I work in a public sector enterprise (PSE). There are a lot of things which are done differently here as compared to corporates. I can say so with certainty, having worked in one of the Big-4 consulting firm, a start-up and a central university.
More often than not, when people speak of PSEs, the image that comes in mind is that of old buildings, dusty heaps of files, and laid back attitude. Sure, the image is changing but the pace of change is definitely slower as compared to reality. And what ‘outsiders’ do not know about are some of the wonderful initiatives which are a part of the work culture of PSEs. The emphasis on sports, a strict hierarchical structure which sometimes may feel like a pain but is absolutely required considering the 3,00,000+ workforce and the public money at stake, and their social initiatives. The devil’s advocate may say it is all part of their corporate social responsibility agenda, but at the end of the day, these PSEs have the manpower, money and other resources required to make a difference and an impact.
I am lucky to be a part of few such initiatives and the one that prompted me to write this post is the WIPS teaching assignment. Before I start with the initiative, let me talk a little about WIPS (“Women in Public Sector”). WIPS is a compact and strong group, at least in my organization, and exercises a fair amount of directive and credibility in its work. There have been sessions on women health, maternity leave equality for executives and non-executives, the need for clean and separate accessible separate restrooms (you would be surprised to find out that due to the lack of women in public services in the days of past, there never was felt a need to make restrooms available to them), training programs on the importance of team work, leadership, change management and so on.
Now moving on to the teaching assignment, the latest meeting that I attended had “teaching underprivileged children” as a part of the agenda. It had me interested. When I reached the venue, a small school in the colony, about 15-18 members were already present. At 3:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon, these ladies were in the school compound, taking out time from THE two days that they have available to finish whatever household tasks require their attention throughout the week. There were 31 children, age 4-16, in the compound, all sitting in neatly formed rows with the help of WIPS volunteers. They were asked to come on the stage one by one, say their name, age, if they attend any school, the class they were studying in if the answer to the previous question was affirmative and then do something – anything they wish, recite a rhyme, alphabets, counting, whatever they knew. In return, they were given a folder, a notebook, a pencil box with a pencil, eraser and a sharpener. Once this was completed for all the children, and the details recorded by one of us, the children were divided in three groups, broadly based on their age and learning abilities and requirement. These children would now be taught in groups every weekend by four – five of the volunteers.
I was deeply saddened to see kids unaware of hygiene, happily sitting barefoot and excusing themselves to urinate in the corner meant to be a toilet without putting their shoes/ sandals/ chappals on. What broke my heart was a number of girls coming up on the stage and accepting that they did not go to school because they had household work to do. There was a sixteen year old who had never been to school – ever. And what ran in my mind was the stark contrast – of that girl – running errands, working, cleaning, cooking – on one hand – and myself – complaining that I never got to do my PhD – on the other. It’s not like I do not know of the dire poverty widespread in my country, but coming face to face with it at such close quarters is a different matter entirely. The fact that I live in a state with a significant tribal population adds to these contrasts at a number of occasions. I look at the local girls, stick thin, and I envy them for their ‘size zero’ figure, totally oblivious to the fact that they are how they are more out of circumstances than choice.
Ah… enough digression from the topic. So, WIPS has decided to teach these 31 children. They were provided school bags courtesy the HRD Department through their CSR program funding. These bags were provided three weeks post the first meeting and within the three weeks you could see a difference. The children said “Thank You” without being told to do so. They sang – “Hum honge kamyaab” and they looked better. WIPS also asked for volunteers to support the education of about 10-12 children who were unable to bear school expenses. The amount is close to Rs. 2200 (35 USD) for an entire year, something that we spend on a weekend outing.
Sure we had a lot of community initiatives in my previous organization, but nowhere did I get involved at such a personal level and though it could have been because of a lack of trying, I believe that working in a PSE provided me this opportunity relatively easily. There are a number of other things that are done differently here but I guess they will be for a different post.