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SAPP Blog Forum: Q&A with Alan Broadbent of Maytree

April 21, 2011

Alan Broadbent is Chairman of The Maytree Foundation and Chairman and CEO of the Avana Capital Corporation.  Maytree is a private foundation in Toronto, Canada that promotes equity and prosperity through leadership building.  In 2010, Alan participated in the Maytree-led “Social Change Tour of India”:

The Social Change Tour of India will enable Canadians to experience first hand the creativity and ingenuity of [India’s] social entrepreneurs and social activists… It will expose them to problems and solutions being implemented in both urban and rural India. It will renew and regenerate their leadership, their ideas and their perspectives by pulling them out of the relative safety of their own environment and placing them in a context that demands greater creativity and innovation… It will provide them with a new lens on the connection between the practical provision of goods and services and the collateral outcomes of social cohesion and community well being.

The Indo-Canadian Report featured the trip at the time here.  We are delighted to have Alan with us to answer a few questions about his experience on the “Social Change Tour”. 

SAPP:  Tell me a little bit about the motivation behind the Social Change Tour – was there a personal story that inspired the trip? 

Alan:  We wanted to visit effective community actors in India to understand how they were engaged in their communities, what was working, and what lessons might be applicable to our work in communities in Canada.

Who was the most inspiring social entrepreneur that you met on the Tour? 

There were a number of them:  the couple who ran GOONJ – Anshu Gupta and Meenakshi Gupta; the young people at Manzil; the Kuhad Trust; Basix; and the supply network of FabIndia 

For our readers, there’s a little bit more about each of the organizations you just mentioned at the end of this interview.  Traveling to so many sites with so many people must have raised a few issues – what was the most challenging experience for the members of the group?

The challenges were travel from site to site, which took a long time, and adjusting our digestive systems. Seeing people living in conditions of poverty, at least by Canadian standards, is challenging, but we were all inspired by the Indian people’s ability to make a real life for themselves and their families, no matter how much effort and courage it requires. And we were inspired by the commitment to the public good demonstrated by the social change agents we visited.

What have the members of the Social Change Tour done since their return from India to share their experiences with fellow Canadians?

We have done several sessions with colleagues to talk about what we saw and learned. Many of us have incorporated elements of those lessons in our work. In Maytree’s case, we have come to understand that the fact of community engagement is often as important as the content, so trying to invent the perfect community project is less important than getting something going and letting members of the community figure out how to adapt and improve it.

What do you think should be the focus of Indo-Canadian philanthropy? In other words, should they support social entrepreneurship or more traditional causes or something in-between? Should they focus their resources here in Canada or back in their homelands?

Philanthropy is usually very personal. The most important thing for a philanthropist to remember is that the needs of the community are more important than the needs of the donor, and that whatever is being funded must respond to the authentic needs of the community in question, whether here or in India, and that that authentic voice must come from the community itself, not from the donor.

Many thanks, Alan!  It was wonderful to hear about this important trip from your personal perspective.  This is the first of a two-part series on Maytree initiatives.  Stay tuned for another Q&A feature with a participant in Maytree’s DiverseCity OnBoard initiative.  And here’s some more about the organizations Alan mentioned above:

  • GOONJ:  Ashoka fellow Anshu Gupta is the founding director of Goonj, which is building a nationwide movement to encourage and manage a massive transfer of used clothes, household goods, and other essential items to India’s rural poor.  GOONJ precisely matches the needs of poor communities with supplies through detailed market surveys that carefully analyze the different region-specific lifestyle patterns to gather data pertaining to gender ratio, dress and food habits, cooking practices etc.  GOONJ also focuses on transforming donor attitudes about reusable resources lying unused in their homes.
  • Manzil:  Manzil is an NGO that works in children’s education. The youth of Manzil come from diverse backgrounds, but they are all united by a keen sense of wanting to learn and make something of themselves.
  • Kuhad Trust:  The Trust focuses on policy research, the in depth study of development issues and advocates policy alternatives for the under privileged.  One of their projects is Apna Rickshaw Apne Naam Yojna (“Own Your Rickshaw”) – under which Rickshaw Pullers become owners of their vehicles in 6 to 8 months instead of spending large amounts on ongoing rent.
  • BASIX:  The mission of BASIX is to promote a large number of sustainable livelihoods, including for the rural poor and women, through the provision of financial services and technical assistance in an integrated manner. BASIX strives to yield a competitive rate of return to its investors so as to be able to access mainstream capital and human resources on a continuous basis.
  • FabIndia:  Established in 1960 by the Ford Foundation’s John Bissell, FabIndia is a successful retail business presenting Indian textiles in a variety of natural fibers, and home products including furniture, lights and lamps, stationery, home accessories, pottery, cutlery, organic food products, and body care products.  FabIndia was founded with the strong belief that there is a need for a vehicle to market the vast and diverse craft traditions of India and thereby help fulfill the need to provide and sustain rural employment.
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