted success in transforming learning outcomes. 'Humana People to People' had successfully demonstrated how they could successfully mainstream out of school children in Haryana were now moving into many more states. Raj Gilda's 'Lend A Hand' moved beyond the city of Pune to other parts of the country giving a new and purposeful dimension to vocational training in partnership with respective state governments.

On another front, NGOs were partnering with Municipal Corporations to prove that such a public-private partnership could bring about a qualitative change in the delivery of school education. Organisations like 'Muktangan' (in Mumbai) and 'Peepul's Foundation' (in Delhi). The success of these organisations got reflected in the fact that the respective municipal corporations were willing to expand this partnership that was already scaling.

The problems pertaining to the social sector are too huge to be tackled by the public or private sectors alone. Unfortunately, there is an enormous amount of mutual distrust between the entities in the public and private domains. Ironically, as we all understand, efficiencies will come from the private domain and scale from the public domain. Hence, it is imperative for them to come together. It can be done because it has been done. Hence, it should be done in the interest of the country. There is so much good that is being done on either side of the 'fence'. This fence needs to be broken. The collaboration of the good on either side can be transformative as has been demonstrated in the examples given above.

There is some good news as well. The Department of Company Affairs is in the process of setting up a web portal to bring all the stakeholders (Central Government, state governments, CSR funding agencies and NGOs) on a single platform so that they can 'marry'. Organisations like the 'Nexus of Good Foundation', are working assiduously to highlight good work that can be replicated and scaled through public-private partnership in the social sector. All this augurs well for the future.

Views expressed are personal

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