‘Acts of compassion can change many lives,’ says Kerala’s Collector Bro in TEDx talk

He also urged the public to volunteer and take part in various causes to ensure good governance.
‘Acts of compassion can change many lives,’ says Kerala’s Collector Bro in TEDx talk
‘Acts of compassion can change many lives,’ says Kerala’s Collector Bro in TEDx talk
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In the decade since Prashanth Nair, former Kozhikode collector, joined the Indian Administrative Service, not only did he become ‘Collector Bro’, but also became a cult figure across the state.

In a recent TEDx Talk held in Thiruvananthapuram, Prashanth, best known for his ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’ programme, spoke frankly about the need to involve the grassroots level in administration and how to effectively communicate with the public.

“An act of compassion can change many lives,” said Prasanth, in his talk.  

He is affectionately called ‘Collector bro’ in the state, thanks to policies and initiatives he introduced.

He began by saying, “When I sat for my IAS interview, they asked me why I chose this field, I told them I wanted power. Remember what Spiderman’s uncle said? ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”

Prashant then went on to speak about his successful ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’ mission.

“I had just started off in the civil services and happened to visit the Government Mental Health Centre in Kozhikode. It was one of the most saddening experiences I have ever had. Many patients were housed in solitary cells, built by the British in the 1800s. The sight shook me. I found out that inmates eat their own excreta,” he said.

Moved, he called the hospital Superintendent. “I asked him why patients were housed in such poor conditions. He pointed out the lack of government funds,” said Prashanth.

It was then that he struck upon the idea of mobilising resources from the public by communicating with them via social media.

“I posted on my official Facebook page seeking public support and donations not in the form of money but resources and materials required by the inmates. The response was great. We could collect resources worth Rs 10 lakh,” said Prasanth.

This success gave his team the confidence to launch the ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’ programme.

“We were very confident after the initial success and we decided to launch a full-fledged programme where we ask for donations, but not in the form of money,” said Prasanth.

“People donate many things like plastic chairs, rice, radios, clothes, water taps – all of which are, in fact, essentials for hospitals,” he added.

Collector Bro further explains how a job as challenging as motivating people to volunteer for public causes can be simplified by effectively using social media.

“The public is compassionate, the challenge is to tap into this compassion. We once did a small experiment by posting an open invitation on Facebook, requesting people to gather at Kozhikode Beach to celebrate the examinations break for boys in children’s homes. The response was phenomenal, more than 1,000 people gathered that day,” said Prasanth.

Citing another example he said, “The government has always had a volunteer programme where people are expected to turn up and clean water bodies and other public places, and they will be rewarded with snacks and refreshments. You expect people to turn for such a press release note?”

Well, he and his team decided to revamp the programme a bit and this is what happened.

“We tweaked the programme a bit, mainly in its approach. We alerted the public about the cause and the opportunity for them to volunteer for this cause and, in return, we offered them biryani,” said Prasanth.

He concluded by speaking about the need for the public to involve themselves in various causes

“Once a student of social work called Henna volunteered at the Mental Healthcare Centre. She spoke to a patient from TN who had been housed there since 2007. She had been treated, but there was nobody to take her home. After spending some time with her, the girl found out that the woman was from Sivakasi and that her family owned a flower mart. She made few enquiries and found her family. She learnt that the woman had gotten lost; she was not abandoned. Overnight, they took the taxi to Sivakasi and met her long-lost mother,” recalled Prasanth.

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