This weekend, with no planned outdoor activities, I started reading “Prisoners of Geography” a book on geo-politics written in an easy yet convincing style. The relationship between the USA and Japan since World War II (WW II) has always piqued my curiosity. The hunger for natural resources was one of the primary reasons for Japan to become part of the Axis in World War II, culminating in its attack on Pearl Harbour. Unable to invade the Japanese islands due to its mountainous terrain, which would have been a measured retaliation, the Americans, instead resorted to an arguably disproportionate counterattack. The catastrophic nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed. It may have effectively ended WW II though at a huge cost of life and property.
Anxiety about one means support for the other, in geo-politics.
But, post-WWII, new Japan rose like the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes. In less than three decades Japan showed its old inventiveness, ably, timely, and surprisingly aided by its most recent nemesis: USA. to become a global economic powerhouse. As per geo-political analysis, the Americans helped the Japanese rebuild, partly as a hedge against Communist China.
More anxiety about one (China) resulted in more support for the other (Japan). Looks like in geo-politics there are strings attached, trade-offs involved, and (not so) hidden agendas pursued.
There is ‘No-Free Lunch.”
From wading through the geo-politics let us get on to the recent trip to the villages in and around the IIT Mandi campus.
The experience in the village outreach programme
It was an eventful one. I wanted to get a first-hand experience of the mobilization efforts undertaken by our iHUB team to rustle up the number of students from the nearby villages to participate in a well-thought-out outreach programme by the iHUB team.
The school vacations have commenced. We wanted to get the students to meaningfully use this unencumbered time to get trained on skills in the realm of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) which could aid them in their employability. This training is the brainchild of Prime Minister Kushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) 4.0.
For the uninitiated, let me explain the concept of PMKVY 4.0.
The Skill Development Programme — PMKVY4.0
The Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE), Govt. of India, is implementing the flagship skill development scheme of the Government of India — (PMKVY 4.0).
PMKVY 4.0 strongly emphasizes making the program candidate-centric by creating an enabling ecosystem to meet emerging sectoral needs. The IIT Mandi iHUB is undertaking this initiative under its “Skill Development” activity per the mandate to create an employability stream across all emerging technologies.
Leveraging the Demographic Dividend
The broad objectives are to promote an enabling ecosystem for the youth to get skilled and choose a career path aligned with their abilities and aspirations.
The establishment of the IITs; now twenty-three of them across the country is meant to permeate the intellectual capital far and wide; descending from the hitherto elitist pedestal to a concerted outreach to the underprivileged and the under-served in the society.
Who else, but the IITs can provide that with credibility, transparency, and with resources?
Well, we went after the aforementioned student mobilization efforts to execute this stated vision and to create the social impact leveraging the oft mentioned: “Demographic Dividend.”
First-hand experience, the preparation:
Some serious preparation and planning went into executing this goal. Given our experience (as presented in “The mystery of visible results from the invisible network” (May 3rd, 2023) we wanted to pursue our objectives during the students’ summer vacation. The window is short.
Care was taken to get students who were in the vicinity of the IIT Mandi campus. This would help mobilize the day scholars for quick registration and the start of the programme.
Villages were listed, and heads of gram panchayats were called in. The posters were created in the local language, and the students who had already taken the courses were requested to present their experiences and be the influencers.
The courses were on subjects related to the Internet of Things (IoT), Drones, and Solar Power. We understood how the corresponding, translatable Hindi words and phrases could be an exercise in itself. However, it was a fun-filled experience, learning all along.
On the D-day, our thoughtful organizers arranged for the Forest Rest House to be the event venue. On a bright and sunny day, a colourful canopy was set up on the grassy patch, festooned with posters and banners.
The three neighbouring villages participated led by their respective heads of the gram panchayats, the Pradhans. The iHUB leaders in skill development presented the benefits of the course. The mention of how these have been designed to enhance the employability-quotient among students, post-training was duly highlighted.
The attention was called to the mention that it was a “Free-of-Cost” course and had a three-month duration. The “alumni” were invited to present their views. This gave that ring of credibility to the course and its undeniable utility.
The response from the elders:
The three Panchayat Pradhans were invited as well. It was assumed that they would reiterate the value of the course and that the course would engage the students in a meaningful manner during their vacation and give them a glimpse of the technology and its useful reach under the aegis of a premier institute like the IIT.
The first speaker presented on these expected lines, the second, who had in fact been instrumental in sending sixty students for the course lassoed in the broad message. However, the surprise came from the third speaker.
The Surprise, the Concern, and its Containment:
Our third speaker’s contention was that he received repeated calls from the iHUB to ensure that the children (students) would be making it to the event. This was unwittingly portrayed as an “aggressive” push of an evangelist. That the training was “Free-of-Cost,” and it was for a short duration of 3–4 months was innocuously reiterated.
The persuasive drive: making multiple calls a day was capped with a push that it was “Free.” This had placed a seed of doubt in his mind. How can something so beneficial be “Free”? Don’t the organizers have an axe to grind? However, as the calls were from the IIT he gave them respectability. He made it to the meeting to “test and try out what was happening” more as a cynic than as a believer.
So where did we go wrong? The word “Free” and the aggressive positioning of a bona-fide program meant for social upliftment gives a sense of unease.
I stepped in to contain this misunderstanding and explained that nothing in the world is free, and — “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.
We swiftly revised our tack and explained that this program was fully funded by the government out of the taxpayers’ money. In fact, it was a “No-Fee” program and not a “Free-of-Cost” program.
We re-did the posters to read a “No-FEE” program and “Fully Funded” by the government.
This was well appreciated and doubts, if any, were doused and the concerns contained.
So how did we get this phrase? There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
The term “free lunch” in the above saying refers to the customary practice in American bars in the 19th century, of offering a “free lunch” in order to entice drinking patrons. The appetizers are usually piquant peanuts offered free, but the drinks are to be paid for. The more one consumes these on-the-house house savouries accompanied by the greasy fare, the more the urge to chug the expensive drinks. The customers are indirectly paying for the food and the drink.
Nothing in life is truly free and any apparent gain or benefit will have associated expenses. In the mobilization effort, the funding is from the government (i.e., the taxpayers), and the benefits would be derived by the students only if they could sacrifice their vacation to learn that ever-important employable skill.
So, now we know the reason we are offered the “piquant peanuts” in the bar or when we are parsing through the world of geo-politics, or when we are explaining to the skeptical village headman about a no-fee event!
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