How to change the world

How to change the world

The role of the social entreprenuer

By Nikhil Mustaffa

…Childline would operate like a franchise, with decentralized management, but with a uniform brand, operating procedures, and standards. It would remain a free, national twenty-four-hour service. The word “Childline” would always be written both in English and translated phonetically into regional languages. (India has eighteen officially recognized languages). The logo and the phone number would remain the same everywhere.

Each city would select organizations based on local needs but conform to a uniform structure: A “nodal” organization, a noted academic institution like TISS, would facilitate operations, training, documentation, and advocacy. “Collaborating” organizations, like YUVA, the shelter where I met Ravi, Samir and Rupesh, would respond directly to calls. “Support” organizations would handle follow ;up, and “resource” organizations would assist with long-term needs.

Each city would have one Childline coordinator. The government would make grants to Childline partners to pay salaries for Childline social workers and team members placed in them. Each organization also would have to raise its own funds for Chidline. Franchisees would receive training and promotional materials, a call-tracking database (in development), and, initially , one year’s funding for out-of-hospital medical assistance to children.

After the structure was defined, the phones were activated and the DOT communicated with pay phone operators across the city. Then, after locals had had two weeks’ experience handling calls, a staffer from the national office came to conduct a ten-day training. Two or three months later, if all went well, the local franchise called a press conference and launched an awareness campaign. The national office monitored franchises closely for several months and, thereafter, through spot checks.

There were always problems. One of the most common was when a local organization claimed full credit for Childline. “In the NGO sector, a lot of people, especially senior people, don’t like partnering,” explains Jeroo. “My biggest task is making everyone feel that they own Childline”>

By the spring of 1999, Childline had launched 1098 in Calcutta and Madras and was preparing to start up in Patna. Groundwork had begun in Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Calicut, Combatatore, Guwahati, Gwalior, Jaipur, Lucknow, Panjim, Pune, Trivandrum and Varanasi. (In one year Jeroo and her colleagues visited nineteen cities).

The ChildNet database system was an unusual computer program: It had been designed for users who were easily distracted and often semiliterate. It guided team members with picture and voice commands in English, Hindi, and regional languages. “Street kids really don’t like to document things,” Meghana Sawant explained. “And even when they do document them, there are often important elements missing.”

The new system, which addressed the problems, proved extraordinarily useful for analyzing call patterns. For example, it enabled Childline to track specific hot points within cities. If a high number of health-related calls were coming from a particular railway station, Childline could advocate for a medical booth to be installed in that station.

As Childline expanded to new cities, the call-tracking system also emerged as an important source of child protection information. National data showed that the biggest killer of street children was tuberculosis, but regional call patterns revealed a variety of local problems. In Jaipur, for example, childline received reports of abuse in the garment and jewelry industries. In Varanasi, there were reports of children being abducted to work in the sari industry. In Delhi, many calls came from middle-class children. In Nagpur, a transit hub, there were frequent reports of children abandoned in train stations. In Goa, a beach resort, a major problem was the sexual abuse of children by foreign tourists.

Despite many high-level pledges of cooperation, Childline found that police, health, and railway officials across India remained largely ignorant about and indifferent to 1098. So Childline designed a series of training workshops, and, in June 2000, in conjunction with the government’s National institute of Social Defense and seventy-eight partner organizations, launched a National Initiative for Child Protection.

The goal was to make police stations, hospitals, schools, and train stations more “child friendly” by educating officials about the law, introducing them to street children, and teaching them about Childline. One of the features of the campaign was the presentation of awards by children to child-friendly police stations and hospitals.

Because empathy begins with understanding, the training began with children explaining to officials what their lives were like. They role-played encounters with police and hospital employees. The interactions were followed by discussions about children’s rights and Indian law.

Despite much fanfare, the government came through with little funding for the National Initiative for Child Protection. As they had done before, Childine’s partners drew on their own resources, conducting more than 700 training programs with officials across the country.

The majority of participants in these programs reported to Childline that, in the future, when they encountered children in distress they would call 1098. Many of them regularly had experiences like that of a policeman in Calcutta who one day came across a young girl wandering naked alone in the streets. The policeman admitted to Childine that, if he hadn’t completed the training course, he might have ignored the p
roblem – not knowing how to help the child and not wanting to take an action that might create significant paperwork for himself. Instead, he simply dialed 1098 and was immediately referred to a shelter with social workers and an educational program. He took the girl there. He even bought her crayons and a coloring book.

By the fall of 2002, Childine had spread to forty-two cities, with preparatory work under way in another twelve. Mature franchises were now directly paired with start-ups to speed training. In addition, preparatory activities had become more sophisticated. “We do much more training with the police, health departments, Department of Telecommunications, and the chair of the Childline Advisory Board,” Jeroo said. “And we don’t launch formally until the service has been in operation for at least six months.”

The network had more than 120 organizations directly implementing the Childline service and over 2,000 providing assistance. By October 2002, Childline had fielded 2.7 million calls. The Ministry of Justice and Social Empowerment had consulted with Childline during the drafting of its most recent Five Year Plan. The government also had incorporated several Childline recommendations in revisions of India’s Juvenile Justice Act and mandated Childline as a lead child protection agency.

In 2001, Jeroo received international recognition for her work from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Later that year she made the decision to step down as Childline’s executive director. She remained on board until May 2002, easing back from her 100-hour workweek and watching how things progressed without her. Some of Childline’s board members felt her decision was premature. But she believed that Childline’s expansion had become a technical challenge and felt her energy could be better applied elsewhere.


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