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TOI Social Impact Awards : The wise gather to honour the good

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February 19, 2015
Times of India

From the remote tribal hamlets of Jharkhand, the sand-whipped wilderness of the Thar, the salt-affected ravines of Chambal, the slums of Mumbai and from many such unheeded corners of the country, voices and images of people who are making a difference will come alive when a highly eminent Jury of eight meets in New Delhi today to select the winners of the TOI Social Impact Awards 2014-15.

The Jury is packed with wisdom and compassion, but also fortified with decades of experience in understanding and changing the face of the nation: Suresh Prabhu, Union railways minister and a key member of the Cabinet; Arvind Panagariya, vice chairman of NITI Aayog (of which the PM is chairman) and a world-renowned economist; Naresh Chandra, who has had a distinguished career as cabinet secretary, India's ambassador to the US, governor of Gujarat, and advisor to the Prime Minister; A P Shah, chairman of the Law Commission, who as chief justice of the Delhi High Court, delivered the historic judgement on section 377 decriminalising homosexuality; K V Kamath, chairman of ICICI Bank and Infosys and a doyen of banking; Aruna Roy, the driving force behind the Right to Information Act; Sunita Narain, India's best-known environmentalist; and Aamir Khan, the megastar with a knack for transforming social issues into box-office gold.

The 40 finalists, an eclectic mix of non-profits, corporates and government entities, have certain common features - they have transformed the quality of life for people who were for generations deprived and under-privileged. They have applied innovative solutions to long-standing, intractable problems. Many have melded new information tools to address basic issues like finding decent work, delivering medical assistance to pregnant women in far-flung corners of the country, or simply providing safe drinking water to parched villages. Others have introduced new systems of organization backed by appropriate technologies and market access to boost incomes or educational outcomes among the poorest. Or, have fought back violence against women and hidebound practices like manual scavenging. Truly, it is a rainbow of change-makers where each colour is as bright as the others.

The Jury will scrutinize documents, evaluations, field reports for 40 organisations to select formal winners, but in reality all of them will be winners. The activities of the finalists are so varied and their achievements so impactful that it will need deep expertise to select the final winners. But one thing's for certain: The Times of India Jury has the skill, the competence and the commitment to do so.

Non-profit, corporate and government organizations will be awarded in five sectors: health, education, livelihoods, empowerment and advocacy, and environment. In addition, there will be a Lifetime Achievement Award and an International Contributions Award.

This selection process started over six months ago with online application for the Awards. Over 1100 applications were received from all corners of the country in the five designated sectors. These included names suggested by a seven-member National Search Panel which assisted the process by identifying about 100 worthy organisations who were also encouraged to apply.

Two specialist organisations, GuideStar India and GiveIndia, screened these applications and prepared a shortlist for each sector and within it for each category (NGO, corporate, government). The primary criteria used for short-listing were scale of impact and costs. The first shortlist thus prepared comprised 66 entities.

Entries and documents submitted by the short-listed organizations were evaluated by a panel of 20 experts, four for each sector. Each has two to three decades of experience in the field, and an association with the social sector. They evaluated the entries on a set of seven key criteria: scale of impact, replicability, sustainability, finances, people's participation, innovativeness, and promotion of equity. To maintain parity, a standard grading matrix was used by all the experts. Based on a comprehensive appraisal and grading done by this panel, the second and final shortlist of 40 entities was finalised.

The shortlist, after experts' evaluation, consists of 40 entries distributed over the five sectors as follows: Education (9), Health (8), Livelihoods (9), Environment (7), and Advocacy & Empowerment (7). Some entities have been shortlisted in more than one sector. There are 14 entries from corporate-backed organisations, 11 from government agencies, and 15 from NGOs.

Then, TOI reporters visited the areas where these organisations have been working to get a feel of the ground level reality. They interacted with local people, partners and even uninvolved persons. These field reports, accompanied by the experts' evaluation will be studied by the Jury for selecting the final winners.

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