Everybody has a story to tell and I am no different.
We meet many people in our lifetime but there are a few whom we can never forget. My encounters with many such inspiring individuals have made me feel enthused and worthwhile. It has triggered an undying passion to spread goodness around me. My interactions with these brave hearts have been the reason for me to pen my thoughts today. I salute them and their endeavours and thank them for helping me identify the social entrepreneur in me.
The seed of sharing and caring was sown in me while I was young and this quality has complemented my social character. As a son of a school teacher, my passion for reading books was kindled in me at a very early age. I enjoyed sharing the books that I read and discussing it with my peers. When I was 20 years old, I started a small library near my home. With the support of a few friends, I built a small hut and I stacked it with all the books that I had. Many people visited the club everyday, read the newspapers, magazines and books and also held inspiring discussions.
I was one among the 8 students selected for pursuing M.Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur. Amongst the eight of us, four of us received a scholarship cum stipend of Rs.150/-, which was a huge amount those days. I was a bit upset, that 4 of my fellow class mates did not get the same monetary benefits as us. I always dreamt of an equitable world, and wanted it amongst my classmates too. I suggested to my other three friends, that we should split our stipend money and share it with the other four, who did not get the stipend. I was lucky to have friends who believed in my philosophy and all the eight of us had Rs.75/- every month as stipend. This led to a unique bonding amongst us and I can never ever forget the life of sharing and caring we experienced in those two years of my life.
In my career as a Chemical Engineer for the last 50 years, I have had the good fortune to work in many of the leading Chemical Industries in India. Most of the chemical factories are either situated on the outskirts of the cities or far away from the cities. This has made me experience rural realities and urban development. This has also given me an opportunity to meet many individuals who have been a source of inspiration in my life. I had the good fortune of staying for 2 days with an extraordinary doctor couple Dr Raj Arole and his wife Dr Mabelle Arole in Jhamked, a remote and poverty stricken area in Maharashtra. After graduating from CMC, Vellore, they went to USA for further studies and worked there amongst the Red Indian tribes. They came back to India and started Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jhamked. Their mission was to provide health care services to the rural poor and tribals of that area. Health was interrelated with nutrition, agriculture, economics, education, women’s status and other factors. They trained the rural illiterate women as Village Health workers. I was amazed to see the transformation that they had brought about in the lives of these marginalised women. The most unforgettable statement made by the doctors was – “Our dream is to ensure that all the beds in our hospital lie empty. This would mean that every villager in the neighbourhood would be healthy”. This profound statement made me understand how important it was to have a vision for an organisation to bring about social change.
I had an opportunity to launch a social initiative, when I was working as the Chairman and Managing Director, in Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd., in Rasayani, in the outskirts of Mumbai. I requested the tenth and eleventh grade school children of Rasayani to conduct a door to door survey to identify eye-related problems amongst the villagers. There were many villagers who needed treatment in some form. I organised a group of doctors from Mumbai to visit the HOL Hospital at Rasayani and offer treatment to these villagers. Realising that this initiative should be a regular and periodic, I formed a Vision Trust in the name of my predecessor, Dr Kasbekar and also created a corpus fund for it. This made me understand the concept of “sustainability” in a societal context.
I remember another young couple, who lived with the tribal community in a remote village in Thane district to understand their way of living and identify their various needs. They launched their initiative only after making a comprehensive study of the community and finding out what interventions would benefit them. It made me realise the importance of a “needs assessment study” before launching a social enterprise. The need to evolve “innovative strategies” was understood by me, when we started a “free tuition centre” for the children of Koli tribes in Maharashtra who used to spend their free time helping their parents to catch crabs in the backwaters. In order to ensure many children attended our tuition centres, we organised the classes during the time when the children were free and not when we were free.
In my early sixties, I developed a keen interest to understand the work done by social work organisations, and hence went around visiting many organisations across India. I was deeply moved by the passion and commitment that was exhibited amongst all the heads of these organisations. I was especially impressed and moved by many organisations headed by women. I admired their undying passion, courage and strength in running their organisations without much formal training. Their great work was going unnoticed and this made me feel helpless. I realised that “celebrating social work” was a missing element in the social sector. There were certainly not many formal celebrations conducted to showcase the work done by social workers belonging to rural areas. Also, most of the social change agents did not have any formal training and were managing their organisations without proper “management education”. As a result many of them had teething troubles while launching their projects.
It is been said that, Habits change to character. I could not remain quiet after my analysis of the sector. It motivated me to start Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhani (MSDS). It is a Sanskrit phrase that means “The divine mother who kindles the natural, inborn but hidden inclination in every human being to serve others with love”. I had the privilege of meeting Swami Nityanandagiri in 1999, before starting MSDS. As I was narrating my views on the social sector, He narrated the story of Swami Gnanananda, a sage who was extremely supportive of women and children and encouraged them to be independent in their lives. The stories about the great sage moved me and led me to institute an award for women social change agents in His name. I began my crusade to felicitate women social entrepreneurs, encourage them further and motivate them to carry out their work with renewed zeal. Thus began my journey as a social entrepreneur.
I also realised the need for a customised training program for budding social entrepreneurs. There were many enthusiastic and committed individuals who wanted to start social enterprises but did not know the intricacies involved it, nor had a person to guide them. This was the reason behind starting the Centre for Social Initiative and Management. After a year of meetings and discussions with numerous social change agents, academicians, industrialists and volunteers, we evolved a curriculum for a one year full time program and a short term program in Social Entrepreneurship. We started in Chennai and spread to Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore. My vision is to have about 100 centres across India and be the “one stop point” for guiding social entrepreneurs across the nation.