God’s Own Hope: Meet These Covid-19 Warriors

India recorded nearly two lakh covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, and who knows how far the numbers would go in future!

But this ain’t gonna stop so soon!! 

And while people are bucking up against this deadly virus who’s reproducing new mutants every other day, they are forgetting how privileged and able they are to find so many alternatives and options to survive.

Think about those who are fighting every day to make their ends meet — from daily wage labourers to low-paying workers, more than half the country doesn’t have enough to eat every day!

Fortunately, we are blessed with some good samaritans who did not think twice and went out of their way to help these less fortunate beings and proved that you don’t need to be a trust or a foundation or Sonu Sood to help people. All you need to have is that ‘self awareness’ and a zeal to bring a difference.

Here is a quick random compilation of some of those wonderful souls who I bet would also leave a smile on your face. 

Lalit Meena

Jaipur-based Lalit was stuck in Delhi when the lockdown happened. Though he has always been helping people, he knew that the lockdown was going to be cruel. He pooled up all his savings, which by the way he saved from his freelance work, got some financial help from families/ friends and started distributing cooked food during the entire lockdown.

He eventually helped more than eight lakh people and managed to continue until he got symptoms. Even when he was quarantined, he was constantly on the phone — assisting the needy ones in every possible way.

A UPSC aspirant, Lalit never dreamed of anything else but serving society. He believes in giving back without expecting anything in return.

Ramu Dosapati

When Hyderabad-based Ramu saw a watchman, who earns hardly INR 5-6k monthly, helping migrant workers during the first phase of lockdown, it hit him hard!

He sold some of his lands, pooled money from his savings and PF and set up a Rice ATM. Since cooking was not really feasible, he decided to donate dry rations and other essential commodities which could help a family sustain for at least four to five days.

He reached more than 20,000 families so far and is still reaching out to as many needy families as he can. “I don’t intend to stop until we feed every hungry soul out there,” is what he says!

Manisha Krishnasamy

Tamil Nadu based Manisha Krishnasamy has been serving people much before the lockdown, but the pandemic made her realize what worth her acts were carrying around.

From rehabilitating the homeless to rescuing beggars, drug addicts, destitute and those afflicted with terrible diseases, Manisha never stopped even for a day. She believes that despite the financial or economic status, every human deserves a chance to live life well — and have the basics at least.

“We collect the required data on their current status and histories and chalk out a pragmatic plan to rehabilitate them as per their wishes and needs. If they are old, we admit them to home care for senior citizens. If they are intellectually disabled, we help them get admitted to a hospital for treatment. If they have a family and wish to rejoin them, we help them there as well. We do the same if they want a job. We categorize abandoned people and admit them into various types of homes, but only with prior permission from the police,” Manisha shared.

Neha Chawla

Neha was in Jamshedpur when the lockdown happened. Like everyone, she was also understanding the seriousness and severity of the situation. 

Though a lot of NGOs, trusts and philanthropists were coming out to help people, small and local NGOs and communities were struggling to help. When Neha encountered one such NGO, she came up with the idea of launching NGOStory — to help them share their stories, talk about their initiatives and fundraising challenges.

So far, she has collaborated with more than 200 NGOs and aims to reach out to 1000+ in the next two years. She is also on a mission to empower 100,000 underprivileged children and youth through her one-of-a-kind education initiative, ‘TechJr’. Knowing that she is able to make a difference in every possible way makes her content!

Lynette D’Souza

When the Borivali-based wildlife rescuer started living in her hometown, Palghar, during the 2020 lockdown, she also started supporting the local daily wage workers. She took special permission from the Superintendent of Police to feed the strays and started delivering food kits to the needy ones. The food kit included rice, dal, oil and basic cooking spices.

Vineet Saraiwala

It would not be wrong to say that the middle class and people with different abilities suffered a lot. While the upper class were super sustained, the lower class managed to get enough help from society and government. But the people in between were stuck in jeopardy — where their ‘self respect’ didn’t allow them to ask for help from people, nor were they eligible for any government assistance.

So, when Jamshedpur-based Vineet Saraiwala realized this, he came up with the idea of launching Atypical, an online job portal that helps people with disabilities find jobs. The portal also helps PWDs in selling products made by them.

Being a partially visually impaired man, Vineet understands how hard it is for people with different abilities to come out and work — especially in the times of covid-19.

He has more than 60 volunteers from worldwide to help him, and his venture has helped many people so far.

Lokesh Sharan

This 61-year-old Bihar-based teacher started teaching underprivileged kids back in the 80s. And he never charged for more than INR 1 for every student. The ‘ek rupiya’ was also to develop accountability and a sense of responsibility in parents — so that they could be aware of what their kids were up to.

When the school he was teaching in was shut down permanently, he made the porch of his house into a makeshift classroom and continued educating children there.

When the entire world was locked down, he turned to smartphones and learned technology to keep teaching his kids without any hurdle. “I always carry my chalk, duster and pen. Even If I see a child studying along the road, I stop and try to help him in his studies,” the hero teacher says.

And the list doesn’t stop here. I and my laptop might get exhausted, but the list wouldn’t!!

I’m privileged enough to write this post from the comfort of my home, but not many people are. These are the faces that inspire me to wake up every day and reach out to at least one creature in need — oh, it could be a dog or a bird too!

Helping and impacting is not really limited to human beings. If you are changing even one life, write to us and share your experience. Inspire the world and let them know that there is much more than economy, business, funding and exits!! 🙂 #TowardsABetterWorld

With 1000+ Farmers, This Bengaluru-Based Startup Brings You Food Directly From The Farm!

Globally, 70% of the world’s food is produced by small-holder farmers using only 30% of the agricultural land. This implies that small farmers are actually more efficient in their use of resources. However, small farmers have their backs against the wall – and a key reason for this is the lack of market access that rewards a farmer for adopting sustainable and responsible farming practices.

While there are several inefficiencies in the agricultural industry, especially in India across production, distribution, risk management, financing etc., the market linkage piece is the most broken – there is demand, and there is supply – it’s just that they are completely mismatched. It’s a pity that there are hungry folks across the world, while at the same time such a huge percentage of our produced food gets wasted.

One aspect that does not get talked about much, which is critical, is that we as consumers are also responsible for the agriculture space problems. We ask for out of season produce all throughout the year, we ask for good-looking produce instead of nutritionally rich produce, we baulk at the first sign of imperfect produce, we are way too sensitive to food prices and like keeping it artificially low – our preferences play an important role in creating the inefficiencies in the agricultural market.

Inception

When Bengaluru-based Gitanjali Rajamani, Shameek Chakravarty & Sudaakeran Balasubramaian realised this fallback, they decided to come back with their agritech venture, Farmizen.

Farmizen is trying to build an alternative food system, where consumers eat locally grown nutritious food on soil that is tended well by farmers who make a fair living out of that. At the same time, it has also built a platform that lets small organic farmers sell directly to consumers without having to worry about demand generation and logistics.

Interesting isn’t it?!

With 1000+ Farmers, This Bengaluru-Based Startup Brings You Food Directly From The Farm!

So how exactly the entire idea kicked off?

“We saw that the food system is broken – for all three stakeholders – consumers, farmers and the planet. This is because all aspects of the food system are geared to optimising towards economies of scale. The current food supply chain demands goods transported to multiple distribution centres, via multiple aggregators, before they arrive at stores where they are presented to shoppers as anonymous produce that sit on shelves for days and weeks, and in the process, causes wastage of up to 40%. This food is mass-produced, giving us terrible food in terms of both taste and nutrition, and has a significant environmental impact in terms of soil and water health. It’s a lose-lose-lose system with farmers making less than 20% of what the food is sold for, consumers getting unhealthy food that is not fresh and does not taste great, and the planet suffering. We started Farmizen to fix this,” says Shameek, co-founder, Farmizen.

With Farmizen, Gitanjali & Shameek wanted to bring the much-needed change and the opportunities which small and poor farmers were losing.

None of them had an Agri background – so it was not an easy road to walk on. They learned hard lessons on how much effort is needed while growing food and then the amount of effort needed to get it to our plates. “We spent a bit longer than we should have, in the original model we had launched with – we should have pivoted to our current farm to fork model earlier,” Shameek shares. There were hurdles, fallbacks and a steep learning curve. But eventually, it paid off well!

“We don’t stop and think about it – but that 20 rupee bunch of palak we ate for lunch today – had a farmer preparing the soil, sowing seeds, harvesting, cleaning, bunching, dispatching it – and then someone did a quality check on it and figured out how to get it to you before it wilted. The chain is complex and requires close coordination across all pieces – it’s not easy,” Shameek further added.

Farmizen believes that the future of food is in helping small farmers succeed and letting them shepherd our soil and natural resources in a climate-friendly way.

It’s their hard work, dedication and undoubtedly the passion to bring a positive change that kept them going.

As of this writing, Farmizen is working with ~1000 farmers with an annual run rate of about 15 crores INR. In fact, the pandemic brought them 3x revenue!!

“Since ours is a localised supply chain – we did not see any disruptions and were able to keep operating all through the lockdown – smaller supply chains are more resilient. We were in business even while larger players like BigBasket were struggling to get going,” says Gitanjali.

Learnings & fallbacks

The government gives so many schemes for the welfare of farmers, yet the farming industry is still so down, and so many people are giving up on farming. According to Shameek, the following could be the possible reasons behind this:

“1.  Many of the subsidies are ill-thought-out – and distort the market – for example, the urea subsidy is hugely problematic because it incentives modes of farming which destroy soil and pollute our water bodies. Free water for farming incentivises bad cropping practices, for example.

2.  Several schemes are on paper – and very difficult to get benefits of, by farmers, at the ground level. Farmers need to deal with corruption and bribery at the local executive level to avail of some of these schemes.

3.  Most of the schemes take a myopic view of the system – does not consider all costs involved – for example, does not consider long term costs that all of us pay in terms of environmental health and our health, in the pursuit of producing cheap food, which is important for political reasons.

4.  There is a wrong narrative which is being set by Big Ag – fertiliser, pesticide, seed company lobbies – we need to understand that all of them are in business to extract profits pools from the agricultural value chain – and they need to be regulated far better – and the narratives they set need to be examined and questioned. Unfortunately, a lot of what is taught in our agricultural universities is designed to further the narrative, which makes profits for Big Ag – at the expense of the small farmer and our planet.

5.  In a nutshell, the reason the small farmer today is giving up on farming is simple – they are not able to sell their produce at a fair price which allows them to live a dignified life.”

So, though it seems all shiny and abundant, there are enough potholes to fix!!

But it is also true that organic farming/ handmade/ sustainable living being the latest facades, it, indeed, is boosting the farmers’ economy as well. “Though it is helpful, more farmers need to take action – and build their own brands. We are seeing a D2C (direct to consumer) revolution in the country in other industries currently, and farmers must build their own brands – be it for their products or for value-added products they make out of their own produce,” Sudaakeran adds.

The modern agritech industry is slowly taking up, and it will continue to flourish in the coming years. As estimated by FAO, by 2050, the world will need 60% more food to feed the population. So yes, there is DEMAND!!

#FutureOfWork

Talking about the future plans, Farmizen will soon be rolling across the country. “Our zero-inventory, cap-ex light and tech-enabled model make it easier to launch in multiple places without needing massive outlays. Now that we have fine-tuned our playbook, we plan to play on a bigger canvas in multiple locations,” Gitanjali shares.

“Get a small patch of land. Grow your own vegetables for 3-4 months. Try to sell it to your neighbours in your apartment complex. You will learn a bunch of stuff in the process!”

Gitanjali encourages newcomers to get their hands a little dirty on the soil.

With the pandemic at our doorstep, consumers have become more mindful about their food. They are trying to learn more about food, the benefits and the correct way to consume it. Farmizen helps its customers learn more about their food and how it is grown, thus helping them make better choices!

With almost 8.1K+ startups working in the agritech sector, the future is disruptive, competitive, yet demanding!

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

Exploring Bihar: Meet The 25YO Entrepreneur Revolutionizing The Rural Bihar!

“Although, it’s one of the toughest questions for me; still I would love to introduce myself as a Bihari, who is entirely dedicated to developing Bihar in most possible way,” says Ranjan Mistry, the 25YO social entrepreneur who also considers himself an educationist, journalist, researcher and thinker! Staying in Bihar, working for it and contributing to its development is one of the best things he says he’s doing, which he loves to flaunt.

Over the last one year, Ranjan worked with different organisations, entrepreneurship cells and incubation centres to develop innovation, covid-19 related activities, and enhance women-oriented jobs across the country. He worked with startups and community enablers like Hanuman, Medishala, etc., from idea to execution phase and supported startups in reviving their dead business. 

An optimist and a strong believer in dynamic smart work, Ranjan believes that moral support and entrepreneurial spirit is something that keeps the business going. NextBigWhat interviewed this young entrepreneur and discussed what the future for startups and the development sector looks like. Here’s a quick glimpse of our conversation and the insights Ranjan brought to the table.

You never really did a formal college, yet are known to so many coding languages, several skills and course curriculums. What kept you going?

It entirely depends on your passion for learning something new; if you stop learning, then your knowledge and growth will also stop at some point over time. Being from a lower-middle-class family, I always faced a financial crisis, and somehow my learning helped me in executing my startups & ventures at zero cost.

You started Campus Varta at a very young age. What was the vision behind that? How many people have you reached so far?

The vision was to connect rural schools, colleges and universities on a digital platform, and enable students to explore the outer world with the right information at the right time, especially in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, West Bengal, Assam and so on. Till now, we have directly and indirectly reached more than 3.5 million students with more than 1800+ College, 150+ Universities in more than 22 States. We have done more than 2000+ partnerships in the last four years, including several Bollywood movies.

Tell us about your other initiatives –  Patna University Incubation Hub, Womenia Chakra, Hunar Didi, & Womenia Story.

I have been working toward developing the Entrepreneurship Cell and Incubation Center at University in Bihar for the last three years. So, In 2019 Patna University finally decided to bring their own Incubation centre to their campus after doing more than 750+ meetings with students, professor, VC, etc. Patna University Incubation Hub is the first Incubation Center at any University level in Bihar. 

Womenia Chakra is a platform to empower rural women via online and offline mode by providing opportunities to influence the status of women, both economically and socially- through employment practices, sourcing, product and service development, partnerships, supplier relationships, and marketing campaigns. It has several subsidiary organisations like Hunar Didi and Women School of Entrepreneurship.

Womenia Story is a digital platform covering women stories from rural India to inspire and empower women and enable them in their branding. 

What is your idea behind WSE? How are rural women entrepreneurs taking it?

Women School of Entrepreneurship (WSE) is a section 8 non-profit company registered as Womenia Chakra Foundation, which aims to create, leverage and nurture the last mile girls and women entrepreneurial leadership talent in India’s social, entrepreneurial, and startups sector by educating them about entrepreneurship.

WSE is a non-profit learning and entrepreneurship development organisation that aims to build and strengthen last mile girls and women entrepreneurial leadership talent in India’s social and startups sector. We enable girls and women leaders from various sectors—such as schools, colleges, corporates, and government services— to make a meaningful contribution to the social and startup sector; we also offer capacity building opportunities for leaders in the social sector. We endeavour to build critical entrepreneurial and leadership skills that will allow us as a sector to create better, more innovative and sustainable solutions for greater impact at scale.

It was set up on 14th March 2020 with the aim of creating a learning and entrepreneurial leadership development organisation that will help build and strengthen last mile girls and women entrepreneurial leadership capacity for India’s social and startup sector.In November 2020, Deepti Kiran,Juhi Smita, Md. Amanullah joined it as a co-founder.

Exploring Bihar: Meet The 25YO Entrepreneur Revolutionizing The Rural Bihar!

It has namely three programs, i.e., Kanyapreneurship, Herpreneurship and Didipreneurship.

Kanyapreneurship is a Nine Days Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship for school going girls offered by Women School of Entrepreneurship. It has been designed as a Womenia Chakra Foundation initiative to fuel entrepreneurial leadership spirit among kidopreneur girls. We will cover almost 27 modules under this program in vernacular language.

Herpreneurship is a Nine Days Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship for College, University going girls and women or Women’s Founder offered by Women School of Entrepreneurship. It has been designed as a Womenia Chakra Foundation initiative to fuel entrepreneurial leadership spirit among girls and women. We will cover almost 27 modules under this program in vernacular language.

Didipreneurship is a Nine Days Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship for College, University going girls and women or Women’s Founder offered by Women School of Entrepreneurship. It has been designed as a Womenia Chakra Foundation initiative to fuel entrepreneurial leadership spirit among girls and women. We will cover almost 27 modules under this program in vernacular language.

It has three fellowships, i.e., WSE Fellowship, Womenia Fellowship, Women Innovation Fellowship.

WSE Fellowship is a 2 Month extensive fellowship for girls and women to understand the journey of startup founders and their enterprises by researching them and preparing case studies, which will be published and used as study material. It’s an opportunity for young, dynamic individuals to contribute to enhancing skill and promote entrepreneurship.

Womenia Fellowship is a one-year extensive fellowship for girls and women to learn and understand an organisation’s work culture by working in different partner organisations such as startups, small women-led ventures & enterprises, and NGOs. It’s an opportunity for young, dynamic individuals to contribute to enhancing skill and promote entrepreneurship.

Women Innovation Fellowship is a one-year extensive fellowship for girls and women to learn and understand innovation in entrepreneurship for empowering women by directly working on the Womenia Chakra Foundation Program. It’s an opportunity for young, dynamic individuals to contribute to enhancing skill and promote entrepreneurship.

Exploring Bihar: Meet The 25YO Entrepreneur Revolutionizing The Rural Bihar!

It has three campaigns, i.e., Stri, Antrik and Sarthi.

Stri: Women Entrepreneurship Awareness Program: It’s a regular campaign to make entrepreneurship awareness among last-mile girls and women through articles, audio, video and several modes in collaboration with startups, government, NGOs and organisations.

Antrik: Intrapreneurship Awareness Program: It’s a regular campaign to make Intrapreneurship awareness among last-mile girls and women through articles, audio, video and several modes in collaboration with startups, government, NGO and organisation to support their founder in the best possible way.

Sarthi: Entrepreneurship Enabler Awareness Program: It’s a regular campaign to make entrepreneurship awareness among last-mile girls’ and women’s family, friends and colleagues through articles, audio, video and several modes in collaboration with startups, government, NGO and organisation to support them in their entrepreneurial journey.

Ranjan, you’ve worked with people from rural areas on a grassroots level & have brought education to Naxal affected areas. Please share your experience and thoughts regarding the present condition of women & children in rural India.

Somehow, after running several government programs and after several decades, the conditions of women and children in Rural India are the same, as we all knew that it’s huge, so we need more organisation in this field for upgrading the conditions of rural women and children. Of the approximately 432 million working-age women in India, about 343 million are not in paid formal work, and 324 million of these women are not in the labour forces, and another 19 million are in the labour force but not employed. Despite being the third-largest startup nation and having over 27,000 startups, India still has only 5% of women startups founders. Gender disparity across the Indian startups’ ecosystem increased in 2020, with nearly 77% of firms having less than 20 % women in leadership roles, compared to 69 % in 2019.

Let me tell you another hidden story of an Indian women-owned business, and it will give you clear pictures of women’s conditions. India has 13.5-15.7 million women-owned enterprises, representing 20% of all enterprises. These are overwhelmingly single-person enterprises, which provides direct employment for an estimated 22 to 27 million people. 

Further, a number of enterprises reported as women-owned are not in fact controlled or run by women. A combination of financial and administrative reasons leads to women being “On Paper” owners with a little role to play. I hope you have watched the recent web series Panchayat; the condition of the Lady Mukhiya portrayed is similar across rural India.

Similarly, rural children have the same case as accessing education in the lack of financial help and accessibility.

Please share your working process – how do you identify the pain points and how exactly the work gets started? How many people/organisations/ villages have you worked with so far?

As I always believed to stay grounded for identifying the pain points, no one can pick the pain points within a day; it takes time to understand that’s why we need to be among the people and somehow be part of that community. Once we identify the pain point, then we start thinking to bring the solution, and after that, we execute it. Let’s take the example of Women School of Entrepreneurship; I have been working on this for three years as a pilot project silently to identify the real problem and solutions, and I have executed several things with rural women. Till now, I have worked with more than 20K women across Bihar and Jharkhand.

Exploring Bihar: Meet The 25YO Entrepreneur Revolutionizing The Rural Bihar!

Given the time you have been operating till now, what are the drawbacks or fallbacks you have found in the startup ecosystem & development sector?

The biggest drawback of the startup ecosystem & development sector is the ignorance of Bureaucrats. We can’t develop a healthy ecosystem without government support, and government schemes, plans, programs have been implemented and run by Bureaucrats, and somehow they didn’t support the startup ecosystem. Let’s take an example of Jeevika, one of the biggest organisations of Govt. of Bihar, several startups write down mails for support or new ideas for collaboration, but they didn’t get any response in the last two years, even they didn’t get any receiving mail. Similarly, the condition of Industry Dept. The Government of Bihar is worse if I talk about support. Somehow, We need to solve it rather than hiding things.

The rural sector is still unexplored; what are your further plans to help the people from the remotest areas?

Yeah! It’s true, and I have been trying to bring more startups that will focus on rural India, and I always believe that bringing startups focused on rural issues is the fastest and best way to help the people from the remotest areas.

What would you suggest to entrepreneurs thinking to enter this domain? 

Getting satisfaction after completing the work is the real success, whether you are awarded for the work or not; each & every time you will get some learning &, most importantly, internal satisfaction with peace in mind and heart. Entrepreneurship is just like engineering; it’s not about spoon-feeding; if you have the guts, then you only become an entrepreneur; similarly, if you have the passion, then you only become a true engineer by heart.

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

Tamil Nadu’s Idli Amma To Get A House From Anand Mahindra!

2020 has shown us what not! But despite all the mishaps we faced, there were some rays of positivity and tiny bits of happiness.

Nonetheless, one thing that the pandemic told us is that no matter how much the economy goes up or down ― sectors like food, education and healthcare will never go haywire.

Yeah, the basic roti, kapda, makaan is gonna stay intact!

And the heroes who kept working during the lockdown, kept feeding the needy & poor ― despite the profit/ losses proved to us that it doesn’t take much to ‘help’ ― that one can find these heroes in the unlikeliest of places.

One such superhero, M. Kamalathal, aka ‘Idli Amma’, based out of Tamil Nadu, came into the spotlight when the businessman Anand Mahindra first shared her video online back in 2019.

The 80+-year-old has been making Idlis and selling them for just INR 1 per piece for over three decades now. The heart touching part is that she sold them at the same price, even during the coronavirus lockdown!

So, when the whole world was busy figuring out how to sustain and survive with the dipping economy, M. Kamalathal was busy serving idlis to those who had negligible to zero savings.

Her honest dedication to serving the poor and daily wage workers caught Anand Mahindra’s attention, and that’s when he decided to share her story with the world over Twitter.

“One of those humbling stories that make you wonder if everything you do is even a fraction as impactful as the work of people like Kamalathal. I notice she still uses a wood-burning stove. If anyone knows her, I’d be happy to ‘invest’ in her business & buy her an LPG fueled stove.”

tweeted the business tycoon

Despite working in a small space and on a single wood-burning stove, she sells more than 700 idlis every day along with the standard ‘sambar’ and ‘chutney’ accompaniments. Her idea of selling idlis at such a minimal price is to ensure that the daily wagers can afford to eat proper food without spending too much.

Post Mr Mahindra’s tweet, Bharat Gas Coimbatore issued an LPG connection in her name to ensure she can continue working in a smoke-free environment. The octogenarian also received rice and pulses from several people and businesses based out of Coimbatore.

Earlier this week, Anand Mahindra tweeted again, sharing that his real estate team have acquired land in the name of M. Kamalathal, and the construction has been kicked off.

“Only rarely does one get to play a small part in someone’s inspiring story, and I would like to thank Kamalathal, better known as Idli Amma, for letting us play a small part in hers. She will soon have her own house cum workspace from where she will cook & sell idlis. ,,, @MahindraRise team for understanding from Kamalathal how we can ‘invest’ in her business. She said her priority was a new home/workspace. Grateful to the Registration Office at Thondamuthur for helping us achieve our 1st milestone by speedily registering the land. The Mahindra @life_spaces team will soon start the construction as per Kamalathal’s requirement. Once again, thanks to BharatGas Coimbatore for providing her a continued supply of LPG,” Anand Mahindra tweeted.

Kamalathal’s current home is attached to her workspace, and she lives with her son Purushothaman.

To what we struggle every day, stories like these and people like M. Kamalathal keep our faith alive and hope high. And as the ‘paati’ says, “let people eat and go…!”

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

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Meet the Inspiring Rural Women Entrepreneurs: The Atmanirbhar Naris Of India!

Meet the Inspiring Rural Women Entrepreneurs: The Atmanirbhar Naris Of India

The contribution of rural women entrepreneurs that were earlier neglected in the Indian economy is certainly gaining praise these days. The rural women of India have not only established their businesses but are also empowering other women along the way. The women these days are hungry for learning, getting trained, and gaining formal skills to articulate their ideas. Out of approximately 60 million entrepreneurs, 8 million entrepreneurs are women. This proves to be an effective strategy for fixing rural and urban poverty in India.

A recent research study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2025, India’s GDP may increase up to 18% over the business front just by providing equal work opportunities for women. 

Even though it is an average number, with successful women entrepreneurs even in the rural areas of India, a higher percentage can be expected. Whether it is a patriarchal societal norm, lack of motivation, education, or funds, women entrepreneurs from rural India are breaking all the societal barriers and continuing to prosper.

Here are some of the successful rural women entrepreneurs who have been changing mindset, breaking stereotypes, and empowering other women.

Ruma Devi

Ruma Devi

Ruma Devi,  the President of the ‘Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan’ has been responsible for making 22,000 women across 75 villages of Rajasthan financially independent by providing them training in embroidery, patchwork, and mirror work. Her NGO organises artisan awareness programs where they explain fair trade, wages, and women’s rights and also focuses on social issues, including child marriage, domestic violence, malnutrition, and girl child education. She was also honoured with “Nari Shakti Puraskar 2018.

Pabiben Rabari

Pabiben Rabari

Pabiben Rabari invented the first of its kind all- women artisan enterprise called pabiben.com with her unique discovery of embroidery art form called ‘Hari Jari’. Her vision was to develop a powerful, viable business standard for the tribal women of her village; as of 2020, she has been responsible for employing 120 families of her community. Pabiben.com designs have been recognised worldwide, including US-based Smithsonian Institution, Bollywood and Hollywood. 

Kalpana Saroj 

Kalpana Saroj

Kalpana Saroj established an NGO to provide knowledge about the various government loans and schemes available to underprivileged people. Soon after a few years of struggle, she built up a real estate business, opened her film production company, and then was on board as the chairman of Kamani tubes after she bought the company’s distressed assets and turned them into profits.

Gunavathy Chandrasekaran

Gunavathy Chandrasekaran

Gunavathy Chandrasekaran is the owner of a quilling brand called Guna’s quilling. She has tutored more than 2,000 artisans with the workshops, which included women, homemakers, students, and children in orphanages. As a quilling expert, she has been awarded the Woman of Excellence Award by the Lions Club of Thirunagar and the District Award by the Government of Tamil Nadu and felicitated by The British Council. 

Godavari Satpute

Godavari Satpute

Godavari Satpute established her business called Godavari Akashkandil company, which turns waste material into decorative paper lamps with a motive to enable women from underprivileged backgrounds to become financially independent.  Within four years, she achieved the label of YBI Woman Entrepreneur of The year 2013 and was honoured by Barclays at the YBI Young Entrepreneur Awards in London.

Anita Devi

Anita Devi

Anita Devi established an organic mushroom cultivation business called the Madhopur Farmers Producers Company, changing the fortunes of hundreds of women from neighbouring villages of Nalanda district of Bihar by persuading them into mushroom farming. Due to her accomplishments, the state agriculture department declared her village Anantpur as Mushroom Village. 

Anita Gupta

Anita Gupta

Anita Gupta is the founder of the Bhojpur Mahila Kala Kendra that provides education and employment training to women from rural areas. She has been responsible for training more than 25,000 women in almost 400 skills. She also created approx 300 women self-help groups in Bihar, which produce and sell jewellery at government-organised fairs, and many Indian metropolitan cities. 

Sobita Tamuli

Sobita Tamuli

Sobita Tamuli established an organic manure brand called Seuji. She created an all-women self-help group that manufactures and sells organic manure, as well as traditional Assamese japis. Her main motive is to persuade visitors to smaller markets such as her village in Assam and improve the rural economy.

These women, however, are not the only women who have fast emerged as potential entrepreneurs and are working towards women’s advancements. There are many more such women from remote areas of India who are shedding traditional moulds and trying to popularise the practice of using organic and sustainable products globally. This move has led to significant social and economic changes bringing them opportunities for growth and remarkable success. 

Unequivocally, the fact that Indian women are considered as Shakti (power) is evident by the efforts they have been putting in to make the optimum use of resources and learnings available to them. The initiative to explore more, to discover and prove their talent is getting them direct corporate exposure. They are yet to embark on a long journey, but we can still say that there is greater acceptance and recognition on the doorsteps of women.

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Why Should Rich Have All The Clean Air? This Startup Is Making Everyone Self-reliant!

Indoor air pollution (IAP) is one of the world’s major environmental problems. The major reason behind this is the usage of solid fuels for cooking inside the house, which leads to the contamination of air resulting in ambient air pollution. 

As per IHME, ~2.6 million people died prematurely in 2016 from diseases attributable to IAP globally. In fact, approximately 64% of Indian households still use solid fuels for their cooking purposes.

According to the Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2018, if the current pattern continues, 2.3 billion people would be still using biomass in 2030 globally. 

Renewable energy, undoubtedly, is the need of the hour. A lot of startups are working to curb this issue. One such startup, based out of Bihar, is trying to change the daily lives of several rural households with their ‘green’ idea, generating employment opportunities for many.

Akansha Singh & Ashutosh Kumar, co-founders of Swayambhu Innovative Solution, wanted to serve the bottom of the pyramid and make the rural residents self-sustainable and self-reliant in the field of energy (cooking fuel & electricity) and organic manure. The people they serve are mostly from SC/ST and BPL communities, daily wage workers or small & marginal farmers.

Akansha is an alumnus of Banasthali Vidyapith and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “My college taught me the art of serving back to society. I have always kept myself engaged in some social activities,” she says.

“While completing my thesis in my masters, I stayed in a village with my group of friends. We not only stayed but also practised their lifestyle and daily itinerary. I noticed that most women were cooking on conventional fuel; farmers used to irrigate farms late at night due to irregular electricity supply. The whole village was closed by evening — agriculture was at a loss due to excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and adulterated organic fertilizers. That’s when I realized how much these people needed help and guidance — they needed to be self-reliant,” she further added.

Over 800 million people in India are affected by indoor air pollution, mainly caused by smoke from burning solid

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The amount of wet waste they generated was enough to convert into energy and slurry as organic fertilizer. We decided to use that energy for activities like cooking, setting up decentralized rural enterprises etc. 

And this is how Swayambhu Innovative Solution came into the picture.

The duo generally works with village mukhiyas or any government department that has a hold-in that particular community. A basic survey is also conducted for deep insights like the number of households, members/ family, caste, availability of cattle, land availability and basic financial details. Funding is either arranged by the organization itself or by the village community, or sometimes by both. 

They are in an early stage, have been recognized by the Government of Bihar, and have worked with ten villages so far, impacting ~2.5k villagers.

“The road was not easy for us. We have faced so many challenges and rejections from the village communities and funding agencies because of the misconception and lack of knowledge of biogas plants. But with time, we managed to make them understand both the concept and importance of it,” says Ashutosh. The people, as he says, are now quite positive and looking forward to installing biogas plants in their villages.

Though the renewable energy sector is encouraged by the government, funding is also an issue. A lot of organizations are helping with funds/ grants but not much when it comes to biogas plants. We have been working in Bihar, where we have a shortfall of industries and almost no availability of CSR funds. Even if it is, it routed through big organizations or government agencies. We, as a startup, struggle hard in receiving those funds.

Akansha and Ashutosh have been working with some of the most remote villages and Naxal affected areas in Bihar. They have realized how hard it had been for them since the resources were next to zero for them. “The locals have been really supportive and enthusiastic,” says the duo.

Apart from the biogas projects in the future, the duo is also planning to extend their services to generate more livelihoods by establishing a Decentralized Rural enterprise (DRE) by providing training to women and engaging more individuals in organic farming.

“Indian villages are still not explored, and there is so much to do for them — with them. City life definitely attracts, but small villages, especially those in the country’s remote parts, need more help and support. There is a huge gap between rural and urban living, and only individuals/ organizations like us can bridge this gap,” Ashutosh added.

About one million deaths occur annually in India due to household air pollution, according to a report by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine Commission

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Working in the development sector requires you not to expect much, and Akansha & Ashutosh are quite happy with what they are doing right now. “Every rejection gives you confidence, and every failure means another learning. And one must keep learning and unlearning,” they end with this!

Swayambhu Innovative Solution is also recognized by Startup India and incubated under Atal Incubation Center (AIC) Banasthali, supported by NITI AAYOG. You can visit their website and reach out to them via this link.

Climatic & Ecological Trauma: The Story Behind The Inception Of Zerodha’s Rainmatter Foundation!

“There won’t be much of an economy or stock market left without a planet!”

When Zerodha decided to commit $100 million funds towards initiatives to combat climate change, it wasn’t just a random (or namesake) CSR act ― it was their love, responsibility and pain for this planet that made them support grassroots individuals and organisations working on problems related to climate change.

“Climate Change is no longer a problem for just researchers and governments to deal with and solve. We’re seeing an impact from it in a variety of ways. There is a strong belief in the team that this is our responsibility, too and much beyond mandatory CSR levels. It’s not just a “domain” to address or profit from,” says Sameer Shisodia, CEO, Rainmatter Foundation.

The Rainmatter Foundation is making both grant funding as well as investments in entrepreneurship that can create scaled solutions for addressing various aspects and impact of the climate change and ecological crisis we face. They are largely going after the ideas and organisations that have already done good work or shown some promise and helping them be more effective in terms of lasting changes over a longer period, and is being replicated or scaled across the country, either directly or through shared learnings and playbooks.

Love for nature

Sameer, on the other hand, has also been running Linger Leisure, an eco-friendly and sustainable chain of properties offering vacation rentals and workations.

“I’ve been running Linger for over ten years now, and more recently, have helped create multiple permaculture-based farming collectives for communities that live more sustainably and regeneratively. In both cases, my exposure to a wider, larger India has been immense, and I have started to understand ― or at least have deeper questions about ― the problems and issues we face as a country significantly better. I have seen consumerism especially represented through packaged food, start to devastate even remote ecologies and economies; I have been witness to changes that are adding up to a very scary future across the country and at least have some thoughts around how these might be fundamentally addressed,” Sameer continues.

However, grants or funding are not the only things required to bring a large scale change; he believes: “impact, philanthropy, giving back, sustainability etc., are all popular notions these days. They sometimes deflect from more serious responsibility and deeper engagement. Big corporations, individuals and society and governments all need to double down on issues like climate change that impact everyone and everything. We need not just funding commitment, but a lot of collaboration, technology, research and especially a huge amount of messaging that helps make the issue and discussion mainstream.

Finally, the test will be when corporations face the hard decisions that need them to pick less ecologically harmful or even regenerative practices over cost savings or even growth. At every level, we have to realise that the larger good is critical for the survival of each of us and what we do.”



Inside the Rainmatter

On asking him about the operation and survival strategy of Rainmatter, Sameer says that they do not take any equity for grant funding; however, there are some small amount of equity involved in case of investments. “We’re structured as a section 8 company, and the idea of the investment is not profit, per se, but the growth of good ideas. The profits and payouts from these investments will, of course, be ploughed back into the fund and help with further grants and investments. In all grants and investments, we look for the possibility of the idea growing at a country scale or beyond. Indeed we think good ideas should be replicated rapidly by many, and further iterations and local adaptations will create solutions that make sense everywhere,” he further adds.

Rainmatter has supported many great organisations that are working to protect and extend forests, wildlife to further and popularise agro-ecological techniques that benefit the environment, strengthen localised economies, help with waste management, and solutions that drive energy efficiency, amongst others. They further plan to foster wide-ranging collaborations across problem solvers, create playbooks that help many more start solving problems in their neighbourhood. They are also starting to support journalism and storytelling focused on ecological issues and how they relate to us every day.

Is the government supporting/ backing up such startups or initiatives? Sameer believes that every solution must either become part of the market in a sustainable way or become institutionalised, depending on whether “I” need to pay for it or “We” should, as in the case of cleaner commons for all.

“There is a lot of institutional support available that can be used, and once enough folks in geography or context want something, the government usually does follow up with policy, laws, provisions and funds for it. Part of what we are trying to do is discover and make available the policy, funding support that exists that can be used towards climate change solutions. We do believe the government is an important part of solving these problems, as is civil society, and we need a very large set of collaborations going between these,” he says.

Need of the hour

And do you remember how the initial phase of lockdown cleaned out the lakes/ ponds and even the Delhi clouds? #DoPalKiKhusiyaan… Well, that was just a temporary phenomenon and not sustainable either!

It also came at a huge economic and human cost. “While it did present an opportunity to create a more spread out localised economy and relook at how our economic engine works, I think the changes need to be a lot more structural, will happen over time and hopefully with a positive impact on people and livelihood rather than as a shock. Of course, without starting the journey in this direction, we can almost certainly expect many sudden disruptions, shocks and much pain ― COVID was only one such that we came face to face with,” adds the Bengaluru based serial entrepreneur.

NextBigWhat asked Sameer if the Rainmatter Foundation is further looking to invest or focus on other Sustainable Development Goals to which he replied, “The climate change problem is deeply linked to the structure and nature of our economy, to livelihoods. It finds parallels and both cause and effect in the problems we see today with equitable distribution. It has deep roots in how human society, and especially agriculture, has developed over the ages. The SDGs talk about these issues, but we would rather not look at those as separate, isolated silos ― we risk too many short terms, symptomatic fixes with that approach.

We believe that there are four broad pillars that help make a place more livable, and people can and will fundamentally care about places they live in and depend on. We are trying to foster multi-dimensional problem solving, even as we pitch for urgent attention to address the most broken one ― the ecology ― in whatever problem solving is being attempted.”

The untold compunction

“I have two kids stepping into the world, and I say sorry to them often for leaving them a world that’s broken in so many ways. We have been terrible custodians for a generation and a half, and I wish I personally, and we collectively, had woken up to this earlier and started to create better goals for us all than the limited, self-focused ones we pursue today, and also create a set of better tools the coming generations could build upon for truly making the planet a better place to inhabit,” Sameer ends with an emotional yet practical and worrisome thought!

Cheers to Rainmatter Foundation and several other similar initiatives that are trying to make this world a better place to live in ― for us ― for our future generations! You can check their website here!

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

Also read: How a Harvard Dropout Joined the Global Billionaire’s Club!