Ajay Chaturvedi : From Citigroup to launching HarVa, a for-profit rural enterprise

One of the most difficult challenges we faced when we profiled HarVa was to give them a label. Where do you put a venture which is for-profit yet socially relevant, rapidly growing yet challenging all the conventional norms? You simply cease any attempts to do so.
HarVa, a name which means Green for villages and stands for “Harnessing Value” of rural India. Founded by Ajay Chaturvedi, HarVa has focused on the skill development and value creation in the rural areas.

The Idea Seed
Ajay Chaturvedi, a man who in his previous avatar was an alumnus from University of Pennsylvania and a corporate honcho at the CitiGroup had his spiritual awakening a few years ago. During that period a trip to the Himalayas spread about a sense of realization for his spiritual being. And seeing Dharavi in Mumbai was a reinforcement in his belief that a lot more had to be done for the people.

Still at the CitiGroup Ajay sowed the seeds both literally and figuratively for what was to become HarVa in the future. By setting up of the farms in his home town of Dehradun and in Sohna, he began his quest of understanding the distribution problem for farmers and promoting avenues like floriculture.

The Journey
Soon the idea took wings and Ajay decided to expand to the villages in the outskirts of Delhi. The thought process was simple, to involve the community in these areas and take their help in setting up a first of its kind “a rural BPO for women” The requirements were low, all they needed was a small room, which would function as the community center and a few computers to set up the first batch.

The initial journey was tough, partially because of the rural community being wary of the urban folk and their misguided attempts to solve their problems. But they did manage to attract a large number of women, who are typically  free during the day when the men are out working and the children asleep, making it the perfect activity to fit in their routine. Ajay used his selling and relationship building skills learned during his years in the corporate world at this stage and did they come to good use.
The women who are trained in a variety of soft skills have seen a time where they had no conversion to a period where HarVa now had its initial client in the form of data entry jobs from the Animal Husbandry Department for the Haryana Government.

Today HarVa has expanded organically into a number of realms of the rural community. Apart the rural BPO which now services a number of clients in performing tasks ranging from getting verification calls done to data entry, verification and scanning. HarVa has expanded to include information desks for students and farmers, community farming and waste management solutions. Under the information desk, HarVa provides students with career advice and takes a small share when they get placed and the farmers are provided by their expertise in detailing crop diversification techniques and crop prices.

Future plans
With the recent acquisition of SourcePilani, HarVa now boasts of 400 women in around 7 states of the country working with them. It may seem that team at HarVa may be content with all that they have achieved. Yet Ajay assures me that far from it, they are constantly working on new things. They are already in process to figure out waste management in the rural areas. Currently the bio-gas plants are able to power only the HarVa centers but they are working upon a more efficient solution where the surplus electricity can be distributed to the village.
Ajay made a strong case during our conversation for the social ventures and in our opinion it was a justified one. In the query for whether every company can be socially relevant, Ajay puts it so well, ‘there are only two ways, either you are a socially relevant or you are anti-social.’

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