Monthly Archives: June 2013

Being a 24 year old Woman Social Entrepreneur in India

The Beginning

In 2010, during one of my corporate film shoots in Delhi, I had come across a woman in a slum. She had six daughters and was trying to send one of them (who was 8-year-old) to the area known for prostitution. It was poverty that demanded this sacrifice, in order to feed five others. She was also pregnant. When I asked her, what about the little life breathing inside her, she had said, ‘If it is a girl again this time, I will strangle her the minute she is born.’

I remember; everything had changed for me after that incidence.  I was turning 24 then.

Within 45 minutes, I decided to start a creative arts school for the sexually abused girls (even by their fathers in a nearby slum) in the area. I didn’t know about changing the world or zilch about the non-profit sector, but I could “at least start”. Thus, Protsahan India Foundation was born as a one-room creative arts centre for educating the girl child in the ghettos. Within a month, we got the organisation registered with the Govt. of India.

Now, each day as I walk past those slums in Delhi, it saddens me to see hundreds of neglected children, most without mothers, some sexually abused by their fathers, women who don’t understand the concept of sanitary napkins.   

Start Up Challenges at Protsahan

It took me 8 months to decide on using arts as a curriculum for creative design based education.  Rote learning/school education solely would have never made sense to a child raised in the street.

Today, when The World Bank, United Nations, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Indian Television Academy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia India Youth Dialog and other organisations of national and international repute recognise us, we feel proud and see it as a beginning. The only thing that worked in my favour was conviction.

Evolution, Innovation and Growth

Our sole mission is to encourage creative education and skills development through creative design thinking approaches for at-risk/abused/special children for whom it could always be only a dream. So, we started using simple techniques, but with a difference. For example:

  • We made a traditional Indian art form to be recreated using coffee powder for special and autistic children.
  • We used creativity and design to work with survivors of trafficking and abuse.
  • We used scrabble to teach them English, cartoons and photographs to keep the interests alive, game and art based education, digital storytelling to make teaching a fun process. 

Scale or Empathy?

We want to work with every child, and so obviously I am asked about the scalability and replicability models. It is the process which is unique at Protsahan. Only when you have the learning to deal with one child, all inclusive, can you reach numbers in the right way. We see government schools all over. It’s replicable, right? But, where is the empathy, creativity and connect? I remember, how one social venture capitalist had expressed desire to ‘invest’ in Protsahan, and when we met, the first question he asked me was, what would be the ROI (return on investment) that Protsahan could give him when he ‘invested’ in a sexually abused child. I stood up, paid for my coffee bill and left. I was 25 then.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions. They however can scale up approaches that work. We are a non-profit organisation and we count our revenue in terms of number of lives we have impacted and transformed for the better. I call it the gross happiness index.

Opportunity Costs?

It takes more than just grit and gumption to get an organisation up with strong fundamentals. It takes humility blended with some assertive passion. It takes missing out on those occasional tea sessions with your retired father, it takes you staring right in the eye of your own vulnerabilities, yet defying the world, getting judged and not being scared of what the world would think, taking decisions which you know are just and fair, unknowingly scaring the men you could date at 24 with your work. It takes too quick a growing up of that girl inside you. It takes learning what detachment truly is, because people come, add a bit to your dream and go. In the end you have: the credits, failures, learnings, laughter, the shirking of those slight tears when you see a young one you taught for 2 years being sexually tortured by her father. At times like those, you know that no matter what, your strength wouldn’t falter and the seeds of encouragement you once had sown would continue to nurture many generations to come.

Post by:Sonal Kapoor

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Conviction: Key to being a Successful Entrepreneur

When I was leaving school, my principal had written in my diary, “You will take the road less travelled and it will make all the difference”.Back then, I was moved to read that line written by her – a line from one of my favourite poems. Today, I understand the essence and significance of those words.

The road less travelled is intriguing, exciting, adventurous, and scary. While there are new discoveries, there is also a ruthless sort of restlessness that pushes you to go on. That, is the source of my energy. There is comfort in simplicity and gratefulness for life.
I have always listened to my heart. Most of the times it guided me right, and some few odd times, it put me in the most difficult of
situations. The decision to start Happy Hands too, was led by the heart, and in five years, I have faced all varieties of situations – difficult,humbling, and most importantly, inspiring.

I started at a time when efforts for reviving crafts was not an advisable (read lucrative) career option, and had little to do with Management- my field of study. With no formal education in Design, I felt myself drawn to the beauty and sheer magic of handcrafting a product. The first question most friends would ask me would be : “…but how will you do it…”. I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now.
There was no ‘plan A or B or C’ – there was only a conviction, and the determination to change. Friends came forward to help, and I
continued to meet people who are our biggest support systems now. Fundraising was the biggest problem – how would we pay people,rentals..etc. but our artists understood it all too well. They were our initial supporters – we would make products together, and sell them together.

None of this was easy – while new relationships were formed, existing ones were put to test. The one thing about being an entrepreneur is,you realise who your true friends really are – the ones who share the happiness of success are few in number, the ones who understand the risk of failure, even fewer.

There are several choices one is constantly faced with, but being a woman makes it easier – we are naturally inclined towards multitasking.
In the course of running an organisation, I have learnt how to budget, recruit, design, travel on minimal resources, and how to function with no sleep, but occasional dreams. By most importantly, I have learnt about people and their traditions or cultures; I have learnt patience, and I have grown – not just as an entrepreneur but as a human being. It’s not crafts that I work to restore – I work to bring back the dignity in the
life of a craftsman/artist. I seek to enable our own countrymen to recognise and include the traditional arts of our nation into their lives, so craft can thrive again – so artists can feel ‘wanted’ again.
Time has played a strange game of sorts. While we have moved on to better technology, infrastructure and opportunities, our villages (most of them) remain without any proper access to Internet services even!

Today we have a larger team, and our programs and impact have only increased over the years. We have always been an all-girls
organisation. Not by plan, of course! We learnt to lift our own cartons, and manage our logistics. Yes, our parents have stayed up nights waiting for us, but we ourselves were never concerned about our safety. Somehow, work always came first.
It is the small experiences which have made us who we are – we continue to struggle, laugh at our mistakes, and then make some more.

Today, in retrospect, I am thankful to the people who supported us, and also to those who didn’t because they taught us some very
important lessons. The struggle continues, as does the madness – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Post by: Medhavi Gandhi

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Women Social Entrepreneurs and their Struggle

“Social Entrepreneurs act as agents of change in society, creating interventions for betterment of society and women play a key role in the whole process. While gender differences might come into play where the magnitude and scale of enterprise is concerned, this is by no means an index of the success  of the enterprise. Women entrepreneurs are equally successful and create big impact on society.

‘Skills for Social Enterprise’ is one of the key areas that British Council India is keen to embark upon. The Council has long showcased best of UK innovation and creativity in diverse areas through its programmes. What is now required is to inspire, support and develop next generation of women social entrepreneurs and through their systems and products, deliver wider benefits to the society. This week through Youth ki Awaaz, our partner in this campaign, we will focus on key challenges  that young social entrepreneurs specifically women face in their journey…..”- Dr. G.S. Gujral, Head- Society (India), British Council.

Enterprise gains stage in strange ways. A guy who can’t afford a tea stall sets up a kettle and a dozen cups in the space that is a wall crack. Youngsters who can’t voice their opinions in the mainstream take up blogging, social networking and uploading their own videos. All it takes is courage and conviction, you’d think?

Easier said than done, though. If how you were and what you did were the only determinants to your success, no diligent student would ever sit down and cry with a paltry 85 per cent in his boards, no dancer would ever impair his limbs and no chef would ever burn his best tested recipe. There is a lot more to success that has to do with your destiny, the pressures around you, your lifestyle and circumstances, and the attitudes and mindsets you have to deal with in the race for that red ribbon.

Women social entrepreneurs around us are much lesser in number than one would wish for. Start ups are anyway a risky business idea. And women, most people think, are not meant for adventure. Theirs is the comfortable space, homemade snacks; teaching or embroidery classes are as ambitious as they can get about ‘doing their own thing’. Going beyond those would make men in their lives uncomfortable. It seems they are only well-suited for the parties and wedding, taking care of children and nursing their wounds. It is assumed that other things in her life can wait.

The firm strides women take towards empowering themselves are testimony to an evolving society at the heart of which are strongly unchanging, unwavering prejudices. Most jobs, including corporate ones, have a strong male bias and are structured to eulogise men and their superior status. A woman has to struggle twice as much to make it big in the same space. The frequent long working hours, the workload and the stress that often get to one are not considered a woman’s cup of tea.

As deep as we may search for answers to this, there is pretty much only one underlying reason. Our patriarchal system may give a woman the liberty to follow her dreams, but not the space to chase them. Unfortunately, there is nothing to keep her motivated. Top positions in corporate spaces are reserved for men (or so it seems). She isn’t seen as a leader or a role model. Also, most don’t like working under a woman boss, especially men whose ego would get bruised beyond imagination.

We don’t see too many women entrepreneurs, or at least, too many successful women entrepreneurs because somewhere while chasing their dreams, they’re pulled back and made to fulfil her duties even before she can get her plan to be a successful social entrepreneur in place. Work is always secondary, and when it happens, a woman is made to feel like it’s some rare gift she’s been blessed with. It is not banal, normal or even acceptable. It is not done when she starts to or desires to give it as much time and attention as her home and family.

The fact that apart from men, most women today themselves look down on other women who seem ‘too big for their boots’ is proof enough of the mindsets we grapple with.

Not that women haven’t already done it, but it would take a lot more women with passion and conviction to change this. From education to voting rights, we got it all for ourselves. We’ve always been multitaskers; we just need to fight a little harder to make our place. Remember: it’s never too late.

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