Collective action yields results in Kozhikode district

Collective action yields results in Kozhikode district

Kozhikode district administration involves citizens in an altruistic project that is pegged to collective action

Collective action yields results in Kozhikode district

The web page for Compassionate Kozhikode, an altruistic project anchored by the Kozhikode district administration along with civil society, comes with references to mohabbat, being “selfless”, embracing a “culture of sharing” and making Kozhikode a “holistic” destination. These are nice expressions, necessary staples to promote any programme that runs on a citizens’ initiative aimed at positive change.  

Compassionate Kozhikode, however, has a lot more to it than nice words. The programme builds on a simple idea – that we all have an innate goodness – and mobilises citizens to channel this goodness to a host of projects and to address a range of issues, from inadequate hospital infrastructure to hunger to bad roads.

The volunteer-based initiative has the Kozhikode district administration double up as a facilitator, setting up a platform for the citizen contributors to meet, network and plan and finding sponsors for the projects. Sample Project 4N, a road maintenance initiative with public participation. It involves people to identify poorly maintained roads; the administration then finds sponsors and other contributors to initiate minor repair works.

 Operation Sulaimani, a project run in partnership with hotel owners, offers free food for the hungry. Food coupons distributed at over 25 centres are exchanged for meals at more than 100 partner restaurants. Monetary contributions by the public, collected through donation boxes at the partner restaurants, are also deposited in a bank account which is maintained by the Hotels and Restaurants Association.

Kozhikode District Collector N Prasanth who conceived Compassionate Kozhikode says the idea is to ensure a direct exchange between the benefactor and the beneficiary without interventions of publicity-triggered interests. Allocation of  funds is not always backed with effective prioritisation of projects planned with these funds.

Compassionate Kozhikode puts forward a viable alternative here; since its launch about a year ago, the projects have, collectively, put in motion works worth about Rs 2.5 crore. “We’ve also tried to ensure that the interests of sponsors and other contributors remain genuine. This programme is not run on publicity – there are no big event photographs or selfie-mode promotional activities. We are not even trying to build a rigid, institutional structure for the programme,” says Prasanth.

Compassionate Kozhikode has over 1,000 volunteers involved in about 15 projects that include work on welfare homes, library renovation, passenger-friendly transportation and care for the elderly. People from different walks of life, from students to entrepreneur-millionaires to professionals to men from local fishing communities, volunteer for the projects. There are also expatriates who contribute with ideas to expand the scope of the programme. Prasanth says the starting point is an understanding that you can’t expect the government to act as the sole provider and agent of social change.

“Community service is a very popular concept in the West but it has not generated much interest in our country. There’s a need to understand that this is not about charity but our duty. It also makes us better, wiser people; it helps us realise that we are able to drive our cars on the roads probably also because funds allocated for improving, say, hospital amenities were diverted to lay roads,” says Prasanth.

Under a District Collector’s Internship Programme, candidates are also mentored, by IIM-Kozhikode, and trained to work on the projects. Promoters of Compassionate Kozhikode have used the internet and social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to spread the word even as they reiterate what they say on the project website – “No cash, kindness in kind only”. On the website www.compassionatekozhikode.i, volunteers are invited to join positions across sectors – as occupational therapists at mental health centres, plumbers at leprosy hospitals, maids at children’s centres, teachers at girls’ care homes, yoga trainers at old age homes and many more.

Prasanth is a popular presence on Facebook; on his official page that has close to two lakh ‘likes’, the District Collector also shares updates on projects taken up as part of Compassionate Kozhikode. In March, Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin (ITB-Berlin), one of the leading travel trade shows in the world, listed Compassionate Kozhikode as one of the 50 most inspiring global projects.

It has also won the Social Media for Empowerment (SM4E) Award, in the community mobilisation category. The accolades have started to come in but the challenge is in putting together a system which encourages more contributors and volunteers to join in and developing a sustainable working model. Prasanth feels that beyond the institutional sustainability of the programme, there has to be greater focus on the simple idea which started it all – compassion. “I feel that compassion, more than the logistics involved in the projects, has to be sustainable. If this programme manages to inspire others to start similar projects, I would take that; it’s better than restricting ourselves to being a paper-tiger organisation,” he says.

For a government official who works within the rigours of the administrative system, leading an initiative like Compassionate Kozhikode comes with its share of potential issues.

Prasanth says there has been resistance from some corners because the projects didn’t offer the hype and “visibility” normally associated with similar initiatives. “People have also shifted out because of this but that’s okay. We are not exactly looking for benevolence or help extended by people who really want to be seen. The foot-soldiers here are the ones who come in without such interests. We help them meet and work together,” he says.

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