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.