Innovation is the key



How Social Innovators Can Change The World

Many years after school we remember our teachers with gratitude and affection for their patience in tolerating our brashness — for creating in us the love for subjects such as geography or mathematics or poetry, for criticising and encouraging us. If we consider ourselves a success in life, a lot of the credit goes to them. Even after they retire they continue to enquire after their students and feel proud of their achievements.

Gloria de Souza was such a teacher and would probably have retired in a similar fashion. Except that one day in 1971 she attended a workshop on experiential and environmental education that opened her eyes to new educational possibilities. As she saw it, the education system placed a heavy burden of memorising on the student. It was neither exciting nor related to the world around them. So Gloria, with the help of her team, developed new educational material with a lot of visual content and familiar examples to teach subjects in the school curriculum. The idea was to make learning more enjoyable and to encourage thinking and creativity. She called her new method ‘Environmental Studies’.

When she tried to get her colleagues to try out the new methods, their response was lukewarm. They agreed that there were many advantages but questioned their practicality. The teachers felt that students, and even their parents, would resist any change unless they could be convinced that it would help to score more marks. Gloria was able to convince some schools to adopt the new methods. In 1982 she founded an organisation called Parisar Asha, which in Sanskrit means, “hope for the environment”. In a few years she was able to demonstrate that her Environmental Studies (EVS) approach significantly increased students’ performance.

For over twenty years, Gloria and her team at Parisar Asha have been spreading the Environmental Studies approach to learning all over India. The Government of India has incorporated it as part of the education policy. Lakhs of students in schools, both in urban and rural areas, have been the gainers.

Just as we remember our teachers, we look with respect on those social workers who have dedicated their lives for the betterment of the disabled and underprivileged. In many cases, their good work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Daily they bring hope and care to those in hospitals, slums and other rehabilitation centers without proper facilities and staff.

Jeroo Billimoria is a professional social worker educated in the U.S. A teacher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, she had a dream of helping street children. In 1996 she started Childline, a free phone service for street children. A street child in need of help could ring up 1098 and a Childline worker would attend to him and if required, take him to a shelter or hospital. Initially there was a lot of skepticism whether street children would make use of a phone service. Jeroo and her team made presentations to government and corporates to obtain their cooperation and support. Today Childline operates in more than 70 cities and gets about 2 million phone calls a year. It has been incorporated into the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of the Government of India.

Why do Gloria de Souza and Jeroo Billimoria qualify as innovators in their fields? It is not only because they realised that there was a new and better way. It is primarily because they had the grit and determination to overcome the resistance to change, which new ideas often encounter. In addition, they had the ability to develop and lead a team of committed individuals to implement their innovation over a wide area, to benefit a large number of people. As innovators they developed organisations to ensure that their innovations would continue to grow after them. The achievements of Gloria and Jeroo feature in David Bornstein’s book titled “How to Change the World”, published by Oxford Press.

Ernest Fernandes
Marketing Consultant