By Annie Fraser:
Founded in 2007 by Gururaj Deshpande, The Deshpande Foundation in Hubli was created with the belief that entrepreneurship, innovation, and local, grassroots efforts could sustainably transform Northwest Karnataka. Since 2007, the Deshpande Foundation has developed a variety of programs to cultivate innovative and entrepreneurial leaders. One such program is the LEADers Accelerating Development (LEAD) Program.
The roots of LEAD can be traced back to Naveen Jha, current Deshpande Foundation CEO. Naveen originally joined the Deshpande Foundation in 2007 as a Programs Officer. The Deshpande Foundation’s location on the BVBCET campus meant that it was constantly surrounded by young college students. Naveen took the opportunity to speak with these students about their lives, their ambitions, and their opinions about society. Most importantly, though, Naveen came to know that students had big ideas, and even bigger ideas for building a better India.
The LEAD that we know today began as a night program, during which Naveen would meet with 12 students after their classes and mentor them to help them brainstorm and build upon powerful ideas. Naveen additionally invited college faculty members to join the sessions so that the faculty would understand the vision and potential of the students. Through these sessions, open communication between students and college faculty was created and nurtured, and the faculty members felt motivated to support the students on their ideas.
LEAD was officially launched on August 15th in 2008. Its inauguration on Independence Day symbolized a pride and commitment for creating a brighter future for India. Equipped with real-life applications and trainings, LEAD gives students a platform to practice hands-on learning, innovative thinking, team formation and team management, idea implementation, understand communities, and network. The Deshpande Foundation supports students’ ideas financially and logistically to turn them into impactful projects.
Today, five years since its successful inception, LEAD has grown to reach and support 14657 students and 3067 LEADers, 3729 leadership projects, and 70 colleges. The program has expanded to 16 locations in 11 districts of Karnataka: Dharwad, Hubli, Gadag, Hulkoti, Laxmeshwar, Haveri, Davangere, Chitradurga, Bijapur, Talikoti, Jamkhandi, Bagalkot, Sirsi, Belgaum, Chikodi and Nidasoshi. LEAD has recently expanded to Gulbarga and Bidar.
Naveen says, “Every human being has a dream, and every human being has a good thing to do”. It was upon this core principal that LEAD was founded. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of India’s large population is made up of youth, as a society, we tend to underestimate the potential of our young people to create significant impact. However, LEAD has proved that our youth do, in fact, possess the passion, and drive, and ability to inculcate the leadership that this country needs and to generate action-based results. During its fifth year alone, LEAD witnessed major successes and achievements driven by student initiatives. Rs. 4302496 were fundraised by the students to implement their community improvement projects. Moreover, Rs. 649760 in resources were provided by local organizations to assist with students’ projects, and over 323166 people across Karnataka directly benefited from the completed LEAD projects.
With LEAD’s slogan, “Complaints start with THEY, solutions start with I” in mind, our LEADers have, and will continue to inspire and lead their communities towards progress. While people in India complain about poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and more, LEAD is capitalizing on the power of youth and creating real leaders who are providing real solutions to India’s most severe problems by tackling these issues at the local level. India needs a nation of active change-makers, and LEAD knows just where to find them.