May 11, 2007

SOFTEN: Infosys staffers' initiative

IT professional S L Manjunath e-mailed the other day asking if I could help him identify some localities of the poor who might need the used clothes his friends on the Mysore Infosys campus had collected. First, I thought it was rather naïve of my young friend to have come up such request. Because, the poor are found everywhere in our country. I thought all that Mr Manjunath and his friends needed to do was step out of their swanky campus to look out for them.

On reflection I sensed their problem. Not all poor people need be needy for the kind of clothes Mr Manjunath and friends wish to distribute – old jeans, branded shirts, skirt and tops, and salwaar-kameez. Handing them out at random to alms-seekers in front of temples may not be a good idea. I have seen well-to-do devotees doling out their used clothes to the poor lined up in front of Raghavendra temple on Thursdays. In most cases the takers are not the end-users. And the discarded clothes find their way to the neighborhood flea market.

Mysore Infosys is an exclusive township, housing some 4,500 company trainees, who come from all over India and abroad for a 16-week training course. Many of them, given to an upscale lifestyle, often discard clothes and things they sparsely use. Manjunath and a group of his campus residents hit upon the idea of reaching out to the needy with clothes they collect on the campus.

They formed a Social Forum to Enable the Needy (SOFTEN), initially to help the economically disadvantaged children in Mysore’s corporation schools to acquire soft-skills such as proper communicating and analytical abilities and improvement of language skills, notably, English. During the current school vacation SOFTEN plans to run a ‘soft-skills’ course for the benefit of deserving Class X students from some local corporation schools.

Presumably, the idea for collection and distribution of used clothes is a SOFTEN spin-off. In advanced countries they have Salvation Army and thrift shops through which the collected clothes are distributed. Collection of clothes and other useful items from those on Infosys campus would be easy, given the initiative of spirited township residents such as Munjunath. The problem is in evolving an effective distribution system.

If an operating system with a clothes collection centre on the campus, and distribution outlets in the city, can be put in place in Mysore, it could serve as a working model for Infosys and other IT corporate townships elsewhere in the country. Orphanages and old age people homes would be natural outlets for consumer useables. Public-spirited individuals and institutions that can spare show-room space and a couple of volunteers could come forward to set up used-clothes outlets, run by volunteers.

NGOs such as Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), Rotary and Lions Clubs, Institution of Engineers (which routinely rents out space for sales of books, garments, handicraft and other consumer items) can designate space for SOFTEN’s distribution outlet, where the poor and the needy could go to pick up the clothes they need.

It has been my observation that NRIs, notably young professionals, are given to discarding clothes, shoes and other serviceable consumer items as they go out of fashion, or when new styles and models are in the market. It would help if each NRI were to set aside five kg (out of their total baggage allowance of 60 plus kg) for bringing their used clothes on their every trip to India. The parcels of clothes they bring in could be deposited in drop-boxes set up at airports, to be picked up by the NGO coordinating distribution among the needy.

Crossfiled in zine5 and Desicritics.


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic and blog. Glad to see Infoscions go above-and-beyond to be socially responsible.

Anonymous said...

The Infosys employees can do one better if each employee adopts a poor family in Mysore. Mere donation of used or even new clothes to a hungry family has at best very minimal impact. As large companies do in Western countries, it can work actively with a number of primary and secondary schools by funding their programmes and taking stake-holding interest in their curricular activities.

Infosys can do much more like i)employing poor unskilled Mysoreans ( I understand that it has a very few Mysoreans at all layers of the company) ii)setting up an organisation that provdes a way forward (though education, training etc..)to lift the poor from their poverty trap iii) ensuring that its employees do not drive up price of lands by speculative buying which directly affects the poor in many ways iv)protecting the eco system whose unbalalnce affects the poor most.

Anonymous said...

Instead of donating used clothes to the poor which does not put 'rottis' in their plates, and which appears as a mere gesture, I suggest the following:

1.Each Infosys employee 'adopts a poor family' in Mysore and help them to plan their present and future with active assistance with funds

2.The employees should urge infosys, the company. to collaborate with a cluster of primary and secondary schools actively to improve their curricular activities. Tthis is done in many countries in Europe.

3.Infosys , the company, should give priority to workers from poor families in Mysore during recruitment drives.

4. Infosys, the company should strongly advise its rich employees to restrict their land-buying activities in Mysore so that this process does not deprive poor families their livelihood.

The above are some practical steps that should taken if Info sys employees really care for Mysore's poor.