“I see partnerships in everything we do,” says Ved Arya, who co-founded Srijan, which stands for Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action, in 1997 and has just started an initiative that supports the entry of trained and educated professionals into the development sector under the aegis of the Buddha Fellowship.
Arya, along with Geeta Dharmarajan, writer, social entrepreneur, educationist and founder of Katha, is the joint winner of the 2018 Business Standard award for social entrepreneur. For both, the desire to break through a system that was failing its people was high, but that did not lead them to plough a lonely furrow. Collaborations and teamwork are critical to the work they do.
S Ramadorai, chairman of Tata Institute of Social Sciences as well as of the jury that chose the winners of the social excellence awards, says it was a tough choice. The jury took a long time before concurring that the passion, dedication and resilience that the two had demonstrated made them jointly worthy of the award.
“We deliberated at length about winners in different categories. The choices were numerous and at the end because we had to choose just one winner, it was quite a challenging task,” he said.
Pratham Education Foundation co-founder and CEO MadhavChavan, Omidyar Network India Advisors Managing Director RoopaKudva, Bain Capital Private Equity MD Amit Chandra, Ford Foundation Regional Director Pradeep Nair, and GiveIndia Director and CEO AtulSatija were the other members of the jury.
Ajay Piramal (FILE PHOTO)
The award for Socially Aware Corporate of the Year went to Piramal Enterprises for Piramal Foundation’s targeted and hugely impactful work in Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh towards improving health care facilities for tribal communities. The jury felt that this is an area that does not attract big money or big talent, which made the foundation’s work even more relevant and commendable. Ramadorai was clear about the choice. “We selected Piramal for the scale of the operation and the areas it was involved in,” he said.
The stories of the organisations, the teams and the leaders that drove these projects spark hope and optimism in a country that routinely wrestles with an extremely complex set of challenges. The jury members were particularly appreciative of the effort it takes to drive even the smallest change in the country, often drawing on their personal experiences to provide a perspective to the choices on the table.
Socially Aware Corporate of the Year
Piramal Foundation’s stated mission is to work with the under-served sections of society, towards improving their life chances by providing them with preventive, promotive and curative health care.
For this award, the foundation showcased its work in Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh for the Asara Tribal Health Programme. The project has targeted 52,836 beneficiaries in 181 habitations, of which the majority is female. It aims to reduce maternal mortality rates by 30 per cent and infant mortality rates by 20 per cent in the project area.
The work involves a series of efforts, from providing the inhabitants with clean health care to counselling women and families about the need for behaviour change towards childbirth. The outcome of this project is a 73 per cent drop in infant mortality rates for the community, and no maternal deaths have been reported in the past year-and-a-half.
The NITI Aayog, too, has recognised its work and is advocating the project in select high-priority tribal areas. With specific reference to the work in the valley, the jury members saw it as an example of how a seemingly intractable problem can be dealt with through sustained efforts.
Social Enterprise of the Year
NAZ Foundation (India) Trust Anjali Gopalan, Founder
Naz was founded by Anjali Gopalan in 1994 with an ambitious agenda. It wanted to provide care and support to children and people living with HIV/AIDS and work towards greater inclusion and respect for members of the LGBTQ community in the country. At the time it was among the few organisations that turned their attention towards a community that generally fell by the wayside when it came to social development programmes.
A similar spirit imbued the project that won the jury’s appreciation and Naz, the award this year. Aimed at adolescent girls in government and trust-run schools it began in Delhi and Mumbai but has since spread to Chennai, Bengaluru, Jalandhar, Nagapattinam and parts of Madurai. KalyaniSubramanyam, programme director at Naz Foundation, says most people thought it was a mad idea when they were starting out — using sports to teach girls about sexual health seemed an improbable stretch at the time.
But there was an air of desperation around the problem as Subramanyam says, “We saw young girls (15-16 years) coming to ante-natal clinics and testing HIV positive. Clearly our communication was not enough.” So even if the idea of using an obscure sport such as netball to talk about sexual health seemed like a long shot, they decided to jump in and do it.
The result: From a sexual health or an HIV prevention programme it has become a women’s empowerment initiative, says Subramanyam. Started with 70 girls, they now work with 90,000, and parents come up and say, “Make my daughter like that.” Many girls who were part of the initial programmes are now coaches and team leaders. In Mumbai and Delhi alone, 11,032 girls have participated in the full training, and from this pool, 39 have become community sports coaches.
Social Entrepreneur of the Year (joint award)
Ved Arya Founder, Srijan
Ved Arya started his life with what are seen as the most coveted possessions in every Indian family -- IIT and IIM degrees. His first job was with TCS, then a management consultancy headed by F C Kohli. He left within a year-and-a-half, knowing that his pedigree meant that a job would be waiting for him in the corporate sector if he decided to come back. “I never went back,” he says, as he went on to work with the Gandhian model of development and then with multiple rural development initiatives.
He set up Srijan, which also means the act of creation in Sanskrit, in 1997. It is a rural development initiative that relies on collaboration between government, citizen organisations, donor agencies, and private businesses. Arya says, “The faith in joint action and collaboration is what separates us from the rest.”
Srijan is a hybrid organisation and works both as a consulting firm and a grassroots development agency. It is involved at every level — from design to staffing and resource management to implementation in the field. Its model has been replicated by several institutions across the world. Arya says it does not help if a development agency has an adversarial relationship with the state or it has a transactional relationship with its funders. The problem will be resolved if everyone is aligned to a goal. “Srijan is not only an executor of development projects. It is also an influencer,” he adds.
GeetaDharmarajan started Katha in 1988 with five students and no textbooks. She says she found herself staring at a strange challenge being faced by children — the profusion of languages was becoming a hindrance instead of an advantage to learning, and in each language many would not read.
Geeta Dharmarajan Founder president, Katha
She started by founding a magazine for children, ‘Tamasha’, before going on to set up Katha and then to develop her flagship intervention Katha Lab Schools, which work on her trademark story-pedagogy. “There is a maverick-ness about this (the story-led pedagogy that underpins Katha’s education programme) but our children do very well within the overall education system,” says Dharmarajan. Her work stems from the simple belief that stories help make learning fun and meaningful.
It was important to bring joy into the classroom, she believes. When she was first starting out, a government survey on education indicated that children were dropping out of school not because their parents could not afford to send them but because they did not find it interesting enough. This was a problem that she believed was solvable and she knew how to do it.
It is this self-belief and dedication that has helped drive her work in the sector. Katha today works with 700 municipal schools in New Delhi. She started out in 1990 and she says all governments have been extremely supportive of their work. Over the past couple of years, the Delhi government has given them five schools to run, of which two have already been judged the best in their districts. There can be no bigger reward for her.