Being A 24-Year-Old Woman Social Entrepreneur In India #YouthMatters

Posted on June 7, 2013 in Specials

By Sonal Kapoor:

The Beginning

In 2010, during one of my corporate film shoots in Delhi, I had come across a woman in a slum. She had six daughters and was trying to send one of them (who was 8-year-old) to the area known for prostitution. It was poverty that demanded this sacrifice, in order to feed five others. She was also pregnant. When I asked her, what about the little life breathing inside her, she had said, ‘If it is a girl again this time, I will strangle her the minute she is born.’

I remember; everything had changed for me after that incidence. I was turning 24 then.

Within 45 minutes, I decided to start a creative arts school for the sexually abused girls (even by their fathers in a nearby slum) in the area. I didn’t know about changing the world or zilch about the non-profit sector, but I could “at least start”. Thus, Protsahan India Foundation was born as a one-room creative arts centre for educating the girl child in the ghettos. Within a month, we got the organisation registered with the Govt. of India.

protsahanNow, each day as I walk past those slums in Delhi, it saddens me to see hundreds of neglected children, most without mothers, some sexually abused by their fathers, women who don’t understand the concept of sanitary napkins.

Start Up Challenges at Protsahan

It took me 8 months to decide on using arts as a curriculum for creative design based education. Rote learning/school education solely would have never made sense to a child raised in the street.

Today, when The World Bank, United Nations, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Indian Television Academy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia India Youth Dialog and other organisations of national and international repute recognise us, we feel proud and see it as a beginning. The only thing that worked in my favour was conviction.

Evolution, Innovation and Growth

Our sole mission is to encourage creative education and skills development through creative design thinking approaches for at-risk/abused/special children for whom it could always be only a dream. So, we started using simple techniques, but with a difference. For example:

– We made a traditional Indian art form to be recreated using coffee powder for special and autistic children.
– We used creativity and design to work with survivors of trafficking and abuse.
– We used scrabble to teach them English, cartoons and photographs to keep the interests alive, game and art based education, digital storytelling to make teaching a fun process.

Scale or Empathy?

We want to work with every child, and so obviously I am asked about the scalability and replicability models. It is the process which is unique at Protsahan. Only when you have the learning to deal with one child, all inclusive, can you reach numbers in the right way. We see government schools all over. It’s replicable, right? But, where is the empathy, creativity and connect? I remember, how one social venture capitalist had expressed desire to ‘invest’ in Protsahan, and when we met, the first question he asked me was, what would be the ROI (return on investment) that Protsahan could give him when he ‘invested’ in a sexually abused child. I stood up, paid for my coffee bill and left. I was 25 then.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions. They however can scale up approaches that work. We are a non-profit organisation and we count our revenue in terms of number of lives we have impacted and transformed for the better. I call it the gross happiness index.

Opportunity Costs?

It takes more than just grit and gumption to get an organisation up with strong fundamentals. It takes humility blended with some assertive passion. It takes missing out on those occasional tea sessions with your retired father, it takes you staring right in the eye of your own vulnerabilities, yet defying the world, getting judged and not being scared of what the world would think, taking decisions which you know are just and fair, unknowingly scaring the men you could date at 24 with your work. It takes too quick a growing up of that girl inside you. It takes learning what detachment truly is, because people come, add a bit to your dream and go. In the end you have: the credits, failures, learnings, laughter, the shirking of those slight tears when you see a young one you taught for 2 years being sexually tortured by her father. At times like those, you know that no matter what, your strength wouldn’t falter and the seeds of encouragement you once had sown would continue to nurture many generations to come.

Discuss: Do Women Social Entrepreneurs Face More Challenges? 

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