As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, our host organization has been great to work with. Not least of all, because they have allowed us to not only integrate ourselves into the organization’s inner workings but allowed us to independently pursue our own projects. Alex has been working to revamp the assessment systems aimed for students in the program. My primary work can be split into two categories: supplementing LAHI’s feedback system and creating a maintenance competition that would bring to life Benjamin Franklin’s axiom.
So what does all of this mean? Some context may help.
Unlike most non-profits in Pune, LAHI aims to scale its operations. Through broad partnerships, LAHI brings basic technological training to over 55 schools in India. The program is formally called Introduction to Basic Technology (IBT). It is aimed to help 8th to 10th grade students in the fields of Engineering, Electricity & Environment, Agriculture & Animal Husbandry, and Home & Health. With an increasing number of schools signing on to the program, establishing a robust monitoring and communication system is paramount.
As such, I concentrated the first few weeks in my internship creating a feedback system. The goal was to reinforce the communication between partnering school and the organization. Since there was already an objective system in place, I created forms that provided subjective questionnaires for schools and LAHI. It was my observation that most of the feedback originated from LAHI and was geared towards the schools. Therefore, what I designed centered the conversation around the schools’ perspective. I also added a survey for students to speak their mind regarding the program. Overall, the aim was to make communication a reciprocal process.
After much chaha, I moved on to the second part of my internship: the competition.
An emerging problem that LAHI wants to tackle is the condition of the infrastructure of its partnering schools. As my supervisor put it, India has not developed the habit of maintenance. Consequently, my job consisted of designing a competition that incentivized schools to practice routine maintenance. Overall, the effort consists of shifting a school’s practice of corrective maintenance to more preventive maintenance. Why? Preventive practices save more money, produces a healthier school environment and in the long run, requires less effort to sustain.
However, Benjamin Franklin’s advice is less straightforward.
What does maintenance look like in these schools? What could be the structure that would reward certain practices (preventive) over others (additions/corrections)? How can students be involved and motivated? What will be the end goal and how can we measure the impact? How can any of this be sustainable?
These and a hundred more questions needed to be answered. Overall, the difficulties ranged from not knowing what exactly happens on the ground to speculating on what’s feasible. I had to research components of a building’s infrastructure, maintenance practices, past competitions and the conditions of rural schools across India. This was the easy part.
The toughest part was and has been structuring a creative arrangement that is both realistic and effective. I concentrated on this part alone for about two weeks; the sky is the limit. With the four components of the IBT Program, one could arrange this competition to be IBT-focused or inclusive of the rest of the school. There could be many ways of setting benchmarks for the school building maintenance and hundreds of ways of setting up a point system. The creative process is particularly difficult when you are not aware of some important constraints. I was informed of many things along that threw out ideas I had taken hours to solidify.
In the process of designing the competition, I had to learn some valuable skills. First, I learned some of the skills taught in the IBT Program such a gardening, soldering, knitting and preparing cement. As I mentioned in a past blog, such a technical training is invaluable. Designing the competition would have been a futile effort if I did not really understand the possibilities behind these practices. Secondly, I had to get more than just acquainted with Microsoft Excel. Up until this point in my college career, I did not have a real need to master Excel. However, I needed to develop this skill in order to make a useful, point system apparatus. Lastly, I been improving my Photoshop skills. As of late, I have been working on the Marketing component of the competition. This includes developing a brand and more importantly, giving it life.
Alas, as I finish up my work, it is a priceless feeling to know that the pieces of the puzzle are fitting in properly.
Cheers to dedication, friendship and maintenance.