December 1st, 1984 is when it all began for SVYM. Time indeed flies and it is already 28 years since our birth. It is hard to believe that so much has been done in these 28 years. As I sat on the dais for our 29th Foundation Day celebration at Kenchanahalli, I was recollecting all the memorable events and the not so memorable ones too.
It was indeed a coincidence that Prof Jagadish, a renowned structural & civil engineer and academic visited our Mysore center on Nov 30th. I had first met Prof Jagadish in 1988 at his office in ASTRA (Application of Science & Technology for Rural Areas) in the Indian Institute of Science campus. He was also the head of Department of Civil Engineering there. We were finalizing the blueprint for our Kenchanahalli hospital and I had gone to consult him on whether we could use stabilized mud blocks (also known as soil-cement blocks) for the building. ASTRA was a forerunner in developing this technology and had begun popularizing it. I was hoping that he would be able to not only give us the technology but also some financial support to use these bricks in our hospital. I found Prof Jagadish very hospitable and supportive. He was happy to know that we had heard of these blocks in the rural hinterland of Mysore. But he was skeptical of a small NGO being able to use and disseminate this technology in such rural conditions. His experience with another NGO in BR Hills area was not so good. The house that this NGO had built had collapsed in the rains and Prof Jagadish was worried that improper implementation could result in people losing faith in the technology itself. I was crestfallen and realized that we could not undertake the construction of the hospital with a new technology without the support of people like Prof Jagadish who had developed it. Today the hospital stands as a mute spectator of this missed opportunity. We had to fall back on the time-tested conventional cement and brick structure.
I was now meeting Prof Jagadish after 24 years and he had come to see our upcoming building at Mysore. One of his former students, Prof Raghunath who is another renowned structural engineer has designed the structural part of the building. We are using path-breaking techniques that are low-cost, qualitatively superior and very innovative in comparison to the conventional methods. Our building has become a tourist spot for budding civil and structural engineers, architects and experienced professionals. Everyone wants to know how we have used cement and steel in such a minimalist fashion without compromising on either quality or strength. Prof Jagadish wanted to see how his protégé had done so and was visiting to validate whether our building would stand upto scientific scrutiny. What he said was what I would remember for a long time. He mentioned that he was wrong in underestimating SVYM, which he now found to be a remarkable organization. He wanted to make a case study of our commitment to bringing such people-oriented technology to the community at the grassroot level. He said that he had not imagined that we would not only be using these low-cost technologies in our development interventions but also disseminating it to the people who needed it. He said NGOs like SVYM are the way forward for ushering in a new development paradigm in India.
As I sat thinking about all this at Kenchanahalli, I understood how SVYM has not just taken such technologies to rural areas but has constantly striven to live up to the values and standards that we have prescribed for ourselves. To me SVYM was an Idea when it all began. I feel that it has become an ‘Idea’ again today, and not the ‘Institution’ or ‘Organization’ that all of us describe it as. Let me clarify a bit further. Philip Selznick, one of the world’s leading Organization Behaviour experts distinguishes Institutions from Organizations in his classic monograph ‘Leadership in Administration’. In his view, the term ‘Organization’ suggests certain bareness, a lean, no-nonsense system of consciously coordinated activities. It terms to an expendable tool, a rational instrument engineered to do a job. An ‘Institution’ on the other hand, is a natural product of social needs and pressures – a responsive, adaptive organism. This distinction is a matter of analysis, not of direct description. From my point of view, SVYM started of as an idea – an idea to bring in youth inspired by an ideal of coming together in the pursuit of National Service. Pressures of responding to community needs and our assessment of them made SVYM into an Institution. Growth and the pressures of managing this Institution demanded a formal system of rules and objectives. We had to delineate tasks, powers and procedures according to officially approved patterns, and without realizing SVYM the ‘Institution’ now become a large ‘Organization’. The last couple of years have seen this Organization going thru a lot of internal & external challenges. The recent events in our Bangalore office has demonstrated to us the superiority of the ‘IDEA’ being stronger than a mere ‘Organization’ held together by manuals and guides. This is now leading us full-circle back to expanding SVYM not merely by the number of projects that we run or the people that work with us or the communities that we serve. SVYM is surely an IDEA whose time has come. We are a force held together by the spirit and message of Vivekananda. We are a group of highly committed professionals bound together by the common goal of personal spiritual upliftment through selfless service to people around us. We are today a platform wherein young people have come together to express their energies to build a better Nation, a better place for Humanity itself. Mere boundaries – whether geographical or ideological – can limit this expression. What we are is the sum total of this desire to make a difference in the world that we live in. And that is what makes us special and distinctive. And that is what justifies our existence and makes us more relevant today that we were 28 years ago.