Monday, August 07, 2006

The value of sharing

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

Since the much-publicised granting of a patent to a large corporate vendor of LMS software I've been reflecting a little about what it is that I value in education.   The following recollection came to mind.

A few years ago I attended in London a presentation about a Sri Lankan charity called Sarvodaya Shramadana, which means something like 'The rising up of everyone to vigorous sharing.'   It conveys in my mind an image of the sun rising and sharing its light right across the landscape; and here everyone is meant to be the sun!

I took my seat a few minutes before the evening's proceedings were due to begin.  The programme had indicated that the founder, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, was due to speak.  I looked towards the stage, but could see no signs of activity.  Where was the speaker?  Yet, no-one in the room seemed at all concerned.   Then a little old man, whom I had hardly noticed, got up from his seat on the first row and walked carefully to the front.  It was Dr. Ariyaratne.

He started with a minute's meditation practice to dedicate metta (loving kindness) to all and then gradually unfolded the history and purpose of the organisation he had founded.  He explained how his social awareness had grown in his early working life as a science teacher.   During the 50s he started to formulate a system of economics based on shramadana that enabled people to help themselves through service to others, a system he continued to refine over the coming decades.  It is a very organic and integrated system operating at successively wider levels, starting with the individual, then the family and radiating outwards.  One of the principles is trust - if someone demonstrates they can use funds wisely, then they become entrusted with more funds and can act as a small bank, responsible for allocating funds to others.
Many aspects struck me that evening, including his style of delivery - it seemed completely natural, not controlled; the stories flowed with the tone in his voice sometimes going up and down very quickly in excitement.  But not a hint of aggression.

So he set up Sarvodaya Shramadana (now just called Sarvodaya).   Today this has resulted in projects helping thousands of villages.  It has been the largest movement working for rehabilitation following the Indian ocean tsunami at the end of 2004CE, as you can read on their site:

Although I don't know the details of how the movement works, there are many facets that seem to ring true to me, which make me feel that we could learn a great deal.  I imagine the way the organisation operates at both micro and macro levels probably means there are insights that apply at many levels - from the architectural design of interoperating systems through to sharing of online educational resources.

But the wisdom from a page about the founder alerts us to quite a challenge:
"In the cybernetic age where busyness and popular culture sap our energies, Sarvodaya can offer something sadly lacking in our part of the world. Instead of competition, it stresses cooperation. Instead of dogged independence, it promotes interdependence and sharing. In the place of cynicism about our fellow human beings, it offers practical wisdom and hope."

Perhaps it's up to us all to make a vigorous effort ...


'Sarvodaya Shramadana' is a name full of meaning: Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word that is the conjunction of two components: Sarva (whole, entire, all encompassing) + Udaya (uplift, rising or all-round progress).  Dana means giving or sharing and shrama means labour, energy, vigour (mental and physical).  Most of these terms are defined in online Sanskrit-English dictionaries, e.g. the Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon based on Monier-Williams' 'Sanskrit-English Dictionary'.