Our regular (twice-yearly) face-to-face meeting with all our partners took place in Pune on Nov 10 -12. This was my first time attending such a meeting and so I was looking forward to meeting all the partners and putting a face to the names and voices I had heard on the calls. I was happy to have made it – it was thoroughly educational for me and went a long way in getting to know the partners, the issues and the solutions we have been working on.
Technical Deep Dive
This was the first time we had a tech-day – a deep dive technical session scheduled for the entire day – on the Sunday (Nov 10) before the meeting began. All our partners were present from Sunday. On Sunday, we were also joined by a couple of people from Persistent Systems, our newest software partner.
The tech session had two parallel sessions; one doing a deep-dive into Avni (nee OpenCHS) architecture and another doing a deep-dive for a CRM solution. Both the sessions were attended by half the attendees and had a great open discussion on architecture details and technologies. That day was an engineer’s dream day – sitting in a room all day spending time in the weeds rather than nebulous details like deployments and legal matters.
We started Day 1 with introductions. The Lumen folks (Rahul and Arjav) had given us homework a few days before the meeting – we were to introduce ourselves with a limerick. Everyone did an amazing job of introductions and that broke the ice to start off the proceedings.
We started with a look back: we talked about learnings from Cohort 1 and how we could do better for cohort 2 in terms of managing the projects and improving engagement from NGOs.
After the learnings and looking back, we started in earnest with presentations from the software partners about projects. Anurag from Think201 talked about their experience working with Indus Action project; Swapnil from Dhwani presented the mForm Funder Management Platform and Sunil from WebAccess presented the Toybank project.
Our keynote speaker for the day was Raj Gilda who talked about his journey starting and running Lend-A-Hand India over the past 16 years. Lend-A-Hand India has been doing amazing work teaching vocational skills in public schools to 9th to 12th grade students in over 20 states. He had some insightful (and sobering) things to say about working with government and how underappreciated bureaucrats are. Raj has single-handedly grown his organization from one school in Maharashtra to over 23 states in the last 16 years.
We ended afternoon session with a discussion of legal documents we need from software partners and NGOs and general procedures for Cohort 2. We had great suggestions and action items from the partners who have more experience dealing with NGOs than Tech4Dev does.
A team dinner followed the first day sessions; it was a great opportunity to meet and talk to everyone in a more relaxed setting over food and drink. Everyone had a great time. When I left the dinner venue, a bunch of folks were going for an after dessert walk.
Day 2 started with a talk by Anuja Apte, a marketing consultant. She talked about product marketing and what it takes to change a company’s DNA from selling services (projects) to marketing and selling products. For many of those present, it was a great introduction to marketing, market sizing etc.
Anuja’s talk was followed by a second session on legal documents and clarification of why we need Letters of Understanding from software partners and from NGOs and what agreements should be signed when.
Then we started the second day’s project presentations by the software partners. At this time. Some Tech4Dev and Lumen folks adjourned to another venue where the kickoff webinar for Cohort 2. The webinar was a great success, attended by all the Cohort 2 NGOs.
The keynote speaker for day 2 was Pradnya Godbole, CEO of DeAsra Foundation. She talked about her personal journey to running the foundation as well as the foundation’s approach to giving.
Keynote was followed by more technical presetations on Avni and by Civic Data folks on open justice projects.
All three days gave us a lot of things to think about and to work towards cohort 2 projects and beyond. The biggest takeaways for me were seeing how open and candid everyone was with each other. Everyone was genuinely interesting in learning and sharing; no one came with any other agenda than to tell us what they were doing and learning from others. Finally, all the arrangements from meeting space to catering, to webinar space for our kickoff webinar and the team dinner were impeccably made by Arun. Arjav and Rahul from Lumen drove the agenda and the content for most of the non-technical sessions. And, of course, all attendees came prepared to share and learn. Thanks.