In life, it is never the big battle, the big speech, the big moment. That does not change things, What makes the change is small happenings, that cause you to take actions you had never planned. Sayyed Manzer joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, for a Masters in Social Work, like any other unassuming student. What struck him most, in his first few days, was the plethora of socio-cultural and economic backgrounds that his batchmates came from. “A lot of my classmates were leading a challenging life, starkly different from mine. For instance, the fee and daily expenses were never a concern for me. But I knew people who planned their daily expenses daily, down to the last rupee. This was something I had never witnessed, and I realized how much easier my life was.”
Several of his classmates were availing the GoI-PMS Scholarship in order to pay their fees. The scholarship scheme had begun as a central government grant and was later turned into a state government grant. In the last four years before Manzer’s batch came to TISS, the situation of the scholarship had gone from bad to worse. The student aid amount was reduced with each passing year and getting that minimal amount was made even more difficult by the prevalent red-tapism.
In 2018, the student aid issue hit the student body hard. Everyone was concerned and we were all trying to solve the issue in our own ways. It was during these jostling of ideas that the concept of Bridge grew. While it was an unsettling situation for all students, having friends who skipped a meal to save money for train tickets, made it even more personal. Sometime in March 2018, a group of his batchmates came together to figure out possible ways of securing funds for student aid and channelizing them to those who needed them the most. The brainstorming took a good six months. TISS already had a student aid mechanism in place, where aid was distributed following a usual process of interviews. In recent years, there has been a severe fund crunch due to the huge volume of applications and limited funds. It was decided that Bridge would use the existing disbursal system, but increase transparency and accountability in the process. Alumni and friends who contribute to the Student aid fund would know exactly where the money was at any given time, and how it was being used.
“Brainstorming was the easy part”, Manzer admits, “the difficult part was to inculcate the system in the already existing mechanism.” For months, they could see no movement and zero results. “The initial team withered away, and we narrowed down to a handful of people”. This merits a mention of the sheer grit and dedication on the team’s part, which allowed them to shuffle in a new process into an already existing complex machinery.
After two years of exhaustive follow-ups and a sustained campaign, Bridge officially found a space on the TISS website. “I had tears in my eyes when it happened”, he recalls. “In February 2019, the payment gateway was established but we have started taking donations officially, only in 2020.” Bridge’s maiden campaign began on 19th May this year, where they were aiming to raise funds to cover the outstanding fees of more than 200 students across all four TISS campuses. They were able to raise Rs 7 lakhs, which was given for immediate disbursal, given the urgency of the need. “Bridge’s has a model based on 60:40 division of any fund that is generated. For all future campaigns, 60% of the amount will be disbursed, and 40% will go into the corpus. This is how we have ensured the sustainability of the model,” he says.
While Manzer and his batchmates have graduated from TISS, he continues to be a part of Bridge. As a co-founder, he keeps a bird’s eye view on its workings. He is involved in the selection and monitoring of the student committee that gets renewed each year and also assists in outreach. “Higher education is in a grave problem in our country, and we need to realize this.”, he says, “ If you were to ask me, I would love it in the next few years, Bridge did not exist. It would mean that the scholarships were running smoothly. He maintains steadfastly that scholarships are a students’ right and Bridge is by no means a replacement for them. Nonetheless, he hopes that Bridge is able to make life easier for students today, and in the future.”
Bridge is open to receiving funds. Please join Manzer’s Bridge Circle and contribute so that many intelligent minds can gain .
Giving Circle has a unique solution for students and universities alike where students' impact can be amplified. We need all hands to work in tandem and the way TISS has supported, we only wish many others play that administrative role. Individuals like Manzer are here to create a movement and in case of students its more appropriate to create something where baton can be passed to the next batch.
As we publish this article, the Bridge's latest campaign has already helped 20 outgoing students.