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If You Wish To Be An Entrepreneur, You Must Take This Eight Day Yatra Across India

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Over 4,000 kilometres of a journey full of learning through eight states of South and Central India and seven destinations brings us to Nalanda, the intellectual capital of Ancient India 🙂

The Jagriti Yatra has been designed to instil a sense of urgency in the young yatris to take action for solving India’s problems through entrepreneurial ventures in Middle India.

“Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.”

Saurabh Nanda in Nalanda in Nov 2017
Saurabh Nanda in Nalanda in Nov 2017 | Image has been provided by the author.

Swami Vivekananda, who took inspiration from a sloka of Katha Upanishad, made this slogan the very essence of youth movements across India — be it for recognising the nation within India, modernising our scientific thought process or re-discovering our rich heritage. It is in Kanyakumari, on Day 2, that we revisited this beautiful beacon of thought to energise ourselves about being Indians and inherently entrepreneurial.

Makarand R Paranjape, author and ex-JNU professor, described in detail Vivekanand’s life journey and gave insights into the visionary’s thoughts. This was followed by a captivating conversation with Padma Shri Dr HR Nagendra around Yoga’s uses for illnesses and nation-building, reinforcing the hidden treasures of Indian knowledge.

Each morning during the yatra (journey) was filled with beautiful entrepreneurial gyan (knowledge) taken from our ancient texts including The Mahabharata and modern-day startups and unicorns stitched together in beautiful storytelling by author Vinay Kanchan who, each morning, would tell us about one of the five principles that entrepreneurs religiously need to adhere to. After learning from the mighty popular and truly amazing dabbawalas from Mumbai, we got inspired by the movement called Aravind Eye Care System, headquartered in Madurai on Day 3.

If you have not yet read about them, please do. It was a privilege just listening to their 45+ years legacy and impact, making them the best in the world at providing low-cost and high-quality ophthalmology services to those who can’t afford them or don’t have access to them. It was followed by an energetic panel discussion among doctors Rajani Bhat, Ashwin Naik and A Vaidheesh, and moderated by Dr Ruben Mascarenhas. I remember listening to Ruben’s work on the migrant crisis during the lockdown last year through his NGO Khana Chahiye on a podcast with Amit Verma.

Day 4 brought us to Bangalore. The city, in my opinion, has contributed more than any other in shaping the entrepreneurial spirit of post-liberalisation India. One of the most pivotal times in my life came after experiencing Bangalore for two eventful months in 2009 after I graduated college and took on a market research internship with LeadCap Ventures at the suggestion of a friend and college batchmate. It sounded much better than teaching and mentoring engineering students in rural Jalandhar. This is ironic, considering what I do now.

For a young engineering graduate, the hunger to know more superseded my lifelong passion at that moment.

I guess for a young engineering graduate, the hunger to know more superseded my lifelong passion at that moment. I quit my teaching job and took a train to Bangalore to join a market research startup for practically no money and no ‘useful’ work experience. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Apart from meeting retail industry big wigs (Levi’s, Future Group and such) who were humble enough to meet startup reps (such a pleasant surprise), I got to work and learn directly with Sangeeth Verghese, a global authority on Leadership. The journey also took me to Kalpetta in Wayanad, Kerala, to participate in the world’s first Leadership Village.

I was hooked. I wanted to be a social entrepreneur and an engineer who was passionate about renewable energy. I went straight to the offices of SELCO to apply for a job, any job — sales, operations, whatever. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as they weren’t hiring at that time. But the yatra brought SELCO to me in the form of a role model with its founder Harish Hande sharing SELCO’s 25-year beautiful journey.

Day 5 was at Sriharikota, the Spaceport of India. It is a barrier island in the Bay of Bengal and home to the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Day 6 took us to Visakhapatnam and the massive Akshay Patra Foundation, which feeds 1.8 million school students in various parts of India and has provided over three billion meals since 2000.

Day 7’s role model was the inspirational Gram Vikas Foundation in Ganjam, Odisha. Gram Vikas has been working on multiple areas such as education, sanitation, disaster relief and more to improve lives in rural Odisha since 1971.

Apart from these role models, the yatra, through various panel discussions, enterprise melas and special sessions, provided us with the opportunity to interact with women entrepreneurship pioneers, musician tech entrepreneurs, YouTube creators, Ayurveda technologists and many start-ups working in food tech, agri-tech, healthcare, education and so on.

Jagriti Foundation has been in the process of setting up an Enterprise Centre in Deoria in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and their team shared with us about what they are doing in this underdeveloped district and how they are tackling all the challenges while encouraging local entrepreneurs in all the feasible sectors.

“The journey also took me to Kalpetta in Wayanad, Kerala, to participate in the world’s first Leadership Village.” Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The participants, under the guidance of facilitators like myself, did a detailed SWOT analysis of role model organisations and presented in front of panels to get feedback. A beautiful surprise came my way on the last day of 2021, making it a perfect New Year gift when I saw one of my YPro mentees from last year. One of them was a student from Delhi University in the same SWOT presentation group. And she said that it was due to my encouragement last year that she had joined as a participant in the yatra this time.

They were taught business tools like the Business Canvas to present their ideas and provided with knowledge of types of companies. Dr Darshana Vithalani was one of our co-facilitators in the group and is the founder of Divyathha Consultation, which is incubated at NSRCEL IIM-Bangalore. She has developed a beautiful five-pronged curriculum for life skills.

Half of the yatra is over and we’re moving into the next phase. We have been inspired and now we need to develop an idea that will try and solve some of the problems of middle India and create more opportunities. Our group is working on thinking of how to make a for-profit life skills institute in Deoria that can be replicated in other similar districts across India. We have a big vision but the beauty lies in details. 

We are at Nalanda today, the home of the largest university in the ancient world. We have been inspired. The time has come to put it in action. 

#YaaronChalo

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