Meet Pradeep Konapoor who intended to be to be a Psephologist, now a Techie,Change Seeker, eternal student, and philanthropist.
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
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.
Please tell us more about your success on this journey
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.
What have your key learnings been so far ?
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.
What are your future plans?
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