Monday, 25 March 2013

Food for Thought

Feeling sorry for the poor...
There is a difference between feeling pity for the poor and feeling a sense of responsibility to empower them to come out of their current lifestyles. For a long time, I've always felt pity for the poor. The pity started when I was about 3 years old. My aunt had bought me an ice cream. Seeing 2 poor kids looming nearby, she felt sorry for them and bought them a couple of ice creams too. They went away... happily licking their ice creams. The joy and content I saw on their faces would drive me to buy stuff for the poor for the next 12 years.

Realizing my folly...
Years later, when I was around 16, I realized how wrong my intentions were. Was what I was doing for the good? Or was I (like so many others) just breeding a class of people who would, for the rest of their lives be dependent on people's pity to get their life moving from day to day? It was because of people like me that the poor make no attempts to stop begging and look for ways & means to make a living. Isn't employment one of the world's most worrisome problems? So then, the solution would be to create more and more jobs so that poverty can be tackled, right?

Problems faced by entrepreneurs...
But how is one supposed to "create employment" when the very idea of "Entrepreneurship" is laughed at by so many people. When I tell people I want to be an entrepreneur, they look at me like I'm crazy. In their opinion, nobody spends 4 years studying for CA and then start a business from scratch. In 9/10 homes, parents will want their kids to pursue Engineering, Medical or Law courses... then get the customary MBA and go & sit in a manager position and earn mucho bucks. But noone stops to think "how" those posh offices came into existence in the first place. They didn't fall out of the sky. There were people- hard working, passionate people who worked relentlessly on their idea and made such offices possible.

Changed beliefs...
I no longer believe in just giving away necessities to the poor. I don't get paid just because I'm a student studying 6 hours a day and yet making time to go to the internship, do I? Why then should we treat the poor any differently? Its like saying - "You're weak and can't take care of yourselves, so let us do it for you". I strongly believe in creating opportunities for them to work for their living.

For me, the idea of a white collar job has never been a priority. And thankfully, I have parents who are willing to support me in any career I choose. My father's only condition was to finish my education before deciding on any course of action. Which is why my ideas are still in the planning phase. Being a student, there's not much I can accomplish in terms of "creating employment". But that is one cause that I'm incredibly passionate about. If I can equip the poor with skills AND give them opportunities to show off their skills, I would consider myself as a successful entrepreneur.

Being a Chartered Accountant, I tend to think of the costs and how these social causes would generate income. Though the ulterior motive is to give them a better quality of life, no social cause can live off voluntary contributions forever. It is important to ensure they have self-sustaining capabilities. Because at the end of the day, an entrepreneur is someone who makes more money than what she/he initially invested. Without internally generated income, the cause would but die a natural death. Hence, it is important for me to structure programs in a way that will be profitable and charitable at the same time.

Creating a self-sustaining business models...
What I really want to do is have a set of working professionals, who are as passionate as I am in what I want to do, and work towards creating business models designed to be operated for and by the underprivileged. I even have a name for our foundation - "Creating Awesome Inc" :-)

Some of  the business ideas that I have in mind, and am currently developing on paper are as follows:-

For me, FOOD has been one of the most passionate topics. An interesting business model that I believe can be organized and well equipped is our very own "Dabba Walas". Assuming we all eat 3 times a day, the numbers come to 1095 meals a year. With a population of around 1.22 billion in India, can you imagine the number of meals consumed every year? Obviously not all of them eat from Dabba Walas. But if we can convince working class people to have home cooked food delivered to them every day, even that is a vast, untapped niche that has a lot of potential. On our part, we would come up with plans to ensure quality control, timely delivery, timely payments, mass production (or cooking!), variety in the menus, meeting daily nutrients requirement etc.

Indian art (whether performing or otherwise) is so rich and diverse that people could live off it for the rest of their lives. Sadly, most of our art forms are dying, either because people don't have the "time" to learn art or because there aren't enough teachers for the same. I strongly believe everyone must learn some or the other art form and it is upto them to find out what really interests them. Instead of asking for volunteers to teach the kids, I believe selecting a few people who show excellent potential in that art form and training them will be more beneficial - both in terms of cost as well as income. Those people can then train the others in their locality... and it goes on & on! :-)

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela.
Once again, my goal is to educate the women of the poor families, train them well enough so that they can teach their children, parents, siblings, spouses etc. There are enough number of NGOs working with municipality schools and orphanages to provide education to the children. In fact, I myself have been associated with Akansha & Teach for India. However, for education to truly perpetrate change, we need to target the women folk of poor families. Those, whose days involve cooking & cleaning for their family. We need to encourage them to break the barriers, give them enough motivation to not succumb to pressures & established norms that the society insists on imposing on women.
How can I use education to create a business model? Well, for starters, I'd have to spend a couple of years actually educating the women for which I would require the support of many already educated professionals. Once I have them trained, I could then help them set up classes for different age groups in different areas.
Although these seem like too many causes for 1 person to support, my aim is to work on each cause long enough to ensure they can manage themselves efficiently & effectively. Once my job is done, I'd like to take on the next cause. :-) I know that these plans - though nebulous now - will be implemented some day soon. I'm in no hurry as I wouldn't want to approach anyone for their funds with an unproven concept. I would rather put the necessary elements in place and then make my move. But if you ever hear a story of how "a Lady, against all odds, went on to recieve education and is currently teaching the kids in her locality", do think of me for a second! :-)

Until my dreams of creating employment are achieved, I support...
Like I said, I wouldn't want to be (the female) Messiah for the underprivileged until I myself haven't achieved my personal goals! :-) So for the next 2 years until I complete my education, all I can do is collect data, research and make elaborate plans. Once I have gained some life experience, I'm sure I'll be able to implement my plans.

As of now, I support 2 NGO's -
1) Akshaya Patra - This is an Indian NGO providing food and education to the children in India. In their own words - "We are helping underprivileged children by providing them with a healthy, balanced meal that they would otherwise have to work for. The meal is an incentive for them to continue their education. It helps reduce the dropout rate to an enormous extent and increases classroom attendance." They reach out to 1.3 million children everyday.
To get their contact details, click here.

2) Akansha Foundation - The Akanksha Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to provide children from low-income communities with a high-quality education, enabling them to maximize their potential and transform their lives. Akanksha works in the field of education, initiating school reform through The School Project, and providing a supplemental education through the Akanksha centers. Currently, Akanksha reaches out to over 4000 children through two models: the after-school or center model and the school model.
To donate, volunteer or support, click here.
Click here to read more about what they do.

(This post was written for the iDiya contest hosted by Indiblogger and to encourage people to come up with self sustaining business models to help the underprivileged. If, like me, you have the same goals, I'd love to hear from you!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written...