The Vision For The NOC
By Founder & Chair: Narendra P. Sharma, PhD
After more than three decades at the World Bank, I retired and moved to Hilton Head Island. I soon recognized that I still had something to offer in helping the poor. I visited one of the low-income neighborhoods, the Oaks Apartments (approximately 115 units, many occupied by more than one family), tucked in the middle of Hilton Head Island, and came to the realization that I did not have to go overseas to fight poverty. Despite widely held perceptions of Hilton Head Island as a community of wealthy retirees living in gated communities, poverty was right here in my own backyard. This experience was a game changer in my life.
People – mostly Hispanics and African Americans – were living in this crime-ridden neighborhood with no sense of community or connectedness with the rest of Hilton Head. Unemployment was high; families struggled to survive on incomes below the poverty threshold; children were not meeting school standards in math, reading, and language arts, many were not staying in school, or graduating on time. I found that families had no health insurance or access to health care; obesity and poor nutrition were rampant. My experience in the Oaks neighborhood ignited my passion to help these people. I realized that I did not have to go to Africa, Latin America, or Asia to practice development. My mantra became “teach them how to fish,” make them independent and self -reliant, and give them dignity.
My career at the World Bank was eye-opening. I saw the impact of development; I saw affluence as well as poverty and suffering; and I saw the difference that education could make in people’s lives. I met many interesting individuals, including Mother Theresa. She made an indelible impression on me and her focus on love, compassion, and caring for others continues to have an impact on me. I met others too who were doing outstanding work in their quiet and humble way without any publicity. From all of these people I learned that one must have clear vision, a sense of mission, and core values. More importantly, one cannot lose sight of the end game, i.e., making a difference in the lives of the people you serve.
Toward the end of my career at the World Bank, I realized that we needed more innovative solutions on a larger scale to tackle poverty. Our approaches were too traditional, focusing on “one size fits all” with expectations of quick results. These projects/programs relied too much on capital and hard investments and less on soft investments that build relationships and trust, as well as listening to people and involving them in defining priorities, developing solutions that are sustainable and replicable, and empowering people and creating opportunities. I realized that development interventions often result in untended impacts of increased bureaucracy and dependence without eradicating poverty. I realized that we needed to think outside the box to develop new solutions.
Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC), created in 2008, incorporates lessons that I have learned about good practices over more than three decades of development experience worldwide. NOC’s mission is to help the poor and those who are vulnerable through its core programs of education (preschool, after school, and adult education), health services, workforce development, and community development activities. NOC, in partnership with other local agencies, brings valuable services, resources, and technology to people within these neighborhoods. Education is NOC’s flagship program, and the primary beneficiaries are children and women.
NOC started with just five children using borrowed space in the apartment of a neighborhood family. After ten years of operation, we are serving annually more than 500 children in six centers. More than 200 individuals benefit from our health screenings, and more than 1,200 benefit annually from our workforce and community development activities. NOC has a strong neighborhood presence, a proven development approach, and a business model that collectively are making a difference in the lives of many people, especially the children, living in low-income neighborhoods in a cost effective way. We connect, listen, and involve people from these neighborhoods to develop solutions. Our work is drawing attention from people in other areas.
We are now ready to replicate the NOC model beyond our local community. My vision is to establish many free-standing NOCs run and supported independently throughout the country with the goal of creating an even playing field in low income neighborhoods so people, especially children, can achieve the “American Dream” and enjoy a better quality of life.
Narendra P. Sharma, PhD
Founder and Chair, NOC