By Naman Bansal:
When I quit my job at Wipro and decided to spend a year of my life in rural India, I was determined that no matter what, I shall only do what I truly believe in. At 23, like many others, I was also a victim of our imperfect education system, which expects us to follow a pattern laid down by the next door ‘Sharma ji ka beta’.
Well, I knew for sure that I will not follow a set pattern in my life and will take more risks and challenge myself to explore my mettle. In the initial months of my rural fellowship I travelled from one government school to another to look closely at the education system in Bihar. One thing that struck me immediately, was the lack of effort to make classroom teaching fun and interactive. It was then, that I decided to do something I believed could create a long term-impact – Project Palak.
The aim was to enhance creativity and impart essential life and computer skills to the children using storytelling, an ancient art. When I told the idea to the NGO I was assigned to during the fellowship, they suggested I try something else, due to lack of funds. So, I was left with two options – give up and choose another project, or take up the responsibility to initiate my dream project. I chose the latter.
I had no money to start with. But I knew of Shalini, a Fellow from a previous batch who had crowdfunded a sum of close to INR 250,000 for her initiative in rural Odisha, and the impact that she had made with it. Hence, I decided to take on the responsibility of raising funds on my own.
The journey of crowdfunding wasn’t easy. I prepared for two months prior to starting the campaign. From January to March, I pitched the idea of Palak throughout my network. I started first with close friends, sharing my vision with all of them. During repeated conversations, I convinced them that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, and to be part of something significant.
I also did the math – if 50 people contributed 1,000 each, I could raise INR 50,000. Multiply it by five of their friends (people I do not know), we could raise INR 250,000. Most of my close friends agreed primarily because they believed in my passion. The second set of people I spoke to were peers from school and college. These were the people we usually spend great times with but drift apart from because of reasons unknown (life, maybe). This, I believe, was the best part of the whole campaign, as it gave me a chance to renew old friendships. Almost all of them responded positively and gave the assurance that they would support the campaign. This is a thing that fascinated me about this whole activity. You renew what you had lost. It was magical. Personally as well, I was approached by old friends, even some who I had fallen out with, and even teachers who I had not spoken to for years.
Additionally, I started a Facebook page called ‘Flying Ambitions‘, and a blog to showcase my work and build up the story, before launching the campaign. Regular updates through writings, photographs were posted and appreciated by netizens. From January to February 2016, I built up the momentum, following which I set up a campaign page on Ketto, a popular crowdfunding platform. However, the build-up struck the right chord when I was invited to give a public talk at Reserve Bank of India, Pune in front of the senior management from the organisation.
It so happened that Mohit Prateek, who regularly followed my blog, would share links with Mr. Manas Mohanty, a General Manager at RBI at the time, who after reading one of my writings, invited me to deliver the talk. A chain reaction started from there and the impact it had on the campaign. was huge.
After delivering a two-hour talk, I was assured help in my endeavour. A few months later, the same set of people linked me to RBI, Patna and decided to contribute four computers to Project Palak. In addition, three members from that audience contributed 50,000 INR when the campaign started in March! Inspired by my project, Vishal Singh, a filmmaker made a documentary, which helped us give the initial kick to the campaign.
Once the campaign started, I barely had time to sleep. I was constantly updating our progress on social media, talking to all those people who agreed to contribute, networking with anyone who wanted to talk to me and motivating newer people. Four months of hard work and contributions from 190+ people ranging from 100 to 20,000 INR per person, and we managed to raise a sum in excess of 240,000 INR. My friend Sanjal, through her contacts managed to raise a sum of 50,000 INR. These small contributions proved that small is actually really big. We had done what seemed literally impossible!
All through the campaign, I adopted a ‘no gifts’ policy. This, I believe, worked in my favour as people who contributed believed in the idea. They contributed without expecting anything in return except for happiness from the work that their contributions would bring in the lives of children. It is because of their belief that, today, we have been able to set up a computer-cum-storytelling space in Haripur Krishna Middle School. In this creative space, over 30 children are learning computers and using stories to make classroom learning fun and interactive, just as education should be.