Business with a heart

By: |
May 29, 2019 4:47 PM

Last year, the AFSF Foundation was registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013, and is currently funding five sportspersons.

Prompted by this belief, Mishra founded The Resilient Foundation in 2018 in Palghar, Mumbai, which is an earthquake-prone area.

Challenging the norm

Here’s a tricky situation. No matter how much we blame the land sharks for our vanishing playgrounds, but there’s no denying one fact — very few children are now found to play on fields. Childhood is fast deserting children in this age of technology’s aggressive march. While nothing can steal its glory for being a boon to humankind, one must not shirk from accepting that technology has been a marauder of children’s innate playfulness and free spirit.

Often left to the care of themselves, playgrounds across the country are neglected as kids are no longer excited about the once-sought-after breaks when they would make a dash for the openness of grounds, ever enthusiastic for a game or two. They’d rather spend their free times perched on cozy corners, glued to some sort of screen — computer, laptop, tablet, TV or even smartphone — playing video games or surfing notoriously, and often, aimlessly. While most of us have come to accept this abnormality as the new norm, 40-year-old Rajvi Halgekar found herself disturbingly alarmed. Halgekar is one of the 17 social entrepreneurs felicitated at the graduation ceremony of the School for Social Entrepreneurs India, held in the capital recently. SSE is supported by PwC globally. In India, PwC Foundation, through the Learning Programme, helps SSE India to develop their business models, define and measure social impact, build networks and other relevant business skills.

“Textbooks can’t ensure compete education. One learns gir kar uthna only when they’re on the field. Camaraderie is something that sportspersons understand the best. This facet has been completely neglected by our education system, which is pushing kids more towards devices. If we want to ensure holistic growth for our children, we have to push them to the fields,” says Halgekar, based in Maharashtra’s Satara district. The bug to bring a change wriggled too intensely within her to ignore, and what followed was the setting up of All For Sports & Fitness (AFSF) Foundation that raises funds and organises events to fund sportspersons. She is determined to establish free sports centres for kids from low income households. A four-time national karate champion, Halgekar relates closely with the predicament because she had to drop out of sports in her childhood, relenting to education’s demand of undivided attention. In course of her life, in 2016, she had a chance encounter with a few national-level sportspersons, who needed funds to continue their practices. That’s how the idea of setting up a foundation dedicated to sports occurred to Halgekar.

Last year, the AFSF Foundation was registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013, and is currently funding five sportspersons. Besides, it offers free training to students. “We organised a kit donation programme, asking students and parents to donate unused sports materials. Recently, we haveallocated coordinators in 10 different areas — Navi Mumbai, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Sangvi, Aman Nagar and Goa — to promote sports and get children enrolled in various centres,” Halgekar says.

AFSF has collaborated with Yashwantrao Chavan School of Social Work for a project in Satara to address the primary causes for kids to drop out of sports. The project will be presented to the ministry of sports. Since its inception, those working behind the scenes have not claimed any salary.

“Most corporates we approached have been very rigid. Even the CSR policies are stringent, focused solely on rural development, uplift of the girl child, and the like,” she rues, adding that help from corporates would be a welcome.

When crisis looms

An area where we often find ourselves at a loss for words and action is disaster-management, and dealing with any crisis situations. Irrespective of the major breakthrough in technology, disaster management and response to crisis are skills not many have been able to imbibe. However, a Palghar-based social entrepreneur, who has also received the Centre’s Gandhi fellowship for leadership qualities a few years ago, begs to disagree. “Knowledge and experience are the two things needed for people to survive. In terms of crisis management, people lack both, and that’s why they fail to save lives. Resilience or a first response to crisis is all it takes to save lives,” says 28-year-old Bhupendra Mishra. Prompted by this belief, Mishra founded The Resilient Foundation in 2018 in Palghar, Mumbai, which is an earthquake-prone area.

The foundation works towards building resilient communities through various programmes. The topics covered under workshops range from first aid to emergency rescue operations, CPR, evacuation, etc. Mishra became a civil defence volunteer with the Centre after completing his graduation in 2012, and became a master trainer there. He went on to train police and fire brigade squads. After working across sectors for five years, he set up TRF.

His inspiration stemmed from a personal mishap.“I fell from a terrace and got injured very badly at the age of nine. Everyone thought I was dead. But my sister noticed that my retina was responsive, though I had stopped breathing. So she took me to a hospital immediately, and saved my life,” Mishra recalls. Later on, at multiple instances, Mishra witnessed many accidents around him. This inspired him all the more to try and build resilience in people.

Now, the foundation is holding talks with investors to organise training programmes in schools and corporate houses. So far, it has arranged over 200 training programmes in various facilities. TRF, which is bootstrapped for now, has also organised successful training drives in Delhi, Ratnagiri, Kolkata. “We’ve seen the fruits of our toil.

Class IX kids are now extinguishing fires in their bastis. People have learned to handle road accidents. One kid recently prevented a fire in a vegetable market in Kalyan,” Mishra says proudly.

Change from behind the bars

While working with Delhi-based Turn Your Concern Into Action (TYCIA) Foundation as a fellow imparting education to prisoners, 25-year-old Eleena George faced one of the starkest realities of the dark world — the percentage of repeat crimes, or recidivism, among people arrested in Delhi in 2016 was alarmingly high at 17.1%. This little piece of information changed her life in ways she couldn’t have imagined. After almost two years of closely working with the inmates of Tihar Jail, George started an education project called Second Chance. While the organisation has not been registered yet, George and her team have reached out to 600-odd inmates in their two years of working on the project, teaching and taking them on the reform journey.

“After six months of working with the inmates, I realised that the books they’re getting in the prisons don’t offer the kind of stuff they’re interested in reading. They’re all mostly school dropouts, and are of the opinion that bahar nai padha toh andar kya padhenge? (didn’t study when it was required, so what’s the point now, inside the jail?) Hence, we first devised a new curriculum catering to their interests,” says George. She and her team of five created an alphabet chart that may look eccentric under normal circumstances, wherein they devised things like P for Parole, G for Ganja, C for Coat, D for Daaku. But these grabbed these readers’ attention, and made them responsive. The team also created a set of comics that talks about crimes against women, since most of the inmates in their target jail, Jail Number 5, were involved in such crimes. “We’ve created four stories centred around child sexual abuse, dowry, domestic violence and consent.”

“Consent is one thing that we keep touching upon. Inside the jails,too, a lot of things happen, which need an understanding of consent,” George says, adding that “the stories are inspired from inmates’ experiences.”

George’s quest to reform inmates is part of her larger goal to build a criminal justice system that treats incarcerated youth with empathy and understanding. To fight depression among inmates, George has developed a card game bearing motifs of characters who have been imprisoned, but have made it big in life, nevertheless. “Faces of Malcom X, Bill Gates, Sanjay Dutt, etc, are drawn on the cards. It is like a game these people play and, at the same time, learn about the second chance that these characters got. This acts like a ray of hope.”
The team has recently secured a zero-interest rate loan from Give Funds that actively finances projects of social entrepreneurs like George.

Minds that create

In 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan and his friends developed a mechanism to deliver a baby using a vacuum cleaner. Whie it looked too good to be true, a real-life story on similar lines is developing on the IIT Delhi campus. A team of three social entrepreneurs is working on a machinery to create value-added products from rice straw, an agricultural waste. “We wanted to essentially make a machine wherein we can make tableware or any other similar finished product out of paper. It was a dream project of sorts. We somehow got some samples. Initially, we tried with newspapers, but soon figured out that they contain a lot of ink and can’t be used to make plates, or other articles used for cooking or dining purposes,” says 23-year-old Kanika Prajapat, who graduated recently. “Then, we started experimenting with other raw materials. We used sugarcane residue for a brief period, but many people in India are making tableware from it. Again, during the peak of pollution in Delhi, we discovered that around 12 million tonne of rice straw is burnt in Punjab every year, contributing to smog. We spotted a good market opportunity in the huge quantum of waste,” she added.

Prajapat, along with her two batchmates, set up Kriya Labs in 2017 on the premises of IIT Delhi, under the tutelage of their professors. They’ve collected around Rs 40 lakh through funding from various government institutes, and by winning a few competitions in which they set up small demonstration units that create pulp out of rice straw. This pulp can be used in making bio-degradable tableware. “We have done a few pilots on the campus, and got good results,” Prajapat says. The entrepreneurs are trying to set up a 5-tonne unit in Ludhiana to continue their venture on a larger scale. “For that, we would need funds to the tune of a few crores. We are in talks with a few PSUs for that,” she says.

It is not just pollution that these entrepreneurs are looking to curb by way of their invention. Kriya Labs wants to prevent massive deforestation that takes place to manufacture biodrgradable products by setting up processing units. The volume of pulp produced by processing rice straw is equivalent to that generated from 4 lakh trees, Prajapat notes. The three students-turned-entrepreneurs have been fortunate to bag a fellowship opportunity from one of the professors. “We were getting stipend and the college backed us entirely,” Prajapat says.

Learning for all

One of Modern India’s biggest challenges is unemployment. It stems from a poor literacy rate. While organisations aplenty have been working for the cause, the growth in the literacy rate has been sluggish. Pradeep Kumar, founder and director of NCR-based trust Swamitra, which seeks to improve the quality of education in budget schools, tried to understand the causes behind the lag. “During one of my former projects in Varanasi in 2006, I surveyed some 40,000 households, and found that 13,000 kids were school dropouts. So we took around 4,000 kids to be enrolled in schools. But government schools in the area did not have enough space to accommodate so many,” recalls Delhi-based Kumar. “Since this was a government-supported cause, we reached out to the government, but no constructive solution came through.

As I continued to dig deep, I figured that community involvement is key as the government cannot do everything alone,” he adds. Ever since, Kumar decided that the road to transformation lies in upgrading and improving the condition of budget schools, which are privately owned but survive an extremely cheap fee structure. These schools are, however, found in remote villages and aren’t very accessible. Since its inception in 2008, Swamitra has tirelessly been working towards this cause. “The problem in these schools is that parents have no time for their kids, and teachers aren’t very skilled either. Then, we thought even if we train teachers and send them to work there, they won’t be able to stay put for long due to the circumstances. So we started devising ways to improve the current situation,” says Kumar. Swamitra is developing a programme called School Social Work to train teachers in budget schools. They follow a digital-first approach. Providing training was not enough as lack of resources in these schools is another major problem. So Kumar and his team launched initiatives such as makeshift labs and ‘Learning on Wheels’ through which they bridged the gap in these schools. To date, Swamitra has collaborated with 20 schools in Nathupur, Chakkarpur, and Sarhol districts of Gurugram to train teachers and children. They are also in talks with 20 more schools in Delhi and Lucknow. “We charge a nominal amount for the services we provide,” Kumar says.

Uplifting urban spaces

Urban spaces in contrast to their rural counterparts are generally considered developed, hence basic issues are often neglected. A bunch of citizens in Bengaluru decided to address them, and set out to find effective solutions to their day-to-day problems. At the helm of this change was 41-year-old architect TS Subbaiah, who resolved basic issues of cleanliness, road safety, lack of adequate street lights in his neighbourhood, with the help of some of his neighbours. They wrote proposals, and followed them up with action taken against reported civic issues. After three years of doing this independently, Subbaiah set up Urban Morph to help people transform their neighbourhoods.
“Over a period of time, we realised that many people from different areas wanted to improve their surroundings, but didn’t know how to go about it. So we put a formal structure in place to offer guidance on how to draft proposals to be submitted to the government, and how to follow it up, etc,” says Subbaiah. This led to the setting up of a proper community, willing to create change in various localities. Urban planning is a part of Subbaiah’s profession, so he didn’t have to quit his job as an architect to cater to the needs of Urban Morph.
Urban Morph recently joined other communities to protest the construction of a flyover in Bengaluru entailing an investment of `30,000 crore. The project would have caused massive deforestation. “By way of agitations and protests, we were able to stop the construction, but we believe in offering solutions as well. The government has asked for an alternative to the flyover as tackling Bengaluru’s traffic is also important. We are working on the solution,” Subbaiah says.

The organisation has applied for grants. It recently won a challenge from Toyota Mobility, and is in talks with corporates for sponsorships. On the challenges, Subbaiah said corporates are a confused lot. “Initially they would ask for experience. Then they’d often say if you have done it before, why do you need more funds now? We realised that it’s not possible to get grants all the time, so we are working to come up with a sustainable solution,” Subbaiah notes.

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