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Trodding a Different Path
  • Need for ‘Digital Me!’

    Whole world is on a Digital Journey. The interface in many transactions between Government, Banks, Schools, Hospitals, or other Institutions and an individual is now Internet. Very soon,  all the transactions will be through Internet. If not acted now, many will be digitally handicapped with little or NO knowledge on information technology basics.

    When we started conceptualizing the idea of For A Good Start and its offerings, software for NGOs and courses for school kids were on priority. Of course, we had an idea of launching a course for beginners in digital world on information technology basics, but it was in back burner.

    information technology basics - Digital MeTwo friends of my mother approached her for a course on computers. The common chord that tied these three ladies were their passion to do social work in their spare time. Their kind of work doesn’t deal with software at all.

    My mother was a central government employee and she was one among those who boycotted work for bringing in computers for work in late eighties. She got retired before the computerization, but after retirement, she attended a basic course on computer and was proud to claim that she sent emails to me when I was in US some 15 years ago. But according to my children, their grandmother knows nothing about computers, her on information technology basics are poor.

    One of her friend who is interested is by profession a post office savings agent with many clients. The other friend is a home maker who has varied interests and hobbies, which include wine brewing & cake baking. The former has a problem that all the transactions in post office are automated and  paper work is not there any more. The latter wants to try selling her wine and cake online.

    I have an uncle who is a retired principal and a professor of economics. He is very passionate about his subject and he now teaches in a university as a guest faculty. But he calls himself a computer illiterate and so, he misses many a communication in the electronic media and have to work twice hard to get hold of the latest developments in economics.

    Professor had spent around 30,000 rupees to attend a course on information technology basics. But, somehow it was a disaster. There are two versions on why he could not continue the course after 3 sessions. His version is that he could not follow the fast paced class. His wife’s version is that the young instructor could not tolerate him in the class. He wants a class from me on internet and e-mail. Another relative who is a retired banker also wanted to attend the class. He told me that he knows a bit on computers, but wants to learn more.

    When we got 5 students, I needed the 6th student, who qualify “those who can transform our society”. For the 6th student, course is entirely free. Here, not much thinking was required as there is Prof. C Mamachan. I knew him from the time I was a kid. He was our Sunday School teacher. He helped us kids to find the answer to the riddle “Mahatma Gandhi is not a Christian. So, Will Mahatma Gandhi go to heaven?”. He is known to the outside world more as an activist than as a retired Malayalam professor. Nowadays, most of his time and money are spend on rehabilitating alcoholics. Due to his group’s intervention, more than 130 families are saved from the clutches of alcohol abuse.

    His knowledge on computers is next to nothing. It became more clear when I approached him to join our class for free. He replied “All I know is computer is something that corrupts the youth”. I tried to reason with him about the class and computers, but he was not relenting since he does not have time other than his regular do or die kind of activities. He gave me a couple of leads to certain prospective clients. I will keep on trying till he agrees to attend at least a couple of sessions. His attendance is required to fulfill our vow to society.

    We did a kick start for the information technology basics course for the prospective students to identify the areas they want to learn. Before this meeting, the Banker opted out of the class and decided to join the next batch due to some unexpected commitments.

    During the kick start meeting, class identified the suitable slots for sessions and the topics to be taught. We planned for 5 consecutive mandatory sessions of 1 to 1.5 hours. We will also arrange 5 more sessions for those who want to carry what they learned to rest of their lives.

    Classes slipped out of  1.5 hours’ window and 5 mandatory sessions became 7 sessions. It was a tremendous experience and learning for me, Shalini and Varun to be with the best people who juggled their daily affairs to learn a thing or two on Internet and computers.

    On behalf of our four first students, Prof. Mathew Kurian, Ms. Shirley Rajan, Ms. Anila Joseph and Amma and my partners in arms – Shalini & Varun, I offer our course material “public” to all who wanted to be part of Digital India Journey.  I hope this offering will also help us to be true to what we speak –  to deliver value to society.

    – Salil Rawji


    Digital Me! Course Material can be accessed by clicking on IT Basics – Digital Me! hyper link in the Education Services section of our home page.  This material covers the basics of Computer, Windows OS, Microsoft office, Internet, Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube and Blog. These topics are sufficient for a layman to start his Digital Journey.

    For Beginners, it is is not a self study material. They can choose a computer literate facilitator to help them with the course. However, a computer semi-literate can use this material for self evaluation and further study.

    For A Good Start teaches this course for a fees. We will tailor the material based on the needs of its students.

  • Navakarma Charitable Trust

    We learned the trade by developing website for Swasthya Swaraj. We  have a mission To Deliver Value to Society. Now, we need another customer and to step up our offering to  “end to end” website development. We have to Design, build Content and do whatever else is required for a website.

    Grandmother of my daughter’ s best buddy Judith, runs an NGO with her friends in Nedumavu, a sleepy village in Kottayam, Kerala. Sosamma Aunty is also mother of Manju, one of my long-time friend and neighbour in Bangalore and mother-in-law of Salil’s classmate Aneesh, with whom he shares a special friendship.

    Whenever she visits Manju she talks about her NGO, Navakarma, its work and its beneficiaries. We had never done anything for Navakarma or probably nothing much to any other charitable organizations for a long time. Swasthya Swaraj was the only exception and the association with Sr. Dr. Aquinas Edassery and her team’s work created a paradigm shift in us. We got answers to questions like whom to work? what to work? and how to work? Building a website for Navakarma for free will  match the answers of above questions and can fulfil what we rightly owe to Sosamma aunty and society.

    Salil spoke to Aneesh and Manju about this few times. But they were sceptical since this work may take up much of our time. Our time should be used for setting up our firm instead. We explained to them the what is in it for us? to have Navakarma as our second customer. We need to utilize our time while settling down in Kottayam. The construction of the first floor to our house is in progress. We need to sharpen our skills on building a website end to end and building our credentials around our mission To Deliver Value to Society. Finally Manju is going to pay for the domain and web-hosting charges to the respective service providers year on year. We charge the annual maintenance charges for Navakarma website to Aneesh / Manju, of course with the NGO discounts.

    When Manju spoke to her mother about Navakarma having a website, Sosamma aunty was OK as long as it is not taking anything away from Navakarma’ s coffers. According to her Navakarma’s money is the poor man’s money.

    Making of Navakarma website was altogether a different affair than Swasthya Swaraj. Salil and me visited Navakarma office while they were doing the sorting of their monthly essential kits for beneficiaries. It was a medium sized room set up on few concrete pillars. The plot in which the building is situated is a few meters below the road. In front of the building they had their Mahindra Thar parked. Behind the building, there is a well on which the donor’s name is prominently written.

    The room had sacks of different sizes with groceries, rice, oil, tapioca and many other edible and non-edible stuff. There was also a digital weighing machine at the front left corner of the room. One young chap was watching the reading so carefully as if the readings are too small to read. Then, there were around 15 sixty something ladies and a few gentlemen moving around and talking at varying decibels.

    It took a while for us to understand what they were doing. They were packing lentils in multiples of 250gms in transparent plastic covers and weighing each one of them to ensure the exact weight. Salil privately asked me “Why are they wasting time? Are they obsessive with weights?”. They could have gone by volume instead. All they have to do is to find the volume of 250 grams of each item and go with its multiples and there will be only an error of +/- 5 grams. Salil could not resist speaking about this aloud. Sosamma aunty looked at him, smiled and replied that they are taking vouchers from the beneficiaries. So, they need exact weights.

    We got freshly brewed black coffee at 11:00 AM and a lavish potluck at 1:00 PM. Till then, I could not see much of charity there except the sorting and the bubbly grandmothers either pocking each other or talking about their grandchildren & children and the gentlemen smiling & nodding their heads on each remark.

    To Deliver Value to Society, NavakarmaAfter lunch, started the business. Extensive reports on activities and finances of  last month were read out and approved.  Then, they discussed about what they saw in the houses of prospective beneficiaries and decided on who all to be considered as beneficiaries. All these transactions were exact and complete.  I would say that the attention to details are as meticulous as their dealings with weights. We have a video on this and it is a must see for all of us in business on how to use public and private money; assess people and their circumstances and to be fair to our fellow beings and to deliver value to society.

    Before they started the second round of sorting, we returned back to our home. Then we had 3 more sessions with Navakarma. Sosamma aunty always comes for these sessions with a team and with different types of confectioneries for the kids. We wanted her to reduce the number in both fronts, but she couldn’t, as they always do in abundance, whether it is house visit or giving away. She never questioned our design or content of website. But, always insisted to give due importance to all the patrons of Navakarma; to represent all the well-wishers either through photos or text. Above all, she wanted to project Navakarma as a team, not as herself or founders or its major stake holders.

    We handed over website on 23rd Oct, 2015, the day we opened our shop. Navakarma formally launched their website on 22nd Dec, 2015. I got an opportunity to speak in the meeting. I spoke most of what I mentioned above in the three minutes. Navakarma gave  the annual maintenance contract of their website to For A Good Start. We do it for a price as we have costs. Of course, the price is discounted. Also, our service offers lots of value over the price.

    Experiences with Navakarma and Swasthya Swaraj were different. We never saw the stakeholders of Swasthya Swaraj while entire Navakarma was with us. But our feelings are all the same; learnings are also more or less the same. The ethics and values which many institutions and individuals preach, we saw our two customers practice to its perfection, be it compassion, fairness or empowerment.

    In summary, the associations with those who deliver value to society are our opportunities to deliver value to society.

    – Shalini Annie Zacharia

  • Our First Customer – Swasthya Swaraj

    In February 2015, one of my close friends called me and asked whether I could design a website for her aunt who is a catholic nun. This friend is my batch mate and a trained architect. She only knew that I was a software engineer once and left the job to take care of my children. She made an intelligent guess that I may be interested in doing such things and may have some time to spare as kids started going to school.

    It was true that I was not doing any work other than helping children with their studies and house hold chores, but I never worked on web designing, though I spend many years with IT giants like Accenture, IBM and Satyam working on Mainframe and testing assignments. I also worked on and off for an year and a half from home for SocIT, an organization providing hospital management software to charity hospitals at throw away prices. I learned Java for SocIT by myself, so I was sure that I could get the technology behind web designing easily, but not sure on the look and feel and the content of the website.

    For couple of days, I browsed through the net to understand the nitty-gritty of web design and web hosting and came across few service providers who provide domain id, space in web-servers to host websites and platforms to design and develop websites. Also, I was seriously pondering on Salil’s decision to leave the job with Accenture to re-locate to Kottayam, his home town in Kerala and set up a small firm on education and software which can be operated from home. This firm too will need a website. So, it is good to try it out with my friend’s aunt’s website so that later we can have our site up and running soon. I called up my friend and offered my willingness to take up the challenge.

    Few days later, I got a call late in the evening. When I took the phone, I could hear a low voice from the other end introducing herself as Dr. Aquinas Edassery, an internist (a medical doctor practicing general medicine) from St John’s Bangalore and she got my number from my friend.

    Sister directly came to the point. She and a team of doctors and social workers are in Kalahandi, Orissa working among tribal people who do not have access to health and education. Team is part of an NGO named Swasthya Swaraj. Swasthya Swaraj wants to tell the world about the plight of the tribal people and the work done there. But, they are in the fields tending the sick most of the time and the means of communication they have is quite inadequate for this purpose. So, the best way is to have a website of their own and they got me to do it.

    The verbal contract we had was as follows

    1. Sr. Aquinas on behalf of Swasthya Swaraj has assigned the work to design and develop a website to me.
    2. Website should be as good as one made by professionals. Sr. Aquinas will provide the content for the website and suggest changes time to time. We need to open the website on 27th June,2015.
    3. Budget for the website is not ready, I have to start by myself.
    4. I cannot go back on the assignment as Sr. Aquinas is answerable to Swasthya Swaraj and its people.

    An IT consultant in me would have never said no to the points 1, 2 and 4, but would have debated on point 3. However, I did not mind it much as this work is going to be our launching pad.

    Basically, I had to focus on two things – Do the job well and Go on a shoe string budget.

    Sr Aquinas has provided a soft copy of their brochure and their logo immediately and said that she will provide the rest of the content and photos soon. I understood from Sister that they had a domain name which is with a colleague of hers in US who is coming to India for some function and I can contact her. I mailed her and called her couple of times when she came to Bangalore. She told me that someone else created the domain name for her and I need to contact him. I contacted him and he passed the credentials to get the domain name which was with the service provider GoDaddy. He also suggested the service provider Digital Ocean for web hosting.

    I did an analysis on Digital Ocean and other web hosting service providers and zeroed in to Go Daddy. Needless to say, economics and our specific need of just having one site hosted played the parts here, nothing else.

    I had a few more calls with Sister requesting the content and photos. During the calls, I understood a bit of the modus operandi of Swasthya Swaraj. Our friends do not have much time for me, they are traveling the length and breadth of many big villages every day to conduct medical camps and educational sessions. So, Salil and me decided to build the content for Swasthya Swaraj ourselves.

    I had just a few calls with Sr Aquinas and we have the brochure. We could cut few photos out from the brochure and there is some content in the brochure. We also have their logo. Sister has connected us with one Dr. Ashish who is a junior colleague for hers and he has to be the last word on the look and feel of the site as he himself is an artist and he designed Swasthya Swaraj logo. While Salil was trying to build up the content from what we have, I started browsing through the websites of NGOs since our site should have an NGO look and it should be distinct from other sites.

    I came across certain information on Swasthya Swaraj in net and as we could not authenticate this information, we just tried to digest the information and build the content. Also, we happened to see many photos of Swasthya Swaraj in google plus site of Dr. Ashish which we could download. With all these we made the first cut of the site and showed sister and her team via a skype video call. I was keenly watching sister with a pounding heart while she typed the url. I could see her curious looks while the site was downloading and it was taking a while since they had a slow connection and it was first time. At last the site came in and the change in expression in sister’s face made my day.

    I did not get much time to stretch my legs, there came a couple of mails from Sister and Dr. Ashish with photos and presentations related to their work and suggestions on the color codes used in the website. We had to replace most of the content (not the design) of the website and had to do a fresh selection from the list of photos shared and the old ones we had. We tagged all the photos selected and did a sanity check on the grammar and the format of the text shared before presenting them on website.

    While we went through the content, we realized the extent of sacrifice these few young men and women doing under the guidance of Sr. Dr. Aquinas Edassery. Probably, it may seem a sacrifice to us who mind own business day in and day out. To them it is a job to do and a job well done makes a lot of changes in the lives of many.

    website for swasthya swarajWe have seen none of them in person, all we had was just a few calls with sister and couple of email exchanges with Dr Ashish. But, while designing the web and building up the content we felt like one of them. They run medical camps in villages inside the forests; walk kilometers and kilometers to reach a sick child; enable many a villager to provide care to ailing patients; empower the tribal people to take charge of their destiny and go head on with the current circumstances. We are not willing to do even 1% of what they do, we can’t even visit them as we cannot go on for a tireless travel to remote places in Kalahandi and we are afraid of malaria which is rampant there. All we could do was to sit at home and make the website for them.

    We decided to do the development of website for free as a small offering to the great work Swasthya Swaraj and similar NGOs are doing in our country.

    Rest is history, was launched on the annual meeting of this organization on 27th June 2015 and it was well received. We set up our firm “For a Good Start in IT and Education”. Swasthya Swaraj is our first customer. Swasthya Swaraj gave the maintenance of the website to us for a year.

    Mission of “For A Good Start” is to deliver value to our society. Needless to say, our mission is derived from our association with Swasthya Swaraj building their website.

    – Shalini Annie Zacharia

  • Good Start

    For A Good Start, KottayamHere, I do not intend to be philosophical or  deeply personal on my reasons  to quit Accenture, six months back and start the firm For A Good Start. I want to end up saying once again what I posted in Facebook and conclude that it was rather Good to quit my corporate career then, than later and to Start all over again.

    Shalini and me founded the firm and it operates in a portion of the first floor of my parents’ house in Kottayam, Kerala. In the last six months, we developed websites for two NGOs, Swasthya Swaraj and Navakarma. These NGOs have given the annual maintenance of their sites to For A Good Start. We also launched a course for beginners in IT named Digital Me! and the first batch is going on. We also started working on an accounting product for Numak Technology LCC.

    Varun Abraham Kurian an aspiring Chartered Accountant has joined as our partner. He helps us with Numak Accounting Software and Digital Me!. We can be pretty busy with Numak Accounting Software for next few months. However, we may need to deliver Digital Me! course once again as couple of people are waiting for the next batch. We need to fix a basic application in Salesforce to manage our balance sheet. We are also getting few good leads which may turn in to opportunities. Also, we plan to launch the course for students who passed 4th standard – All that a 4th Standard Pass needs to Know in first week of April 2016. I can confidently  say that we have enough and more  to do in next 3 months.

    For a Good Start is a social entrepreneurship. We want our model to thrive as well as sustain and to keep our promise – deliver value to the society in IT and education. We manage quality of courses by preparing the students based on their individual need ; maintaining  small class sizes and through interactive sessions. In software development, we follow agile methods which provide lot of interaction with customers to arrive at defect free products at the end of final iteration. There is a challenge in arriving at the best pricing, For A Good Start has to sustain as a firm and we as individuals need to meet our two ends.  We understand that there will be birth pangs, but we have to over come and achieve break even in not so distant future.

    In a nut shell, we have moved away from the likes of huge multinational banks, retailers, manufacturers, logistic and insurance providers to NGOs like Swasthya Swaraj and Navakarma and  small time businesses like Numak. And, we are moving on…

    – Salil Rawji


    I plan to publish such kind of report every 3 months.

    • “ I understand that collaboration between Marian College and For A Good Start is mutually beneficial. We look forward for more opportunities to work together to deliver value to student community.”
      Prof. Dr. Mendus Jacob, Director, Marian College, Kuttikanam | MD & CEO ipsr
    • “ I recommend For A Good Start ! My nephew Roshan, class 10, needed help in Mathematics. Roshan who was reluctant at first, looks forward to GAK - ||| sessions.”
      Rani Simon, Kottayam
    • “ For A Good Start built Navakarma's Website. We are very much satisfied with their effort. Their service is really cost effective. We wholeheartedly recommend For A Good Start to others. ”
      Sosamma P Thomas, Managing Trustee, Navakarma Charitable Trust
    • “ I am highly impressed by the educational framework developed by For A Good Start. I have sent 3 students including my grand daughter Sandra for GAK - |||.”  
      Kuruvilla George – Retired College Librarian | Personality Development Trainer