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AIF annual summit in Bay Area

AIF has raised $26 million for its myriad programs and grants, writes Shalini Narang.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2005 14:42 IST

Staggering statistics and numbing numbers about the children in the throes of illiteracy, people affected with HIV/AIDS and the livelihood requirements for the burgeoning workforce in India combined with tales of inception, experiences, challenges and American India Foundation's (AIF) economic and mentoring role in the innovative initiatives for the underserved section of the Indian populace enumerated by about 15 panellists and speakers from the myriad NGOs from various urban and rural parts of India and US comprised the bulk of the AIF Bay Area Summit on Friday, September 23rd at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose.

AIF incepted in 2001 with chapters in several states in US and in New Delhi and Bangalore in India aims to accelerate social and economic development in India by grant giving or/and partnering with various NGO's to promote or better efforts for universal elementary education, especially for children of the migrant workers, women's empowerment and in the management and spread of HIV/AIDS in India. Lata Krishnan, President of AIF says, "Innovation, scalability and sustainability are our three primary criteria for project selection. We help promote models that can be leveraged."

Over $26 million has been raised by the foundation for its myriad programs and grants. After providing seed funding, AIF seeks governmental engagement for project scalability. It is currently working with several state governments including Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and is in communion with Bengal, Gujarat and Orissa to impart knowledge on successful pilots and in providing audit and help for planning and implementation of the initiatives.

Some of the programs run by AIF to generate awareness and grassroots work include Service Corps via which young professionals in US are matched and placed with non-profits in India, the Digital Equalizer program targeted at bridging the digital divide by the provision of computers, internet access and requisite training to students in the under-resourced schools in India and the League of Artisans initiative to sustain livelihoods for underprivileged artisans.

The seminar titled A Dialogue with Change Agents - Implementing the Millennium Development Goals in India was kicked off with a keynote address by Jonathan Schwartz, President and Chief Operating Officer of Sun Micro Systems. He said: "Internet is not just about connectivity but about participation. The social value that the Internet can provide to the people of the world on lines with utilities like electricity and telephone is its evident value. The Technology industry should be tasked with removing the barriers of adoption of technology by everyone in the world via cost reduction of access services and by promoting efforts for environmental sustainability and intellectual property." He emphasised the virtues of open source software and Sun's commitment on that path.

Panels on education, livelihood and health followed the keynote.
The major issues highlighted by the education panellists included poor curriculum quality in government schools causing student drop out and inaccessibility to schools by the children of workers migrating for seasonal work. An audience member queried about the foundation's interest in promoting literacy initiatives in India's northeastern states. An AIF spokesperson answered, "We are ready to invest in those regions but lack the regional NGO partnership."

John Woods of the Room to Read program enumerated his journey from the echelons of the corporate sector to the inception of libraries in various nations of the developing world and Pravin Mahajan heading the Janarth Sakhar Shala working for education to the children of the migrant workers of the sugar industry in Maharastra said: "at Janarth Sakhar Shalas, state curriculum is followed in a full time school pattern to prevent children from dropping out and joining the labour force at 7-8 years of age. In some places, sugar factory owners have begun getting involved in our work and have come forward to provide permanent infrastructural facilities for our schools. Workers in turn also ask contractors for locations with school presence. The challenges are to secure state funding for the program and expansion of the infrastructure and curriculum to higher grades."

The Livelihood panellists elucidated their experiences with microfinance and micro credit programs for livelihood promotion. Scalability of successful solutions was deduced as a necessity in India in light of the exponential growth of the work force.

The panel discussions of the evening concluded with the bold and insightful experiences of the health panellists about their work on HIV/AIDS in India. The experts stressed the need for the active participation of the Indian Diaspora in initiatives aimed at HIV/AIDS management and spread in India.

First Published: Sep 29, 2005 14:42 IST