Brain Storming Session on “IWSA- 40 years and the Road Ahead”

Panel Discussion

Welcome: Dr. V. Sudha Rao, President, IWSA

Moderator: Dr. Surekha Zingde

Panel Members: Dr. Sudha Padhye
Dr. B.S. Mahajan
Dr. Rita Mukhopadhayaya
Dr. Medha Rajadhyaksha
Dr. Amita Jain
Ms. Ruchi Sood

The Indian Women Scientists’ Association (IWSA) completed 40 years on 13th June, 2013.  Four decades is a long time in the life of an organization. Should we sit back in the glory of the past achievements or should we be critical of ourselves and see how we can improve on what we have already done?  It is indeed a time for retrospection.  With this in mind, our President and members of the EC decided to meet and through a Panel discussion invite ideas on the way forward. The Foundation day was celebrated on Saturday, 15th June 2013.
At the outset, President, Dr. Sudha Rao welcomed all present and took the audience through a pictorial history of events organized by IWSA in the past. She recalled the contributions of all the founder members and recapitulated some of the memorable milestones of the Association. This was followed by lighting of 40 candles organized by Dr Devaki Ramanathan, Vice President, IWSA.  Dr Sudha Rao lighted the 41st candle to brighten the path for the fifth decade of the Association.
Dr Surekha Zingde, EC member, and moderator for the brain storming session, started the proceedings.
The panel consisted of six panelists, three who had a longer association with IWSA and three others who were fairly new. They also represented the generations of seniors, mid level and young members, but all with young hearts who wish to see IWSA move forward and reach great heights. 
Dr Zingde invited Dr Sudha Padhye, our founder member who has been the nucleus of IWSA, to enlarge on the Vision and Mandate, which she and other eleven founder members formulated for the association.  She was requested to reflect on what has been achieved, and what has not gone the way it was planned and, in turn, advise and guide IWSA members the way forward.  Dr Padhye was responsible for identifying and procuring this place where IWSA stands today and for constituting the organizational framework on which IWSA has been functioning all these years.  She narrated how it all began, her meeting with late Dr Sumati Bhide, another founder member, whose dream mission was Vigynan Bharati that probably took shape through formation of a forum by the privileged lot of women in science. Their social responsibilities were to save careers of women after marriage, build opportunities for those who left mid way, spread science awareness through Bhagini Mandals, AIR, translate books, and set up libraries. Several of these activities still continue to be primary goals of IWSA.  Dr Padhye reminded that in-depth efforts were made to write the constitution and any amendments should be brought in conscientiously.
Dr Bakhtaver Mahajan, Trustee IWSA, has been associated with IWSA for many years in different capacities.   Dr Mahajan was unable to attend; however, she sent in her views to be read out. She brought to attention some of the changes which need to be incorporated in our byelaws, either as changes or as appendices for smooth administrative functioning. Several of us, who are new to the Association would be happy to have in one place  all dos and don’ts formally incorporated in  so that the immense efforts of the founding members are followed with due diligence. Dr Mahajan also suggested collaborations with other scientific organizations, training programs and certificate courses as on ethics, environment, etc.
The next panelist was Dr. Medha Rajyadakhsha, a senior Biology faculty member from Sophia College. She has been in a position from where she could share her experience as a Science educationist, an administrator and, in turn, a responsible member of Society. She brought to attention several issues in the colleges which can be addressed through IWSA. These include programs for 10th standard dropouts, programs to generate vocational education to train caregivers for elders and health care workers.  Other suggestions were to adopt a school, offer tuition teacher training, train lab assistants, become the bureau to counsel and help them to find a way for these girls. Dr Medha also suggested that IWSA scientists could become consultants and be resource persons to colleges to provide expertise for high end equipment like Real time PCR. 
Dr Medha also requested that IWSA members give lectures in colleges and continue our ever ongoing efforts to encourage the basic sciences among college students. Dr. Rao informed that BRNS popular science lecture series which were started from 2010 are to encourage young students to consider a career in basic sciences. Dr. Medha emphasized how it was essential to increase visibility of IWSA through a better organized Web page and use of professional networking pages such as Linkedin and Face book to publicize the activities of IWSA.  She gave ideas such as making calenders, and coasters with information about IWSA.  Such items could be gifted and in turn act as an advertising modem.
Dr Amita Jain, a young researcher from DY Patil University, voiced her thoughts of adopting nearby villages within Navi Mumbai from where our household work support originates.  She felt that education, employment and training in hygiene could be the starting points to improve their lifestyles. She felt that camps for computer training for homemakers was another area to look at seriously. Dr Jain also requested IWSA to start a help line for the protection of women and their basic rights.
Dr. Sudha Rao informed that IWSA’s computer subcommittee had already made special packages targeted for home makers. Our trustees: Drs. Usha Thakare & Jayshree Nadkarni had adopted a village in Turbhe area for promotion of health check-up etc. Dr Rao opined that although IWSA had so much infra structure and several programmes, visibility to the public was lacking. This has to be corrected. Volunteers are insufficient and involvement of younger members is very much needed.  Dr. Sudha Rao added that recently an NGO has approached and offered to run a course for self-protection which will be introduced for the benefit of hostel inmates.

The next panelist was Dr Rita Mukhopadhyaya, past Secretary of the association, who was familiar with its functioning and aware of areas which need attention.  Rita also enjoys trekking and making the most of nature.  Dr Zingde requested her to speak on her suggestions of how we could rub some of her enthusiasm on to the younger generation of school and college children. Rita informed how a new direction towards environment friendly educational treks for children, or management type retreats with college students could be introduced. Her other suggestions included generating funds under corporate social responsibilities and renting IWSA’s multipurpose hall for scientific theme based parties for children.  Sale of mementos of IWSA could also be a source of publicity besides small monetary gains. 

Dr Rita Mukhopadhyaya, in response to Dr Medha’s suggestion of adopting a school,  informed the audience that IWSA was already giving attention to students from the near-by Sainath School (which has children from the not-so privileged strata of society) for several activities. The science nurture classes (which help the students have hands-on laboratory experience on science subjects) have been conducted for them. They have been inducted to the Sunday science club – Techshiksha, free of charge.

Ruchi Sood is the heart and soul of our Computer section at IWSA.  She voiced her ideas of how we could use computers, generating programs for various sections of IWSA and in turn provide a platform for projects for young interns from schools and colleges.  This will also pave the way to bringing in a paper free environment in IWSA. Through her previous background in the corporate world she expressed that we could tap the CSR platform of the IT industry and use computers for increasing visibility of our organization. Ruchi spelt out the problem areas for IWSA as lack of visibility and the misconception of the outside world that the organisation is only for women scientists.

Dr Zingde then invited President, IWSA to voice her views. Dr Rao informed how she looked forward to integrating with other NGOs to take forward the vision and mandate of the Association. She strongly supported Dr Rajyadksha’s proposals and informed that IWSA would make serious efforts towards their implementation. Dr Sudha Rao mentioned that collaboration with colleges brought more audience. Word-of-mouth advertisement might therefore be more effective for improving visibility and for reaching out to people.
The discussions from the floor included a young member Ms Chinmoyee, BARC who voiced her discontent as visualized by her age group of members who preferred social media as a modem for publicity or visibility.  Chinmoyee expressed that the neswsletter needed a total makeover in a futuristic style, with more news on available positions, advertisements for jobs etc.  She also wanted that IWSA to have better visibility.  Dr Zingde encouraged her to act as a facilitator to generate young volunteers for implementing all her ideas.

At the end of the discussion, Dr Zingde summarized that several of these projects suggestions were worth pursuing.  The practical hurdles are how we go ahead. She suggested that the EC members now ponder on each of the proposals, shortlist the doable ones in order of priority and form core groups to implement the projects.  Even if we are able to do 20% each year, this would be an achievement.
In all these proposals, Dr Zingde brought to attention two major speed breakers: volunteers for implementation and generating the audience-core group for whom these projects can be implemented.  She expressed that IWSA could build on the connections with NGOs, the students who come here for Techshiksha, their family and friends, the Navi Mumbai NGOs who are participating in the Teach India initiative of the TOI to provide the receivers. She was also keen that IWSA consider a vocational elder caregivers program through SNDT or Nirmala Niketan.

The session was summed up with following take home thoughts, train the needy, connect with NGOs for education, make a sea change by correct visibility through a website revamp, the very first need of today.

You will all agree that this Brain storming has indeed provided a lot of food for thought.  It will be up to us to see that WE can together make it happen. 

Compiled by Drs. Rita Mukhopadhyaya, Devaki Ramanathan, Sudha Rao and Surekha Zingde

Contact Us Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved