So, twice a year they gather together to discuss social problems and how to solve them with their own effort and money. But it was not until 1998 that the tablers of RTI felt that the widespread illiteracy, particularly among underprivileged children, lies at the core of all social ills. Beginning 1998, we have undertaken a long term national project, called Freedom Through Education, which aims at providing primary education facilities to at least one million underprivileged children across the country by 2005, explains Jayakumar Ramdass, national president (2002-03), RTI. This will be done, he adds, through multi-pronged programmes such as constructing new school buildings in areas where there is no school nearby; renovating and rebuilding old school buildings, which have become unsuitable; constructing additional classrooms to accommodate more children; providing safe drinking water and constructing or refurbishing hygienic toilets in schools, and providing accessories such as blackboards, tables and benches, sports equipment, mid-day meals, uniforms, lighting facilities, etc.
However, RTI itself doesnt run the schools it builds. In most of the cases, we work with the local administrative bodies or non-government organisations (NGOs), chips in Ravi Khanna, RTIs national convenor (2002-03), who is also the director of BizTech Consultant, a Delhi-based software consulting company.
Since the adoption of the Freedom Through Education project in 1998, RTI has so far built over 400 schools in different cities with an investment of over Rs 35 crore, thereby benefiting three lakh children from underprivileged families. After the earthquake in Gujarat, we built 14 schools in Surat with an expenditure of Rs 5 crore, says Abhishek Dalmia, chairman, Delhi Dynamic Round Table. Mr Dalmia is also the director, Renaissance, a construction company belonging to the Dalmia group. He adds, For this, we got financial assistance from Wipro (Rs 20 lakh) and Sun Microsystems (Rs 5 lakh). In Delhi, we are now looking for schools for adoption. Were also identifying areas in the Capital where we can construct some new schools for underprivileged children.
RTIs advantage over other NGOs are that it has got a better relation with the corporate donors because the tablers themselves are either senior corporate executives or professionals in their respective fields, and RTI has the reputation of having the highest per capita (read per member) expenditure of Rs 40,000 towards community development and services among all the NGOs operating in India. This is so because we meet all the administrative expenditure for running the organisation from our membership fund, explains Mr Khanna, so that we can spend the entire fund raised for a specific cause on the project itself.
Little wonder, the State Bank of India (SBI) found RTI the most trustworthy outfit when it extended its financial assistance (Rs 10 lakh) to build 13 schools in Andhra Pradesh benefiting 2,000 children. In this project, RTI chipped in with Rs 15 lakh.
Not only corporates and banks, RTI has also been able to tie up Round Table Netherlands for its Freedom Through Education programme in India. Round Table Netherlands and Novib, the largest NGO in that country, have also adopted Freedom Through Education programme as their national project. Under this partnership, each RTI table can tie with respective Dutch tables for setting up primary schools in India under the guidance of Novib. Till date, RTI has been able to raise Rs 1.10 crore.
Though RTI has involved itself in community development and service projects since its inception in 1957 in India, till 1992 these were primarily short-term local level projects. However, since 1992, the tablers of RTI widened their focus from local to national level by incorporating national level projects. But apart from the Freedom Through Education, RTIs all other national projects are one-year programmes.