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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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The Web Developer Requests Authorities Not To Leave Half Of The World In Dark

Despite the challenges, Berners-Lee said he was optimistic about the future of the internet.

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World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee speaks during an interview at the Mozilla Festival 2018 in London. VOA

British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, appealed on Monday for companies and governments not to leave behind half of the world population yet to have internet access, which includes billions of women and girls.

Berners-Lee told the opening of the Europe’s largest technology conference that everyone had assumed his breakthrough in 1989, that connected humanity to technology, would lead to good things – and it had for a while.

But he said the internet was “coming of age” and going awry, with fake news and issues with privacy, hate speech and political polarization, as well as a growing digital divide between those in richer and poorer countries.

Internet
Internet companies support an economy-wide, national approach to regulation that protects the privacy of all Americans. VOA

He called on companies and governments to join a “contract for the web” by next May in order to rebuild trust in the internet and find new ways to monetize, regulate and ensure fair and affordable access to the online world.

“Everything we do … to make the web more powerful, it means we increase the digital divide,” Berners-Lee, 63, told the opening of the ninth edition of the Web Summit, dubbed “the Davos for geeks,” that attracts up to 70,000 people. “We’ve an obligation to look after both parts of the world.”

Berners-Lee highlighted studies showing that half of the world population will be online by next year – but the rate of take-up was slowing considerably, potentially leaving billions cut off from government services, education and public debate.

His concerns were echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who stressed the need for a “digital future that is safe and beneficial to all” to meet the United Nation’s global goals of ending inequality and extreme poverty by 2030.

Data Privacy, internet
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

In 2016 the United Nations passed a resolution to make disruption of internet access a violation of human rights.

Google’s head of philanthropy, Jacqueline Fuller, said it was huge milestone for the web to reach 30 next year, adding her company was one of 50 organizations to have already signed up to the pact developed by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation.

Other supporters include Facebook, British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and the French government.

Data Privacy, internet
FILE – Zuckerberg Pushes Internet Connectivity In Address to World Leaders at APEC. VOA

“This is also a great opportunity for us,” Fuller told the Web Summit. “Women and girls are much less likely to have access (to the internet).”

Also Read: Google’s Waymo To Fully Test Driver-Less Cars

Despite the challenges, Berners-Lee said he was optimistic about the future of the internet.

“The ad-based funding model doesn’t have to work in the same way. It doesn’t have to create clickbait,” he said. (VOA)