The 10-day summer camp that Mantra4Change organised for the government schools of the Dommasandra cluster won us a lot of popularity. Backed by local community members from start to finish, the summer camp also helped improve people’s perception of government schools. However, the road to its success was littered with many speed bumps. This blog highlights how we tackled some of those challenges and what we learned in the process.
Challenge 1: Election-Time Restrictions
The summer camp was scheduled for April. This was unfortunate timing. With the State elections announced for May, the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct was in play. The Code imposed several restrictions that would make involving government officials and local bodies tricky. We realised we would not be able to tap government bodies for funds as it could amount to a violation of the Code. We were in a fix. Pushed against the wall, we hit on the idea of approaching local businesses around the schools to sponsor the summer camp. Since the idea was to make the camp self-sustaining, it made sense to seek funds from the community.
Armed with a two-pronged strategy – one for the local private businesses and a different one for the Gram Panchayats – we approached our potential financiers.
Private Biz: Striking the Right Chord
Local malls, bakeries, hotels, local branches of banks were all on our radar. We approached them with a letter that gave details about the summer camp, its objective, the number of children to be covered etc. We spoke about the benefits of government schools and the enrolment drive we were organising to improve the student intake in these schools. We told them that the children’s parents were mostly daily-wage labourers and a summer camp would be a rare gift to these kids. We spoke to them of the number of talented children who have emerged from these schools; the summer camp would help dig out more.
We also made it clear that we did not want money directly. We wanted them to sponsor food, snacks, stationery and other raw materials. We followed up with them regularly. All our efforts paid off. A local hotel, Amrut Parkland, generously agreed to cook and transport food for 100 children for the duration of the camp. A bakery, Surya Bakery, donated the snacks.
What worked in our favour was face-to-face interactions that clearly conveyed our passion and commitment for the cause and helped build trust. The Enrolment Drive was more visible proof of the concrete work being done and a reassurance that their money would not go waste.
The Jeevadhare committee members were instrumental in drawing up a list of potential donors we could approach for funds. In fact, one of the sponsors – the management of Greenwood School – who funded materials worth Rs10,000 was brought in by the Jeevadhare committee.
GP: A Different Game Plan
Approaching the Gram Panchayat (GP) for funds would need a different game plan. We had to tread carefully around the Model Code of Conduct. We decided to use the power of knowledge to smoothen our way and speed up the traditionally slow bureaucratic processes. We gained a thorough understanding about how a GP works, its procedures and processes, rules and regulations. As expected, the GPs cited the Model Code of Conduct to deny funds for the camp. We pointed out that they could sanction funds from the amount set aside for education without contravening the Code. We also showed them how sponsoring the summer camp could count as a major achievement for them. Convinced, they agreed to sanction the funds.
However, there was a hitch. They could only issue a cheque. We had to figure out how to minimise the delay in securing the cash. The best solution was to ask the GP to draw the cheque in the name of the shop that would supply the materials for the summer camp.
Finding a supplier meant some more bureaucratic procedures – getting quotations from four vendors, of which the lowest would be selected. We went to the City Market and collected four quotations.
But we soon realised it was advantageous to find a vendor close to the school. That way, we could get the materials at short notice while also creating a potential future sponsor in the vendor.
Challenge 2: To Name or Not to Name
The election-time strictures threw up another unexpected dilemma. Naming the GPs as a sponsor in the summer camp banners or pamphlets could get them into trouble with the Election Commission. After a lot of deliberation, we decided not to mention any sponsors. We communicated this to our private sponsors, explaining the awful position we were in. They were largely agreeable to the idea. We politely declined taking sponsorship from those who insisted on being given credit publicly.
However, we made sure to give the donors appreciation letters and photos of the programme. We also plan to publish and distribute a report of the summer camp detailing the donors and their contributions.
Challenge 3: We Asked for More
We had initially planned a one-week summer camp, but intervening holidays shortened the actual days available for the camp. We decided to extend it to 10 days. We now had the unenviable task of requesting our financiers to extend the duration of the sponsorship, especially for food. We decided to speak frankly and explain the situation. The vendor agreed to provide food for the additional days without a fuss.
It is never easy to ask others for money. However, a set of unavoidable circumstances pushed us to bolster our courage and approach the local population for help. And we were not let down. The summer camp taught us that, if tapped right, the community could prove to be an extremely valuable resource. We learnt that if the cause was worthy and we built trust, the local community would go any distance to lend its support.
Do you have similar stories of community partnerships? Share your experience with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mr. Venkatesh D and Ms. Shalini Nair, Mantra4Change