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For development to be sustainable, it has to start from the roots: Jane Schukoske, CEO, Sehgal Foundation

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In an interview with NewsGram, Jane Schukoske, CEO of Sehgal Foundation talks about the vision and the accomplishments in India.
In an interview with NewsGram, Jane Schukoske, CEO of Sehgal Foundation talks about the vision and the accomplishments in India.
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Jane E. Schukoske photo 2014
Jane E. Schukoske , CEO of Sehgal Foundation

– Nishtha  & Rukma Singh of NewsGram

The Sehgal foundation designs and promotes rural development interventions that create opportunities, build resilience and provide solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in India’s poorest communities.  With ample recognition of the need of good governance, the foundation is bound by values of integrity, professionalism, and optimism.

In an interview with Newsgram, Jane Schukoske, CEO, Sehgal foundation, tells us about the working of this organization and its future goals.

NG: Sehgal foundation was formed in 1999. What was the basic aim behind the establishment of an organization working for sustainable development?

JS: The Sehgals had made their mark in hybrid seeds. Their interest in rural India came from their agriculture background. Also, Dr Sehgal was from unified India. After partition, his family moved to India and he was raised here until he went to the United States for graduation.  Basically, from the beginning, they have wanted to support community led rural development. They understood that if development had to be sustainable, it needed to start from the roots, i.e. from the level of the community. The goal is to have social, economic and environmental positive change in the rural India.

NG: When you interact with the rural public during your various field visits, do you see an improper implementation of governmental policies?

JS: There is a pressing need for governance to work properly. We have a good governance programme which has two parts to it. One is working with Panchayats ; village nutrition and health committees, school management committees, etc. We help the members of these committees develop some of the required skills, design a proper layout for implementation and design a budget so as to effectively access funds from the government.

On the other side, we work with citizens. If citizens know how to constructively raise demands  and channel their demands to the right departments, it will help the government to work in a better manner because it will know that its activities are under spotlight.

NG: How was the initial response towards the projects that you started, both, in terms of public participation and administrative procedures?

JS: In the early years, the organization gave a lot of time into finding its feet and building its reputation in the community. One thing that it did was to allocate adequate money to the villages, so that people would understand the sincerity of the organization. We wanted them to look at us as a group that will work with them and not as just another organization looking for grants.

NG: Do you want the rural India to get empowered in such a fashion that they can further govern themselves and become self reliable?

JS: Yes. Empowerment and community leadership are an essential part of our vision. We need to encourage these to ensure future sustainability, because after the brief period of time that we work for in these areas, people should have the knowledge of how to take things on from where we leave.

NG: Do you plan to venture out somewhere in the apathetic conditions of government schools of these areas, especially when it comes to gender based health and sanitation problems?

JS: Yes. Our water management programme also focuses on providing access to clean water to school students in these areas. Rainwater harvesting systems for schools, when coupled with a bio-sand filtering procedure has been believed to be very helpful. In addition, there are other kinds of innovative systems that we are looking to employ, and that we already have begun with. Sea saw pumps are an example of the same. When children play on the sea saw, the pumping mechanism is triggered by their action and then the pumped water is used for the toilets.

What we found was that there were a lot of toilet blocks that had been made, but they weren’t functional because of the lack of water. We are responding to those kinds of needs. Some of our donors are interested in school infrastructure improvement and we have facilitated that. But our own focus has been to allocate as much money as possible to encourage the presence of adequate drinking water in schools as well as sanitation facilities.

NG: Many corporates indulge in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Do you think these organizations work for the greater good of mankind and not just the enhancement of their own image?

JS: I think it’s really important to have stakeholder partnerships to get anywhere. Fortunately, we work with corporations that are really serious about the kind of work they do.  It’s really wonderful to see the bright eyed employees feeling good about their contributions to the world.  So, our experience with corporate has been very good.  You get to deal with people in corporations who have values and who are not just processing papers, they want to make a difference.

NG: We are well aware of the kind of treatment meted out to women in the rural areas. Is that why women empowerment has been a strong part of each and every programme that your foundation has built?

JS: Yes. We actually have a gender policy that causes us to look at everything we do in terms of gender. It is so easy to interpret things written in neutral terms, as pertaining to men. Hence, this gender policy helps us understand how we can feature women, involve women, and bring their issues out in the open in a better manner.

NG: What’s next for the Sehgal Foundation?

JS: In  2011, we were in 17 villages. We methodically planned our expansion.  Through the good governance programme, we expanded to virtually all of Mewat, Haryana. Then, through agriculture and water, we entered Rajasthan. The newest addition is Samastipur, Bihar, where again the focus is on agriculture. We are in talks with our CSR partners about expansion by two means. One, by re-scoping areas to see what would be appropriate to work on, in terms of the interests and needs of people. We’ll be able to attract donors based on these, like in the case of Mewat.
Second, by having prospective donors express interest in a particular area and seeing if it’s feasible for us.

One thing that we have realized is that in areas where we don’t work, we can still train people. Swadesh foundation in Maharashtra, a huge team that works in a lot of areas, asked us to train their team about the governance activities that we do.  We sent some people to train them. For further help, we encouraged one of our employees who worked in Mewat, to go to Maharashtra. He went and stayed there for two months, and guided them along as they went ahead with the implementation of their governance schemes.

So, training and associations with other NGOs with the same perspectives are two things we’d always continue to do.

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Google Proposes Its First Urban Development Project

The current agreement leaves ownership of data issues for later shows that it wasn't properly drafted and means patents derived from the data will default to Google.

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Google
A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's offices in Toronto. VOA

Heated streets will melt ice and snow on contact. Sensors will monitor traffic and protect pedestrians. Driverless shuttles will carry people to their doors.

A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet is proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into what may be the most wired community in history — to “fundamentally refine what urban life can be.”

Sidewalk Labs has partnered with a government agency known as Waterfront Toronto with plans to erect mid-rise apartments, offices, shops and a school on a 12-acre (4.9-hectare) site — a first step toward what it hopes will eventually be a 800-acre (325-hectare) development.

High-level interest is clear: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alphabet’s then-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt appeared together to announce the plan in October.

Google, cryptocurrency
A Google logo is seen at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, VOA

But some Canadians are rethinking the privacy implications of giving one of the most data-hungry companies on the planet the means to wire up everything from street lights to pavement. And some want the public to get a cut of the revenue from products developed using Canada’s largest city as an urban laboratory.

“The Waterfront Toronto executives and board are too dumb to realize they are getting played,” said former BlackBerry chief executive Jim Balsillie, a smartphone pioneer considered a national hero.

Complaints about the proposed development prompted Waterfront Toronto to re-do the agreement to ensure a greater role for the official agency, which represents city, provincial and federal governments.

So far the project is still in the embryonic stage. After consultations, the developers plan to present a formal master plan early next year.

Google
Trump Also Expands Google Criticism to Include Facebook, Twitter. VOA

Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, envisions features like pavement that lights up to warn pedestrians of approaching streetcars. Flexible heated enclosures — described as “raincoats” for buildings — will be deployed based on weather data during Toronto’s bitter winters. Robotic waste-sorting systems will detect when a garbage bin is full and remove it before raccoons descend.

“Those are great uses of data that can improve the quality of life of people,” he said. “That’s what we want to do.”

Sidewalk Labs promotional materials promise “a place that’s enhanced by digital technology and data, without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves.”

Doctoroff said the company isn’t looking to monetize people’s personal information in the way that Google does now with search information. He said the plan is to invent so-far-undefined products and services that Sidewalk Labs can market elsewhere.

“People automatically assume because of our relationship to Alphabet and Google that they will be treated one way or another. We have never said anything” about the data issue, he said. “To be honest people should give us some time. Be patient.”

Google
Google has collaborated with Getty images. Wikimedia Commons

But that wasn’t good enough for Julie Di Lorenzo, a prominent Toronto developer who resigned from the Waterfront Toronto board over the project. Di Lorenzo said data and what Google wants to do with it should be front and center in the discussions. She also believes the government agency has given the Google affiliate too much power over how the project develops.

“How can [Waterfront Toronto], a corporation established by three levels of democratically elected government, have shared values with a limited, for-profit company whose premise is embedded data collection?” Di Lorenzo asked.

Di Lorenzo asks who will own the autonomous vehicles. “Is the municipality maintaining the fleet or forcing you to share your vehicle?” She also asks if people who don’t want their data collected will be allowed to live there.

The concerns have intensified following a series of privacy scandals at Facebook and Google. A recent Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on iPhones and Android devices store location-tracking data even if you use privacy settings that are supposed to turn them off.

Google
The Alexa Echo Dot devices include the official Saint Louis University logo and are equipped with specific skills to provide information on local events and campus life. VOA

“It gives all of us pause,” Waterfront board chair Helen Burstyn acknowledged.

Bianca Wylie, an advocate of open government, said it remains deeply troubling that Sidewalk Labs still hasn’t said who will own data produced by the project or how it will be monetized. Google is here to make money, she said, and Canadians should benefit from any data or products developed from it.

“We are not here to be someone’s research and development lab,” she said, “to be a loss leader for products they want to sell globally.”

Ottawa patent lawyer Natalie Raffoul said the fact that the current agreement leaves ownership of data issues for later shows that it wasn’t properly drafted and means patents derived from the data will default to Google.

“We just can’t be too trusting of corporations,” she said.

Capitol hill, google
An empty chair reserved for Google’s parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive, is seen as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ‘Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms’ on Capitol Hill. VOA

But Burstyn, the Waterfront Toronto chair, said the upcoming master plan will address data concerns. The agency wants to make Toronto a global hub of a rising new industry, she said.

“Everybody gets worried about the digital and technology aspects that might run amok,” she said. “I don’t worry about that as much as I see the opportunities for developing a really interesting, innovative community.”

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Adam Vaughan, the federal lawmaker whose district includes the development, said debate about big data and urban infrastructure is coming to cities across the world and he would rather have Toronto at the forefront of discussion.

“Google is ahead of governments globally and locally. That’s a cause for concern but it’s also an opportunity,” Vaughan said. (VOA)