Sunday, 18 July 2021

"Improve yourself to change what`s around"​- Madiba`s word continue to light my path each day.


On Nelson Mandela International Day as we celebrate the man who changed the world with his philosophy and activism on the right to equality and dignity for all, we cannot forget the remarkable journey of self-growth and transformation of Nelson Mandela. 

 For a person who spent 27 years of his life in prison, his message to the world was always clear – peace, forgiveness and liberation. His resilience and mental strength helped him grow as a leader and engage his thoughts on how to resist oppression and move forward with dignity and forgiveness. 

 Forgiveness was the virtue that he gained during his years in prison, a quality that made him the most followed politician and one of the most celebrated men in history. His ability to forgive is what lead him to the road to freedom.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela

 As we celebrate the values of Nelson Mandela on his special day, there is much for us to take from his life. 

 Nelson Mandela’s remarkable journey shows us the power of our thoughts and actions. As he transformed and strengthened his focus on forgiveness, his journey strengthened. His message was always clear- the need to focus on changing ourselves because “we” are the society. And when we change for the better, society changes for the better. 

 Nelson Mandela’s life is an example of how our thoughts have the power to create our reality. It is an internal journey of exploration and discovery of our strengths, believes and goodness because lasting change begins from within. 

 A personal hero, Madiba`s humility, patience, forgiveness and determination to do what he had set out to do guide my path each day. His integrity gave him courage to stand up for the right. His practice of forgiveness gave him the endurance to constantly question the status quo. A life dedicated to community service, social justice and inspiring change- his message of ‘’take action everyday for a better society” holds as much relevance today. 

What would be Madiba`s 103rd birthday, a hope to let go off biases to envision a non-discriminating world continues to remain a dream.


Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Corporate to Non Profit : My Bridge to Fulfillment


1.      IMUST to 7 – MUST

One of my unique learning’s of working in IKEA was IWAY i.e., the IKEA way of doing business, a code of compliance to be always abided by, has key elements such as IMUST and IBasic which apply to suppliers and the IKEA offices themselves in letter and spirit. Inviolable at all times, these principles correspond to themes such as human rights, environmental preservation, safety of workers etc. and reflect the company’s values forming a foundation for its sustainability.

This concept of having non-negotiable ‘musts’ for the operations of the organization have inspired the 7 MUSTS of Lotus Petal Foundation. These rules range from guidelines about education standards, nutrition, environment sustainability to quality of work which has secured the everyday basics of school operations.

2.      Culture supporting Work Life Synergy

At IKEA, I found considerable value placed upon supporting the work-life balance of employees which encompassed various aspects like flexible working hours, meetings scheduled to allow employees to avoid weekend travels and career decisions factoring personal life situations and priorities.

Encouraging synergy between the professional and personal spheres of an employee’s life is an important part of Lotus Petal as well. The work week is limited to 36 to 40 hours, akin to European standards of employment. Ideas such as Detox-Talk, borrowed from the Swedish concept of Development talk, encourage the employees to candidly share problems, find a safe space for self-expression and develop further as an individual. All this encourages employees to lead a holistic life at work and home. All employees are equipped with fundamental social security through schemes such as Employee State Insurance (ESI) and Provident Fund (PF), 6 months Maternity Benefits and Medical cover of Rs.5 lacs per family member and supported with other initiatives like compassionate leave to take care of personal life situations.

3.      VOICE to VOICE IT

At IKEA, I found an open listening culture rather than unidirectional instruction. The voice of the employees is highly valued. The results of the annual VOICE survey conducted by a third party is viewed as an important part of building strong employee engagement and providing those in leadership roles clarity and direction.

At Lotus Petal, we have VOICE IT, an anonymous survey has been conducted for the last 4 years. An integral part of gauging the thoughts and sentiments of the employees, it provides a means for people to share their concerns, opinions, and ideas. Actions taken based on these surveys has helped improve performance at all levels and employees feel like valued stakeholders. It has helped build Lotus Petal into a certified Great Place to Work. The attrition rate of employees with more than 3 years working more than 2 years is < 1,5%.

4.      Simple and effectives working methods

IKEA employs a multitude of innovative systems to facilitate the way problems and possible solutions are handled. Many of these are utilized at Lotus Petal.

They include the Start-Stop-Continue feedback approach to gauge a relevant estimate of projects and feedback; the 4-room apartment approach, employed at every level (personal, departmental, organizational) to evaluate issues; Checking-in and checking-out system, a way to express understanding and mindset at the beginning and end of meetings and certain processes such as the Contract Review, which we use to execute all CSR projects creating an internal agreement between the various parties involved, in case of any errors we deploy the Root Cause Analysis and work with Corrective Action Preventive Action (CAPA).

All these concepts have assisted in streamlining the tasks and have improved efficiency at Lotus Petal.

5.      Leadership

IKEA deploys a distinctive leadership development process and some of those learnings have been deeply engrained in my leadership style. The focus on continuous improvement – making something better by a small measure every single day has helped fine tune the entire academic process into a scientific method of education children from less privileged backgrounds. Daring to be different has helped us take decisions which have lifted the organization scope and reach. The decision to provide all students with digital devices in May 2020 was one of them. You are allowed to make mistakes was something I heard for the first time in my career at IKEA. At Lotus Petal we have built a culture around this of “Smart Mistakes” i.e., mistakes we learn from and develop better ways to do it the next time.  The recruitment process of IKEA helped me understand the importance in the primary analysis of a candidate to see the fitment into the culture and atmosphere of the organization plus the additional grandparent interview by someone besides the hiring manager and HR staff ensures an impartial decision. At Lotus Petal too the same process has been followed by default and now is being structured as part of the hiring process with the prime focus has been on the harmonious integration of a person into the organization. This approach has proved exceedingly successful in attracting the talented people who are able to perform well and sustain the desired work culture.

The focus on quality in the everyday life, cost consciousness and an overall sense of wellbeing and fulfilment are difficult to be mapped by a metrics or a process but are critical elements of building an organization that values the individual and the environment. They formed the sublime of my tenure with IKEA.

Many things remain to be done and we look ahead to a glorious future in which every child gets equal opportunity.


From a modest one room school with 7 students Lotus Petal is today providing direct education to over 1000 students in our own schools, helping over 500 students in government schools and community services to over 500,000 people annually. Alumni from our programs are employed in the formal sector or pursing higher professional education.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Recognizing attributes that may help you find ever increasing joy with your skills and work so no day is as ordinary as it seems today.

One who takes a pause to listen to the silent voice within that pushes to do more with the everyday can be summed up as a Changemaker. Some do what the nudges suggest with awareness while most respond to the stimuli of feeling better and sleeping better.

Many around are competing to earn more, achieve more and climb higher on the professional ladder, there are some whose determinations are very different. They do not dream of climbing the organizational hierarchy but are searching for more. The more is a whole lot and difficult to explain and impossible to purchase. But there is an abstract ‘more’ that satiates the quest and gives meaning to life. Some call it looking for purpose. The accomplishment of that ‘more’ requires courage and always a lot of letting go.

Few wish to achieve not what the world sees as greater but what fulfills their soul and give them contentment. They are the Changemakers – the reformers, progressionist who want to change society for the better.

 Changemakers are not born, they are self-made – People who are not running the rat race. They may have stability and comfort but are still willingly to step out of their comfort zone in search of something more, something that can give them happiness and gratification. There is risk, discomfort and perhaps at times less money, yet it qualifies as ‘more’. There is a choice made.

Each person who works at Lotus Petal has an innate desire to bring positive change with his work. Their regular-looking jobs give them the freedom to express themselves and flourish as they work for contentment and fulfillment. People are accepted as they are and valued for the skills that they bring and most importantly are treated well. While at work, each Changemaker is aware of how their regular job is a critical link in providing a life of dignity to someone.

Our Changemakers step out of their comfort zones daily as they extend their services and expertise to serve more. They face the unfamiliar, and to learn what’s new and relevant in the changing times. They work for the underserved – in an environment different from where most come from. Each day they live and interact with people living in difficult circumstances, facing complex problems. The work that the Changemaker encounters everyday throws at them unexplainable yet human challenges that many may have heard of but never faced. These are circumstances where statistics, standard procedures, and protocols don’t work. Each challenge is different and each one needs a distinct solution. Most learning is at work every day. The team takes every challenge as part of its daily routine and works its way to find cost effective and innovative solutions to every problem.  What you bring to your desk is an open desire to learn and an honest commitment to deliver.

Embracing the discomfort of growth and resolution to rise above the challenges outlines a Changemaker at Lotus Petal. They don`t quit. They learn, they support and emerge resilient because in the persistence lays transformation. And in that spirited environment of growth lays the road to service that enables the less fortunate to hope for a life of dignity.

Our Changemakers never stop until they make the change happen.


Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Education for underprivileged in 2021: Bridging the Digital Divide

The global transition of education to a virtual model has led to a deep Digital Divide among students in terms of access to quality online learning. The gap between the privileged and the underprivileged is undeniably evident. As detailed in my article ‘Digital Divide in Education’ published this February, problems in E-Learning are ample but the digital model of learning is bound to continue in the foreseeable future. The way onward then, is to work towards bridging this divide.

To this end, sharing some insights from our working with online education for less privileged students over the past year.

1.      Device Misuse Myths

A certain apprehension pertaining to device misuse / damage / misplacement exists in the society. Having distributed near 750 + digital devices to students at Lotus Petal, our data reflects that while some devices were slightly damaged and few were given back to the school for minor repairs, the number of devices lost or pilfered has been 0. Less than 0.5% of device has been damaged. This is indicative of the fact that theft of devices by students or families is a myth. Rather equipping the children with a device seems to instill in them a sense of duty and responsibility. Measures like good quality device cover and security software’s for remote monitoring act as deterrents and influence appropriate behavior.

2.      Full Day Internet Access

Mere device distribution to underprivileged students does not suffice. Internet access, an obvious part of online education, can be provided to students by way of full day internet access. To provide incentive, data pack recharges can be linked to students’ attendance and performance in class. At Lotus Petal, in April 2021, attendance adherence has been observed by 80% of the active 739 students. A possible long-term remedy to improve access to net services for underprivileged students is partnering up with internet service providers to subsidize data plans and make learning on digital platforms affordable. Also, zero-rating practices that allow teachers and students to utilize websites without financial cost can be evaluated. Many of our corporate partners like BA Airways, Mediatek , United Way of Delhi have been funding these access costs based on student attendance performance. 

3.      Device cost financial aid linked to outcomes

The financial aspect of learning needs to be considered as well. Not every parent can afford a digital device. A workable solution for this can be increasing awareness about low-cost access via Blended Finance options such as Impact bonds, Interest Free Loans, Blended Loans, Pay for Performance Grants etc. A typical tab costing Rs. 9000, can be paid off in 12 monthly installments of Rs.750, which can be afforded by most. This way the parents can afford to keep their children’s education going strong. Lotus Petal has collaborated with the Rang De India initiative and has assisted many underprivileged children in availing Interest Free Loans. Partners with programs of Pay for Performance Grants can be reimburse the costs to parents at regular intervals on meeting academic outcomes. This also provides dignity to the parents in the sense that they are getting the benefits based on their and their children’s efforts and it is not a dole.

4.      Bandwidth, Software and Hardware Impediments

Problems pertaining to Bandwidth and Content Comprehension by the student can be assuaged by modifying the curriculum content in a way that it may be easy to understand and attainable even in lower bandwidth. The material can be made simple and comfortably downloadable and storable for reference later as well. Overall, minimizing the digital divide would require ideas such as televising some of the course content, distribution of learning kits, creating free WI-FI spots in underserved neighborhoods, indigenous manufacturing of digital devices. Learnings from Ed-Tech failures of the past such as a dearth of knowledge repositories, a lack of personalization in learning, incomprehensible course delivery and inability to conduct assessments smoothly call for focus towards a merger of and metamorphosis in software and hardware development. There is a need for establishing workable partnerships between all information and communication technology stakeholders and improving our digital literacy capacities in the short and long run. With this we may bring a meaningful change in the e-learning education space.

5.      Pedagogy

The pedagogy of classroom teaching cannot be duplicated in the online mode. Here the teaching, which is more lecture based, effective high-quality content on concepts which can be referenced later, encouragement to children to indulge in self-study and access to doubt clearance sessions on one-on-one basis or in smaller groups has been more effective. In this direction, Lotus Petal has partnered with BYJU’s in their program of Education for All in which they provide free content to underprivileged children.

While many steps have been taken in the right direction, much more thought, innovation and action need to go into functionalizing the sphere of E-Learning. It is no longer an option but a necessity. This is an issue which requires the commitment of multiple stakeholders – Government, Non-Profits, Corporate CSR funding, Social Financial Institutions, Content Providers etc. to work in a collaborative manner.

Do contribute your valuable inputs on possible solutions in the comments and let us all work towards ensuring quality education for each and every child of the nation including those living in underprivileged communities.