In the midst of the backwaters of Kerala, when you visit IISE (International Institute Of Social Entrepreneurship) you are sure that it is a perfect setting anyone could have imagined for an institute like that. Far from rat race of the cities, situated in Kochivelli, IISE campus is a perfect amalgamation of modernization, simplicity and technicality.
IISE was established as a part of BWB (Braille Without Borders) with an initial vision of finding visually-challenged children with a passion to grow and give them the tools to function independently in society. Sabriye Tenberken, the founder BWB, lost her vision at the age of 12. She went from Germany to Tibet after hearing the terrible circumstances in which the visually-challenged children there lived. She always felt stifled by the constraints on the visually-impaired in Germany and hence decided to work with others who were facing the same pressures but under much more extreme conditions. Sabriye met Paul Kronenberg while she was in Tibet who later went on to create BWB together.
It began as an initiative to create Tibetan Braille and grew into a printing press for Tibetan Braille literature. Then a preparatory school for the primary education of blind children was established. To realize the idea of the blind as an independent section of the society, they opened a vocational training school which provided them employment skills and encouraged entrepreneurship. This included things like cheese farming, animal husbandry, gardening, theatre and painting.
After establishing the centre in Tibet, their objective evolved from empowering the visually-impaired to creating leaders within any marginalized group that would act as a catalyst for change. Hence they moved to this idyllic location in Kerala and started IISE.
BWB runs almost wholly on donations and grants. The ethos of the organization is to help as many people as rapidly as possible, and BWB believes that an open-source model is most effective. Naturally, there is some risk in relying on the goodwill of others to sustain it, so BWB focuses on maximizing its use of capital.
The impact that BWB has had on people can be seen on social, economic as well as the political front. Empowering blind people helps not only themselves but also every individual who interacts with them; the organization that employs them. BWB is demonstrating that not only can blind people be contribute significantly to the society, that they can infact be leaders.
Talking about the economic impact, tooling up 161 million blind people provides as an invaluable work resource. These marginalized groups are able to create assets and jobs as much as anyone else.
For more details on BWB/IISE, check out http://staging.bwb-iise.org/
To know more about Sabriye, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabriye_Tenberken