Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fighting Poverty through Rugby. In India?

Not long ago I wrote the foreword for a book called Jugaad Innovation. It’s about doing more with less. Being flexible and frugal. Challenging the conventional top-down approach to innovation and championing breakthroughs through simplicity. Recently one of its co-authors Dr Simone Ahuja shared a story that I couldn’t let pass.

Simone has strong media creds and recently spent time in India researching and co-producing a segment about social entrepreneurship for a PBS NewsHour television series “Agents for Change.” She knows of my passion for rugby and it was actually rugby that first alerted her to this story. In 2008 an under-14 rugby team from the remote tribal regions of India travelled to London to play in the International School Rugby Tournament. Getting there was an achievement in itself. More extraordinary, they defeated the South African team in the final by 19-5.

Simone learnt this team came from the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) in eastern Orissa. She quickly realized just how special this school is. They embody exactly what she has been speaking and writing about. Achieving huge change with few resources and ingenuity. Orissa is a region where the Government has barely any reach. Its tribal population, gravely oppressed, has been living in the forests for generations. They were effectively cut off from civilization, knowing next to nothing about the outside world.

KISS started as a residential school in 1993 with 125 tribal children as students. It’s an initiative of Dr. Achyutananda Samanta to transform the face of tribal India using tools of knowledge and training. Today KISS is now a phenomenon, providing free education to 20,000 children from 62 tribes.

It is also committed to sport. And no one would have imagined that the hands-down most popular sport in a tribal Indian school would be rugby. These young players (including girls) are freakishly talented and athletic, considering they were only introduced to the game this decade. And rugby has opened up the world to them, literally. They’ve travelled to England and Australia and met players from all over the globe. Rugby has changed their perspective on life. It’s inspired them to believe in achieving the seemingly impossible. As one of the players points out, rugby has taught him to be disciplined and to stand tall. He has learned to never think of himself as inferior to anyone else.

To break out of the poverty cycle, youth, wherever they are, need to be given the opportunity to realize their potential. KISS is winning on this front. Simone tells me she plans to produce a documentary on the power of social entrepreneurship, and that of rugby to build physical and emotional strength and provide a path out of poverty for these youngsters. I can’t wait to see it.


soumik parida said...

Thanks for this inspirational blog. Just like music has no language, sports also has no boundaries and these children have proved that with right kind of motivation and training, any team can become world champions.

Mark Engelstad said...

I read this book -- Jugaad Innovation -- I'd like to see how some of this style of innovation can be worked into rugby at tribal Indian school!

John 'Max' Maxwell said...

Great post Kevin. My name is Max and I run RuckinRugbuy.com. Have you heard of the Jungle Crows RFC, the Khelo rugby programme or the Tag Rugby Trust - if you love your rugby then you would love these guys. I spent a couple of weeks at the KISS in 2008 with the Tag Rugby Trust and met the Jungle Crows in Kolkata - a fantastic club doing fantastic things with their 'Khelo Rugby' programme in the slums. Drop me a line if you want to know more.

John 'Max' Maxwell said...

Great post Kevin - spotted it via @SimoneAhuja on Twitter. I spent a couple of weeks in the KISS on a coaching tour with the Tag Rugby Trust - have you heard of them? I think you'd love their work - I also met the Jungle Crows RFC in Kolkata during that tour, a phenomenal club doing great things in the slums of India through their 'Khelo Rugby' development programme. My name is Max and I run RuckinRugby.com - drop me a line if you'd like to find out more or go direct and tell them I said hi. Yours in rugby, - Max.

Paul said...

Great stuff! I organised the 2007 kids who were the KISS Jungle Crows and beat the Langa Lions from South Africa in the final. It really has inspired so many folk. We were all re-united just last week as 10 of the 12 boys who went to London were in Calcutta training for the India U19 team. Take a look at this story which I think says a lot: http://www.livemint.com/Companies/aARr5rmXXIOTjO45UMDtfO/Looking-Glass--What-the-disadvantaged-need-is-an-opportunit.html


Paul said...

Wow, by the way loving all the rugby posts after following the tag.

Brian Wolf said...

Kevin, thanks for this great blog post. I work for Play Rugby USA, the rugby based youth development NGO in New York City, and formerly was Director of Rugby at KISS school in Orissa in 2009-2010. Rugby there achieves so much in so many different ways: empowerment of girls, empowerment of marginalized children, exposing the children to global spheres of sport and culture... I am intrigued by the connection you (and Ms. Ahuja) between this story and modern economics. I'll look forward to reading "Jugaad Innovation".
Brian Wolf

jkhamb said...

Wow... another example that bottoms up revolution (whether in innovation space or in social justice) is more effective than any program that comes from the top (especially governments). Just like the IT revolution of India did not come from above, this article shows how small institutes in India will make a big impact with their vision and actions.