By Suparna Diwakar
Bhanumati is in a meeting with the head master of a school in Hassan district, Karnataka. He shares his experience of several years – the attendance of parents in Parent-Teacher Meetings (PTMs) has been very disappointing. “They are just not interested, madam! They do not pay any attention to their children. And they are illiterate so they do not understand what is going on in the school.”
Bhanumati suggests that it might be good to call the local Agriculture Extension Officer and discuss the procurement price of that season’s potato crop. “But madam, how can we call the Agriculture Extension Officer to our school? They have nothing to do with the school,” the head master replied. “Let us meet the Agriculture Extension Officer and see what he says. After that let us think about how we can get the parents to come,” Bhanumati replied. And so it came about that the Agriculture Extension Officer came to the school on the village market day and met with the parents. The classroom was overflowing and there were six to seven people sitting at each desk!
After the discussion with the Agriculture Extension Officer around procurement prices, availability of fertilisers etc, Bhanumati began to talk to the parents about their children’s learning and how they could get involved. The conversation led to many ways in which parents felt that they could get involved in their children’s learning. Thus, a new chapter in the relationship between the school and the parents began.
In a typical organisation, most management processes tend to be broken down into tasks that are controlled and monitored by the ‘higher-ups’. Command and control are necessary in organisations that manufacture goods to meet customer requirements, and to increase profits. This means that the optimal way of doing something is generally already figured out and merely needs to be followed for best result. Then, the role of employees in such organizations is to follow these processes, which led to a myopic vision of their role.
This paradigm creates problems in the social sector. How can the agency of an individual be brought to bear so little that they are unable to identify and define problems, and solve them in the context?
There are many problems in the social sector that do not have predetermined solutions. There is a need for people on the ground to be creative, to have a deeper understanding of the context, and have a sense of purpose and authenticity in their work, to be able to respond to issues on the. They also need to be able to see their work as contributing to the larger picture.
Bhanumati understood the needs of the community, and leveraged that understanding to meet those needs while also creating a space for parents and teachers to begin a conversation. In a system that expects the ‘functionaries’ to follow rules and do what they are told, this type of creative response would not be possible. There is a need, therefore, to create a system that fosters creativity and appropriate responses to complexities and needs. Development management needs to think about the structures and processes that can foster this.
The author is one of the founders of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM)