NGO Retreat: A Journey from Head to Heart

Posted by Smita Navare on Dec 29, 2015

After attending Startup Service a couple years ago and engaging with the Moved By Love ecosystem, the question arose of how to bring the spirit of love into my work in the NGO sector.

Perhaps as some form of an answer, a couple weeks back, about 45 leaders from various NGOs came together for a 3-day retreat. It was a wonderful experience which has caused so many ripples. It’s difficult to capture it in words. For the benefit of many who wanted a "full download" on the retreat, this is the best we could do.

The retreat began by taking us in a sacred space beautified with flowers and 'Diyas' by invisible hands. We were greeted with a "Tikka" and “Namaskaar” and a flower given to each one of us with a namaskar

We then sat in a circle with a minute of silence and that space within this circle of sharing where each one of us shared was so intense and prevailing. We felt like one big family. Each one was listened to and looked at with so much love, dignity and validation, this process in itself was magical. And then the prayers were so soothing and made us all more still.

After a break, we transitioned into a talk from Nipun-bhai. There was no formal introduction to faculty, as he is a phenomenon one cannot introduce, one has to experience! In a heartfelt sharing, he very gently and lovingly helped us explore and hold a few questions and ideas and soon it was not ME but WE who were exploring:

Being the change we want to see in the world.

One key idea was that the place to begin is with inner transformation rather than impact. This flipped it for many of us from the NGO world, where the buzz words are "Impact," "ROI," "Evaluation and Monitoring," "numbers," and "statistics." This man here was talking about trust, love, giving. Initially something did not fit. But soon we all remembered this was where we originally got inspired to start our work, before we then got caught up in the running of it. As one NGO leader pointed out, we began to see "donors as currencies, and beneficiaries as statistics, sheer numbers." With this realization, a deeper question was posed: ‘Who really is the beneficiary?’

It was a returning home of sorts. It rekindled all those emotions that came so naturally to us where we felt 'ONE'. We could already sense transformation as it emerged, minus the lecturing, preaching and criticism. We all explored within and got something for ourselves and our fellow beings.


The different forms of capital were introduced, and we realized how we were very biased over only the financial capital which is just one resource in the whole spectrum. The realization that we have so many capitals was empowering and enlightening.

Jyoti later reflected, "I learnt that giving love brings about changes money cannot produce. Finance is essential like salt but other ingredients are what makes the food for soul." 

A session by Preeta and Audrey helped us understand Leadership as Laddership, how a leader becomes a ladder to facilitate 'climbing' of their team and some questions were again held and explored.

We picked up our 'edges' (areas or challenges where we feel we have reached an edge and we want to stretch and look ahead of). The edges were:

     1. Issues with donors
     2. Human Resources
     3. Staff
     4. SELF
     5. Government
     6. Beneficiaries

We had anchors in each group to hold space and facilitate the discussion.

The almost unanimous conclusion was it all begins with IT (Inner transformation) the energy we bring in our interactions with all.

All the above processes were done with stories both by faculty and participants (After the initial half an hour difficult to differentiate who is faculty and who is participant). Inspirations were drawn from Vinobaji and Gandhiji's lives, as well as from some extraordinary everyday people stories.

For dinner we had one more surprise where invisible hands had created beauty and music for us to have a Silent Dinner where we were lovingly served and then those served in turn served! Including our brothers from staff who looked after and served us during the whole retreat as one of the staff from Flame remarked, “I am feeling that I am eating at home where I am served with love”. All were now in a state of “How may I Serve”. What a powerful state for NGO founders & leaders!!! With all this subtle beauty there was lots of music and songs in a circle where there was a song playing in every heart only some were more audible.

On the final day, there was a different energy in the air. Nipun-bhai remarked how we are all grateful to our ancestors who took all the right and left turns for us to be blessed with whatever we have today. We were inspired by the story of two Buddhist monks, who went on a bowing pilgrimage for 2 years and 9 months, taking a bow at every three steps.

We then embarked on a silent closing walk, where we put the three-steps-and-a-bow into practice, in gratitude to our ancestors and with an intent to empty ourselves. This was done on a beautiful path laid out again by invisible hands with messages and quotes. For those of us who could not bow, it was still done with that spirit and reverence. This was magical. Many were moved to tears.

As we closed with a a final circle of reflections, it felt as though we were breathing in countless transformations. Our gratitude to the many invisible hands and hearts that held the space is immeasurable. From the beautiful university campus on which we held the retreat, to the many nameless volunteers who came and selflessly served us the silent dinner, to Gitanjali's stunning stories and ambiance; and the dedication and care of Sheetal V, who showed up with bright smiles, anchored the entire retreat (even though a close family member of hers had just passed away!) and next day went straight to serve at another retreat(!)... we have most definitely been moved -- perhaps even bulldozed :) -- by love.

One participant later wrote, "Until this weekend, I was on a mission for 'outer transformation' -- to do something for make the society a little better. I was using my mind and intellect for that act of outer transformation. Yes, I could have been successful in that, but it would been have been like cultivating a flower without fragrance. To add the fragrance, I realized that I need to first transform myself to be a little more kind to myself to all I meet in everyday life. Just a diversion on the "service" road will give me strength go a long way on the highway."

And the ripples continue! Renu has been inspiring kindness amongst the children she works with. Each child picks a card, does the suggested act of kindness, and writes about it in his or her journal. Pramod has been experimenting with small acts of love at work. Bunch of us are inspired to practice stillness-- whether as a moment of silence before meetings, a minute of gratitude before meals, an actual period of meditation, or beyond. On that note, other daily practices that we collectively brainstormed during the retreat are unfolding in our various corners of the country.

As Jyoti sums up, "When it is a beautiful sunrise, one cannot say what is so special about it. Everything, including one dark cloud (which is like our blind spots), makes it so beautiful and divine... I have heard that love moves mountains, but it wasn't until here that I have deeply experienced this. No one had to be told, it was flowing and I was drenched! I do not know how will I measure it actually. All that I know is I will consciously put in efforts to live what I experienced. Sounds hefty, maybe I will succeed sometimes if not all times. I will do my best."

Posted by Smita Navare on Dec 29, 2015 | permalink

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  • Madhu wrote ...

    What a fantastic recap!!!! Thanks Smitaji.

  • Preeti Damle wrote ...

    Thanks a lot for sharing. I re-lived the moments!

  • Suneeta G wrote ...

    Although I wasn't there, I already was told by 3 participants about the experience. Interestingly each one had a diff experience, with diff insights. Even reading this beautifully written blog, I could sense the enriching, amazing feelings you all must have. I felt that this is all written by our ancestors long ago, we in our busy life are forgetting that Giving is receiving. I am so happy for all of you to have enjoyed three days in the company of people like Nipunbhai. I am sure everyone will carry forward the learning. Thanks once again. This was the best New year Gift.. Happy New Year.. May God give you health, happiness and energy to do your wonderful work.

  • Javed Nagare wrote ...

    Thank you very much for giving us such a great moments, where we feel peace, love, happiness, and a lot's more. Also thanks to Nipunbhai & team, for such a great great retreat which we never had before. I'm sure that this love and blessing we get in future also.

  • Rupa wrote ...

    Nipun Ji is not just a talk but it’s an experience. As my service to this retreat, I am offering this small list of notes that we have learnt from this retreat.  Please feel free to add and correct ... --To retreat, we come to learn to create space of silence for introspection, a vacuum to let Divine energy help our cause and our work --To have sustainable work, not just superficial but deep roots of the work should be spreading around between you and people around you with similar  See full.

    Nipun Ji is not just a talk but it’s an experience. As my service to this retreat, I am offering this small list of notes that we have learnt from this retreat.  Please feel free to add and correct ...

    --To retreat, we come to learn to create space of silence for introspection, a vacuum to let Divine energy help our cause and our work

    --To have sustainable work, not just superficial but deep roots of the work should be spreading around between you and people around you with similar positive energy… to create mega effect

    --Vinoba Ji- Sole purpose of my work is to connect Heart to Heart

    --Gandhiji believed in connecting one to one, Vinoba ji connected one to many and now we need to connect MANY TO MANY FOR HUGE WORK TO BE CARRIED OUT

    --When you don’t have enough to eat, that means you have not given enough to the society

    --Discussed many types of Capitals: intellectual, spiritual, social, material, living, financial, cultural, experiential, love.

    --Mother Teresa- There are many types of poverty in society..let’s see which all can we serve..

    --In general for any work the outcome is measured as… Impact-> Projects-> People-> Inner transformation. Where as, can begin with self, inner transformation and go to social impact?

    --Vinoba: Great people will come in future who will be so good that they will refuse to take leadership, they’ll just work and go

    --Oscar Wilde: Now a days people know price of everything and values of NOTHING!

    --To become instrumental in the process of universal flow of Love, just let go of your EGO

    --Love (universal) always prevails!

    --Moral arc of Universe always bends towards Justice

    --Delhi G B Street of CSW is changed to Pyar Ka Mohalla by efforts by Geetanjali and team

    --We can measure Social Impact, But how do we measure Inner transformation?

    --When the intention is in line with the working Hierarchy, the Nature automatically helps it progress. You can choose to be part of that process or Move out of the way!!!

    --Be a Ladder and not leader, as leader is always a position where jealousy and other criticism will make working very difficult.

    --Shift from Center to Edge, Plan and execute to "search and amplify", monoculture to ecosystem (cultivate resilience)

    --Preeta: Ground Level to Government, Which ways work can be done is worth exploring through introspection…

    --Shri Vivekananda’s line: In history the people may other than Christ, Gandhi etc must have worked tirelessly for the society. But the true hero just complete their work and leave, without even leaving any mort of their presence

    --Working on the edge- facing different challenges: Of donors, Of self-Why am I doing it (Introspection), HR department Staff and volunteers, Successors team for future planning of the NGO, Government

    -- Small act of Kindness: Cultivate -> Give -> Happiness -> Kindness -> again cultivating in surrounding

    -- Mother Teresa: Speak less of yourself; No big things; Only small acts with great love

    --Power of many- Everyone is good at something

    --Power of One: Everyone can be great at giving

    --Power of Zero- Everyone is connected to everything!

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  • Rupa wrote ...

    Today I'm going to extend my learning to a group of 50-60 children of age 12-18 in a Life skill education program at Sasoon Hospital. These are children from HIV infected families, with whom we celebrate either Children's day or X'mas. I need blessings and good wishes from all of you so that I can include my learnings from last wk's Synergy Meet to these blooming buds.

  • Pramod wrote ...

    After the workshop at FLAME, I am trying to change my self very seriously with acts of kindness and the 3 things that I have committed to follow. Some times [actually many times] I loose patience with my colleagues and feel guilty later on but now trying for more Acts of kindness. Its really very difficult to practice but worthwhile.

    I am very much thankful to Drishti to orgnise such a nice workshop. It was very needed for me. I wish to see a considerable change within me and let others experience. Hope 2016 would strengthen my commitment and keep me encouraged to keep it up.

  • Parimal wrote ...

    To Smitaben, Jyotiben: Thanks a lot for changing life. From last seven year, we have received your
    moral support and you are a god-send for us. Thank you dearly.

  • Ayaz Sangrar wrote ...

    Honestly, I never expected this kind of retreat when I was invited by Drishti. It was just awesome. There are so many areas of humanity that we got to explore and experience. It was very thought provoking and in some ways life changing. Thanks to Drishti and Thanks to Nipunbhai,Geetanjali,Shital,Audrey, and all the participants. And thanks to Smitatai for writing such a beautiful summary of the retreat with beautiful pictures. Love to all.

  • sniggdha jauhari wrote ...

    Absolutely LOVELY, Smitti.
    Could i come to one such session??

  • Vandana wrote ...

    most mesmerizing and memorable moments of my life. I really miss the session and the feelings i had there...
    Unfortunately I will not be able to attend this year but will never forget those days.

  • Vandana Sonawane wrote ...

    This experience wonderful and fabulous. Every one desires love and peace.