The unusual artist

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There was an unusual art show at the Kamalnayan Bajaj Art Gallery recently. Not unusual from what was on display – art on canvas, but unusual because the artists were all inmates at various prisons in Maharashtra. The current show, the fifth edition of Art from Behind the Bars, had on display 63 canvases painted by inmates lodged at five different prisons in the state. A look at the colourful works you wouldn’t think they were the handiworks of inmates, holed up in dark cells.

The show, in its fifth edition, is the brain child of Kavita Shivdasani who runs a class called `Know your environment,’ in Mumbai for children between the ages of 4-14 years. Shivdasani started `Art from behind the bars’, her main community service project, in 2007, to promote the art works of convicts. This fifth edition of the prison art exhibition comprised 63 canvases by prison artists from four prisons, participating in the show. Money from sale of the artwork will be credited into the prison artist’s account, so on their release they have a cache to fall back on until they find suitable employment.

The project started on an off-chance. As part of the creative writing class, the 14-15 year olds were writing a story. Shivdasani then took them on a tour of the places in the story. Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai was on the route. After obtaining the necessary permissions, she took the kids in. During her conversation with the senior jailor, she mentioned her class and the various art workshops she has for children. The jailor suggested if she could help with some of the inmates who have some talent in poetry and art. Art was more her cup of tea.

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Shivdasani’s meeting with ex-convict Lalitha, who was then in the Byculla jail, another jail in Mumbai, gave her food for thought. She was surprised by what she saw. “These people were cut off from everything. From an art critic point of view, they (the works) were not good. But taking into account what there were going through, it wasn’t bad,” says Shivdasani.

Initially, she couldn’t think of how to use the works. After giving it some thought, she thought of making it a part of her community service portion in her class activity and see if it made a difference. The first exhibition in 2007 comprised 10 works. Being an under-trial and a convict carries a lot of stigma. Besides the one who is convicted, it also affects the rest of his / her families, in terms of job loss, etc. Hence, the money from the sale of the artwork at the exhibition is credited into the prison artists’ account to help them on their release. The children who attend her class are also help to raise funds.

In this particular exhibition, the fifth edition, Shivdasani and her team reached out to inmates who did not necessarily have art training, and had little or no experience of painting on paper or canvas. Three art workshops were conducted in the Byculla Jail, Yerwada Central Jail and Arthur Road Jail. Twenty inmates participated in each workshop. The medium used was crayons, sketch pens and acrylic paints on paper and canvas. The tools: their fingers, sponge bits and combs. “What evolved were artworks that ranged from rigid and typical depictions to free flowing movements of waves, whorls, peaks, loops and dots in eye-catching colour combinations,” says Shivdasani.

The opportunity with art that Shivdasani has brought to the convicts has made an impact on them. Sudeb Pal, an inmate at Nashik Central Jail has had a change in outlook ever since he started receiving painting equipment through Art from Behind the Bars. He began to paint regularly. Coming from a culturally-inclined family, art and creativity is in his blood. During his childhood he got to interact with a number of artists who, due to lack of opportunity and support, could barely make a living out of art. So once he is free, he wants to work with such talented people as these to guide, teach and support them. He hopes to give them opportunities just like he received from AfBB.

Catalyzing livelihoods

Most social organisations have their goals set regarding what they want to help society with. While there are many causes to address, Social Venture Partners (India) has picked jobs and income enhancement as its focus area. The reason is simple. “We see the jobs challenge as one of the more significant challenges faced by every country, especially India,” says Ravi Venkatesan, managing partner, Unitus Seed Fund and former chairman, Microsoft India. According to Venkatesan, after the boom years of 2005-10, job creation, particularly the big IT job engine, actually slowed down over the last few years. Now, its jobless growth.

The idea is to create jobs. So when SVP India recently hosted the Million Jobs Mission Conclave, it brought together 15 of India’s social organizations, and over 50 consortium partners to collaborate on creating 1 million jobs in the next five years. The Conclave showcased these 15 social organizations, who presented their model to create a cumulative of 100,000+ sustainable livelihoods each, in the next five years. Over 100 participants from SVP’s consortium partners – representing foundations, corporates, impact investors, global multilateral agencies, consulting organizations, Government, and academia – actively engaged with these organizations and made commitments of support – from access to funding, strategic inputs, leadership development, go-to-market connects and governance/Board support. According to Atul Satija, co-founder of The Nudge Foundation, “It would have taken me four months of travel to meet some of these consortium partners to support our goal. Today, I got them all in one room, engaging in serious conversation with us on how to go forward. What more could I have asked for!”

Madan Padaki, co-founder & trustee of Head Held High Foundation and co-convener of the Million Jobs Mission (MJM), is pleased with the outcome. “We never expected this level of participation. Just shows that the idea and concept was so powerful,” he says.

Says Sanjukyta Rajguru, MD & CEO, SBI Foundation, “The conclave exposed me to a panorama of work that these social organizations are doing – some I already knew of, and many I didn’t – and these will help me make more informed decisions. Now that I know, I can think of many ways funders like us can reach credible organizations and beneficiaries”

Initially, modest grants were a way of getting started. However, the organisation needed to punch at the right altitude. A mission statement was crafted – to help create 1 million jobs in the next five years. And create a movement with 1,000 engaged philanthropists across India in the same time frame.

Let’s step back a bit. Who is SVP? Well, SVP is a philanthropic organisation that was started in Seattle, USA, in 1998, by ex-Microsoft employees, Tim Sharpman and Paul Schumacker. It is the world’s largest network of engaged philanthropists, with over 3,500 investor-donors across 39 cites, in eight countries (U.S, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea and United Kingdom).

In India, Social Venture Partners India was founded in May, 2012 in Bengaluru by Venkatesan. He asked like-minded people to get their toes wet, and start their philanthropic journey. So SVP began by copy-pasting what was done in the US to India. After the positive response that it got in Bengaluru (they have 90 partners), branches were started in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and most recently, in Hyderabad. Today the SVP Bangalore chapter is chaired by Jogin Desai, CEO, EyeStem; the Pune chapter is chaired by Ganesh Natarajan, chairman, 5F World; the Mumbai chapter is chaired by Govind Iyer, MD, Egon Zehnder; the Delhi chapter by Rajeev Bakshi, MD, Metro Cash and Carry India, and the Hyderabad chapter by Ajit Rangnekar, former Dean of Indian School of Business.

Venture Philanthropy is very different from philanthropy that is practised more broadly, which is simply called `cheque book’ philanthropy – you write a cheque, you give money towards something you feel good about, or an organisation that is doing work that you identify with. SVP does more that. It picks organisations that are doing work that is scalable, and it engages with them in the same manner as venture capitalists engage with portfolio companies. They don’t just provide money, but far more importantly, they provide expertise and time and access to its networks, etc.

SVP India’s national focus is to make a dent in poverty through catalyzing livelihoods at the bottom of the pyramid. It focuses on organizations that work to promote livelihoods – be it through income augmentation, vocational skills training and placement, or micro-enterprise development. The key areas of investment are micro enterprises, skill training, health livelihoods, agri-livelihoods and waste management.

Though in the social space there is a lot of work happening in cylos, the MJM is a way to convene and bring all the like-minded organisations together to work collaboratively. For the last four years, SVP India has been quietly incubating what is becoming a movement bringing together successful people who care about what is happening in society, finding a way for them to get engaged. While till now what it has done has been largely below the radar, it is now important that it gets a lot more awareness and engagement.

Legal aid

Bharti Enterprises yesterday announced an unusual CSR initiative. From April 2016, it will roll out a first-of-its-kind corporate initiative to provide legal assistance and aid, and awareness / literacy to underprivileged undertrials across the country. Nyaya Bharti, as the initiative is called, will help the undertrials by paying the bail and surety amounts. The initiative will be solely focused on district courts where criminal cases are initiated.

Bharti Airtel will provide an annual grant of Rs10 crore on an ongoing basis towards this initiative. Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman, Bharti Enterprises, will take a voluntary cut of Rs5 crore from his annual salary towards this cause. Several leading lawyers from across the country have extended their support to the initiative and will provide pro-bono services. Top law firm AZB & Partners and Ernst & Young will also provide pro-bono legal, administrative and governance support respectively. “Just because a poor individual cannot afford the services of a lawyer, or cannot stump up a small amount for bail bond or surety, he or she should not be denied justice,” says chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal. Nyaya Bharti is a small start, and Mittal hopes more people, in particular, from the legal fraternity and corporate India will come forward to support this cause.

It is estimated that there are over 280,000 undertrials in approximately 1,387 jails in India constituting nearly 68 per cent of the total prisoner population. This proportion is amongst the world’s 10 worst (Data Source: NCRB reports). Many of these undertrials have been in custody for periods longer than the prison term had they had been convicted. Most of these undertrials suffer in jails simply because of their ignorance of the law and their rights to liberty, their inability to pay the amounts required for bails and bonds and lack of persons to stand surety.

The initiative will supplement the work being done by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) under the statutory framework created under the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987.  It will have a screening committee of independent persons that will identify the cases that need to be taken up.

Nyaya Bharti will be ready to start functioning in the coming months and ensure that the Board, screening committee and the team of lawyers are all in place to start giving its first grant from April 1, 2016.

The Nyaya Bharti initiative will work under the aegis of Bharti Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises, and will have a separate Governing Board. It will be headquartered in New Delhi and will be headed by Justice A.S. Anand (retired Chief Justice of India).

 The Board of Nyaya Bharti:

 1. Justice A.S. Anand (Retired Chief Justice of India), Chairman
2.  Mr. Harish N Salve, Former Solicitor General of India and Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
3.  Mr. Maninder Singh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
4.  Ms. Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson & Editorial Director, Hindustan Times Group
5.  Dr. Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-Economics and Strategy, International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS)
6.  Mr. Ajay Bahl, Founder & Senior Partner, AZB & Partners
7.  Mr. Rajiv Memani, Chairman of the Global Emerging Markets Committee, EY
8.  Mr. Gopal Jain, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
9.  Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder & Chairman, Bharti Enterprises
10.  Mr. Rakesh Bharti Mittal, Vice Chairman, Bharti Enterprises
11. Mr. Deven Khanna, Group Director – Chairman’s Office, Bharti Enterprises
12. Ms. Vijaya Sampath, Senior Partner, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan