New Grass on Old Turf

Vikas Goswami, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Microsoft India

Helping people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential” is not just a tag line at Microsoft; it is our way of life, work and fun. For the last five years it has been incorporated into my DNA. I see opportunities nay seek opportunities to help people and NGOs reach their full potential via the various technology and program options we offer. Sometimes the path is longer than we expect, more like a rural hilly village road in India but with tenacity and dedication from all involved great things can be accomplished.

One such journey is the partnership between Grameen Sanchar Society (GRASSO) and Microsoft which began in early 2006. GRASSO is one of our community partner organizations in India and was awarded an Unlimited Potential (UP)Community Technology Skills Program (CTSP) grant to set up 180 community technology centres to provide training in provinces across India. The partnership was created as various state governments in India were rolling out Mission 2007 with the intent of establishing more than 100,000 common service centers across India. The GRASSO program was supported by the West Bengal State government initiative and Microsoft. Our mid-term appraisal and field visit in 2007 showed that while the pace was slow, the project was well on track to meet its targets.

However, as can sometimes happen the project began to stall after the initial stage of implementation. During one field visit, we found many of the centres had shut down and at other locations, there was limited staff, so even the operational centres could only offer limited training, if any. It became very clear that GRASSO was struggling. They were waiting on additional funding from other sources. Morale was low and although we were committed, the reality was the project was unable to move forward and we felt there was no alternative but to regretfully end our active engagement with GRASSO in early 2009. 

But that is not where the story ends. One of the values we look for in our community partners is their commitment, and clearly the GRASSO team was not short of that. In mid-2009 with a new senior management in place, GRASSO approached Microsoft to re-build the relationship. Although we were cautious based on program’s lack of progress, we saw that the new team had genuine enthusiasm and were committed to getting the program going.

We took the decision to work closely together providing programmatic guidance, IT certifications and curriculum support for community credibility. It was a watershed moment when new centers became operational and new beneficiaries walked in to get trained. We spent a lot of time discussing how to run centers more effectively and efficiently, how to create collaborations with other stakeholders and create partnership frameworks for successful centers which were sustainable over time. During this process our partnership evolved - from a funder to a true partner. In early 2010 to further strengthen the GRASSO team we invited them for an NGO connection day. These NGO Connection Days are Microsoft hosted events where we bring NGOs together to share best practices and discover new technologies. The event provided them with a great opportunity of cross learning and best practice sharing from our other Microsoft Unlimited Potential CTSP grantees and networking with other partners of Microsoft in this space.

The partnership, investment and perseverance by Microsoft and GRASSO has led to a transformation of the program. Today there are 122 operational centers that have trained more than 51,000 people, and the program is improving day by day. According to Mr. Sanjib Sanjib Das Chaudhuri of GRASSO “Microsoft's continuous cooperation and support helped us in making this turn around happen."

So was the journey worth the effort?

Yes very much so. I still remember visiting village after village with the GRASSO team meeting people who asked if we could re-open the centers as their youth needed them so much. I would quietly say I would try. Today I feel happy to have tried and succeeded to get the centers up and running again by working closely with our partners. This was no small feat accomplished by the GRASSO team.

There are no simple answers to addressing community development. It requires passion, expertise, partnership, investment and perseverance. GRASSO is a great example of what can be achieved.

Vikas Goswami, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Microsoft India



Vikas has been working in the development sector for 20 years of which last 10 have been in the field of corporate social responsibility. The last five have been with Microsoft in India as Director CSR. She has been a CSR advisor to various corporate and civil society organizations in India. She has been involved with designing, implementing and evaluating strategies and programs covered under the remit of CSR. Prior to Microsoft she was working with The Business and Community Foundation, Global Alliance for Workers and Communities and DFID (British Government Development Agency). She likes to train and lecture on CSR issues to both development sector and corporate sector organizations. Vikas has PhD in Anthropology from Delhi University and an M.Sc in Development Management from University of Wales.

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