A Second Chance for the Marginalized? Researching Civic Innovation in New Delhi, India by Saroj Thapa

The Second Chance Initiative, a civic innovation project led by Ritinjali, an NGO in New Delhi, India, aims at empowerment of young adults – men and women – through skilling, employment and financial independence. These are usually people who dropped out of school for various reasons. They are largely composed of poor people, often from marginalized groups in society, with few prospects of further education or skill development and face considerable challenges in getting decent employment. .

In 1995, a community of volunteers got together to provide educational support and life skills training with the intention of providing a ‘Second Chance’ for those who had had experienced disadvantages and discontinuities in their education and social chances. The Second Chance School runs a two-year long residential program for men where they learn various life skills and choose a vocational path according to their interests. Women are provided non-residential training on different skills, including tailoring, embroidery, computers and childhood care. The level of training is such that when the training is completed successfully, the youth have the possibility of getting a diploma from the National Institute of Open Schooling. In principal, the Second Chance Initiative functions as a form of a ‘bridge school’ with the intention of empowering the marginalized youth. In 2018 there were a total of 44 young people impacted by the program of whom 10 managed to get employment, 3 were seeking employment, 5 were in internship, 11 pursuing technical education and 13 transitioned into independent living.

The success stories from the Second Chance School are so compelling that there is hardly anyone who does not come away impressed. On the other hand there is a growing demand with more and more people wanting to join the programme and the school struggles in the process as it is not equipped to deal with larger numbers. What would be the right response – to keep it small and focus on quality of services or expand so that more young people can benefit from it?

There is a need to present the story of the Second Chance Initiative in a comprehensive way. In order for this civic innovation project to continue and thrive it requires a serious thinking on what it has achieved and the challenges it is currently facing. It is in this context an independent study: Ritinjali and its Second Chance Initiative has been initiated, which aims to address three objectives:

1) To record the history of the organization: In many ways the development of the organization has been organic as it responded to the perceived needs and opportunities for the youth. Although the main leadership has remained intact, there have been many changes at the administrative level, as the organization attempted to navigate between the needs of efficiency, and practical challenges. At the same time, while the perception amongst the group is that the functioning of the organization has improved, there is no systematic documentation of the processes of change. In addition, such a record and analysis could help understand ‘best practices’ as well as celebrate the success stories to inspire others.

2) To look at the challenges as well as successes as the organization evolved and grew over the years: What started as a group of volunteers working for a cause has organically grown into an organization with full-time staff and a substantial budget. Volunteering still remains an essential part of the program but fundraising, grants and donations have become essential to continue its mandate. Companies have also provided support as part of the CSR work, and these finances have been useful in sustaining the work. In this context, several important research questions emerge. How does the organization and its leadership navigate between the social and philanthropical orientation of its work and the possible influence/interference of donors? Are there tensions which arise in the process and how have these been resolved through dialogue and negotiation? What can one learn from these practices with regard to understanding the financial sustainability of such civic innovation initiatives ?

3) To look at the possibilities and challenges of scaling and replicating: The success of this program, viz. the successful internships and employment, puts pressure to take in more participants and provide wider services. But the questions of up-scaling or replication have their own challenges. In particular, would this change the very nature of the program from a civic innovation to a professionally run organization?