Sprinting with Technology, Connecting Minds, Connecting Lives

Toshal Gandhi

I landed in Udaipur the evening after a long connecting flight from Pune. I was already added to a whatsapp group a couple of days ago. The group had a bunch of random people, is what I thought in the beginning. How strange, I thought, why would they make a group of random participants of a Sprint. I didn’t even know what a sprint means. I met two girls at the  airport, we shared a cab to the resort where this was being held. With my perpetually curious mind, I kept on asking them questions about what they do, how they use Tech4Dev products. They must have hated me for it, however, they patiently answered all the questions and also started making plans of visiting places in Udaipur. That’s where I felt a connection.

Connection is an ambiguous word, isn’t it? It’s been used abundantly in the technology space, in its literal sense. And then, we use it to define something very ambiguous, very subjective, the human bond. If you ask 10 people about human connection, they will all probably answer differently. But, the sense of warmth, the sense of togetherness might be common. That’s what I felt throughout the two and half days of my time at the Tech4Dev Sprint. 

What I visualised of a sprint before going was a lot like techies running around, daydreaming and cracking the code, almost like in the movies (This is just me living in a fantasy land). It was anything but that. It was the most calm yet productive work event I have ever been to. The conversations throughout the Sprint made an introvert like me find a new comfort zone of being extroverted. Well, that’s something, since this has only happened twice or thrice in the past 30 years of my life. 

Getting to why I was here. I work at Dasra, under the Philanthropy Labs team. As the name suggests, we work on building ideas, ideas that have the potential to create social impact on an ecosystem level in the Indian Development Sector, ideas that accelerate the power of philanthropy. I was in Udaipur to work on another idea, an idea to build capacity for individuals to leverage the power of data in their organisations. I was told to observe, grasp, and let the thoughts brew. That’s like a dream for a thinker personality type like me. 

Through the two days, I learnt about Tech4Dev’s products, I spoke to non-profit leaders and their teams, I spoke with different intermediaries doing phenomenal work in the sector. All the conversations, pushing me a step ahead in my curiosity game. While I was connecting with people, the conversations and sessions were pushing me to connect the dots in my mind. 

Ironic to the purpose of the event being a tech sprint, I had quite a few technology challenges, my laptop stopped working, my phone charging cable broke. While these were  minor hindrances, they didn’t stop me from learning more and more about how technology and data can accelerate the impact nonprofits are making in the Indian Development Sector. I filled my notebook with mind maps. It felt like a fresh start, learning about technology, away from it. 

The first day was an overview of the Glific product, how it is being used by nonprofits. We also got to hear from Agency Fund about their approach to supporting data-based innovations. Concluding the day’s agenda, we visited Aajeevika Bureau’s legal aid centre for informal workers.It was a small room, by the look of it a small call centre. However, this 4-people team caters to about 1500 legal cases a month, with a solving rate of 60%,  for the informal workers group in Rajasthan and India. Even the judicial system will get intimidated by the pace of this. It was phenomenal how the operators dealt with situations, keeping the user-centric lens at all times. 

While the day was formally over, a bunch of people headed to a place called Khamma Gani. As welcoming as the phrase Khamma Gani is, so was the vibe in the team dinner. By the lake, with melting horizons, reflecting blurry lights, we ate delicious Laal Maas and Shammi kebab. 

Day 2 was understanding about the other products of Project Tech4Dev, getting to know other partners, and just brewing thoughts for the rest of the time.The team concluded the day, singing away with the sunset dawning upon the majestic Monsoon Palace. 

When you think of Udaipur, you think of tradition, of palaces, of royalty. This Tech4Dev Sprint redefined the idea of Udaipur for me. This was the first social gathering that did not intimidate me. Given how anxious I get among people, this space let me be, let me think, and let my curious mind do what it’s best at, sit and learn, sit and observe, ponder and reflect.

The Sprint gave me a tiny glimpse of what technology and data, and the power of human minds leveraging it can do to make our country a better place to live in. It amazes me how much people want to do for the benefit of other people. There is a high magnitude of challenges in a country like ours. But, there is also a high amount of talent and endless potential to shift gears, change the narrative and surpass barriers.I came back with a lot of insights, renewed vigour, a charged and inspired mind, to work on many more projects that drive impact, build many such connections that accelerate change.

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