Remembering Townsend clubs

Set aside ten minutes every Friday afternoon to give yourself a weekly report card on four leadership skills : Listening, communicating, reengineering mistakes , and subordinating your ego to the task at hand.

Managing the Non-Profit Organization, Peter Drucker



Listening is not a skill; it is a discipline. Anybody can do it. All you have to do is to keep your mouth shut. In today’s reading, at our “Book Club” of the Tripoli Reading Group, we went through the experiences of the “Townsend clubs” of the 1930s in US, which led to the social security old age pension plan.

Crafting a paragraph

When asked about the “listening” skills to a member of the reading group, he said that his job has been to ‘listen’ to the way the different managers are giving their perspective on what to do with the money that they owe him!

One of the editors of the Townsend club had the task of writing one paragraph which gave the distinct character of that particular club. In keeping with that tradition, an attempt to write about our distinct character – keeping in mind just the past week- would be

  • Appendix or take out full or half
  • Narasinh Mehta- Vaishno Jan ko Tene
  • Reengineering Mistakes
The Reading a "Non Profit" organization which has enriched our lives in many ways..
The Reading a “Non Profit” organization which has enriched our lives in many ways..


Appendix or take out full or half

In the morning between 9.30 am and 10.00 am, the “Mudirs” sit and have a coffee table discussion. “This is where one can catch them with some regularity,” my friend told. So I started trying to follow this routine and found that he is absolutely right. This is where they meet and discuss issues of maintenance, supplies, staff and smoke and have coffee.

So this is where we read the lines regarding a parallel between surgery and management- if one takes out half the appendix or tonsil, one has not cured the disease while exposing the patient to the risks.

The Chairman’s son sat with us as we read this passage regarding setting up minimum boundary questions and the way things are to be dealt with.

It is sometimes confusing to see on whose side who is.

But one has to take care, no matter how friendly and sympathetic a person seems to be.

If that person happens to be the Chairman’s son, we have to take all precautions


Narasinh Mehta- Vaishno Jan to Tene

My sons learnt how to read, write, speak, listen to Gujarati thanks to a special class which they have been attending every Saturday. Having lived in cosmopolitan cities-Delhi-Mumbai in their early years, they were not able to pick up Gujarati as well as they should have. Now, many years later, in Mississauga Canada, they were able to do this, thanks to the trend of integration which is promoted by the school boards, which encourages students of different backgrounds to know their language.

Read one work of literature in your language, I goaded my sons.

For Gujarati, we went into the works of Narsi Mehta or Narsi Bhagat (1414-1481) a poet saint of Gujarat, India, notable as a Bhakta , an exponent of Vaishnava poetry. He is especially revered in Gujarati literature , where he is acclaimed as its Adi Kavi (Sanskrit for “first among poets”) . His bhajan, Vaishnav Jan To is Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite and has become synonymous to him.

Rough translation

Call to people as Vaishnavas (devotees of Lord Vishnu)

Who feel the pain of others

Help those who are in misery

But never let ego or conceit enter their mind

Vaishnavas, respect the entire world,

Do not censure anyone,

Keep their words, action and thoughts pure,

The mother of such a soul is blessed


Vaishnavas see all equally, renounce greed and avarice,

Respect other woman as they respect their own mother

Their tongue never utters false words,

Their hands would never touch the wealth of another.


Vaishnavas do not succumb to worldly attachments,

They are detached from worldly pleasures

They are enticed by the name of God (Shri Ram)

All holy sites of pilgrimage are embodied within them.


Vaishnavas encompasses the absence of greed and deceit

They have renounced all types of  lust and anger

The author of this poem (Narsi) would be grateful to meet such a soul

Whose virtues liberates their entire lineage

Discussion note

Wisdom literature of every tradition has some form of the Golden rule

“Do not do to others, what you would not like them to do to you.”

In reading-discussing the poem of the 15th century poet saint of Gujarat-India, on one fine evening in Tripoli, Libya, we sifted for the meanings of this poem in our current contexts.

One Libyan friend said that each of the parties in the discussion regarding the “New Political Agreement” is making as much noise as possible so that they have a bigger piece of the cake.

The poem and inspiration of Narsi Mehta’s words would do good to the common whole of the Libyan people if some of their powerful people keep ‘lust and anger, greed and deceit” on the back and think of the common good of the whole.



As the last part of our discussion we tried to go behind the “Reengineering mistakes” section of the four qualities enlisted above by Peter Drucker (Listening, Communicating, Reengineering mistakes, subordinating the ego to the task at hand)

As one of our readers-discussion group members went on a “drive” to talk about the way the “Mudirs” have dealt with the employees, one other member shifted the focus and asked.

“Are you a good listener?”

He answered- “Yes, that is what I have to do. Just listen to what is their new plan regarding the money which they owe me.”

“Are you a good listener to the CEO of your home?”

This question threw him off balance for a few seconds and then he candidly admitted that he is not as good a listener in his home life as he should be.

Then he mellowed down a bit, and remembered the times when he has not been a considerate listener to his life partner at home.

In this aspect-all of us can improve. Some tips which were shared by a more experienced member was

  • Hold your breath for a few seconds if you feel that you are about to talk in a loud tone
  • Try to speak for less than a minute at a time.



The la Townsend club in Tripoli, our reading group, have enriched our lives in many ways. In the half-appendix surgery, the message of compassion in Narsi Mehta’s poem, the re-engineering paradigm in daily home life, we found lessons to be able to imbibe and grow.

Tasks- After reading through these above passages one can try to set aside time every week when one consciously engages in this type of Report card (listening, communicating, reengineering mistakes, subordinating ego to task) for one self. On an organizational level, if one tries to involve people at a group level to answer these questions at a group level, the dynamics and complexity of the interaction will be enriched manifold

Research assignment: What did social security measure did the Townsend clubs lead to?


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