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Service and Breaking Down Barriers


A couple of weeks ago, as part of a selection panel for an international fellowship, I had the interesting opportunity to judge two  projects that aimed to use service to bring together different communities.  One was bringing people together across ethnic and religious lines, and the other across sexuality (I have withheld the names of the projects).  It was interesting to examine the service models put forth by these bright and dynamic leaders, but left me asking the question - can serving alongside someone really help to break down barriers in society?


On an anecdotal level, service can be a great leveler in a society.  People from all backgrounds can work together to create positive change, and for a moment share the feeling of what it would be like if we could work across divides to accomplish common societal goals.


I have been a part of numerous service projects but have not really seen the outcome of building bridges emerge from them.  I have seen deep and meaningful relationships formed, but usually they do not cut across societal boundaries.

It would be interesting to see if groups like the Peace Corps, City Year, and Teach for America, that all have diversity goals in their recruitment and their vision, actually see long-term effects of social networks developing across social and economic lines.  Are there explicit ways that service programs can build such networks so that the experience of working together becomes a lasting relationship that models diverse groups coming together.


For a group like SevaYatra this is a particularly critical question, because we have such a short window with participants in our service events to create a connection between the volunteer and the community.  With our goal being to inspire a lifetime of service, how do we create a high-impact event that not only develops real results for the community, but also lays the foundation for a continued relationship?


As we measure outcomes of our service, we need to look at different models to see whether anyone incorporates any such measures related to breaking down barriers, and if so, look at how to adapt them for the SevaYatra context.  Any suggestions would be welcome.


Azad Oommen

Harnessing crowd sourcing for social change

Charles Best, founder and CEO of in a recent blog discusses Crowd sourcing. According to him, “the global economic recession is an opportunity to fuel social change. While financial instinct says
Philanthropy will suffer in times of economic distress, there's evidence that the challenges we face are no match for collective action. I don't think the road ahead is smooth. But we can't underestimate the power of "ordinary" individuals in this age of connectedness.”
He draws an interesting parallel with a nest of honeybees, where each insect makes a small but vital contribution. The result is greater than the sum of its parts. A large colony will produce far more honey than two colonies half the size of the larger one. Efficiency clearly goes up as the colony gets bigger – economies of scale in action.
“People can achieve similar triumphs. One of the most promising models is "crowd sourcing," through which an organization generates content, or gets work performed, by tapping the knowledge and creativity of members of the public. As with a nest of honeybees, each participant contributes a small piece of a greater whole.” Crowd sourcing is clearly a powerful tool for a traditional business and also the business of philanthropy.
I started looking at our own social business, SevaYatra
With 800 million people in India living on less than $2 a day, there are immense social and economic challenges facing the country. Solving these problems requires the efforts of all individuals and institutions that have an interest in India. Figuring out how to help can be challenging.
SevaYatra helps institutions and individuals understand how to effectively invest philanthropic resources in India. We also create high-impact and educational service opportunities within India’s social sector for professionals, students, families and tourists.
We had not internally started calling it crowd sourcing however, what we do definitely falls under this definition. By working with many disparate groups we hope to harness the inherent desire in people to do good and channel that desire by providing easily accessible avenues and platforms to effect mass social change – it can be done one person or university or company at a time – but collectively and working in unison and in a structured fashion it has the ability to create an amazingly powerful outcome.
What will it take however to get people over the fence, from simply thinking about doing good to actually doing it. Every person has a different driver or motive and its best to appreciate and respect these drivers. As we have defined our model over the past year or so, we have worked to develop programs and services that will help us cater to such disparate groups but at the same time not being all things to all people. Channeling the energy in the right direction is where we come in. We have embarked on a very unique journey ourselves and we are looking forward to sourcing the crowds to create some real measurable results. Hope you will join us….
Sejal Desai 


I keep hearing a lot of buzz about “authenticity”… For example, my friend’s thesis in marketing involved a survey entirely dedicated to understanding how authenticity is perceived by consumers. The keynote speaker at a recent conference discussed how the modern economy has moved from producing “things” to producing “experiences” and that “authenticity” is a key component of constructing these experiences- ironic, isn’t it?
The perception that consumers are looking for “authenticity” is a theme that has not escaped the travel industry. I have had a number of conversations with travel organizations and travelers who are talking about the desire to “travel with a purpose”. They are expressing the opinion that people not only want an authentic travel experience, but they also want to do something meaningful with their leisure time- such as volunteering.
I find these discussions quite encouraging and, at the same time, a bit puzzling. At one level, it seems clear that combining travel and volunteering creates a deeply satisfying experience that people would want to participate in. Instead of going on a cruise or visiting an amusement park to relax and reenergize, directly contributing toward social good though volunteering and interacting with people different from one’s self also provides a stimulating, rejuvenating experience. Yet, I’m curious about why this desire for “authenticity”, “meaning”, and “purpose” is emerging in a more large-scale way at this point in time.  What are the sociological factors that are encouraging a movement toward “authentic” and “meaningful” experiences?
Why now?  

Joy Mischley