Calling information a “life-saving resource”, the World Disasters Report, 2005 noted: “Disaster-affected people need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter: accurate, timely information can save lives.”

Indeed, it can. But how do you manage and provide accurate information on time in an emergency response situation?

Here we share our experience of managing information exchange during the two-year relief and rehabilitation intervention in the Tsunami-hit Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, India. What we did, observed, and learnt, converge to deliver insights into how a strong information exchange system can be built and sustained to ensure efficient humanitarian response to disasters.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, as governments, organisations, and individuals sprung into intensive rehabilitative action, an innovative public-private partnership mechanism called NGO Coordination and Resource Centre (NCRC) was established to facilitate coordination of relief and rehab efforts of various organizations and individuals at the district level. This allocated a prominent role to Information Exchange and Communication (IEC). Generating precise and timely information, and in a form that could directly be used for decision-making by a variety of stakeholders, was key.

As experts in M&E systems design and implementation in India, we were asked to lead the IEC Division of NCRC. Our efforts in Nagapattinam centred around the principles of speed, accuracy, and the ability to address rapidly changing needs. We swiftly established a robust information exchange system after identifying stakeholders, their roles, and information needs for decisions.This need was continuously and concurrently assessed throughout the two years of relief and rehab interventions. To provide accurate information at all times, we updated the content on our website frequently — almost every hour, initially. Appropriate technologies and medium of communication were used to ensure collection, analysis and timely dissemination of information.

To address the challenge of working with multiple partners, and make information reach where required on time, we put in place several well-thought-out mechanisms. One of them was a network of Village Information Centres (VIC), established to collect and share information to the communities, and equipped with computers linked to the district-level unit, and further to the District Collectorate through a wireless intranet.

We also ensured relevance of content throughout. As such, what we shared varied with the rehabilitation phases — from accurate information on locations, damages, and profiles of people harmed, to guidelines for responses, good practices, and case studies, among many. In the final phase, the information needs primarily revolved around disaster preparedness, and called for developing data on disaster prone areas using geo-referencing, vulnerability mapping, etc.

The NCRC IEC division established strong linkages between the NGOs, and ensured that all of them worked in tandem and at optimum levels in terms of coverage, issues and impact. This also meant avoiding duplication of efforts, adding to the overall efficiency of the relief operations. Again, it enabled the district administration to take data directly from the field, which expedited their pace of relief work. On the other hand, the general public could easily access the information important to them, like compensation amounts/status, which brought in transparency, enhancing their trust and hope in the ongoing operations.

More interestingly, the field study we did while setting up the IEC division, brought in significant insights for better identification of issues. Unlike the perception of the funders and government, it informed that not only the fishermen community, but also farmers had been affected by the Tsunami as their farmland had been degraded by salt water. Farmers thus got included into the rehabilitation plan, and rightfully so.

Our experience in Nagapattinam bears testimony to the power of information to improve the quality, and accelerate the pace of disaster response. And, therefore, to save lives.




Social impact organizations are catalysts in developing countries to alleviate some of the biggest socio-economic issues. Their vision, aligned to the core idea of solving problems, is to create social impact and transform communities. However, there are many roadblocks on this pathway to ensure organizational sustainability, including uninterrupted funding which is critical. Even as corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects have opened funding channels in the social impact sector, opportunities fall short, particularly for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). organizations receive grants and donations, which primarily cater to the programme implementation but there is hardly any funding for an organization’s internal growth, development and system building. Donors are traditionally more inclined towards investing in programmes but not ideas. Some also have domain and region-specific preference. There is often a mismatch between donors’ objective versus the aspirations of social organizations. Most of the social development programmes such as poverty alleviation interventions require long gestation periods to reap intended outcomes. However, donors may not express patience required putting undue pressure on the programme teams to deliver and show impact within these short timelines. Donors often emphasise on economic returns over social impact. Many donors equate the size of an organization to its success.

Lack of donors’ support and uninterrupted funding options stall ideas and projects. These factors eventually compel the organization to change its ‘vision and mission’ altogether to cater to the requirements of donors. Consequently, they fail to create the intended impact. So, how should one warrant enough funds to support and scale efforts towards social impact?

Given the dynamic economic and political environment, it becomes imperative for organizations to transform towards sustainability. While donors remain key stakeholders, the need of the hour is to make the social impact organizations financially sustainable. Organizations should look at models essential for financial transformation and contextualise the ideas that work. The need is to increase funding streams to cover operating costs and above expenses to continue to deliver their impact with quality of programme delivery intact.

Few of the suggestions that emerged from our discussions that organizations can follow towards financial sustainability are:

  • An organization should first set realistic impact goal and determine financial requirements accordingly. The next step could be looking for donors with similar ideas or goals. Organizations should refrain support from donors with contradictory visions. The donors should invest in the cause and not just programme.
  • organizations should upgrade their story-telling strategies to donors. They should regularly conduct outcome assessments and use the data to demonstrate the impact that their work has generated.
  • A strong recommendation was to have a robust financial strategy and track of the financial flow within the organization.
  • An organization should never hinge on just one funding source. There should be at least three or more sources as single-source dependency is unpredictable and can potentially halt an entire initiative.
  • Organizations must also start exploring internal funding options. This becomes imperative, especially in a dynamic business environment. One can explore feasibility models such as dual pricing, sponsorship and membership fees to streamline funds.
  • Hybrid models of organizations can also help pave the way to sustainability. Such models offer flexibility and room for the acquisition of finance from both commercial and philanthropic sources. A conventional non-profit can generate revenues through commercial activities while in parallel addressing social challenges.
  • Technology is the need of the hour and its adaption and adoption can help improve operational efficiency., This can help an organization with overall strategy, donor engagement and expanding financing strategies through communication, outreach, online platforms and much more.

It becomes crucial to balance and ensure the organizational vision stays intact to achieve the intended goals without compromising on financial health.

Is your organization aspiring towards organizational sustainability? How can we make organizations financially viable?

Have thoughts or ideas? Write to us on [email protected] / [email protected]

This article is based on the larger discussion held in the ‘Transform for Scale’ solution circle during the Catalysing Social Impact (CSI) event held on August 29-30 in Bengaluru.

The author, Shweta is a Research Associate at Catalyst Management Services, Bengaluru.


Scaling Big Data in Agriculture


Small and marginal farmers account for more than 86.2 % of all farmers in India. With fragmented land holdings, depleting natural resources and climatic variations, the marginal farmers have experienced prolonged low productivity and inefficient production. Actors including the state, civil society, nonprofits are working in their own capacity and in tandem to address the livelihood problems of small and marginal farmers. The common thread of solution that resonates across the ecosystem is the need for innovation. Big data could be the innovation that would trigger the paradigm change in achieving efficient agricultural production in the context of developing countries. There are existing platforms that have already leveraged agricultural production with the aid of big data around the world. Picture Based Insurance (PBI) by International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is one such innovation which aims to deliver comprehensive crop insurance to the farmers with the use of their smartphones. Farmers capture pictures of their crop cycle from sowing to harvest. The extent of damages is then measured and the insurance payments are made directly to their bank accounts. This in turn creates a platform for leveraging the data from the farmers to develop sustainable cropping practices.

Big data are large sets of structured and unstructured data from various sources ranging from administrative data, survey data, satellite data and user data from various platforms which can be computed and made sense statistically to understand patterns. For example, patterns from large sets of weather data can be used to predict natural disasters. Through a combination of information analytics and affordable technology, insights from big data can enable farmers to reduce the information asymmetry on efficient agricultural practices. In the Indian context, the past decade has seen a spur in growth of AgriTech innovations. Agri tech solutions leverage data from a wide range of data sources and provide precise advisory to farmers in cropping pattern, soil usage, fertilizer applications and harvesting cycles. Big Data is one of the key factors to sustainable farming, for instance Geographical Information Systems (GIS) enabled technical support enables farmers to increase productivity of the land without expanding agricultural land. This article tries to focus on key challenges and approaches to address those challenges at the ecosystem level in order to enable scaling of Artificial Intelligence for the benefit of smallholder farmers.

While big data cannot be considered as a silver bullet to solve the agricultural crisis in India. Application of big data in tandem with the existing agricultural interventions might prove fruitful and ensure sustainability of the solution in the long run. One approach could be a model in which the AgriTech companies could work with the farmer cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives are one of the most successful interventions in the Indian agriculture space that harnessed the strength of the communities. Through collaboration with the cooperatives, AgriTech companies can achieve reach to gather quality farm level data from individual farmers. The cooperatives in turn can create a value chain where the farmer’s information and data are translated to income.

There are also considerable challenges in leveraging big data in the Indian agricultural context. The question of ownership, targeting beneficiaries for advisory and technological infrastructure in the rural areas seem to pose a big challenge in the context of India. Most of these problems can be addressed and the solutions can be further enabled through a systems approach. With contributions from different stakeholders in the ecosystem, the problem of collection of quality data, institutions for regulation on ownership of data and implementation of advisory solutions can be addressed in the long run.

Big data and AI technologies have sparsely made inroads in rural India. With an ecosystem approach big data and related technology can be adopted, enabled and scaled up to reach a large population of marginal farmers. Indian nonprofits have proved time and again on their capability to scale up innovative solutions to achieve impact. Scaling up big data and AI in the agricultural space will not only enable marginal farmers in providing them backward linkages through inputs and advisory but also enabling them in forward linkages in identifying consumption gaps and patterns that exist in the market to produce efficiently and increase their income levels. The impact of big data in other fields such as health, urban infrastructure, education have already created ripples across their sector. Big data is both an opportunity and challenge that can’t be looked away in the agricultural sector. Collaboration and partnerships are the key in leveraging big data and AI technology for the marginal farmers in the Indian agricultural space.

The author, Nelson Mathews is a Research Analyst with Catalyst Management Service




Measuring the Immeasurable


Why is the sky blue? What are black holes? How did the world begin? Familiar questions to many parents. Curiosity plays a fundamental role in learning. It keeps you wanting to explore the world and constantly ask questions.

Agastya International Foundation works to spark curiosity in school children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in India through innovative hands-on science education.Using fully kitted mobile-science labs and science centres, it gives children the opportunity to engage with science in a direct, interactive and engaging manner.

Agastya views the school curriculum as too restrictive and sees sparking curiosity as a means to nurture creativity. They see creativity as not only a way for these children to access a better future but also as an enabler to help them find solutions to the real-world problems their communities face.

The uniqueness of Agastya’s interventions lie in its focus on curiosity as opposed to learning outcomes, unlike most education based interventions in the country. This uniqueness posed an interesting challenge to us as evaluators. challenge. When Agastya approached us to assess the impact of their Mobile Lab and Science Centre Initiative, their interest was not to measure changes in knowledge or educational attainment in the children, but to capture the curiosity generated from the project.

Curiosity captures the desire to want to learn more, to keep asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How’, to want to explore the unknown.It is a multi-dimensional concept that can have several manifestations.

We, therefore, employed a mixed methods design, keeping in mind the complexity of the issue being assessed – a change in curiosity levels. A variety of tools — from basic non-participant observations to student interviews — were designed and used, and we were able to demonstrate that Agastya had been successful in engendering a sense of curiosity in the children and encouraging experimentation and exploration.This was particularly true for children for whom such hands-on learning is a new and novel experience. Our findings also provided a more nuanced understanding of curiosity. For instance, simply playing with models is also an indication of curiosity.

As evaluators, we often come across a challenge as this — assessing something fundamental but abstract — and it’s a challenge worth taking. Every time. As social impact catalysts, we welcome the opportunity to be curious, to have originality of thought, and to push the boundaries of what is possible.


Innovative Financing: Adjusting to the Waves of Change


Innovative Finance for social development is the use of non-traditional mechanisms to raise additional funds for development thereby enhancing the efficiency of financial flows and making it outcomes- or result-oriented. This allows the doers to focus away from mobilization of resources and more on delivering positive social and/or environmental outcomes through market-based instruments. We aim to scan the new and emerging financial instruments in the sector and focus on bringing out efficient and effective solutions that could be scaled. Our Solution Circle lead Narendran elaborates further, “Societal problems are complex, and some key sectors are not attracting sufficient investments (e.g. Child Marriage, Disability). Today’s social development issues are more protracted and affect more people than ever before. Innovative financing is one potential approach that could address these rapidly changing and growing needs of this sector.”

Innovative financing has “mobilized nearly $100 billion USD and grown by approximately 11% per year between 2001 and 2013”. Given the pivotal nature of finance in designing effective programmes and delivering above par outcomes, it makes absolute sense for various stakeholders to place greater expectations on the future of innovative financing.

As traditional financing becomes obsolete, more and more funders look for not only verifiable and quantifiable outcomes but also for a combination of social and financial return on investment.

Innovative financing has tremendous untapped potential. To make an impact and elevate the platform for innovative financing in India, a 2 pronged approach is essential. Firstly, focusing on methods available to strategize and adopt key innovative finance mechanisms specifically for complex social problems; secondly, creating a marketplace for connecting those with demand for funds and investments, and those providing funding.

Evaluating innovative financing mechanisms and assessing the most effective one amongst them is a task. In India, we have only a handful of such innovations running in practice. Innovative financing though, now has gained high interest, especially in the development sector. Outside of the country, one such initiative was UNITAID, founded by Brazil, Chile, Norway, France and the UK, where they leveraged innovative funding for targeted interventions to impel lasting change globally. With its core focus being on health by increasing access to qualitative medicines, diagnostics and related commodities in HIV, malaria and TB by making an impact in the market, UNITAID provides an exceptional example of what such funding models could achieve in a short time. UNITAID’s funding showed proven results: 50% reduced price for AIDS medication, 3 in 4 affected children in the world are on HIV therapy, scaled-up national Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programmes etc. Within India, we have seen a few with initial successes like the development impact bond pilot implemented by Educate Girls in Rajasthan. A few more similar results-based financing models are now in various stages of planning and implementation across sectors like health, education, sanitation in India, each pointing to an evolving ecosystem for such interventions.

Given that innovative financing has a strong emphasis on results, it is reasonable to conclude that establishing partnerships amongst public-private sectors can yield better results. With an effective distribution of delivery and financial risk, a marketplace that helps strengthen the ecosystem for innovative financing products is the need of the hour. Through practitioner insights and experiences shared with exchanges of ideas, we aim to co-create a white paper for a marketplace that would act as a platform for various stakeholders to transact efficiently. There is no such platform that currently exists in India, but we have seen a few successful examples in countries such as Jamaica and Canada. The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) was primarily designed to channel resources to various small-scale community-based projects. They ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency by following an Operations Manual with clear instructions. The JSIF was initially funded by a loan negotiated between the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank. Though the Fund was initially established as a temporary one, it has been in operation for over 10 years.

Knowing the importance of innovative financing and how it surfs through is key in utilizing and leveraging it for optimum results. With the participation of some of the foremost development and development financing stakeholders in the sector, in the Innovative Financing Solution Circle, we believe this is a task well begun and will create some lasting ripples of change.

This article was first published on


Inclusive Business Model


In India, around 70 percent to 90 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture and allied sector as their principal means of livelihood. Smallholder farmers constitute 80 percent of total farm households, forming the backbone of agricultural production. However, despite their contributions, they remain poor and vulnerable, plagued by a serious lack of resources ( land, water, energy, and credit), appropriate technologies, opportunities to develop skills, functional and fair markets for products and inputs, health care and sanitation, and education and social services. Declining productivity and incomes, and concerns about the overall viability of smallholder farming systems itself, pose a huge barrier to achieving poverty reduction, food security, and economic empowerment of this marginalised section. Notwithstanding years of investment by government, NGOs and the farmers themselves, and despite improved markets and the emerging new opportunities, the smallholder agricultural production system has continued to operate inefficiently, failing to yield scalable impact.

We believe that there is a need to refocus attention on the farming systems as an ‘enterprise’ and re-strategise services through a demand-led market-based mechanism. An integrated approach that leverages market opportunities, provides comprehensive end-to-end solution, and builds sustainable business-supply-chains to integrate farmers, can revitalise the smallholder farming systems. This requires a long-term engagement with farmers, and, importantly, looking at them as partners in the chain, rather than as recipients of benefits.

Our work with various market agents have proven that there are scalable and lasting solutions for improving productivity and reducing poverty for a farm. What is required is the transformation of smallholder farming systems from subsistence to profit-making. This requires an inclusive business model that goes beyond CSR to look at integrated inclusive business chains, invested in by companies/individuals who can sustain them through established channels and ensured markets.

It is important to note that for a model that creates social value, it is crucial to periodically monitor and evaluate impacts/social values, develop ‘performance metrics’ for the staff, channel partners and the farmers, extract learning from these, and use them in the action plans to implement effective interventions ensuring both business and social impacts.


Health, Life skills and well-being


Health and wellbeing are essential elements to increase and/or maintain employee performance, productivity, job satisfaction and engagement within the work environment.

Case Study – 1: Towards a healthier future

Jothilakshmi works at Atlas Export in Karur, Tamil Nadu. She lives with her husband and children in Karur and joined Atlas to meet the expenses of her children’s education.

She attended life skills training under Women in Factories conducted by the W4W team, which positively impacted the health of her family. Jothilakshmi attributes it to the change in their food habits, preparing a meal plan for the week, and cooking a variety of healthy snacks and food. She also packs it for lunch, for her children to take to school.

One of the teachers, who noticed her son Gokul bringing only healthy food, asked him how he manages to bring it every day. On learning that his mother adopted healthy food habits from a training programme in her factory, Jothilakshmi was invited to the parent-teacher meeting, to sensitize other parents on sending healthy food for their children. Jothilakshmi spoke about the positive impact of eating nutritious food on the health of her family.

After the meeting, the school sent a circular with a meal plan to the other parents, instructing them to send only healthy snacks and food to school.

Jothilakshmi says “By consuming healthy food and making it a habit, the health of my family has improved. I’m happy that other parents have also adopted this habit, which has transformed the eating habits of the children at school.”

Case study – 2: Changing habits for a better life

George works as a printer at Garden City Fashions Bangalore. His family includes his wife and daughter studying in high school. George was a chain smoker and would smoke up to two packets of cigarettes a day. Stress at work and his home was his excuse for smoking. When he was chosen by the W4W team to attend the Life Skills for Empowering Women (LIFE) programme as a Peer Educator, he was sceptical but attended it out of curiosity to see what the programme was about. The sessions changed George’s life.

The session on health made him realize that his smoking habit was affecting his health. The session on financial management made him think of how much money he was spending on cigarettes and how much he could save by reducing that habit. George has reduced his habit of smoking and plans to give it up completely soon.

He says, “The training programme opened my eyes. I reduced smoking from two packets to five cigarettes per day and plan to slowly give up the habit. Two packets of cigarettes cost Rs.200 a day. I realized it is an unnecessary expenditure. I can spend the money for my daughter’s education instead of it wasting money on cigarettes. A sacrifice I make now will help to build a better future for her.”

Case Study – 3: I love my Mother in Law

Sharada (name changed) is a sex worker, who underwent the life skills training programme at Swathi Mahila Sangha (a collective for women in sex work in Bangalore). Sharada never had a smooth relationship with her mother-in-law, and the conflicts

During the session on interpersonal relationships as part of the life skills training, the group was given an exercise to try at home. The trainer instructed the participants to say “I love you” to their family members. Sharada, who wanted to resolve her issues with her mother in law, went home that day and said, “I love you” to her. Sharada’s mother in law was shocked to hear these words from her daughter-in-law who would always fight with her. Sharada shared all that she learnt from the life skills programme and expressed her desire to build a good relationship with her and bury all past misunderstandings.

Sharada says, “Post the life skills training, I realized that we have one life and I need to improve my relationship with my mother in law. I respect her more and she understands me better. For this Varamahalakshmi Pooja (a festival to pray for peace and prosperity to ‘Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth’ in India) she gave me some money, but to me, it’s not just money, it’s her blessing.”

Case Study -3: Ability in Disability

Murugalakshmi works at Siba Flor, a company producing home decor. She is differently-abled, and would always feel depressed about being different. She would not eat well, or bother much about her health, and was plagued by an inferiority complex.

Murugalakshmi attended the Foundational and Advanced training under the Women in Factories programme by the W4W team and health team and it changed her life. The programme built her self confidence and self-esteem, and she realized that she was no different from others.

She began to eat well, stopped skipping her meals and shared lessons learnt about nutritious food with her family members. Murugalakshmi’s haemoglobin levels were low at 9, and after her mother included a lot of green leafy vegetables as part of their diet, it increased to 12. She imparted information on nutrition to the members of the Self Help Group that she is a part of, conducted a nutrition competition and also gave each member a prize to motivate them to sustain this practice

Murugalakshmi found a life partner who has accepted her for who she is. She began a new chapter in her life knowing fully well that she is the author of her life story.

She says, “Disability is only in the mind, it’s not physical. A woman’s life is not defined by just marriage and motherhood. I want to achieve a lot in life, and be an example to all.”

To more about our work and on our engagement with our programmes please visit us at


Gender and Well Being


Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and a sustainable world – Goal 5, SDGs.

Case Study – 1: Feeling safe at the factory

The HERrespect project implemented in partnership with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) aims at building sensitivity around gender equity, gender-based violence and discrimination.

During one such implementation, the Wellbeing for Workforce (W4W) team attended the final closing meeting of the programme in which the factory and the senior management had also participated, to share their experience, successes and learnings. A woman participant stated, “I have been working in this factory for more than 10 years now. For the first time, I feel safe at my workplace, all thanks to the HERrespect programme.”

The management representatives were defensive and embarrassed for such a public statement. A management representative asked, “What do you mean by ‘for the first time?’ Does that mean that the management has done nothing so far to make you feel safe, despite having such good infrastructure and facilities here?”

One of the senior leadership from W4W said, “Sir, that is not what she meant; we have to look at it differently. The programme has led to system strengthening and improved visibility of progressive action of systems and facilities among workers. Hence, they realize they are safer in the workplace now. We must acknowledge the courage of this young woman in expressing what she feels.”

Thus by strengthening the factory systems, building capacities and enabling the work environment, our team is enabling empowerment of women – who are gaining confidence and voicing their opinions freely.

Case Study – 2: Knocking on the door to stop violence

Madhavi (name changed) works as a tailor at Shell Apparels. Her friend works in the same factory and lives in the same neighbourhood. Her friend’s alcoholic husband would get drunk and physically harm his wife every single day. Madhavi would often wonder how to help her.

Madhavi participated in a life skills training programme conducted by the W4W team where she learnt about ways to stop the violence. One day, Madhavi heard her friend’s husband yelling and screaming in the neighbourhood. From her previous experience, she knew that the incident would balloon into violence. She chose to stop the violence by adopting the ‘Ring the bell’ ‘Bell Bajao knocking on their door, using the lessons learnt from the training sessions on gender.

Madhavi walked across the street and knocked on her friends’ door. Madhavi’s friend opened the door and was relieved to see her friend. Madhavi engaged in a conversation with her friend’s husband about his favourite actor; showed him a movie of the actor on her phone and he began to watch it. By talking to him about the scenes in the movie, Madhavi diverted his mind and ended the fight. She stayed back to eat dinner with them.

She says, “We must intervene and stop the violence. The other night I diverted my friend’s husband’s mind, and stopped the violence that would have otherwise cost us a life.”

Case Study – 3: Finding the Silver Lining

Champa Ramesh Borpi hails from a small village named Arnala in Gujarat. She works in the packing department with Flair Writing Instruments. Married at 18, she had three children (two sons and a daughter), and has been the sole provider for her household after her husband met with an accident.

Champa got her daughter married when she was only 16 years old and her daughter gave birth to her first child when she was 18. Unfortunately, Champa’s daughter died by suicide because of the physical and mental torture meted out to her by her husband. Champa was devastated and unable to deal with the loss of her daughter, and it affected her health and her performance at work.

Champa participated in the Advanced Training conducted by the W4W team under the ‘Women in Factories’ programme at Flair. The training programme built her resilience to overcome the loss of her daughter and she became an advocate for girls’ education and independence, sharing learning with her peers in the factory.

She says, “I wish I had an opportunity to attend these life-changing training years ago. I wish I had educated my daughter, perhaps she would have been better equipped to face her problems in life. The training has built my self-confidence and I now know that boys and girls must get equal opportunities.”


Gaming The Wait


Queuing for health services is a bane to healthcare-seekers. Can we add worth to the wait?

I was reading an article by Jacopo Prisco of CNN “Waiting game: An extended look at how we queue.” If the “weird and wonderful world of waiting line designs” finds place in the queue of your interests, this is the article for you. So how did it find place in mine?

At first, the title captured my curiosity. Then, as I read on, the author’s suggestion that perception takes precedence over reality when it comes to the waiting pains of standing in lines triggered some thought. Jacopo says, “What separates a good queuing experience from a bad one, however, is not just the speed of the line. How the wait makes us feel and line fairness (nobody likes line-jumpers) can have a greater impact on our perception of a queue than the amount of time we spend in it. And while waiting time is often hard to cut down, perception can be altered with good line design and management.” I was fascinated by the strategies being used to change perceptions — of making the wait fun or useful by providing a relevant activity, or psyching people to feel they are in the lines for lesser than expected time.

Jacopo’s examples of queuing at airports, at amusement parks, for elevators in tall buildings provide good insights on handling perception on both time and fairness of queuing. I thought back to sectoral examples of queuing and top of the mind was at health facilities or programmes, and queuing at government offices to access certain services or entitlements.

For instance, we often spend a long time waiting for our turn to see a doctor. Health programmes organize health camps, where participants wait in long queues before being attended to.

This could even be a cause for them to stay away from programme services or from seeking health services. While we may not be able to reduce the wait time, how can we bring in some element of learning or fun to reduce the pain of the wait?

Shrirupa Sengupta, who started her public health journey as a consultant to the Government of India in the Department of AIDS Control, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, recalls a well-worked out, on-ground innovation in this context. She says:

“Between 2012–2013, we had rolled out Source Migrant Health Camps during festival periods in villages across 121 districts in 8 high out-migration States in India. The strategy was to get doorstep health services, including Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and HIV screening, to migrants who were deemed vulnerable and their families. The health camps were typically clubbed with a local market day, carnival or a celebration. The lines of people awaiting their turn with the doctor snaked around and many began to feel discomfited. This was identified as a golden opportunity to undertake engaging social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) activities around health and hygiene, including addressing stigma, busting myths and misconceptions and helping the community get comfortable with accessing health and HIV/STI services.

“The peer educators, outreach workers, link workers, ASHA workers, ANMs and even some anganwadi workers, along with a bunch of young people from the Red Ribbon Clubs and Nehru Yuva Kendras, began to engage with the people waiting in the queue.


“Out came their SBCC kits — games that modified snakes and ladders to talk about the risks of HIV, leaflets that folded into a box, flipbooks and playing cards with scores and messages on them. Some even picked up a stick and did a quick game of body and risk mapping on the ground. And yet others engaged in conversation and rapport building. And soon, the team had a laughing, cheering, engaged crowd that had their doubts aired and addressed.”

Such engagements can be invaluable, not only from a community engagement angle, but also as a source of information and feedback that can provide critical insights for programme improvement.

I would like to know from my friends in the health and medical fraternity: What is your opinion about leveraging the wait in lines for better programming, and making it enjoyable for the community at the same time? Please share your thoughts or any experiences in this regard.

Siddhi Mankad is Learning Catalyst for the Learning4impact collaborative.