ByÂ Chandan Wadhwa:
India is a country which has enormous potential to grow and so in the recent times it has emerged as one of the most sought after countries in the purview of the opportunities left open to be grabbed. As entrepreneurs queue up to invest, their sole motive is to multiply the capital invested. But this shinier side tends to blind most of us as we overlook the social welfare of the poor which are as much part of India’s population as others are.
The times have changed and the youth of India is rearing to fill this lacuna with their innovative ideas which will foster change and serve the motive of social inclusion with the profit added as garnishing over the top. I would like to share with you the success stories of eight Indian entrepreneurs who had a dream and have dedicated their hearts and their minds to the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the hopeless and serve a perfect example to the youngsters because they weigh the moment of compassion more than the negligence. Thus with this canvas these people started their expedition as entrepreneurs with a sole idea of ‘doing good’ and not mere charity.
I. The Girl in the Mirror
Shaheen Mistri founder of Akanksha
From the age young age of 12, Shaheen was doing volunteer work at the Happy Home School for the Blind. She generally moved from one country to another as her father was Citibanker. When she was 18, in her second year at Tuft’s, she was in India and was literally shell-shocked with the visual of poverty in the corners of the streets and decided to stay in India and so she took admission in Xavier’s college in Bombay. Then she interned with The Times of India and got an opportunity to visit courts, jails, police stations and was completely fascinated. At the same time she discovered the Social Service League at St Xavier’s. One day they were going on a trip to slums and Shaheen joined them. She made a friend Sandhya in that trip and started making frequent visits to her place. So the children nearby requested her to teach English and then an idea struck her to start a formal school teaching atmosphere to have a significant impact on the future of children. She also convinced her classmates to be the part of her vision and facilitate change by providing basic education to the children and for this they borrowed a classroom starting with meagre 15 children. This is how the seed of Akanksha was planted, in a tiny flower pot, watered with love and sincerity. Akanksha was like a lifeline to those eager children who wanted to come out of the slums and life a fruitful life and they actually did manage to achieve this. Shaheen also started ‘Teach for India’ campaign which was pivotal in driving change. All the members associated with her campaign are paid salaries.
That small initiative with 15 children in a single borrowed classroom now covers over 3500 children in 58 centres and 6 schools. And it continues to inspire the youth to do their bit, for a better India.
II. Prodigal Son
Harish Hande founder of SELCO
Harish Hande is a young scientist. After completing his PhD he stepped out of the laboratory to solve the energy problems of the people in the real world. He realised that equations are meaningless and the real challenge was to taking technology to the poor people- the ones who need the most. But before you create a solution, you need to study the problem. And so Harish as a PhD student spent two years actually living in a village in rural Sri Lanka. At the end of it he knew one thing for sure that poor people can and will pay -for solar energy. But, there are no one-size-fits-all technologies. You have to customise, create products people need. Thus, in 1995 a company called SELCO came into being. With its mix of practical insights and financial acumen, SELCO has achieved what others have talked about at seminars and conferences. Solar Energy systems on mass scale.
Systems bought by peanut farmers, Pani Puri vendors, midwives and even daily wage labourers because it makes sound economic sense. ‘‘Link energy with income generation and the poorest of the poor can afford solar lighting’’, shrugs Harish. SELCO has installed 120,000 systems in Karnataka, and plans to take the mission national, in the near future. Thus a road so different from the one most have taken. But illuminated and so bright.
III. Teach a Man to Fish
Dinabandhu Sahoo, Project Chilika
Flipping through his childhood memories Sahoo was always fascinated to see the scientists who conducted research in the laboratory as he grew between them he wondered why they did it. Over the years, he realised the importance of fundamental research when he became a Marine biologist who spent most of his time in laboratory himself. Dinabandhu Sahoo has devoted his life to the esoteric area of seaweed. He could have spent his life like any other academic. Quietly working away in the lab, making the occasional splash in the international journal.
But Sahoo wanted his technology to impact people, improve their lives. And that is exactly what he is doing through the ‘Chilika project’. Teaching villagers how to farm the ocean and make sustainable livelihood through the cultivation of seaweed. Sahoo never thought himself as a Social entrepreneur, but he is now one and being an inspiration for the by watchers to work for the people of the society.
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IV. The Hungry Tide
Anand Kumar, Super 30
Lack of Resources and circumstances are no barriers and Super 30 run by Anand Kumar is an apt example for this. Bihar has very little opportunity for the budding youth and there a seat in IIT is a matter of life and death. Study hard, join IIT and your life is made. Into this scenario stepped in Anand Kumar. A mathematics lover who ran coaching classes-like many others. Until one fine day, he started an experiment. He took a batch of poor but talented students and decided to train them free of cost to crack JEE. This experiment came to be known as Super 30. If reservation has lowered the bar, Super 30 has raised it. The phenomenal success of Super 30 is testimony to the fact that talent is important and the hunger to achieve is even more important. A good teacher can unleash the force in the willing student and this is what he did so smoothly. Thousands of such students will create hunger tide, carrying a new generation of Indians in New Delhi. Its success can be judged from the fact that it has almost 100% success rate since its commencement.
V. The Sound of Silence
Dhruv Lakra founder of Mirakle Couriers
Mirakle Couriers was founded in January 2009. Started by Dhruv Lakra who combined his education and experience in both the business and social sectors to come up with a for-profit social enterprise. The idea to help the deaf was triggered by one particular incident he experienced while travelling on a bus in Mumbai. The investment banker with a very offbeat idea has brought smile on the faces of his special employees of a special courier company. This is special because it employs only deaf people in the courier company which literally required no verbal communication. It was started with a capital of 200 pounds and 10 shipments. In just 18 months, it has grown to handle 60,000 deliveries a month. But the real story is not on the excel sheet. It is the light in the eyes of the employees. The pride in their stride and hope in their hearts. This start-up venture ensures that every person have a special place in this world.
VI. The Naked Truth
Anshu Gupta, Goonj
Trained as mass communication professional, Anshu Gupta decided to communicate an entirely unusual message to the masses. Through systematic collection, sorting and delivery Goonj reaches every scrap of waste clothing from urban India to someone out there needing it the most. To use with dignity and wear with pride. Goonj does not measure success in numbers. Anshu has realised that clothes are a serious issue in country like India. The Madanpur Khadir is the village where he and his team give old clothes new life and make the distribution of clothing a matter of dignity; an art and a science. The next time you give away old clothes for earthquake relief pause a moment and realise that you feel relieved as well.
VII. Country Roads
Saloni Malhotra founder of DesiCrew
The old saying ‘try and try again until you succeed ’ is profoundly apt in the case of Saloni’s crazy but opportunistic venture with a social objective in her mind. She failed in her first two attempts but got in right in the third attempt and hence evolved DesiCrew. This 23 year old engineering graduate had three dots in her head-‘rural’, ‘technology’ and ‘business’- which she connected to form DesiCrew. It is India’s first rural BPO. The project has also become a feather in the cap of IIT Madras, which incubated the idea. Today the company is a sustainable, profitable ‘rural BPO’. In the process it has brought income, empowerment and exposure to young people in mofussil towns and villages. Giving them a reason to stay rooted, and yet stay relevant.
And it all began in the head of a young woman who has never visited a village. A dream took Saloni from Delhi to the dusty roads of Tamil Nadu. As it is said- a dream can take you anywhere.
VIII. Beyond Profit
Vineet Rai founder of Aavishkaar Social Venture Fund
Quite by accident, 25 year-old Vineet Rai became CEO of GIAN- a network to support grassroots innovation. From there came the idea of setting up a micro-venture fund for rural entrepreneurs. His ideology is what makes him stand out in the crowd. His idea of social venture fund wasn’t supported by the people around, as it is generally the case when you experiment with something which is not heard off. But 7 years and 23 companies later he has proved them wrong. This fund invests in companies which have social objectives but also aim to make profits, and give investors a reasonable return. Aanishkaar also proves that you cannot and should not draw a line between ‘social’ and ‘commercial’. Commerce can drive ad deliver socially relevant goods and services.
He has shown the world with his gritty attitude that you can become a leader of men; inspirer of hearts; creator of wealth, in the material world and in the kingdom of conscience.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who think, and those who feel. The thinkers see the child begging on the street and say- ‘this is not my problem’.
Those who feel, however, will give that child a moment of compassion. All these above mentioned people come in the latter category and have stepped out of their comfort zones to help the country prosper and make them free from these maladies and that itself sets the bar for the youth who get inspired by such stories and strive to bring the change.