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Case Study: Power Of The Purple Ribbons

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Manasvi Rai sat on the edge of her table atop the podium, taking in the arguments of her students on power and motivation debating that both were different. A student had just stated that what NGOs did came out of motivation, whereas Manasvi was clear that motivation was for the lesser human — the higher human gave to society out of a source of power inside him— and urged the students to examine this closely.

“Don’t slide and fall into textbook templates,” she admonished. “You don’t need a Machiavelli or a Weber. It’s simple: if you want to empower, you need to have power within. Anything else that you do that appears like empowering is a ruse to empower yourself, making it look like charitable work!”

Therefore, in the exercising of power, there is always a point from which it flows and a point to which it flows. So... the source is more powerful than the recipient of power?

Teacher: Who knows? Maybe even the opposite could be true! The flow of power itself may be a function of manipulation by the recipient, as in some political relationships. Different people use different power tactics. Then again, the source may be extrovert or introvert and that will influence the kind of tactic he uses. The former being sociable, venturesome and lively will have a different power than one who is introvert — who prefers his own company, and hence there is no saying how it will impact different people! Therefore, power is employed, that is definite! Anthony Giddens, a sociologist, says power is a means to ends, ‘and hence is directly involved in the actions of every person’. He also says, ‘Power is the transformative capacity of people to change the social and material world’!

: Can the powerful be influenced? 

Teacher: There is research that has shown that the more power a person has, the less likely he is to receive or accept another’s perspective.

Student: So they lack empathy?

Teacher: There are various connotations to power; researchers talk about an internal sense of power where you are in control, where you can think, exercise discipline on yourself, be your own benchmark.  They also say society at a macro level uses power to create inequity in power as that is linked with getting more resources that others cannot or do not get — hence upper caste, lower caste... all that nonsense!

“French and Raven say that power is relative, so that how A may influence B will depend on B’s perception of A’s power and his perception of what that can do for what aspect of his needs. So B has to recognise in A a certain something which will motivate B to change, adopt change.”

But what influences power? Is it not driven by reward and punishment?

Teacher: Such power is ‘exerted’ power. We have extraordinary humans who are not driven by reward and punishment and they deliver great results. They exude the power to give — out of joy, not for joy! And yet they work with the dynamism of any organisation — there is a vision, a target, a goal, a purpose, a drive, a system that supports all this. They don’t reward conventionally, yet their teams are motivated. Fascinating? 

Student A:
Exactly! There does not seem to be anything apparent for their motivation, drive, success. Especially if you consider the fact that they work in remote places where even basic infrastructural comforts are not available, where even personal safety is at stake.

Student B: Yet you say it is not motivation! 

Teacher: They use their lives as a tool. Pay attention. As against ‘the world is a tool to be applied for my gain’, they say my life is a tool to make the world a better place. This is true power. The power lies in feeling liberated enough to give and not feel threatened of being depleted. They give the powerless the power over their own selves. They exude a certain power which helps their target audience to help themselves.

“So you can apply your education to, say, sell soap or insurance, and make your life more comfortable, and reinvest to gain even more comforts. At the end of the day, one person has gained a lot, is well known, famous. But famous is not power. Or, like some people, you can apply your skills to build other lives,” said Manasvi as she handed out sheets for them to read during the break and reassemble in 20 minutes.

Anaama’s Story

Anaama was from a very rich family, with its heritage in the village of Bisner. He was sent to a school in the city for the best education, where he stayed on until after post-graduation. With the racy life of upper-class pursuits Anaama rarely saw the ground below. One day on a visit to his village, he came across a pathetic little girl. All of nine years, maybe even seven — it is difficult to tell in poorly-fed children. Falsely made up, oiled hair, nose rings and an outsized purple ribbon that stared out from behind her head — she cut a pathetic picture. She had just been sold for Rs 2,000 to a city-bred man, who was taking her with him to look after his newborn.

Something shrivelled and died inside Anaama. The life he had known never indicated that there were many who lived a different life. Purple ribbon’s buyer griped that Rs 2,000 was too much, refusing to buy. The broker pleaded, “Where will she go, poor thing? Keep her as your servant, she will make your tea...” and offered to cut the price to Rs 1,500.

Anaama’s stomach churned. Was this the value of a child? As he drove to Delhi, he felt chased by the nine-year-old’s scrubbed face framed by outsized purple ribbons.

The journey dented his comfort zone studded with affluence, abundance and apathy, leaving him naked in a world he did not want to be identified with anymore. Unable to live with this memory, and seeking solution, which he knew his gaggle of friends would not be able to provide, Anaama went back to Bisner, to his nanoo.

Anaama desperately wished to be rid of the pain. Handing it over to nanoo, he said, “I don’t like any of this.” His grandfather looked keenly at Anaama’s troubled face, and said simply, “Go, light (those) eyes (that can’t see).”

It was a stunning reply. But it gave Anaama direction. He resolved to do as told. Anaama was not even a doctor, but something urged him onward. He went to the biggest eye hospitals in India and asked them if they would help. “I will support you financially, you just come to my village and open a hospital.” But they all declined. Bisner was notorious for crime and was extremely unsafe, they pointed out.

Anaama asked if they would teach him instead, a post-graduate in humanities. They agreed. Anaama then began to work as their fetch and carry boy, understanding the minute first, then apprenticed with the technicians, watching, observing, studying.

“Anaama’s Story” then went on to detail how he set up a tent first, then a rough and ready brick structure and then took over a building and then equipped it first with basic implements, then more sophisticated ones and thus created PerVision Hospital. How he managed to bring doctors across, how he brought the cataract patients by cart to the clinic, how he ferried medicines from the city to the village, how he begged for money from rich friends and richer relatives, how he faced one obstacle after another... and how PerVision was born.

PerVision in little Bisner is today a 35,000-sq.ft operation, with state-of-the-art equipment, and buses to ferry the patients from deep interiors. On an average, it conducts 37,000 eye surgeries a year; surgeries which restore vision to a people who would otherwise be resigned to blindness caused by cataract and similar afflictions which progress slowly to cause vision loss and are potentially blinding if untreated.

All this in a state that stands in stark contrast to the mall-magic of the cities where dispensers spout colas and pooches eat a high-protein diet; in a state where 50 per cent of the people are below poverty line, and illiterate; where there is barely any electricity or hospitals; population is high and poverty and blindness walk hand in hand among a people with monthly income of Rs 1,000. Hence one blind person in a family meant losing a part of his paltry income, and also the expense burden on the existing income.

Manasvi saw that the students were re-reading select sentences, mentally savouring Anaama’s world... a world that was unimaginable.

Manasvi: Anaama used to be an excellent soccer player in school and college. Hence everything in life is seen through the lenses of soccer by this Juventus fan. Taking this to another level of excellence, Anaama began training the girls of Bisner and neighbouring Bavaal, Kipru and Sarni to play soccer. Through the game he has taught them defence, attack, team work and delivering a promise. Importantly, the drive to win.

“It does not end there. The girls live in the hospital dorms, study there, work there, train there. They study for their school or college degrees through a distant learning programme with IGNOU. Those who have completed their 12th are being trained in optometry, and in  English. He wants PerVision to be fully run by women doctors, and with this in view, he will enrol four of the girls in a medical college...”

The students heard in rapt attention, their eyes fixed singlepointedly on the screen where Manasvi had projected pictures of two old women in Bisner who smiled into the camera, a smile that said ‘I can see!’ .

Manasvi: Here is a grand hospital with a grander vision, in a resource-depleted society, with nothing in terms of infrastructure, political support, funding, NRI support... nothing at all; add to this crime and casteism and you have wretchedness. The fallout is seen in nutrition, health, education and crime rate. Do you see any motivators or triggers for power?

Student: For exerting power, not for exuding!

Manasvi: Yet he exudes great power. A softer issue would be respect. Almost nothing is respected here. Everyone depends on destiny. So, children are born aplenty, into a life without nutrition, hygiene, education or jobs; survival is by foul means if push comes to shove. The old are worse off. Add health + disrespect + no electricity + poor vision + no education + no values + consumerism, and you get a recipe for disaster!

Today, PerVision treats more than three-quarters of its patients free with the same quality that a city hospital gives.

No salary, I presume. Nor funds, nor increments, nor multiplexes or Pizza Hut, or Costa Coffee, no highways or flyovers... How does he keep himself driven?

Yet he is driven. But where does he get his sense of power from?

Student A
: French and Raven say that power is relative, ‘that B has to recognise in A a certain something which will motivate B to change, adopt change’. As I see it, the people of Bisner see in him a source of their power.

Manasvi smiled. But she always wondered how much of all this was intellectual callisthenics and how much was internalised realisation.

Student F: How would you classify Bunker Roy of Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan? This school teaches rural people to become solar engineers, dentists, doctors... in their own villages! Once again a one-man drive and initiative to return to people their own power.

: There you go! Essentially, both are finding the power within themselves to empower the powerless... No, no, no! It’s not motivation — that’s for profit seekers or lethargic people. Roy and Anaama use their time and energy to make life more meaningful for others. So the power to spend your life to do all you can to empower the powerless, what kind of power is this?

“The two things for which MBAs such as you, are ready to lay down their lives, success and name, these people also accomplish. The MBA feels comfortable with his cost-to-company (CTC). He spends a great deal of his time building his CTC. What will he do with it? At best, make plans: “I will go to Kilimanjaro...”, “I will go to Budapest...”. You have turned 40, but you are unable to enjoy travel! You come back from work, switch on the TV, and open a bottle of beer.

“My point to you is simple — what is the quality of your mind? How well are you integrated? Examine your life and the shape it is taking. Your career lies bright ahead of you. Do you feel that you should pick up the lesser folk and raise them to your height as well... or, do you feel I must run faster before they catch up with me?

“Between these two lies your power quotient.”

Student: What is the source of this power? The mind? The heart?

Manasvi: You have to find it. Anaama was not born with power, nor did he know the power he has in changing the fate of a whole state!

“None of us are born with express power, but we all have the ability to feel powerful; we just need a trigger. For each person, the trigger is a different thing. Anaama’s trip was to lead the people from powerless to power. He was like any young person — many friends, glittery discos — all the falsity that comes with assumed power, such as ‘I am powerful because I am educated’. Then he ran into an extremely unique moment where he saw this girl child being sold... you read about his mind-altering experience.”
Pin drop silence.

Manasvi: Where do you think Anaama got his power from? The patients whom he has treated and restored sight to, now go out into the interiors and encourage others to undergo surgery... They don’t get paid to do this! Anaama is committed to performing eye surgeries free. He sees before him the possibility of vision for all by 2020. Where does he get the power from?

Student: And Bunker Roy?

Where did Bunker Roy find his key? Manasvi explained...The way people die of starvation is different and disturbing than death due to anything else. Death looks frightening when seen through eyes that seek food. Among such people Bunker Roy started what he called a Barefoot College, a college that redefined professionalism. Roy picked water diviners, midwives, bone setters... and allowed them to celebrate their traditional knowledge. He was going to set a whole village free... He set up schools that have at heart the convenience of the students, not the convenience of the teachers. For these children worked by day — they grazed and tended to sheep, goats and cattle of various kinds. Hence they are available to study only at night. And thus he educated 75,000 children, not in Calculus or Tipu Sultan, but about democracy, their rights and their duties as human beings, about animal illnesses... all that they need to keep Tilonia shipshape.

What did Roy achieve? He used the old and the wasted, and trained them to become productive tigers. He made them into solar engineers and told them to go forth and light up their dark villages... he sent the same people to train villages in Bhutan and Afghanistan, which froze to death in winter... now they have heat and power... as also the power to find their own solutions and be happy.

“Bunker Roy is another example of someone who gave hope to those for whom hopelessness was a way of life. He need not have. Anaama need not have. Nor did the people of Bisner and Tilonia know any better. Then why wake up a sleeping dog? And while the educated elite squabble over who has the swiftest car, Roy bypassed them all and taught the wasted people in society that they held a gold mine within themselves and showed them their potential. He showed the people of Afghanistan, for instance, that they were valuable, more valuable than the drones that killed their people.

Student: His work has shown to people that you can do great work without money, with just the power of thought and will....

Another student:
That in a crisis, you don’t need the World Bank; you need someone who thinks you can do it.

Manasvi: Then why are we not doing it? Why is x% of the world needy, poor, starving, malnourished, illiterate, suffering, unwell, while the remaining (1-x)% people continue to think they are amazing because of all the fantastic things they are doing such as making green coloured soap and blue coloured toothpaste? That being exhausted driving in traffic for two hours is noble even if all you did was invent a more funky packaging for your cold cream, but a lady who walks 4 miles to bring water to her parched family is not?

Why are we studying for an MBA fully knowing that it can either give us the power to fight over a river’s water as ‘mine and not yours’ – as some states are today — or it can reveal to us the power to empower others by helping them realise their inner potential? What use is an education that teaches us that if a river is located in a given state, it belongs to that state, but does not teach us that the water resources in a country belong neither to A nor B nor the host country? That river has just chosen to flow there for the time being! Yet we use tax payers’ money to pay people to use that power to deprive a people of water, the best gift from Nature!
This is arrogation of power... nay, the arrogance of power!


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-02-2013)

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