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An Idea That Transcends Humanity Is Real Entrepreneurship

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By 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.

Website- www.akanksha.org and www.teachforindia.org

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.

Website- www.selco-india.com

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.

Website- not available

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.

Website- www.super30.org

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.

Website- www.miraklecouriers.com

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.

Website- www.goonj.org

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.

Website-www.desicrew.in

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.

Website- www.aavishkaar.org

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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