I’ve always been a very empathetic person. So, I think a lot of my art comes from my observation of other people’s experiences, and wanting that to be heard.
I have always been a strong believer of the fact that as artists we are very capable of making people feel and connect with their deepest emotions. This chord we strike with the audience is definitely something more than how social workers connect. When I say this I am speaking on behalf of most artists out there. This gave me a sense of power within. This power coupled with my great sense of responsibility made me put very meaningful content out there as I feel Art has this innate power to influence people, good or bad. I think every artist needs to be very responsible and careful of the art that they create. With the multitude of social issues in our world, I realised that being a music composer will allow me to address such issues giving it an artistic twist. With this sense of power, responsibility and empathy, I got started with giving the world music to heal.
I was four years old when I moved to India from the United States. We moved to Bangalore in India and the city being a cultural hub, I got started with Carnatic music immediately. It has been about 14 years now and I have many music exams, performances, piano lessons with Trinity grades to my credit. Not just that I learned a lot of other styles of music, like jazz, R&B, pop, and this was just based off of what I would listen to. I did a few concerts with my music Guru and then moved on to perform solo.
Somewhere along the line I realised the best way to make the most significant impact on the world would be to create, and not just perform.
That landed me at the Berklee College of Music, to major in Composition. I write and try to produce my music as well. I do try to do get some help, because I’m still a learner.
Every journey has that first step that one takes. My composition skills really had its humble beginning when as an 11 year old. I took to song-writing at that tender age. I used to just sit by my piano generate lyrics, create melodies and sing them. The beauty of this exercise was there was no boundary I was conforming to and I felt totally liberated. I felt like the goddess of creation and there was nothing more empowering than that. It was a very happy space I had entered and wanted it to be a forever thing. I could do it all day long and not feel bored at all. That’s when I decided to do composition.
My knowledge of Carnatic music and the depth the classical music gave me as a vocalist really helped me spearhead in this whole track and get to the core or the roots of music creation.
Rather than call myself a social worker, I would say I am a socially sensitive person. Over the years as an artist I observed there aren’t enough platforms that support all artists out there waiting to be heard. In most cases the artist needed to build some credibility of his/her own to hop on to a platform to get recognised. Thus my podcast platform Pochemuchka, which is Russian for someone who asks too many questions, was born. The word Pochemuchka was picked off Google while trying to find fancy words in different languages! A shallow person that I am and given my love for the Russians I picked a Russian name from the list of choices. It’s a one stop shop for any artist, no matter whether their art is out there already, or whether they are just creating art in their bedroom. I talk to a lot of these artists to get their perspectives on things and to be of help to just get their voice out there. It has been a really rewarding experience so far.
I also compose songs on things that I deeply care about and that really matter to me. As an example my song Anomaly, which is out right now (link added at the ens of this blog), actually happened when I was watching TED-Ed videos.
I was deeply impressed by the creative visuals employed by those videos on mental health. I thought they had the coolest animations. This coupled with the cinematic effects of Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock instigated me to highlight significant social topics through my music compositions. With the resolution to create inspirational work I co-produced the song, Anomaly along with Kate Brunotts (a musician and artist). It is created from the perspective of a Schizophrenic individual, and aims to de-stigmatize mental health issues in the society. It was a super fun adding the effects of hallucinations, through a completely different sonic palette. This song urges people to accept mental health disorders like any another aspect of life, and not something that breaks norms. Apart from all these I am also teaching Carnatic music, with the sole intention of everyone to experience the simple joy of music and melody.
Like I mentioned earlier, the starting point was really the Ted Ed video on mental health. After watching it I was transported to a hallucinatory world. My headspace belonged to a different person and I seemed to have had an out of body experience.
Being a Psychology major in high school helped all the more when we had actually learned about the disorder in depth.
We also had this presentation about Ed Gein, a serial killer who had schizophrenia. With this information on hand I actually started penning down the lyrics for the song and in doing so in my mind, I became that someone who was suffering from schizophrenia. Before I knew I had the full song on hand. It started with a drum pattern with additions of chords and melody. I have to mention my mixing engineer and co-producer, Kate Brunettes who was of immense help in bringing this song to life. My other friends Anusha, Rishab and Raj are brilliant artists who designed a mind blowing cover art.
Composing Anomaly was an experience of a lifetime for me.
There are a lot of things that bother me when I look around, specifically the socio-economic divide and the politics surrounding it. I am sure to put out a song on this subject soon. Other than that I am trying to compose songs expressing plain emotions when going through dark times or happy times. The psychology student in me has to cover depression and the resultant isolation from the world. So, all this will hopefully materialise into melody sometime this year or the next.
As an immediate next song I am looking to release a romantic ballad.
When in High school, I participated in a Design Competition and had directed the short film Feet that was about women’s empowerment for the same. This short movie used a creative approach, using only the portrayal of feet to follow the differences in opportunities for growth between males and females at different points in their lives. There were no dialogues in the movie at all. I was the actor, director and the producer. I was also the camera woman recording the video on my iPhone and of course the music composer.
The movie got screened at two film festivals. It definitely was a rewarding experience.
I think every podcast is a great learning experience. I have heard and recorded many inspiring stories. One that really stood out was the first podcast that I did with my friend Christy. She’s an African American woman and an incredibly talented artist. She spoke a lot about black female representation in the commercial music industry. The conversation also revolved around black artists being accepted into the traditional billboard game, and why often they’re ignored. She also highlighted about the struggles that she went through as a black female, even at Berkelee, right where there’s considerable number of African Americans. That was very interesting to listen to.
There’s this one other episode, where I had a friend of mine Katie as guest. She is a filmmaker, actor, and writer. It was really interesting to talk to her about an artistic space, which I had absolutely no clue about. What was more interesting is that it was one of those days when I was feeling low and insecure. Talking to her was like therapy. She was just 21 years old and her kind words on the joy of creating art blew me off my feet.
She was okay with being wherever she was in life as long as she gets to create art, and as long as she gets to be part of this world. She was filled with gratitude towards life and art. Comforting!
Here are the links to my Podcast and my Composition Anomaly :
What according to you has been a true success along your song composition journey?
My true measure of success is defined by how many hearts I get into and how many people feel the song the way I feel about it. So for my song Anomaly there have been people who I didn’t know personally, that messaged me and said that they really like it. They understood what schizophrenia was. This, I consider as a true success story.
Written by: Smitha Cavale
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
Years into my IT career, after dealing with the associated stressful lifestyle, I realized that health, truly is wealth. I was diagnosed with hypertension in 2013. That’s when I decided to do something, to try and reverse the situation if possible. I started in a small way by cycling to work. I work with Infosys and my home was 18 km away from my workplace. So, every day, I would cycle a good 36 km to and fro to keep myself fit.
The long rides paved way for fund raising initiatives that was directed to the right social cause.
The real game changer for me was during the December of the same year when I got to know of the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN). The Tour of Nilgiris is a bicycle tour organised by the RideACycle Foundation. It is an annual tour that caters to both charity riders and those looking to move into competitive cycling. Many of my fellow cyclists raised funds for various causes that year. So the following year in 2014, I took up the cause of supporting a blind school in my home town Hindupur. I cycled 700 Kms as part of the TFN tour and raised my first 90,000 rupees that was used to donate cycles and manual tread mills to the visually impaired students. I always had the feeling that these kids needed some sort of a physical activity to keep them fit all through.
That same year, I saw the birth of “Wheels of Change” an initiative started by me at Infosys Bangalore. In order to promote cycling awareness any employee staying 8 to 10 kms from the campus was given a free cycle for two days to travel to and from work. This way the employee could test the grounds before investing in a cycle of his/her own.
Thanks to this campaign, some 150-200 employees started cycling to work regularly and I too embraced by new found love – cycling. The campaign garnered more interest when I initiated the Infosys Cycling Challenge, a Premier League that awarded trophies to employees who covered the maximum distances on a cycle every week. These initiatives witnessed a sort of cascading effect, and more and more people bought into the idea of cycling for health and the environment.
I was able to build a great network of friends and biking enthusiasts, which paved the way for a good fund raise in TFN 2014. I had also built my credibility, which I believe is really the first step towards spearheading any philanthropic activity.
Simply put, I started cycling for my health, which led to cycling becoming my passion and I started doing long rides. The long rides paved way for fund raising initiatives that was directed to the right social cause. Thus, began my true calling, the philanthropy journey.
My passion for cycling and all the associated activities connected me with an NGO called the Aditya Mehta Foundation in Hyderabad. The foundation supports specially-abled people to take up sports as a means to sustain. They counsel, train and help them with the necessary artificial limbs. They also help provide any required sports equipment to train and send them to National or International Sports championships.
This association with Aditya Mehta Foundation made me take up my first charity ride for them in 2015, a 500 km ride from Bangalore to Hyderabad. At the end of this ride I was in the list of top 3 fund raisers wherein I raised about 2.5 lakhs for the foundation.
With this credit on my hand, the founder of the Aditya Mehta Foundation requested me to volunteer there. The organization was still in a nascent stage and needed volunteers like me to deliver the correct message to the specially-abled people, counsel them, and bring them on board. I helped gather more and more specially-abled people to come and join the foundation.
The first responsibility I took up at the foundation was to setup training camps across India like BSF Yelahanka and ITBP Panchkula to name a couple. The camps were used as a one-stop-shop to bring together all specially-abled people and get them to understand the importance of Sports in their lives in helping sustain a life free of depression, and maintaining overall good physical well-being.
This is how the idea of training camps started. What it further evolved into was something even more interesting. It struck upon us that we could extend these trainings to personnel from BSF,CRPF and other para forces who have lost their limbs in the line of duty.
Within two years and we were able to get four of our BSF brothers to win Medals in the international cycling championships. In fact, one of them even won again at the recent Asian Games para-cycling championships.
We as a foundation seem to have brought in a transformation in their lives. This to me is a great driving force to keep raising funds for the same cause. I raise close to 3 lakhs per annum for this NGO. Apart from this I also help with any IT-related backed operations for the foundation.
An intention as humble as wanting to stay fit by cycling can get you far enough to move mountains and accomplish very arduous tasks like riding 600 kms for the Tour of Nilgiris , all for a good cause.
Over the course of my philanthropy journey I have an important learning that opportunity can truly arise out of adversity at times.
Recently, my work took me to Japan for a brief stint of about a year and when I came back I was presented with a new challenge. This was to help a my brother’s friend – both her kidneys had failed and she needed transplantation. The cost of the same was a whopping 10 lakh Rupees, and the lady coming from a very humble background in rural Karnataka was not able to afford it. After COVID-19, my cycling expeditions were down to a minimum and hence I decided to take up her cause – fund raise for transplantation. I tried a crowd sourcing campaign that did not take off too well.
I chanced upon another lady who runs a bakery called Lluvia in Sarjapur, with special gluten-free breads on the menu. I live in Electronics City, which is really the IT hub and a perfect market for Lluvia breads given the affordability index of people living there. So I struck a deal with the bakery owner to help deliver breakfast to people in Electronics City from her bakery and 25% of the sale had to go into the fund raise campaign for my ailing friend. The delivery activity took care of my cycling needs for the day too. Slowly, but steadily the campaign took off very well. I saw myself delivering about 30 orders a month.
The power of social media should never be underestimated, another key learning I had in this journey.
This particular campaign had a greater impact on my Facebook page. People realised I was actually doing this food delivery service for a cause and started donating liberally. Within a month I raised about 2.5 lakh rupees and the transplantation was successfully completed, given she was in Stage 5 of kidney failure.
My action seems to have spoken louder than words, that is, if I had asked for funds to support the ailing lady it would have been an uphill task to raise money but my act of doing breakfast delivery got the funds to flow in. The visibility that my campaign created caught the government’s attention in December 2020, and she got support from the CM’s Relief Fund.
And I received a Letter of Appreciation from the Governor of Telangana.
I learned that an intention as humble as wanting to stay fit by cycling can get you far enough to move mountains and accomplish very arduous tasks like riding 600 kms for the Tour of Nilgiris. As an experienced cyclist I know now that I can do it easily albeit over a period of 5 to 6 days. But as a novice when I started in 2013 it felt like an uphill task. Not to forget I had to do it without letting my parents know about it, an even more challenging task!
Keep Cycling, that’s exactly what my plans are for the future. I truly believe that cycling is what got me involved with Aditya Mehta Foundation, it pushed me to raise funds via campaigns, and it made me deliver breakfast to help a friend get a kidney transplantation done. So two words define the future for me, “Keep Cycling”. The only formula that works is to sit on the saddle and ideas will start pouring in.
Written by: Smitha Cavale
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
Whether it meant helping a colleague’s son apply to schools via RTE quota or conduct Science exhibitions for children from marginalised families, I have always considered myself a step ahead in paying back to the society. To me this is at the heart of philanthropy more than being able to cut out fat cheques. Your social capital should speak for you more than your educational qualifications.
From being a happy Chip designer at a start-up after graduating from IISc to becoming a change agent who impacts the masses, here are some incidents I can recollect that triggered this radical change in my life.
In 2011, there was a small task that I had to get done at the HAL BESCOM office for my apartment community in Mahadevapura. As is the case with any government office the task got into a loop with a desk clerk expecting a high bribe on the grounds of flawed paperwork. With a degree in EEE to back my claim, I could very well tell that my paper work for the task in hand was 100% intact. In despair, I drafted a three-paragraph email to the MD of BESCOM whose claim to fame was that his glass door is open for anyone to walk-in and get things resolved. In the email, I clearly stated that glass doors don’t make any sense if people on the ground don’t stand true to their claims. With this the MD got talking and was very pleased to receive a 40-point problem statement document from me on the gaps in their processes. This incident saw the launch of BESCOM Citizens Participatory Council. The council worked with our apartment RWA, set up a booth in our complex and got the name transfers of 65 residents done in no time, truly a first of its kind in the history of government offices. Furthermore, I would receive emails from engineers asking my input on technical matters concerning transformer procurement and efficiency improvement. I seemed to have made a lasting impact.
Fast forward 6 months, three citizens Nithya Ramakrishnan, Colonel Pradeep and Anjali reached out to me regarding a problem with electrical wires dangling from above over the footpath near Kundalahalli. This added to the misery of pedestrians who were already dealing with the problem of electrical poles and electrical debris blocking their paths. It just took a phone call from me to get all this fixed on a Sunday morning – a day when most of the offices are closed for the weekend. This marked the birth of Whitefield Rising.
Through these endeavours, I began to understand that what it really takes is just a structured engagement from my side to work in any area even if it is outside my line of expertise. To quote an example, one of my professors at IISc Dr T V Ramachandran from the Ecological Sciences department reached out to me regarding an initiative he was planning to run in a government school on the Varthur lake bed, as a Science project. Though not a great believer of chequebook charity, I did offer a donation of Rs. 5000 with expectations of seeing tangible output. This went a long way in helping an Open Source enthusiast, Thejesh Jia, build an app for lake data collection. The app was used by the government school students to record the pH and TDs values of the lake waters on a weekly basis, produce meaningful graphs for the NGT tribunal to analyse. A small step for me in the form of a financial donation ended up being a big leap for Eco Sciences, and that gave me a lot of hope!
Thus, began my new journey where I figured, that by just setting aside five hours per week I’m able to be a change agent at government offices in areas over and above my own professional expertise.
I was fortunate to be part of the Good Governance Yatra in Karnataka, and I was chosen as a delegate for the world governance expedition in Israel, along with other 20 changemakers, from diverse fields in India across different domains.
There was an interesting project I took up with the Karnataka State Highways Improvement Program, wherein state highways were getting upgraded. Backed with funding from major banks like Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Japanese Development Bank we had to build a portal through which the project progress could be monitored. A key requirement was for the public to easily get involved in the governance of the project. I put in six months of effort to help build the dashboard that produced reports of the project finances for the banks involved, and information on major road repairs and potholes along their path for the common man. I also built a public feedback and grievance system. My experience with the BESCOM public grievance redressal came in very handy here. The dashboard won the Karnataka Award for governance reform in the area of highways.
Another success story I can think of is my experience at this start-up called Nano health, which had won the Hult Prize in 2014. Nano health is a social enterprise that focuses on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension in Indian urban slums and low income communities. I was involved in the project during 2016-2017, when I had taken a year’s sabbatical from my main work. I solved a problem unique to India, which was to demographically identify the person needing the healthcare solution and connect him/her to the department that is supposed to address the health issue. This experience of working with health workers gave me the wonderful opportunity to get invited as a delegate for the World Governance Expedition in Israel, where a group of 20 changemakers from diverse fields in India participated. I felt very good sharing common ground with this diverse group of changemakers. This to me was a true feather on my cap.
My endeavours have taught me that we need a large, sustainable set of people who can do common good for public causes to really bring about change. For problems in areas of education, climate, infrastructure, public health, finding a common ground among a diverse group of change proponents is actually very easy.
Firstly, in my forever quest to create change I realised that the most sustainable way is to have a large set of likeminded people who want to drive change for public, both in the way of thought leadership and meticulous approach. I was convinced about my theory in 2012 when I was campaigning on the streets of Bangalore for Dr Ashwin Mahesh and Sridhar Pabbisetty for the upper house of the Karnataka assembly. It was during these campaigns that I met many young people and was convinced that the youth are restless for instant change.
Secondly, when we say philanthropy, each individual attaches a different meaning to it. Sometimes just doing simple tasks creates a major impact on another person’s life. Back in March/April this year I recovered from COVID and became a COVID warrior. As a warrior I have spent many hours in a day talking to infected people and just giving them assurances on how they will come out of it unscathed. These phone calls went a long way in helping the patients recover. Coming back to the point on my learning, my key take away has been that philanthropy is basically three pronged. One, people who want to be changemakers and embark on that journey. Two, people who would like to get involved by way of CSR at their work place and three, people who take a sabbatical from work and take up social cause. A culmination of the above three sets of resources is driving our country towards Change.
Lastly, from where I was in 2011, with no idea of becoming a philanthropist or a do-gooder, today I can summarize my life’s story in a simple acronym that actually aligns with my field of Engineering I majored in, EEE. Life is a sigma or integration of Events, Encounters the Experiences. Through all these endeavours I learnt a great lesson that Governance begins at home. I would often visit my wife’s clinic to pick her up after a day’s work and end up having conversations with other patients without letting them know my identity. It was a way for me to help my wife improve her services, if needed. A key act of mine that helped me identify avenues for service was when I would drive every morning to work, I would give many youngsters a lift on my bike to their work place. I would open up a conversation and figure out if they needed help in any walk of life.
These are the learning’s I have had so far.
I want to really embrace technology to help solve problems in the field of Education and in the area of information availability specifically for rural India.
Very recently, I had this opportunity to connect with MR Madan Padaki who is the member of CII Karnataka working on Rubanomics (Rural Urban sustainable market place). During our conversation he mentioned that 55% of Indian population is rural where information availability and awareness of resources to solve problems is very scarce. I would really like to tap into this opportunity or should we say gap and become an influencer. This way, I can to help democratise the availability of information to fix any problem that a common man faces in the rural areas. Coming from a Tech background, I would like to embrace technology to solve these problems. I am quite hopeful this focus on the right balance of urban-rural mix will go a long way in creating a great impact on the future of our country.
Written by: Smitha Cavale
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
Here’s Mr. Balaji Sampat, Founder of “AID INDIA”- Empowering the marginalized communities to overcome poverty and become self-reliant by providing education, health, and shelter.
My name is Balaji Sampat. I am working with Aid India, a non-profit organization. I graduated in B. Tech from IIT Madras and then pursued Ph.D. in Mobile Phones-Communication Engineering from the University of Maryland, USA.
While doing Ph.D., I got to know of some groups who were working to support the poor in India. One group was working on literacy, the other group from Andhra was doing rural development work in about 80 villages, and so on. So along with a small group of students, I started raising money and supporting some of the programs in India. I learned about many village initiatives in India. I got a chance to work with the villagers and wanted to visit some of the villages and see how the work is done. So, I took a break for 2 months and traveled to many villages in different parts of India.
I went to West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu. The more I visited the different villages, the more I was convinced that I want to do philanthropy full-time. I wanted to work in rural development. I chose to focus on Health, nutrition and livelihood.
I completed my Ph.D., came back to India, and started an organization Aid India. I started working in villages focusing on health. We worked with some TB patients and took them to hospitals for their treatment. But unfortunately, many people died and we did not see any success in our initiative. I felt terrible that even after identifying the patients, we could not help them out.
Thus, I changed my focus to livelihood initiatives. I stayed in a village in Ranipet. We started some small enterprises for people. We enabled women to prepare ragi food and sell it in the local area. It didn’t work a lot because the collection of money was a major problem. Villagers had to travel many times for the collection and the huge traveling costs resulted in the failure of the business.
We also helped a man start a Cable TV distribution in 1997, but it took him 10+ years to be successful. It was a big challenge for him, but eventually, he became a good entrepreneur with his skills. Now he has a big chain of Cable TV.
Since I didn’t have any expertise in creating livelihood opportunities for villagers, I decided to discontinue the work I was doing. I realized that teaching Maths and Science to students is easy for me. So we started a school in a village called Kondengere and handed it to the government later. It was a good experience and it was supported by a lot of volunteers. There was a lot to do in this field and so I began to focus on education.
Growth of the kids through learning was our priority. So, to know if the kids are learning, I started doing assessments. Soon we realized that they are not leaning a lot and the methodology is not working. Thereafter, a lot of volunteers joined me, and we came up with new techniques to teach Maths and it helped the kids to learn in a better way. We used a lot of activities, games, and a step-by-step approach.
We worked on many things like science experiments and puzzles, which can attract the students and also make them learn. We started focusing on basic reading levels and Maths. We noticed that gradually there was some improvement in the learning levels with the students. Change in the teaching methodology and assessment, together helped in making the learning experience better for the students.
We have worked with 100-150 villages and about 20-25 children in every village. The children were from 1st to 5th standard.
We observed that the students can read words but not the entire sentence. So we tried to break the sentence into sub sentences and this helped them to read better. Assessment and multiple activities helped them to grow their skills and get promoted to a higher grade.
We divided the class firstly on competencies and secondly on the age group. We ensured that kids enjoy the learning process and at the same time learn new things. Happiness and confidence are important along with acquiring the skills. The content was designed as per the learning capacity of the children.
We worked with the government to scale up these schools. We worked with 13k government schools. For every 10 schools, one person from our team visited 2-3 schools every day within a week and trained the teachers to conduct classes. At one point, we were working with 1 million students. Managing this huge number of students wasn’t an easy task. It was entirely a team effort.
Any volunteer who joins our team brings in new ideas to expand our initiative. A woman named ‘Chandra’ joined as a volunteer and then became a full-timer with us. She made sure that children can read. She focused on reading skills and became a leader in this area. One guy wanted to work on agriculture education, so we helped him and now he works independently. A lady named ‘Mala’ has been with us for 15 years, she is running a lot of programs in the Sivagangai district in Tamil Nadu. Slowly in each district, we started having people taking up leadership roles. The local people from the villages took the lead and implemented the program with our support and mentoring. We now work with 15 districts of Tamil Nadu.
Education is our specialization. We have focused on pedagogy and our training material are so much in demand that the government schools want it for their students. Slowly private schools have also started approaching us.
We have set up a non-profit trust called ‘Eureka Books’. Any school or individual can buy the books from here at a low price. We have Eureka Tab Labs – Here the students learn through video lessons and practice on mobile apps. There are 2 ‘Eureka Schools’ located at Parameswaramangalam and Venkatrayanpettai villages of Kanchipuram and Tiruvannamalai district respectively. The ‘Eureka Village centers’ are being run in 647 villages of Tamil Nadu.
We don’t specialize in disaster relief work but are the first ones to offer help. We have been engaged in many relief work projects including Orissa cyclone floods in 1998-99, Tamil Nadu Tsunami 2004, Chennai Floods 2015, and Kerala Floods 2019.
When the Tamil Nadu Tsunami happened, our team was involved in relief activities for about one year. Our volunteers did everything from setting up relief camps, lifting dead bodies from mud, providing food to helping people start their livelihood. Later we set up two schools there, which were delayed because of a tsunami for about two years. We also provide technical and academic support to anyone who wants to set up schools.
After the Chennai Floods in 2015, we started constructing houses and around 450 houses are being constructed. We identified families whose huts were destroyed and helped them built a concrete house. No contractors were involved, only local Maistris (laborers) along with their family members worked to build their houses. The cost of constructing one house was 1.8 Lakh rupees. We started with building 1-2 houses and gradually moved to construct 20 houses in a village. We acquired permission from the panchayat before constructing the houses. We also arranged in obtaining ‘Patta’ and other documents like ration card and aadhar card for the villagers. We worked with the poorest people in the area and also supported them in their livelihood by growing a kitchen garden for them.
During the lockdown, we gave food to the poorest people and reached about 15,300 families in 1300 villages, i.e. about 10-12 families per village.
We don’t have a hierarchical top-down structure. Different initiatives have different drivers. Self-driven people drive the projects and own them. The money raised for one program is used only for that program. We help these leaders in the initial seed support.
For example – if some volunteers wanted to work on kitchen gardens. I will help them with 4 lakh rupees for three months and ask them to figure out the ways and take it forward. I fund initially, and then they have to raise money for their own programs. Usually, between 1-2 years, they become sustainable. Now, it’s their work to contact people, sell their ideas, organize workshops, etc. Success or failure depends on their work. I mentor and guide them occasionally.
Malaya, one of our volunteers, is working on the Kitchen Garden project. Shamu, another volunteer, works for livelihood projects. She has identified some women who sell vegetables, phenyl, etc. She has given 3-4K Rupees to them to restart their livelihood. About 800 families have restarted their work after the covid-19 lockdown. She has come up with a good model, and it is slowly scaling up. She has started the livelihood project in Kaveripakkam and many other villages and has supported 400+ families. A woman named ‘Mala’ has supported around 300-400 families in other villages. 90% of the jobs are taken up by the women in villages.
Damu takes care of the housing program. He collects money and ensures that the houses are being constructed. He also works for an app-based learning program. The app is called ‘Myschoollesson’. It is free for the students. Around 25-30K students are using it free. All the videos and content are in Tamil.
Another volunteers started creating a football team of 100 girl students. She held some competitions and arranged for some coaches to train them in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu. But because of Covid-19, she has stopped and will start soon.
Once in 2 months, I do a review. The photos related to the work done are being exchanged in the group daily. Every team has to respect each other’s work. The review meetings are generally based on budget allocation. Around 20 people participate in the review meeting. If a project is large, 3-4 people of that team will come together. They have to answer some tough questions and justify that their program is effective, useful, and sustainable. They have to make sure that the money spent should not be more than the value earned.
I keep asking for the data and evidence to know if their program is effective. I make sure they are measuring the outcomes. Like in the kitchen garden I ask, do the people sell the vegetables or consume it? Is it still working after 6 months? Has there been any change in peoples’ eating habits after having a kitchen garden? It should be a matter of pride for these volunteers that their projects succeed.
We will continue with relief activities. There is a lot that can be done for the livelihood of the people working in the informal sector as street vendors. We will help them to grow. App-based education is doing well, so we will set up a separate team to work on it. The kitchen garden program is also growing up, we will try to make it sustainable.
For Housing construction, we will not be doing everything from the scratch. We are thinking of a tie-up with the government to divide the cost. Spending 1.8 lakh rupees for every house is a bit costly for us to be sustainable. The government can contribute 1 lakh, we can give 50k rupees, and if the family also contributes the remaining 30k rupees, the construction work can be done in a better way.
We want self-driven people who exchange ideas and work for their region and take it forward.
‘Aid India’ is a multiple program organization. It is a non-profit in India. We want committed people coming in to make a meaningful change. They should be motivated to work on their own because the payment given by us to them is very little.
There are many ways for people to join us. If someone wants to support the program, they can donate to the cause. They will keep getting the status report. If some people want to document our work, they can do the documentation that will help us to generate funds. In the educational platform, many college students conduct live or online classes for children. Anyone interested in teaching can join us.
Some volunteers join us occasionally for relief activities. Nandini is a volunteer who often joins us for relief activities. She comes and takes over all the relief work, organizes everything in place, stays in the affected area for about three months, and once the initial phase is over, she goes back to do her regular work. She has helped a lot during Chennai and Kerala floods.
One lady from Bangalore often visits the villages, take pics, interview the people, documents the story, and publishes it as an article. We pass it on for raising funds.
We also have support volunteers who help us with whatever skill they have like brochure making, teaching the children, documentation, analysis of income-expense, marketing, and so on.
Some people approach us to start a new program, which requires a full-time commitment. Since we are not sure about their dedication towards the program, we ask them to work on our existing programs and earn their right to start a new program. I support them initially and later they have to take over. We are not region-centric. As long as people are leading a program, we are ready to support it.
Those interested in volunteering with us can get in touch through one of the founders of ‘Your Philanthropy Story’.
Written by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
Here’s Ms. Haneen Farid and Ms. Disha Panda’s story, two 17-year-old girls who are mentoring underprivileged girls to be future women leaders.
Haneen: I am 17 years old. I am from Delhi Public School, Bangalore North. I am currently working with an organization called 1M1B (1 Million for 1 Billion). It is a United Nations accredited NGO. It aims to activate 1 million leaders who will impact 1 billion people to create a world with balanced prosperity. I am currently working on a project called ‘Arambha’ with my partner Disha.
I was inspired to start project Arambha because of an interview we did for a previous project called ‘Women in Corporate Leadership’. I interviewed some women in the corporate sector and enquired about the reason for only a few women in leadership roles.
I came across a woman, who was living in the slum and later started working for a big company in Mumbai. She said that her father had a simple dream to give her one meal a day. Her story inspired me and made me think that the dreams or aspirations of the underprivileged people are so small, which is very unfair. There are so many underprivileged girls who need an equal opportunity to make it big in life. I realized that through Project Arambha, I can help them change their lives.
Disha: I am Disha Panda, I study in 12th standard at Delhi Public School, Bangalore North. Haneen and I started project Arambha together under the 1M1B Future Leaders program. We aim to help girls who come from underprivileged families to become community leaders.
Around 1 or 2 years ago, I tried to do something for a community, but it didn’t go well. I regretted that I wasn’t able to do much. So I enrolled myself in this project since I saw an opportunity to do something meaningful for underprivileged girls. Also, when I came to know that we can present our project in the United Nations, New York, I was excited to join.
Haneen: When Disha and I started the Arambha project we didn’t know how it would turn out. We joined the 1M1B Future Leaders Program as we saw an opportunity to make some impact on society.
As a part of our project, we have developed a 3 step solution: Education, Mentoring, and Leadership. We provide financial assistance to the girls between the age of 16-22 years if they cannot afford college education. We help them through corporate sponsors and crowdfunding.
With the help of our first Corporate Sponsor ‘Himalaya Herbals’, and through our crowdfunding campaign on Impact Guru, we have managed to raise about 10 lakh rupees. Himalaya will be funding the education of 14 girls at Sparsha Trust for the next three years. Navardrusthi Development Center, Kolar is also one of our partners.
During our journey on this project, we have developed a lot of convincing power. We were successful in convincing our partners to fund our project, and recently we have made a new partnership with ‘Radiant Life’. They will also help us be supporting our cause.
We connect with the different NGOs and conduct mentoring sessions for the girls. Influential women or business leaders join us to tell their story, motivate the girls, and talk about personality development. We have conducted 14+ mentoring sessions for more than 40 girls so far.
At a later stage, we plan to conduct a leadership program, where we guide the girls to create projects of their own to solve social problems in their communities and make an impact. This is how we intend to make them community leaders.
We have helped more than 44 girls in times of Covid-19 and groomed 8 girls with leadership skills.
We are now aware of the background of these girls and have learned to empathize with them, understand their problems, and help them deal with the same.
There are so many problems around us and instead of complaining about it on social media, youngsters like us can take action
Disha: We have learned a lot of skills through this project. Since we have to work with people from the villages of Karnataka, we have to communicate in Kannada. Although my mother tongue is Kannada, I wasn’t confident to communicate in Kannada outside of home. Thanks to Arambha, I gradually became confident and now I can speak spontaneously.
Being just 17 years old, sometimes it becomes difficult to work with the elders, but we have learned to be diligent and to manage things.We have learned to be persistent and forthcoming too. We can follow up with people several times, call random people, and tell them about our project.
After the mentoring session, we often get positive feedback from the girls. This gives us a very satisfying feeling. When the girls excel in their projects, it gives us a sense of accomplishment and we feel honored to have made a difference in their lives.
Working for a community is not an easy task. Many times we have to face a backlash or don’t get the best kind of support. Youngsters aspire to be corporate and political leaders, but we can also be leaders in our communities.
Haneen: Project Arambha has been selected to present at the 1M1B Activate Impact Summit that will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in 2021. Meanwhile, we have to look for more NGOs and Corporate Sponsors to work with us on this project. Although being selected to present in New York is a great achievement for us, fulfilling our duties towards the project is our priority.
Recently, we were featured in the New Indian Express and our work has been acknowledged by UN-Habitat Youth on Twitter.
Disha: We are also working to make this project sustainable so that we can continue with it even after joining the college next year. We are looking for some more corporates for sponsorship, who can be a part of Project Arambha and help us in building India’s future women leaders.
Haneen: We have an Instagram page, it’s called Project Arambha. There we post information about our project and anyone can check it out.
Disha: We also have a Twitter handle – @ProjectArambha. If anyone wants to participate in our project, they can just send us an email at email@example.com. Women who would like to conduct a mentoring session to inspire the girls can also contact us.
Those interested in volunteering with us can also get in touch through one of the founders of Your Philanthropy Story.
Story compiled by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
Here’s the story of Lakshmi Ravishankar, Founder and Trustee of Inclusion Beyond Abilities Trust (iBAT) as shared with Smitha Hemmigae – Making recreational and wellness activities inclusive by partnering with other organizations in this space.
This is my 20th year in the social sector. I used to work as an HR professional for a company based in Hyderabad. In July 2000, my father suddenly passed away and I had to go to Chennai to be with my mother.
In that week, we got a call from the school for the visually impaired in Chennai. They were shocked to hear about my father. A couple of hours later, they called back again and said that they wanted to conduct a memorial service for my father and invited us to join them. So, my mother, my sister, and I attended the function. It was a real eye-opener for me.
I knew my father had been working with visually impaired students, but the appreciation I heard from the students moved me and I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was told that my father recorded learning sessions and gave the tips and explanations, which helped the students in preparing for their examinations.
“When we came back home after the memorial function, I sent my resignation. I realized that someone had to carry on what my father had started. It is my father’s blessings and guidance, which makes me believe that there is much more to life than earning money.”
So after a couple of months, I went back to Hyderabad and I started my journey volunteering with an organization for the intellectually challenged. I was with them for a couple of years and I learned to be sensitive not only to the beneficiaries, but also to their parents, as they have an important role to play. Since I have worked as a PR professional in the past, I am good at marketing. So in those 2 years, I contacted all the schools and colleges in Hyderabad and sold the notebooks and files made by this NGO.
In 2002, we moved to Bangalore, and my journey in working with the visually impaired started. I was working with an NGO till 2009. I mentored and counseled them, learned sign language, ran a marathon with them, took them to write their exams and attend interviews.
In 2009, we left India and moved overseas. I didn’t want to break the relationships I had built within this sector for 7 years. I started taking online assignments and classes for the under-privileged students on Skype. I did a lot of documentation, research, and analysis for about 4-5 years. Towards the end of 2014, we returned to India and I continued working with NGOs here.
In 2015-16, I joined the National Association for the Blind (NAB – Karnataka). I was freelancing, volunteering, and doing project consultation. I did a lot of work with NGOs across India.
In 2018, the founder of an NGO from Chennai approached me. He wanted some assistance in connecting with the Government to help him with his work in Bangalore, that’s when I joined him and started interacting with the government of Karnataka. I had a lot of interaction with the Director and Commissioner of the department working for people with disabilities.
Once one of the Directors told me that since I have a good network and understanding of the social sector, I should start my own NGO and the government will help me as much as possible.
“I did my homework and found that there are a lot of NGOs in urban areas that offer different types of training to the needy to empower them financially. But PWD (Persons with Disabilities) in rural areas, are the ones who lack opportunities. That’s when I decided that l will work in the rural sector.”
Many NGOs provide vocational training for the differently-abled, but do nothing to help them find employment. I connected with a 35-year-old NGO in Mumbai that does a lot in terms of vocational training and I decided that my NGO will not only provide training, but will also help people with disabilities earn a livelihood.
I launched my NGO- Inclusion Beyond Abilities Trust (iBAT) last year in December 2019. The first unit was to be set up in Chikkaballapura on 1st April 2020. We identified around 30+ PWDs, but because of Covid-19, we have had to revisit all our plans.
I co-founded iBAT along with my husband Ravishankar, a senior agri-business professional,and another senior HR professional, Imitiaz Baig. We are focusing on two verticals right now – the first involves providing vocational training and setting up production units, and the second is focused on nurturing Inclusion.
“We all know about Inclusion at the workspace and in educational institutions. But I believe inclusion should also be nurtured in the wellness and recreational space.”
I got in touch with a few organizations in the wellness space and two popular names, “Art of Living” and “Heartfulness” have agreed to come on board and partner with us. Another NGO Seva in Action, located in Koramangala is our venue partner. We have all agreed to not charge anything for conducting wellness activities for persons with disabilities. Our workshops have been very well received by those who attend them, as well as their parents.
After the Janta Curfew was announced and the first lockdown was about to start, many individuals approached me for support. Many of them were visually-impaired, daily wage earners living in different parts of Karnataka. Also, many students staying in hostels were facing a lot of difficulties owing to lack of funds and provisions, and so they approached iBAT for help. We roped in some organizations to help them.
In May 2020, a Delhi based NGO, which already has a toll-free number started getting calls from across India, requesting their help. The founder of this NGO approached me and I pitched in by handling all the calls from Maharashtra.
Around 15 to 20 visually impaired people called from across 4-5 districts of Maharashtra asking for support. Many of them were hawkers who make a living by selling small items on trains. We managed to help them with essentials and medical help for a couple of months. Soon my phone number was circulated among the visually impaired people across Maharashtra, and within 2 weeks I started getting around 2000-3000 calls.
Since the number of calls was huge, it was not possible to help them through local NGOs. So I started connecting with the office of the Commissioner for individuals with disabilities and this work is still going on. Around 600 of them have already got support and around 2000-3000 workers are still waiting, and I am very hopeful that these people will also get the support they need.
The Commissioner’s office also acknowledged my work and thanked me for bringing this to their attention. I am happy that I can help them from being in Bangalore.
Besides this, I have also worked as a volunteer for another NGO. It was set up for the upliftment of the abandoned street children. I have mentored many kids there. Most of them are economically independent now and doing really well professionally.
“There are 2 incidents that really moved me on this my journey.”
The first was on a winter evening in 2006/07. I came back from work around evening time and was working on a report, which I had to send to a visually impaired person I was working with. After I finished my work and called to inform him. I also asked him if he had reached home. He said that he was still working in the office. I instantly said that it was getting late, cold, and dark and that he should go home and work.
He asked me “what is darkness?” He pointed out that it is always the same for him and so day and night don’t bother him. That’s when I realized that I needed to be extra careful while talking to the visually impaired. I apologized to him and he was understanding.
Another time, a visually impaired girl came to learn computers from rural Karnataka. She was abandoned by her parents and I was very close to her. She used to share all her fears and I would try to instill confidence in her.
One day, she said that her schoolmate was getting married and she also wanted to get married. The only worry she had was “who will marry me?” – I told her that she will find someone at the right time.
One early morning in 2008, I got a call from this girl. She said that she is getting married to the computer teacher and also invited me to her marriage. I went to her marriage and told her that she was looking so beautiful in a bright red color. She said that everyone is saying the same thing and asked, “What does beauty mean?” – It really shook me. She wanted me to explain how beautiful she looked. I then tried to explain to her that happiness is reflecting from her face and she is looking bright, and it brought a big smile on her face.
These are two incidents deeply seated in my memory, which I will never forget.
The vocational training and the production unit of my NGO-iBAT are currently on hold because of the current pandemic. But we are still trying to do some activities.
A group of 30 visually impaired state government employees of Karnataka approached us, as they had heard of the wellness activities conducted by us. They are from the forest department, revenue department, and many other departments of the Karnataka government. They all are employed as per the government policies, but they also want to climb up the professional ladder. They want to be motivated with an expectation that their work will be recognized by the superiors and even they can get promotions.
“We have started conducting the motivational and self-development workshops for these 30 government employees.”
We have conducted quite a few sessions so far. The sessions are held every second and fourth Saturday of the month. We are getting a lot of positive feedback from the attendees and they are really looking forward to future sessions
There are a lot of requirements for software testing and accessibility of apps and computer programs. So, we are partnering with a senior visually impaired expert in software testing and accessibility, who was working for an MNC. We are hopeful that very soon we will start online accessibility testing classes for the visually impaired. This is in our pipeline. The vocational training and production unit might start in September. We are thinking of starting with a small group.
As planned, the first batch of persons with disabilities will first get vocational training with the corporates, then we will start producing and marketing the products. We will be connecting with the CSR heads to showcase our products and if they fund the project as their CSR initiative, it will be really helpful.
We are planning to set up our production unit by Diwali. We will be focusing on marketing and selling corporate gifts. We are hopeful that the corporates will help us in this initiative.
We will need volunteer support to market our products. We want them to come to the facility and understand how the PWDs are making the products. We need volunteers to go to different schools, colleges, or even shopping malls, and set up a stall for 3 days to sell the products.
Those interested in volunteering with us can get in touch through one of the founders of Your Philanthropy Story.
Story transcribed by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
“Here’s Mr. Shanmugham P.’s story, Coach and Trustee of “Jude Felix Hockey Academy”- a Charitable Trust that uses Hockey sport as a medium to nurture life skills among underprivileged children.”
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
I have been working with underprivileged children since 2001. There was an organization named “Dream a Dream”, which helped the children enroll with Dhanraj Ballal Hockey Academy. The Academy was operating from a stadium, and I used to see many children coming there to learn Hockey. They aimed to train young players and rejuvenate Hockey at the grass-root level.
One day, Arjuna Awardee Ashish Ballal asked me, if I can coach the children as they didn’t have any good resource. I thought the best way to give back to society would be through what I know the best i.e Hockey.
So I started coaching those children. I continued polishing my coaching skills while training them and that’s how my journey started. I was with this academy till 2008.
One day, an Arjuna Awardee, former Indian captain and Olympian Jude Felix, came to give away Christmas gifts at the St. Mary’s orphanage. It was then that he asked me, “Why don’t you start a hockey program for the children?”
As I was already working with underprivileged children, I knew how sports could make a difference to their lives. So, I said yes. We formed a trust and started working together in 2009. Today, I have completed more than 11 years with Jude Felix Hockey Academy (JFHA).
Since then, I have reached many levels in hockey. I have been called for international coaching. I have coached the Qatar National Hockey team. I have led national camps and professional leagues. Now, I am coaching the Canara Bank Hockey team. I have been successful in the local circuits and won championships for the Karnataka state. All the credit goes to the children whom I have trained.
Please tell us about the success on this journey?
The journey was challenging. When we started this program, we didn’t have shoes for the children. One day, we received a big box with 100 pairs of shoes of mixed sizes. It was then I realized that miracles do happen. Many good people joined us and our journey continued.
I didn’t know how to run an academy, draft a proposal, write emails-letters or even conduct auditing. I started learning slowly, step by step. A taxi driver in Singapore sent me a laptop and I started using it for office work.
I used to travel around, talk to people to gather suggestions for the betterment of the children. We started distributing glucose packets and biscuits to children as refreshments. Gradually, we added a banana, and now we are giving an egg to them as well.
We work with children on developing many skills, like time management, personal hygiene, interpersonal relationships, managing stress, decision making, and problem-solving skills, etc. We believe in the holistic development of the children. We help them to face challenges and learn life skills through the game of Hockey.
We have seen the children’s passion and commitment towards Hockey. Many children changed their lives after getting associated with our academy. They learn to build self-esteem, getting along with their friends and setting goals, something which only sports can teach them.
They come from various backgrounds, like they can be children of convicts, children from run-away parents, or victims of any societal problems. We don’t reveal the student’s background.
There is a basic registration form to be filled by the student to enroll in the academy. We explain the program to the parents. We don’t charge any fees. We are not here to make money and we are clear on this. We ask them to donate as per their wish. If they cannot donate anything, we ask them to do some work for the academy related to their profession.
Also, we never differentiate between players based on their physical capabilities. We don’t discourage children who may be suffering from any physical deficiency from playing the sport. For example, one of our students has a limb amputation. So we made him goalkeeper as it requires only legs. He has started training, and we are planning to take him to the Paralympics event.
The total strength of the academy is close to 60. Around 10 boys and girls have represented the state in the junior and senior levels.
There are many success stories among our children. There is a boy named Bosco, who failed in 10th standard. We helped him continue education and complete graduation. Once, our volunteers went to play a tournament in the Middle East, and they helped some boys get recruited there. Bosco got a job there and he has been working for over 3 years. He still plays hockey there.
There is one more boy named Rajendra, he had a lot of issues with his parents. He had once quit Hockey to earn a living, but we succeeded in getting him back and continued to coach him. Since then he has played many Open Leagues and now he is playing for my Canara Bank team. Rajendra was signed up by the Racing club de France in 2019 for the second half of the French National League from Feb to May 2019. His journey is a huge achievement for Jude Felix Hockey Academy (JFHA).
If a student is not good in sports, we help them to do some vocational courses and continue their education. There is a boy named Praveen from Tamil Nadu, he is a brilliant student. He has enrolled in engineering and now he is in his 6th semester. A bright future is waiting for him.
If the youngsters like them put up the hard work, and the people around them give them an appropriate environment, then things can change. They will become better citizens and go on to help some other people.
JFHA has succeeded in partnering with St. Mary’s Orphanage, Maria Niketan School, Fiberlink and Swiss Re to promote hockey among underprivileged children.
Since 2009, the academy has touched over 1400 individuals, which includes students, volunteers, coaches, and veterans.
In the last 2 years, JFHA has trained 235 players, of which 35 players have been identified as star players.
What are your future plans?
We have understood the formal coaching process and now we want to scale up and mainstream coaching. We’re already doing mainstream coaching, with some students even coming to us from abroad.
We need good funding to own or rent a place to ensure uninterrupted training for more children. We are ready to partner with corporates or government bodies, who can help us make impact through this sport at the grass-root level.
There are some volunteers who donate on a monthly basis. We also organize fund-raising events like summer camps and tournaments for underprivileged children.
Five years ago, we participated in the TCS World 10K Marathon to raise funds. This year, again we have registered for a marathon. I will lead from the front, and the target is to generate about Rs. 10 Lakhs in order to sustain the current program and enroll new children.
We have identified a home, where there are about 20 girls between the ages of 7 to 10 years. We are looking forward to train them in Hockey, all we need is some funds.
We are planning to hire an administrator who will be responsible for management, accounts, etc. We already have a full-time coach, who is getting paid for his services. We are also looking for merchandising hockey sticks, t-shirts, etc.
How can someone work with you or join you?
The academy model is developed on volunteer participation. This academy was started with only 2 volunteers and presently we have around 45 volunteers. On many occasions, some people have come forward and helped us. But we need a continuous source of funds.
We are eligible for CSR funding as we fulfill all the requirements. We are looking for a partner, who believes in our cause and supports our program whole-heartedly.
Recently, we have been identified by Apollo CSR, and JFHA was honored in ISL (Indian Soccer League) matches on January 9th 2020. They identified 20 people or groups across the country who are making a difference in society. There was a one-and-a-half-minute video which was shown all over the world, and our program was recognized in it. JFHA was felicitated as one of Apollo Tyres ‘Go the Distance Heroes’ for positively impacting the Indian sporting ecosystem.
We have understood the sports part, and now we are learning the business part. We have a Social entrepreneurial model, where we want to make profit, which will eventually go back to the underprivileged again. We are strictly following the rules and regulations related to this.
We also provide consultation services to build hockey teams. We often nominate speakers for motivational or leadership talks in institutes or organizations. I have addressed many college students, myself.
We also offer internship programs, to give children and young adults an opportunity to work with us, learn and take back a life- changing experience.
Money is not everything to do something. If you have the passion, then start working, put all your efforts, set your dreams and find people of same wavelength, who can work with you for the cause.
“Here’s Mr.Jaggi Nadig’s story, Director of “The Sports School”, India’s first integrated school for sports and academics that encourages young sports enthusiasts and supports professional athletes.
I am from Bengaluru. I studied in Bengaluru & Hassan. I joined the IT industry and worked as a consultant in Infosys Technologies. I have also worked for Toyota in Jakarta. I was in Chicago from 1998 to 2008 and hold an MBA from Kellogg School of Management – Northwestern University. Later, I moved to Singapore, where I worked as the CEO of Nadathur Fareast Pte Ltd. It was founded by Nadathur Sarangapani Raghavan, one of the seven founders of Infosys Technologies. I helped to grow our portfolio & investments in south-east Asia. I mainly focused on Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Last year, in 2019, I moved back to Bangalore.
My philanthropy journey started when I was in Chicago. I was part of a team that set up a cricket academy that conducted weekend cricket training for kids. I always enjoyed hanging around and playing with them.
So, when I moved to Singapore, I took up training childrenmore seriously and that’s where I got certified. I am an ICC certified cricket coach. I started working with the Singapore Cricket Academy. I coach the Singapore under-17 cricket team.
Growing up, I played a lot of badminton and cricket. I always wanted to do something for children, in the field of sports. That’s the reason I invested in “The Sports School”.
It is built on a 25-acre land on Kanakapura road, Bengaluru and has state-of-the-art facilities in 5 sports including cricket and badminton. It is certified by FIFA and the NBA to host international games. . It has 7 tennis courts. Robin Uthappa is one of our advisors for Cricket. Rohan Bopanna is part of the tennis program. We have other strong partners who help us in running all the programs. We have 90 children studying with us at ‘The Sports School’. Some of the kids come from poor families.
The other initiative I have started is called “Feeding Bangalore”. The idea was to provide well-balanced nutritious food to the poor affected by Covid-19.
I wanted to help such people and so I started distributing food made in my kitchen. But then I realized that I couldn’t distribute beyond Koramangala, where I live. So as soon as the first lockdown was lifted, I contacted one of my high school classmates. He runs a provision store as well as a catering business. I told him my intention of helping others and he joined my initiative. On May 8th, Friday, we met a canteen-owner and he agreed to work with us. By Sunday, we decided on the areas to distribute the food packets and the canteen also got ready to prepare food. That Monday, we started distributing food packets.
At “The Sports School” we help children learn life skills through sports. Sports teaches them discipline, teamwork, recovery after a loss, etc. The benefits are innumerable. In the traditional learning system today, kids spend over 6-7 hours in the classroom and spend just 1 hour on sports. We have flipped that model.
We provide world-class facilities, and kids can play about 4-6 hours of sports every day. We follow the CBSE curriculum, and academics is equally important. The kids’ study for about 4 hours every day. Thus we offer an educational curriculum that rather than just including sports, has academics built around sports.
Some students who stay in the hostel, get personal attention from the teachers who also stay in the hostel. Since any sports person needs to go to someplace to play sports, go to the gym to exercise, connect with a nutritionist for dietary advice, a physiotherapist for medical help, and a psychiatrist for mental counseling; we aim to address all these needs in our school. I am training to be a yoga coach as well. So we will also include this in the future.
‘The Sports School’ has 2 tracks. The first track is for children who just like sports and want to be involved in the field of sports. Students who opt for this track can go on to become a nutritionist, massage therapist, data analyst, handle marketing operations for a sports organization, etc. The second track is for children who intend to become a professional sportsperson.
We have designed the program based on inputs given by Robin Uthappa-cricket player, Rohan Bopanna-tennis player, and Anup Sridhar-badminton player. They have played their game at the highest level and have a lot of experience in their respective fields.
So we have experts in each vertical to run the programs. Identifying these people, getting them to run the programs, and seeing the results is an amazing journey.
We opened this school in June 2019. In November 2019, there was an All India Men’s Tennis Championship, and our student Niki Kaliyanda Poonacha won India’s championship.
The results we observed in the first 6 months validates our model. Our 2 key features are the quality of coaching and the integration of various facilities. The youngest student in our school is in the 4th grade and the oldest is in 1st year B.com. 15 children are being sponsored right now as per their performance evaluation and economic needs. The kind of passion these kids show on the court is just incredible.
Our “Feeding Bangalore” Initiative is also doing well. We feel good about it, although there is a lot more that can be done. This was my first experience and I wanted to do it on my own. So during the first couple of weeks, we did it without any support and got hands-on experience. Later, I asked some of my friends to contribute to this cause and we raised a good amount of money for it.
My friend, who I mentioned earlier, was my classmate in National High School. So we started distributing food packets to the staff of our school. Then we went to Sree Sambhavnath Jain Bhawan near Gandhi Bazaar. This was our first delivery point.
We distribute well- balanced nutritious food packets. A different meal is served each day of the week. It is usually a combination of rice and vegetables, enriched with protein. Bisi Bele Bath and Chitranna are some of the dishes which are distributed.
We wanted to hand out only one packet to one person. Since our food packet is very nutritious and weighs about 350 grams, many people wanted more than one packet. We observed that some people who had already collected the packet from the first delivery point came running to the second point to collect it again. They said that our food is really good. That was enough appreciation for the hard work we put in.
Initially, a lot of affected people came for food packets. We spoke with many of them. Most of them were daily workers from the F&B industry, where they clean canteens, chopped vegetables, or cooked. Now since the malls and some restaurants have opened up, many have gone back to work, which is some relief.
It has been 32+ days since we started, and we have distributed 16000+ packets already. We have been delivering in Basavanagudi, Gandhi Bazaar, K R Market, and Hosakerehalli.
At “The Sports School”, soon we’ll be offering a huge scholarship program in tennis. We already have students who play for the BFC (Bengaluru Football Club), one of our partners. We have partnered with the NBA (National Basketball Association) and they are going to come on board this year too, as we will also be running a basketball program.
While delivering food packets, we also met with about 300 kids in one area. All of them were energetic and ambitious. Now, I have data of about 125 kids who live there.
We want to help these kids in the long term. We want all our efforts and time to make an impact on the life of these kids. So we have taken a space in the slum and we are going to convert it into a library. It will have books and sports equipment which can be rented. We are planning to set up a computer lab there as well. Since I have played a lot of badminton and have done cricket coaching as well, I will keep checking to spot a talented kid in these sports. I hope to help them achieve their dreams.
I want the children to be independent, educated, and possess life skills, such as communication, negotiation, making friends, overcoming hurdles, and facing challenges.
So I am planning to take the responsibility of about 10-20 kids and guide them throughout their childhood till they become successful in their life. I will take care of their education and help them hone their life skills.
Nadathur Estates runs its own foundation. It runs schools, breast cancer research institutes, and some environment and conservation programs as well. We have separate teams who work for these programs.
I have also worked directly with some of their initiatives, like “Mitti Café”. It aims to empower the differently-abled. They go to campuses of various companies like Infosys and set up cafes there. They serve high-quality food with a lot of care and passion. They take pride in their work as they are earning out of it. It’s an amazing model which started with 1 café in Hubli and now it has grown to 10-12 cafes.
Because of Covid-19, they are not operational currently. So now, all their staff has joined and they work together in the central kitchen. They are handing out around 3,000 food packets daily.
I am also working with “Guardians of Dreams”. There are a couple of more initiatives, where I am planning to work for children who are affected by various illnesses.
We do a lot of voluntary work. Any like-minded person can come and join us. We have to distribute books, laptops, and sports equipment to many kids. So, people can donate money for this initiative. If anyone has some skills to engage the kids and give their time for this, they are most welcome.
Story compiled by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
“Here’s Mr. Prathaap B.’s story, Social Entrepreneur and Founder of “PotHole Raja”- a Social Venture to create safer, pothole-free roads through citizen participation, and by leveraging CSR and crowdsourcing.”
Since school days I was very active in sports and adventure. I always dreamed of being in the Air Force and so continued to work under NCC.
I was awarded the ‘Best Cadet of Indian Air Force’, under the National Cadet Corps (NCC) by then Prime Minister of India – A.B. Vajpayee in the Republic Day Parade. I represented India as Youth Ambassador to the UK for an International Air Cadet Exchange program. In fact, I got my pilot license before I got my driving license.
“I realized that once you put your mind and effort into a thing, you can get what you want- even something that seems to be beyond one’s reach. Over time, I became stronger in the areas that I wanted to focus on, whether it was serving the country or being part of elite forces.”
Then I moved on to learn more about Management Sciences to know how to take up things on a large scale. I worked in the corporate sector for about 11 years. I held senior management positions for about 8-9 years. I worked with large organizations in the US and UK, like Citibank, Aditya Birla Group, and Hewitt. I served at HP as a Global Vice President.
Meanwhile, in India and the US, I studied 3 masters – from Harvard Business School, Indian Statistical Institute, and the Indian Institute of Modern Management. I always focussed on analytics while studying management degrees. My Ph.D. is in organization, leadership, and human resource.
In 2011, I started my journey as an entrepreneur, with a vision to connect how public or private organizations, CSR, and individual volunteering can be leveraged simultaneously to create large-scale social impact.
I’ve been the founding member of a finishing school, which connects the students to corporates through the internship model, and today it continues in the name of “Blue Tiger”. We’re always thinking of ways to give students opportunities to make a difference in their communities.
I have also been working with an organization called “Education for Integrating Life”. Since 2011, we have been facilitating 300-400 social action projects proposed by students in Std 10-12. Each student commits 30-40 hours of social work as part of these projects
There was once a girl, whose mother was fighting cancer. During this time she couldn’t concentrate on social work. Losing her mother obviously caused her a lot of grief. This personal experience led her to understand the need for counselling. She started conducting counselling sessions in cancer hospitals, and at old age homes. She eventually chose this as her career path, and now she is pursuing a degree in child psychology.
“But what I learned out of this was that you don’t need to go through the same experiences as others to create impact. I realized that I don’t need an external trigger to do something significant. I think that’s a very important dimension that made me start PotHole Raja.”
In 2014, one of my close friends, Sanjay Achyut Tambwekar lost his daughter in a road accident. She was going to be married soon, and it was obviously an extremely difficult time for him. Later, his wife, Dr Shubhangi Sanjay Tambwekar and he, together started The Arundhati Foundation in memory of their daughter.
At about the same time I had started thinking about how I could make a difference in society, that too on a large scale. In 2015, I started researching to learn more about the top 3 issues plaguing India. I started focusing on road infrastructure as it needed a lot of attention. Having worked with the governments of Malaysia and Singapore, I had developed a good understanding of the global best practices for road safety. So I set out with the vision to create a pothole-free India.
Being tech-savvy myself, I was able to create an app that would let people report potholes, share pictures, and GPS locations. By the end of 2015, some IIT Bombay Ph.D. students connected with me, and I realized that many people have been working on the idea of such an app. These students had created a mobile sensor-based app to help identify and report potholes. The app could automatically sense the aberrations on the road as one would drive around, and send alerts.
“Despite these efforts, there are still many accidents and fatalities that occur due to poor road infrastructure. In fact, potholes claim more lives than terrorist attacks in India.”
In 2015, the Supreme Court of India said that about 800 people died out of terror attacks, whereas deaths caused by potholes stood at 3500. Further, my research revealed that identifying and reporting potholes did little to solve the problem – the real gap was in fixing these potholes.
I learned of a few NGOs that have been working on road safety. For example, ichangemycity.com lets citizens report issues like potholes and bad roads, and the NGO in turn sends that request to Corporators or Municipal Councils. Unfortunately, in most cases the loop is not closed. If you report an issue, the concerned people may or may not even be bothered to take action, and you will never know whether it is going to be fixed or not.
Traditionally roads are laid with a ‘Hot Mix Asphalt’. I started exploring alternative methods to fix roads. I connected with some professionals and university professors in civil engineering and understood how fixing potholes is different from typical road-laying, and the challenges that come with it.
Countries across the world use a variety of technologies, tools, and materials to lay roads that are safe and long-lasting. But in India, these tools and technologies were yet to be adopted. While I was in the US and Malaysia I learned about ‘Cold Asphalt’ – an alternate method of road construction popular in Saudi Arabia. In 2015-16, Cold Asphalt was not available in India, so I started importing it.
In 2015, I co-authored a book titled, Performance Excellence: An Effective and Efficient Project Management for Social Organizations .I was on a panel of experts, discussing the book at a Toyota factory, which was located in an industrial area and I mentioned the work I’m doing through PotHole Raja. Incidentally, the head of facilities said “We have a lot of potholes inside the industrial area, within our campus, can you help fix them?”.
And that’s how we began fixing private roads. I realized that both private and public roads have the same maintenance issue. In the case of private roads, the contractors who manage the roads don’t want to do patchwork fixing, as it is not viable for their business.
As far as public roads are concerned, I started fixing potholes on my own using Cold Asphalt. A lot of people got connected, friends and family started donating money for it. I had a private ltd co. and I started accepting donations and also got CSR funding.
It became a movement in 2016 and in early 2017, after a lot of media houses started covering what I was doing as an individual. That’s when a lot of volunteers and organizations started reaching out to me. They started funding and sending their employees as volunteers.
Many automobile companies were interested in working with PotHole Raja because road safety is a relevant concern they can address through their CSR efforts. Eventually even, Tyre and Alcohol brands wanted to support the cause. Also, many IT companies, where a majority of their workforce commute by 2-wheelers, were concerned for their employees’ safety. So they saw sense in collaborating with us as well.
“By 2019, PotHole Raja became a Pan-India Movement, as a result of which 7000+ potholes were fixed. Over 5000 people had volunteered to contribute 20000+ hours of volunteering.”
We did a lot of awareness building with school children in terms of Road Safety Education. We’ve addressed around 15,000 school children, helping them understand how fixing potholes can improve road safety. They also learned about the importance of signboards, speed breakers, mirrors for corners, and Zebra crossings or pedestrian crossings.
Parallelly, l also worked on improving private roads. Media coverage of our work in fixing public roads piqued the interest of many IT parks and gated communities. But many of them were unable to get their emplyees/residents involved, so I started approaching transgender and underpriviliged individuals, encouraging them to take up working with PotHole Raja as an alternate career. This gave them an opportunity to earn livelihood.
In 2017, ‘The Hindu’ wrote a half-page article on PotHole Raja. It appeared on the front page, and I started getting calls from many individuals who were interested in volunteering.
One such story is about a volunteer who called me and asked ‘how can I join you?’. I told him to meet me near St. John’s Hospital at 5:30am the next morning. He showed up on time and we fixed potholes together, along with an RJ from Fever 104 FM and a few other more volunteers. He enjoyed doing this, and for almost 7 months, he continued to be a regular volunteer. In October 2017, he said fixing potholes was a lot more fulfilling and enriching. He resigned from his job at HP and joined us full-time in December 2017. He is still with us, running operations and managing large-scale projects.
Executives from the top management, who are associated with different types of companies, belonging to different countries, even some who were visiting India on work have joined us in fixing potholes. So far, we’ve had volunteers from 17 different countries.
Many people who were of the opinion that fixing potholes is not their job started to think differently after working with us, and slowly realized that they too can make a difference in society, rather than just pointing fingers.
“Apart from taking corrective action to fix potholes, I think building roads and road infrastructure that doesn’t require regular maintenance is critical. We have been exploring ways to optimize the methods used to fix roads.”
To this end, we have conducted research on alternate materials and methods that can be used to create sustainable, long-lasting roads. We have come up with a material that uses a combination of plastic waste and crumb rubber waste. We have also experimented extensively with Cold Asphalt.
Our efforts have garnered the support of the Government of Maharashtra, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Ministry of Science and Technology, Tata Trust, and Social Alpha. Brigade Group has also supported us under their Real Estate Accelerator Program (REAP) for innovation in the space of roads, both in private real estate and public roads.
Start-up India, through their AGNII (Accelerating growth of New India’s Innovations) program, has also recognised us for our innovative methods. Further, a large company that generates a lot of waste, which goes into landfills, has started sending their waste to us. We have done a lot of research on this front, and our product is almost ready. We have found that plastic can be a replacement for the concrete block and interlocking tiles.
Additionally, the mining and manufacturing of Granite is one of the largest industries in India. The slurry waste powder generated while cutting granite currently goes into landfills. Our research has found that this is a strong material that can be converted and used to build roads. We are also exploring the possibility of building solar roads. Some countries have tried this, but it has not been done at scale.
We are also looking to create private roads, like walkways and cycle parks that will run on a microgrid with self-sustaining solar power supply for all the infrastructure around it. The current Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone around the world. Millions of laborers are suffering the disproportionate consequences of this pandemic. With this in mind, we have also started creating livelihood projects for people, where we help them learn new skills related to road-building.
Since we’re trying to steer away from traditional road building methods, getting a skilled laborer is a big challenge. We are looking to create vocational skill development training related to road infrastructure for the underprivileged communities, migrants, and slum dwellers to help address this skill gap.
We are also exploring options with Earth Moving Companies, who can train the laborers on many skills related to road construction. For example, we need technically sound drivers for JCB Machines, who can maintain and repair them on the ground.
Our website lets you see real-time reports on the ‘Live PotHole View’ page. The red dots are the ones to be fixed and the greens dots are the ones that are already fixed. You can also see the Before-After pictures for every dot.
“We have already worked in all metro cities and will continue to work with tier-1 and tier-2 cities.”
If anyone wants to connect with us, they can call us at +91 814 POTHOLE (+91 814 768 4653), email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or can reach us through Social Media like Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, they can also get in touch with us through one of the founders of Your Philanthropy Story.
They can also report a pothole on our website, or send us a message on WhatsApp. We encourage citizens to reach out to us for any road safety concern, from fatal potholes to missing road signages.
Story compiled by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna
“Here’s Mr. Abhishek Gupta’s story, founder of “NavGurukul”- an organization that helps students from low-income and marginalized communities to learn Software Engineering, enables them to get a job and brings them out of poverty.”
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
I received my Software Engineering degree 5 years ago from IIT Delhi and I founded a Startup that built a conversation platform. The app allowed people to come together and discuss a topic of interest. It was acquired by a large company with $2.6M in funding and I was appointed as its CTO.
Eventually, I started asking myself, “What does money mean to me?”. I asked others as well, what would they do if they had a lot of money? Some of my batchmates had around 30-40 lakhs in their savings after working for 3-4 years. They wanted to buy a new house, travel abroad, etc. As such, they did not stop chasing after money.
“As we looked for a solution, we thought about what would work best for the students, would it be teachers, books, or infrastructure? We came to realize that what every student wants, is just access to a wholesome learning environment.”
I realized that I didn’t want to get into this race. I decided that I will make money later as the need arises. So, I quit my 2nd startup after 2 years and started working Mr. Manish Sisodia, an Education Minister from AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) in the Delhi government. I was working in the field of technology, aiming to improve administration and teach students. I’m skilled in creation and innovation, but unfortunately, I didn’t find the space to utilize them in the government and I decided to leave.
By then, I had started interacting with students frequently and I observed that even those who would score as high as 70-80% in their exams, were only aiming to become a data entry operator, an accountant or a beautician. I then realized how ineffective higher education is, and how something must be done about it.
My experiences only proved to strengthen that realization. I once visited one of the top-ranked colleges in UP. The professor there had no knowledge on either software engineering or the programming language which he was teaching. This is the standard of engineering education in most colleges. 93% of the students who graduate do not acquire the necessary skills for their vocation.
People who trust them and whom they can trust in return, so they feel encouraged. “You can do it!” and “I believe in you”; these statements can lead to a multi-fold boost in learning. Students need to have mentors who are their seniors by a mere 4-5 years and have also been through the same education system, as opposed to a teacher would have completed their schooling 10-20 years ago. This is can be very critical.
We realized that all these things are available for free through the community, so why should we wait for the government to do something when we can do something about it ourselves? It was then that I met Rishabh, with whom I had worked very briefly in my 2nd startup. On our second meeting we realized a mutual interest in using technology to impart education. We then went to Auroville for 2-3 weeks and finally came up with the idea of NavGurukul.
“Diversity is something we value here.”
Please tell us more about your organization
In NavGurukul, we teach software engineering to students from low-income and marginalized communities and help them get a job. This is a one-year residential course and we currently have two centers, one in Bangalore and the other in Dharamsala.
The one in Bangalore is a girls-only center. We have 45 students right now, but we can accommodate 90 students. Dharamsala on the other hand is a boys-only center that can house 60 students. We currently have 55 students there. Sometimes, there is an exchange of students between the centers, but we make sure that the boys and girls stay separately.
In NavGurukul, about 70% of the students enroll after 12th standard. 10-15% of the students might not have completed their schooling or passed 10th standard. We also have some students who are going to or have graduated college. We focus on students who are graduating from high school, who are typically 17-19 years old, but we also have students who are 16-17 years old, as well as those who are 26-27 years old.
We have students who are HIV-positive, differently-abled, transgender, as well as a girl who comes from a sex worker’s family. There are also two 27-year-old students, who have children and have moved away from their husbands because they were victims of domestic violence.
With students from 15 states, we have a healthy mix of religious and linguistic diversity too. Our Dharamsala center has boys coming from as far as Karnataka and Telangana. We have 15 students coming from Afghanistan, whose Visas we’re still working on.
To attract students to NavGurukul, we started partnering with local NGOs on the field. If we find an NGO working with schools, we ask them to tell their students about our course. We expect at least 5-6 students to join our school each year, with the help of our NGO partners. We have many videos and posts that we use to raise awareness around who we are and what we do. We also organize informative sessions, where we answer questions from students and their parents.
Our admission procedure includes an online application form, followed by a written test and two or three rounds of personal interviews. They are interviewed on topics like algebra, English, campus culture, etc. Once the students clear these processes, they plan their travel and come to our centers. It seems like a long process, but we try to finish it within 10 days for each student.
NavGurukul is very different from a traditional college. Since I graduated from IIT Delhi, I realized that the structure of IT education in colleges is not always effective. It was a learning journey for me, and I decided that I will never grade my students.
We have a Student Council, which is responsible for everything inside the campus and the members of which are selected by the students themselves. There are many responsibilities they have to take up like hygiene, learning processes, etc.
We have a Facility in-charge in the Dharamsala campus and one in the Bangalore campus as well. One of them works in technology and is an ex-student of NavGurukul. We want NavGurukul to be run by our alumni. We are increasing their capacity to do things by instating an Alumni Council, where we have Placement Co-coordinators, Training Co-coordinators, and Personnel Co-coordinators. In the year ahead, the Alumni will be the ones who will look after our campuses.
“So, we don’t have teachers, no exams, and we do not grade at all. Students work as a community, and they take care of each other.”
We have 3 phases in our 1-year course. Students have to complete 3 milestones in the first phase, 10 milestones in the second phase and 4 milestones in the third phase.
Completing the entire course could take up to one year, but some students complete it in 6 months and some of them take 18 months. We don’t pressurize them to complete it quickly. So, once the students cross the milestones and feel competent and ready for the job, then a couple of alumni interview the student, and after 5-6 attempts in which the student receive feedback, only then do the students apply for jobs. That’s how we do quality management as there is no exam. Through this process, a student who goes to the industry for a job would have been tested multiple times.
At Navgurukul, we make a conscious effort to not celebrate the outcomes. Instead, we encourage students imbibe values. The most important incentive in NavGurukul is living by values and sharing inputs. For example, in a normal Hackathon, the one who comes up with a fancy product is the one that is rewarded. But in NavGurukul, we reward the team that has worked the hardest, or helped other teams to achieve their outcome – this is an example of input. If the product made is the most inclusive to the community, it will be considered to be the best – this is an example of value.
“Our focus is more on pedagogy and culture. If the culture is conducive to growth and students will figure out a way to learn.”
The culture in NavGurukul is very different. There are many cases where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are appreciated more than students who may be smarter but, are less engaged with the community.
We are a small team with 3-4 core members. We take many breaks from NavGurukul, sometimes for as long as three months. Some team members will be on a break to learn new things for personal use or something related to Navgurukul. For example, our core member Rishab is on a break, he is learning agriculture and another member named Anuradha is practicing counseling and studying psychology. Typically, 2-3 people will always be in the core team to look after the operations. My work mainly entails raising funds and getting our students placed in jobs.
We have worked hard towards achieving a self–sustaining model over the last three years. Our aim is to help students learn meaningful skills and get a job. Secondly, they should be able to take care of themselves emotionally and physically. Thirdly, we want to ensure that these students realize their place in the society. They should know what is going on in society and what role they can play in it.
Please tell us about your success on this journey
Most of our students get placed in MNCs or Start-Ups. They are earning well, and their lives have been transformed.
There is a girl named Kajal, who lives in Delhi, her father is a rickshaw puller, and her mother is a domestic cook. Within six months of her training, she got a job in Mindtree.
There is another student named Shivam, he was working at a local bakery earning Rs 5,000 per month. He used to work 7 days a week, 2 hours a day. Now he works with GamingMonk in Delhi and earns Rs. 45,000 per month.
Amar is working with ThoughtWorks, he is from Guwahati. Savita works with operations team at CodeChef. She had severe mental health issues, but now she is working in a good environment. We admitted two girls at the age of 16, they are now working in Delhi, earning a salary of Rs. 30,000 per month. We were told by the NGO that if you don’t take them now, they will be married away by the age of 17.
For example – Mindtree conducts its training program for 4 months, but for our students, it was just 2 months, as they were already performing at a higher level. Our students are performing better than typical engineering students.
When our students got a chance to meet Subroto Bagchi, one of the founders of Mindtree, he immediately agreed to invest in us to start a new campus. The company was willing to fund 100 students in NavGurukul every year. But because of its acquisition by L&T, things got derailed.
We are trying to target some companies, where our students can easily get jobs in software engineering with the average salary ranging between Rs. 20,000 – Rs.30,000 per month.
“When our students got into Mindtree, it was a huge success for us, because we received very good feedback.”
There is a company named Eunimart in Hyderabad. They hire around 100 new employees every year. Six of our students are already working with Eunimart and they have been hiring our students, helping create a steady pipeline of jobs.
ThoughtWorks was not our ideal company for placement, as it offers 7 lakhs per annum to software engineers and its expectations are different. Our students can fulfill the requirements of a company offering around 2-3 lakhs per annum. We are in touch with companies like TCS, Infosys, and Accenture. Accenture cannot hire our students directly as they fund NavGurukul through their CSR program.
We spend around Rs. 1,00,000 per student, which includes, food, accommodation, internet, laptop, etc. So, once they get a job, we request them to voluntarily contribute funds to support other students in our centers. There is a social understanding that they should support the betterment of other students. As a benchmark, we say they should give back Rs 1.2 lakhs as the donation to NavGurukul. Many students have given back much more than that, but some say they can give only Rs. 50,000 or Rs. 80,000, which we accept.
Many of our students also shift from Software Engineering to Operations, Sales or Teaching. One student who worked in operations at NavGurukul, now works with DirectI. So, the curriculum is not important in NavGurukul, but the culture is key. The entire environment is supportive for all the students irrespective of the field of work they choose.
What challenges did you face in running this organization?
The first challenge we faced was starting the first batch itself. Many people from remote areas think that we take away students for kidney trafficking. It was hard to enroll girl students, considering it’s a residential school. We had a tough time convincing people that this is not an illegal organization. They ask us many questions like, “Why are you doing this?”, “If the students are getting free education, what’s in it for you?”, “Why do you fund the travel of students?” etc. For most of the people from rural areas, our work makes no sense, and so, many times we have to convince them that NavGurukul gets funds from other organizations and thus we can offer education for free. Changing the mindset of people and getting admissions was the biggest challenge.
“Initially, it was a challenge for us to get girl students. But now our female alumni are serving as role models and they help in driving admissions.”
The second challenge was convincing donors to fund NavGurukul. Considering this is a residential school, many donors were skeptical and were worried since we have girl students as well. They feared if something unfortunate was to happen, it will go wrong in a big way. Many donors said that they can support only boys and not girls. But lately, donors have been more forthcoming, and it has become a consistent pattern.
The third challenge was setting up a center in Bangalore. We got five acres of land near Nandi Hills. It was in a very bad condition but, in 2-3 months we were able to revamp the area. We spent a lot of money on it. But after an incident took place involving an intoxicated individual and we were asked to leave the place. Even police asked us to leave as it was a rural area, and if anything happens, they won’t be liable for it. So, we shifted to Electronic City.
Sometimes the girls faced a lot of eve-teasing and harassment outside the campus. But now these things don’t happen often. We have worked a lot to stop these incidents. So now our challenge is to ensure that such incidents don’t occur near our new campuses.
We believe in freedom for our students and don’t restrict them with regard to where they go, or what clothes they wear. But the girls decide some protocols on their own and they go out in groups of threes and fours. Accenture has also sponsored some cabs for students who have to travel for official reasons.
What are your future plans?
We want to scale up, so we have to work in an organized manner. We are planning to build a campus near Pune for about 200 girls. We chose Pune as we want to set up a campus close to the Hindi-speaking belt, in an IT city. We are looking for a 10-20-year lease in a rural area near Pune so that our students can connect with social realities as well. We are still looking for suitable properties.
“In India, we barely have 5% psychologists and they are mainly for the people who belong to the mainstream and are suffering from depression.”
We plan to buy a farm and do the entire construction of the campus ourselves. The only challenge is capital expenditure. All the organizations are willing to support the operational expenditure, but no one supports capital expenditure. We might even try to raise funds from individuals; we are still working on it.
We also want to expand into other courses as our pedagogy is very generic. We are working on 2-3 curriculums right now. We want to do something similar to an organization named “School for Justice”, which is training 19 students right now, who are victims of sex trafficking. They will be trained for 3-4 years so that they can crack the entrance examinations in law, police or journalism. The idea behind this is to flip the power equation.
Anuradha, one of our group members is a Counseling Psychologist. She is currently on a 6-month break to learn group therapy. We realize that group therapy is very important in discussing topics that are taboo like sex, menstruation, rape can be discussed. So, we want to introduce a two-year course in Group Therapy. Anuradha will lead this course.
The government will also give a diploma for our courses. So, our challenge would be to get our students into the mainstream field of psychology. We will be partnering with existing counselors who are building some of these courses for their organizations. We will train students with all the information required to be a good counselor.
Another course we want to introduce is Food Processing. We are working with some consultants and still thinking about this course. Most of the food processing organizations in India are centralized. We want a smaller, decentralized food processing unit to be owned by people, where they can process the food, as well as market them. We will have to train them end-to-end. But all this is in a very nascent stage.
We are already offering training in UI Design and Visual Design, but it’s happening on the side, if a student is interested in the subject. Maybe someday it will grow into a full-fledged course organically, but we are not consciously placing resources for it. If the students get trained on AI-ML by their employer, they might start teaching these courses in NavGurukul, but the core team is not focusing on these subjects.
There are many jobs in AI-ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) and RPA (Robotic Process Automation), but we don’t want to expand into this. We are putting all our energies into different verticals.
How can someone work with you or join you?
We work a lot with volunteers. We have a separate set of volunteers in Dharamsala. Our students are empowered, they are the ones who decide whether we should accept or reject a volunteer.
Students demand genuine effort from the volunteer’s side. Some volunteers have provided meaningful guidance, but there have also been few who have failed to do so. Mostly the volunteers are very dedicated and have good intentions. We discourage remote volunteering as it hasn’t worked very well for us in the past. If a volunteer is in the center, he/she can be approached easily, and the learning process becomes easier.