I think that most voluntary organisations develop as we have here at the Latika Roy Foundation.
A few friends come together to address an urgent problem – in our case, Moy Moy needed a school to go to and we couldn’t find what we wanted in Dehradun. No one was thinking about creating an institution. Leave rules and salary scales never entered our minds.
What we needed was a school for Moy Moy. We were looking for people who shared our passion and our sense of urgency. We wanted the sky: people with skill and commitment and a genuine desire to make a lasting change.
And we got them. In those early days, we were so small that everyone did everything: I jumped into the van if Girdhari didn’t show up. Paula scrubbed toilets if Sat Pal was sick. Manju did the physio from a book because we didn’t have a therapist on staff. We knew every child by name and where they lived and what their parents did for a living.
Our own devotion attracted staff who found our zeal a match for what they had in mind for their own lives; it attracted donors looking for a good place to invest their money; it attracted parents who wanted to send their children to a school which cared so deeply about its work.
From two kids on opening day, we hurtled relentlessly onward. 15. 27. 36. 59. 200+.
Soon, in spite of ourselves, we were an institution. And like it or not, leave rules, salary scales, job descriptions and performance appraisals suddenly became a necessity. If Girdhariji called in sick, I was now too busy with proposals and donor reports to hop into the van and pick the kids up myself. Paula had appointments with two teachers and four parents when Sat Pal needed the day off. She couldn’t clean the toilets in his place.
There was no way around it. We needed systems.
Slowly and painfully, we began to put them in place. Letters of appointment. Salaries that had some grounding in reality, not just my whim on making the decision to hire. Performance reviews. Budgets. Clear channels of communication. Audits. Targets. Monitoring.
But as many systems as we developed, our heart really wasn’t in them. They seemed like an imposition, a concession, a capitulation. To say nothing of a little insulting. What do you mean we have to sign an attendance register? Apply for leave? Develop a work plan? Check on whether anything we are doing is actually having an impact? PLEASE.
So we would create systems, follow the new rules half-heartedly for a few days or weeks and then happily revert to our old ways.
Because really, the old ways were so much better. They were built on trust and respect and genuine commitment – not some corporate management psycho-babble.
Except for one thing: year after year, the same exact problems kept coming up. Why is she being paid more than me when we both do the same work? I still don’t know exactly what my job description is. I never got a letter of appointment – am I still on probation? Am I doing my job well? I’m not quite sure what’s expected of me.
It reminded me of something.
When Anand was a baby, I was a big fan of breastfeeding.
Well, who isn’t?
Turns out, Anand wasn’t. I mean, he loved it until he was about six months old. But after that, it wasn’t quite enough. He was too big to survive on just milk. He needed more. And since solid food wasn’t on the menu (“What could be better than breast milk???”), he started whinging. A happy little boy turned into a whiny fellow simply because his mother couldn’t read the writing on the wall: growing babies need more than milk.
The Latika Roy Foundation has a staff of over 100 people. Our annual budget is well over a crore. We’ve won awards. The government asks our advice. Yet we’ve been acting as if we were still that tiny little organization we started out as – an infant NGO which could grow and thrive on nothing more than breast milk.
While the baby keeps on crying.
Last week, we began the slow process of growing up, realizing that we are NOT infants any longer, that we need solid food – and stronger, more coherent systems if we are to continue to flourish.
Our friend and advisor, Vibha Krishnamurthy, whose organization Ummeed experienced identical challenges, spent three days here recently (along with her mentor, Bob Scheelen), helping us to look at our current way of functioning and the systems we need to put in place to improve the way we work.
It was fun, and it was humbling. The systems we need are so many. How did we not see this coming? Yet how can we not welcome what we need so much?
We are welcoming it. Better late than never. This baby deserves our best. We don’t want him to stay hungry, we don’t want to hear him cry. Willy nilly, we are going to feed him and make him strong.