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Big Vision

BarrierBreak founder Shilpi Kapoor wants to bring the disabled into the mainstream.
Rashmi K Pratap


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Mission To break the barriers of disability through the use of assistive technology.
The aim is to create an inclusive society where there is equal opportunity for access to
employment, education and social life.
Benefits From visually impaired to autistic and physically challenged, everyone can
use BarrierBreaks cost-effective technologies to work like other professionals.
In 1995, systems engineer Shilpi Kapoor worked for an American technology giant,
communicating with her US-based boss either on email or telephone. Nothing unusual about
that, except Kapoors supervisor was a paraplegic, paralysed from the neck down, and used a
sip-and-puff devicean assistive computer technology that allows users to move the mouse
cursor by puffing air into a tube. Kapoor and the American had worked together for nearly
two years before she found out. It was her first close interaction with a disabled person and
his get-on-with-business approach made a powerful impression. He suggested I work on
innovative ideas for helping the disabledand thats what I did, says Kapoor. Kapoors
start-up, BarrierBreak Technologies, provides assistive and accessibility technologies for the
disabled.
All Seeing
A for-profit company was, however, far from her mind when Kapoor began her work with
the disabled. She started small, spending Rs 1.2 lakh of family contributions on a computer
and screen reader software that set her back by Rs 55,000. The screen reader software helps
the visually impaired navigate screen contents using voice-assistance. Kapoor began by
teaching two blind boys basic computer skills; more joined as word got out. Meanwhile, the
day job continued.
In 1999, she set up a computer training centre in the Bombay University campus, starting
with two batches of five each. Only to find there were no takers for blind computer-literate
people. The general perception was that the blind are fit only to be telephone operators. We,
therefore, had to make money and create resources to be able to hire and pay the trained
people, she says.




Barrier-Breaks
clients are abroad.
founded in India
and run by
Indians, the
company is pretty
unknown at

To get around the problem, in 2004, Kapoor set up Net Systems
Informatics (N-Syst), which offered content solutions for
educational institutes, publishers and technology solution
providers. Getting clients was nearly impossible, since Kapoor
had no employees and no money. Then, while chasing an order, she made a prototype for a
computer training course for schoolchildren, applying the same methods she used to teach
blind students. It clicked and the orders started coming in. There was no looking back after
that, she says. N-Syst made profits last year (Kapoor doesnt disclose numbers).
The money problems taken care of, Kapoor turned back to her area of interestsoftwares
and applications that help provide Web access to the disabled. While she started offering
many services under Net Systems beginning 2004, a separate subsidiary BarrierBreak was
created in 2007 to distinguish the work being done for the disabled and generate awareness
about assistive technologies. BarrierBreak also uses the pool of its differently-abled
professionals to test services and products of other companies.
Most of the 60 people on BarrierBreaks rolls are disabled. Thirty-four-year old Priti Rohra
heads the accessibility testing practice. Its great to be gainfully employedpeople look at
you differently when you have a job. I wanted to be in the IT space and trained at the Indian
Association for the Visually Handicapped, says the congenitally blind Rohra, whos been
with the company seven years. Incidentally, the course she attended was designed by Kapoor
along with the Bill Gates Foundation, which funded the programme.
The journey thus far has been far from easy, but Kapoor credits a few lucky breaks that made
the difference to the companys fortunes. In the middle of a rough patch in 2004, her
company was approached by Vision Australia, a not-for-profit organisation providing
services, facilities and information to the visually impaired, to create disabled-friendly
websites. The assignment gave the company a chance to work for the Australian IT market
and the government. From there on, the course of the journey changed. They introduced us
to other global institutes, like the Royal International Institute of Blind People in the UK.
They, in turn, introduced us to a Swedish company and we became visible globally, says
Kapoor.
A year later, Kapoor tapped Aavishkaar Micro Venture Fund, a social rural venture capital
fund, for money. They bought into the idea of accessibility and invested in us. It gave us
confidence that we were right in our beliefs, says Kapoor.
home.





Disabled-Friendly: BarrierBreak is trying to develop products that can help the disabled use
computers comfortably.
Making Them Self-Reliant
BarrierBreaks work is geared toward a single goalbringing the disabled into the
mainstream. That means enabling them to be as self-reliant as possible. A recent innovation is
a self check-in Indian Railways kiosk for the disabled. Theres also the web portal for the
Right to Information Actone of the first Indian websites thats easily accessible to the
disabled. Thus far, BarrierBreak has worked on seven websites for the Indian government
no mean achievement, considering the general lack of awareness regarding disabled access.
Internationally, it is mandatory to make disabled-friendly websites, but not in India.
The company has also developed disabled-friendly websites for private organisations. The
website of the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for Hearing Handicapped was created by
BarrierBreak. It gets 400 hits a day, more than half from overseas locations. The institutes
director Dr R Rangasayee says Kapoor walks the extra mile in understanding the dynamics of
each disability and applies the right IT solutions. Our website can be accessed not only by
people with vision-related problems, but also by those who are slow learners or have
cognitive deficits, adds Rangasayee.
Websites are only a small part of Kapoors work. Where the
company really touches the lives of the disabled is with assistive
technology products. Computer aids such as screen readers,
adaptive keyboards, alternate format conversion (that convert
print publications to full audio text, image description and
conversion of math content) and desktop magnifiers arent new,
but they are expensive.
BarrierBreak tackled that by creating a network to sell the
products. The company imports 90% of the products directly
from manufacturers like Dolphin Computer Associates, Optelec,
Ablenet and Attainment Co, and sells them locally, eliminating a
long chain of middlemen. In 1995, I forked out Rs 55,000 for a
screen reader. Today, we sell them for Rs 18,000 to NGOs or
other organisations and for Rs 9,000 to individuals with
disabilities, says Kapoor.
It isnt only imports. BarrierBreak also works with disabled people and organisations
supporting them to develop products that can help them use computers more efficiently.
Ketan Kothari, a blind disability activist working as a programme officer at NGO
SightSavers, uses a Dolphin pen, developed by BarrierBreak and SightSavers. It is a
lightweight pen-drive with a screen magnifier, a screen reader and Braille support.
With this, blind and low-vision computer users can carry their assistive software on a pen-
drive and use it on any PC. The text on the screen is converted to voice and is magnified for
those with low vision. Its great, says Kothri.
A Symbiotic Relationship
For a long time, BarrierBreak was dependent on its parent for survival. N-Syst earned 90% of
the groups revenues because it bagged IT projects that involved content-writing. Then the
economic downturn played spoilsport and many companies cancelled their contracts. At that
time, our accessibility services sustained our business model. Otherwise, we would not have
existed today. None of BarrierBreaks contracts were cancelled and it has made profits for the
first time now, Kapoor says.
BarrierBreaks biggest and best clients are overseas. Ironically, the company founded in India
and run by Indians remained largely unknown at home. The desire to serve the Indian market
better led Kapoor to organise Indias first international conference on accessibility and
assistive technology in 2008. We got 50 international delegates to present papers at the
conference. It was attended by government officials, IT sector representatives, NGOs and




"In 1995, I forked
out Rs 55,000 for
a screen reader.
Today, we sell
them for Rs
18,000 to NGOs
and for Rs 9,000
to disabled
individuals."Shilpi
Kapoor, Founder,
BarrierBreak
Technologies




disabled people, says Kapoor. But she is still waiting for the day when products and services
in the domestic market will account for the lions share of BarrierBreaks business.
Kapoor blames the slow growth of accessibility and assistive services in the country on lack
of awareness. People need to change their attitudes, she says. While a beginning has been
made, the major change required, says Kapoor, is in mindset. NGOs need to become quality-
conscious. The private sector has to move from corporate social responsibility and play a
more proactive role in driving accessibility services. NGOs should find more ways to sell and
go-to-market rather than surviving on charity and donations.
Link Thy Neighbour
CommonFloor offers apartment-dwellers a unique, online collaborative platform to mange
their properties better.
Nandita Datta


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Mission Empowering home owners and connecting neighbours through an online and
SMS-based platform called CommonFloor.
Benefits CommonFloor arms home owners with all the relevant tools required to take
informed decisions on any matter pertaining to their property. By sharing their
experiences on CommonFloor, apartment communities have been able to find
solutions to their problems.
They are friendsall in their twentiesseeking to make a difference to society. So much
so, that they walked out on their high-flying MNC jobs to pursue a cause they believe has the
potential to change community-building in India. And, it all started with a personal
experience. The story goes that their apartment complex developed a major sewage problem,
which forced all the 250-odd residents to come together and discuss the issue on hand. It was
chaotic, but for the first time the residents began bonding with each other. We not only got
to know who our neighbours were, but also found that we shared some similar interests, says
Sumit Jain, Co-Founder, maxHeap Technologies, the company behind CommonFloor.
Something clicked inside him. Jain and close friend and fellow IITian Lalit Mangal (both
were working in Oracle then), began exploring the idea of connecting neighbours online.
Today, no one has the time to mingle with neighboursat best, we exchange greetings
inside an elevator or staircase. We thought of developing an online product that would
improve communication between neighbours, notes Mangal.
Bringing neighbours together on an online platform may have been the starting point, but the
duo was keen to explore beyond. We did not want to become a neighbourhood social
networking platformthat would limit our scope. Besides, it wouldnt be a scalable model,
points out Vikas Malpani, who joined Jain and Mangal from SAP Labs and became the third
Co-Founder of maxHeap Technologies.



After months of deliberation, the friends came up with the idea of
building a collaborative platform that would arm homeowners
with the right tools to manage their property better. In other
words, give residents the relevant tools needed to take informed
decisions about any matter pertaining to their property. So,
whether one needs information related to payment dues,
maintenance notifications, tracking complaints, local business
offers, managing vendors, finding people to car pool or create
community calendars, CommonFloor is the answer.
Using this platform, users can reach out to every resident in their
apartment complex or a select group, depending on their
requirement. CommonFloor also offers an SMS service. User
Abhirup Mukherjee of Mantri Tranquil, an apartment complex
near Kanakpura, a southern suburb of Bangalore, says CommonFloor is a one-stop shop for
all his requirements as a home owner. Its features, like free SMS, apartment management
services, event reminders, etc., are unique. We use them all the time, he adds.
Thats not all. Every household is a knowledge silowe want to facilitate sharing of this
knowledge, notes Jain. CommonFloor has not only enabled residents of an apartment
complex to share experiences with each other but has also opened up a channel of
communication between different neighbourhoods to discuss common issues like rain-water
harvesting, waste management, fire safety, dealing with local civic bodies, etc. Says Ramesh
Ramani of Alpine Park, an apartment complex in a Bangalore suburb, After reading about
fire safety on CommonFloor and what other apartment communities had done, we installed
more safety equipment in our apartments and even arranged for a training programme to help
people understand how to react in case of a fire.

Left To Right: Sumeet Jain, Vikas Malpani, Lalit Mangal.

"In todays fast-
paced life, no one has
the time to mingle
with their
neighbours. We
thought of online
product that would
improve
communication."Lalit
Mangal, Co-Founder,
CommonFloor




A Work In Progress
CommonFloor was launched in November 2007 but getting home owners to use the product
in its initial days was not easy. It took every bit of our persuasive and networking skills,
recalls Malpani. What finally helped was word-of-mouth publicity. Today, less than three
years since its launch, CommonFloor has over 20,000 apartment communities across various
cities in India. But, Mangal insists their work is far from over. We call ourselves a work-in-
progresswe are continuously looking for ways to offer more services and, to improve
existing ones based on the feedback we receive from users. Thats the only way forward, he
adds. Mukherjee, whos been associated with CommonFloor for the past yearfirst as an
administrator for his apartment complex and now as a user, says the company is very
attentive to feedback, however minor. They can do this because they are small and thats all
they do, unlike a Google group or a Yahoo group, he adds. The challenge will be to maintain
this level of responsiveness once CommonFloor achieves scale.
For CommonFloor, a large user base means big advertising moolah. Because CommonFloor
is a free service, the only way it can earn money is through advertisingthe Google model,
so to speak. Though the founders are reluctant to divulge financial numbers at this juncture,
they insist the company is earning profits. This is not our priority right now. Money will
follow if we can attract more and more home owners to use CommonFloor and that will
happen only if we can build a very powerful platform that serves their every need, quips
Jain.
Since CommonFloor is a warehouse of data, data privacy is another big priority for Mangal
and his team of technologists. The mans quick to rattle off the various security measures in
place to prevent fraudsters and spam. We use the best-in-class technologies to store and
secure our users data, he notes. The online portal is 256-bit SSL encryption-enabled, which
means any data sent by a user to the CommonFloor server cannot be read by an unauthorised
person. CommonFloor is hosted and managed by iWeb, a recognised leader in high-end
hosting since 1996. Data is backed-up real time to ensure point-in-time recovery in case of
any disaster. Mangal insists theres a strict policy against spamming. We dont like to be
spammed so we dont want to spam others. Yes, there are advertisements on the portal but
these are clearly marked as classifieds, he adds.
The team at maxHeap Technologies is hoping to do to apartment community-building what
Google did to the search experience. Its an ambitious dream for a bunch of youngsters just
about starting out on their careers, but Jain, Mangal and Malpani (along with team members
Rahul Gupta and Manoj Singh) seem determined to make a go of it. Already the company has
caught the attention of venture fund Accel Partners, which has invested an undisclosed sum.
Flush with funds and armed with a killer application, maxHeap Technologies is ready to fire
on all cylinders.
Bee-utiful Business
Vijaya Patsala helps farmers raise bees and increase the output of their farms.
Karthik Krishnan


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Mission Under The Mango Tree hopes to make beekeeping an important tool in a
farmers handbook to increase agriculture output.
Benefits The farmer, who has undergone UTMTs training on beekeeping, has seen
his income go up by Rs 4,500-5,000 a year.
In 1994, Vijaya Pastala was in Latur, Maharashtra, helping in relief efforts after a massive
earthquake had devastated the region. While there, she couldnt help but notice that almost
every social activity, particularly learning activities and the buying and selling of goods,
happened under the large mango trees in the area. A few years later, when she launched a
company to link rural producers with urban consumers, Pastala named it Under The Mango
Tree (UTMT). No prizes for guessing why.
UTMTs objective is to promote the use of clean, sustainable agricultural practices. One of its
more-successful efforts has been an initiative to promote community-based beekeeping. The
organisation trains tribal beekeepers in the production of single flora honeyhoney made
from a single flower type.
The beekeeping venture actually evolved out of another venture. UTMT used to (and still
does) buy honey from a few NGOs and sell it in the retail market. Consumers lapped up the
stuff and Pastala saw that there was huge potential in the business. In getting farmers to
produce honey, she realised, she would also be helping them to increase their agricultural
output. Thats because bees, in many ways, are a farmers best friend. A plant will not
develop seeds or bear fruit if it is not pollinated. Bees flit from flower to flower and transfer
pollen, and thereby increase a farms output.
Realising this, Pastala saw that by promoting beekeeping she could make a qualitative and
quantitative difference to a farmers agricultural output. And, so, she set about raising money
to fund the beekeeping initiative.
The idea was great, but, as with so many of them, it wasnt easy to execute. Despite her
pedigreePastala holds a masters degree in regional planning from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technologyshe found it difficult to raise funding. After dipping into her savings
and tapping a few friends, she managed to scrape together Rs 9 lakh. Not long after, she
found a kindred spirit in Sujana Krishnamurthy, an economist by training. By 2009, her
society was up and running.
Neglect And Apathy
On its part, while it appears to have had the foresight, the government hasnt been aggressive
in promoting beekeeping as a tool to increase agricultural yield. In 1976, it had outlined a
plan to set up 150 million bee colonies by 2000. But, as of 2007, there were only 1.4 million
bee colonies, according to the National Bee Board.
Aiming to bridge this gap, UTMT roped in Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) as a
partner. BAIF, an NGO, was already working with farmers in 12 states and, through its
network, UTMT decided to train farmers in the tribal areas of Dangs, Valsad, Dahanu and
Jawhar in Gujarat and Nashik in Maharashtra. Funding needs eased after the National Bank
For Agriculture And Rural Development chipped in with Rs 13 lakh.
Training, which has two parts, began in earnest in March 2009. The initial exercise is a two-
day affairabout 30 farmers learn the basics of how to transfer bees from their natural
habitat into a box. The follow-up training lasts for 20 days and is spread over eight months.
Beekeeping is no more time-consuming than milking a cow or a buffalo, explains Pastala.
The farmer has to spend, at most, half an hour a day tending to the bees.
The pilot testing was done on crops like pulses and oil seeds grown in wadis. The wadi
model, promoted by BAIF, aims to promote all-round development of the tribals through
sustainable agriculture and social empowerment. Each wadi is about two acres. The
productivity of the wadi was plateauing. So, we thought we could add value to it, says
Pastala.
About 20 bee boxes can increase the yield by 35-45%. UTMT has thus been able to put an
extra Rs 4,500-5,000 into a farmers pocket every year. To put that in perspective, these are
subsistence farmers whose annual income doesnt go over Rs 10,000-20,000. It costs about
Rs 6,000 to train a farmer and UTMT shares the expense with BAIF. The boxes cost Rs 950
each, and the farmers are induced to pay Rs 250. That way they take part ownership, says
Krishnamurthy.
UTMTs success rate in the first year has been decent. Says Pastala: So far, we have trained
over 600 farmers. We plan to increase that number to 3,400 by 2012. Each farmer buys two
boxes (a box has 60,000 bees). Each box produces 1 kg of honey in 20 days. Effectively,
thats an earning of Rs 1,000 in three weeks time.
Revenue Potential
Currently, the honey produced by the farmers is consumed by them or sold locally. There is a
big market for it but since the quantity isnt huge, UTMT hasnt begun marketing it yet. Once
it has a decent base of beekeepers, UTMT plans to begin monetising the venture.
The honey that it does sell comes from other NGOs and ranges from litchi and eucalyptus to
sesame and cardamom. UTMT bottles the stuff and sells it through 16 retail outlets in
Mumbai and Pune. Each jar, is priced at about Rs 100 for 200 grams.
Already, it has sold about 8 metric tonnes of honey and 9 metric tonnes of beeswax. The
latter refers to natural wax that forms in a hive from the sweat of worker bees. It is used in
everything from candles and cosmetics to pharmaceuticals and polish. By 2012, Pastala hopes
to be able to collect and sell 45 metric tonnes of honey and 24 metric tonnes of beeswax.
Fiscal year 2009 was a good one for UTMTs retailing business, with turnover touching Rs
9.8 lakh. Pastala is hopeful of recovering her entire investment next year. The biggest
challenge so far has been raising capital and finding the right staff. But things are looking up
on the funding front. After being selected by a jury of its social entrepreneur peers, UTMT
received an injection of $75,000 from US-based social investment fund First Light Ventures,
a subsidiary of Grey Ghost Capital.
Over the next two years, she aims to take her bottled honey products to 90 retail outlets and
increase turnover to Rs 80 lakh. Ultimately, though, it is not about the moneyinstead,
Pastala wants her tireless campaign on beekeeping to have a positive impact on government
policy.
For me, my objective in 10 years is to get the government of India to recognise beekeeping
as an agricultural input, she says. Perhaps Pastala should get its representatives to sit under a
mango tree and learn a thing or two.
Woodstock Forever
This clean-tech start-up aims to reduce firewood consumption by rural entrepreneurs.
Kunal N Talgeri


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Mission To sell energy-efficient stoves to grassroots entrepreneurs and help them cut
down on the use of firewood.
Benefits Users can save on fuel costs while 7-20 tonnes of firewood can be saved per
stove per year.
Firewood is the cheapest fuel, which explains its popularity in rural India. It is also a big
pollutant, but for the poor folk who use it for cooking, thats hardly a concern. For Svati
Bhogle, though, it is a consuming interest. For nearly 20 years, the IIT-Bombay alumnus has
been involved in developing energy-efficient technology applications. Her decade-long
association with non-profit organisation TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour)
involved developing sustainable applications and technologies for targeted environments
grassroots-level entrepreneurs in rural south India. In 10 years, however, TIDE sold less than
18,000 productsmainly household stoves, areca boiling stoves and textile stoves.
Bhogle believes the untapped potential of these applications is larger, attainable. Given
TIDEs limitations because of its non-profit citizenry, she opted for the more energy-efficient
option: a start-up venture that draws from TIDEs sustainability designs. The result:
Sustaintech India, a private limited company that targets selling 77,000 fuel-efficient stoves
to small-time entrepreneurs in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in year five, from 6,000 in the
second year. Where the knowledge-IP (intellectual property) belongs to TIDE, the money
will come into Sustaintech, says Bhogle. We have created two mutually-dependent
organisations: whatever profits come into Sustaintech, we will plough into TIDE. There is
also the sustainability goal: a 30-40% reduction in the use of firewood. Sustaintech estimates
more than 70,000 shops have the potential to use its energy-efficient stoves in Tamil Nadu
alone, which can mean a significant level of reduction in carbon emissions.

The Commercial Angle
From the beginning, Sustaintechs goals have been commercialregardless of whether the
organisation is perceived as a clean-tech, social or a plain start-up. Prices are around Rs
14,000-15,000, more expensive than the traditional stoves that consume more firewood and
generate greater carbon emissions. The idea is that grassroots entrepreneurs (street food-
vendors, tea stall owners, small and medium hoteliers), who buy branded and trademarked
SIPL stoves will have reduced spends on firewood: each stove can save Rs 50-100 per day in
fuel cost. The green angle: savings of 7-20 tonnes of firewood per stove per year, according
to the Union Power Ministry agency, the Central Power Research Institute (CPRI).
All SIPL products are certified for energy savings by CPRI. To measure carbon savings, there
is a Gold Standard Methodology for improved cook stoves and kitchen regimes that will be
applied.
The fuel-efficient cooking stove typically has over 50 small mild steel rods that retain heat,
which help conserve firewood because the user does not have to keep reheating the large pan.
In addition to this, there are insulation bricks in the stove, which can retain temperatures up to
1,200 degree Celsius. At Rs 25 each, these insulation bricks are more expensive than the
average ones that cost Rs 6-8. TIDE has the intellectual property rights to design and
assemble these special bricks, so that they cannot be replicated by imitators, says a project
engineer of Sustaintech.

Appetite For Expansion
Over the years, TIDEs competence has been design and development of sustainable
technologies. And that is what drives Sustaintech. Production has been outsourced to
fabricators, while Sustaintech is going the whole hog to stitch alliances that will crack open
the grassroots markets. For instance, an agreement with Indian Overseas Bank has facilitated
consumer finance.
Distribution alliances include partners like Rural Energy Network Enterprise (RENE) of the
IFMR Trust, which will sell stoves in Thanjavur. In Madurai, theres Adharam Energy and
Covenant Center for Development (CCD). It has its own outlet in Erode, Tamil Nadu, and
plans to increase the number in other districts.
Cost efficiencies are built into production. For instance, a fabricator called Innovative
Solutions is in Hosur, Tamil Nadu, which is an hour from Bangalore. With all clients
currently in Tamil Nadu, Sustaintech does not have to pay inter-state taxes in Tamil Nadu.
Innovative Solutions also undertakes distribution for SIPL. The latter is considering five
more such fabricators in Coimbatore and Belgaum (in Karnataka) among others.

Clean-Tech Ecosystem
Meanwhile, investors are understandably intrigued. At the time of writing, Sustaintech had
reached the term-sheet stage of funding from a European consortium of three clean-tech
investors, worth $260,000 (Rs 1.2 crore).





"We have created
two mutually-
dependent

Its preliminary funds came in mid 2008: a 40,000 (Rs 34 lakh,
then) Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy prize. We put part
of that into a business plan, to conduct a market survey and
develop the product for street food-vendors. We did all the start-
up work with that money, recalls Bhogle. Sustaintech also got an
interest-free loan of Rs 25 lakh from Villgro (formerly, the Rural
Innovation Network). In all, Sustaintechs pool of funds will soon
be at about Rs 1.4 crorea far cry from the grants that TIDE
would have to cobble together for specific research programmes.
The start-up approach has given Bhogle more breathing space to
plan expansion and rapid scalability.
The investor interest is particularly impressive given the current
dismal picture for clean-tech start-ups: energy-equipment and bio-
energy ventures, in particular, attract no more than 7% of private equity funding in India,
according to Venture Intelligence.
It is harder to grow a clean-tech company, and harder still to sell a company. So a private-
equity investor will find it hard to invest because apart from zero visibility, he has few
avenues to exit, explains Laura Parkin, Founder-CEO of the non-profit National
Entrepreneurship Network, which partners with academic institutes and helps them build on-
campus entrepreneurship ecosystems to support start-ups.
There is a silver lining, though, for start-ups like Sustaintech. An interesting model that is
gaining popularity is to invest in companies that are aggregators of renewable-energy assets
in India, explains Shivani Bhasin Sachdeva, CEO of India Alternatives, a private equity
fund.
For Bhogle, her heart is very much in the science of sustainable technologies. But she has
evolved marvellously into focusing on generating funds and taking Sustaintech ahead.
The approach, so far, has been holisticfrom design to pilot projects on distribution and end-
user experience. SIPL has taken almost two-thirds of her time with TIDE. And Bhogle isnt
out of energy just yet.
Desert Rose
Manoj Vasudevan is helping villagers in Rajasthans Jhunjhunu district earn a decent living
through SourcePilani, his rural BPO.
Himanshu Kakkar


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Mission To build a profitable BPO in a rural area.
Benefits Has helped people in rural Rajasthan earn a livelihood close to home.
Provided clients with an efficient and economical alternative. Has enhanced the skills
and employability of villagers on its rolls.
organisations:
whatever profits
come into
Sustaintech, we
will plough into
TIDE. The
knowledge-IP
belongs to
TIDE."Svati
Bhogle, CEO,
Sustaintech India



Early in 2007, Prem Singh Rathore had his back against the wall. The 31-year-old, who
used to butter his familys bread running an STD booth in Rajasthan, suddenly found his
once-steady business rapidly heading south.
With cheap mobile phones flooding the market, he lost customers and eventually had to shut
shop. With no income, Rathores only prospect was to work a dry patch of land owned by his
family. Fortunately for him, it didnt come to that; in September that year, something
happened in the neighbouring village of Pilani that would change his fortunes for the better.
A rural business process outsourcing (BPO) company, rather appropriately named
SourcePilani, had set up shop in the village. Rathore and 20 others from the area were the
companys first hires.
Today, Rathore is a medical transcriptionist. SourcePilani has given me an employment
opportunity in my own hometown and helped me earn the respect of the villagers. Life is
meaningful now, he says. The BPO now has 60 employees, most of them local villagers,
with women accounting for a third of them.
SourcePilani was set up by Manoj Vasudevan, an engineering graduate from the Birla
Institute of Technology and Science (Bits), also based in Pilani. After graduating, Vasudevan
joined IBM as an R&D engineer in the US. However, within a year, he decided to return to
India. Life in the US was pretty comfortable but I felt passionate about the rural BPO idea
and decided to go for it, says the 25-year-old entrepreneur. With a little help from Dr LK
Maheshwari, the then Vice-Chancellor of Bits, Vasudevan procured seed funding of Rs 30
lakh from the Goenka brothers, who are well-known industrialists from Pilani.

Service Variety
The inspiration to start a rural BPO came from Gram IT BPO, a Satyam initiative, which was
running successfully in three villages in Andhra Pradesh. Vasudevan had studied the Gram IT
model, and going with the trend, SourcePilani started off with basic data entry services. Later,
it added high-level services like medical transcription, domestic call-centre support and social
media marketing.





"Our focus was
on building a
solid business
first and then
making a social
impact. "Manoj
Vasudevan, CEO,
SourcePilani

Social media marketing involves managing accounts for clients
on social networks such as Facebook, buzz monitoring (keeping
tabs on the buzz around a hot topic) and troubleshooting. Social
media marketing is our flagship vertical today, says Pramod Majety, Operations Head of
SourcePilani.
Seven of the BPOs 60 employees are engaged in medical transcription, which involves
transcribing medical reports dictated by doctors in the US. The work has been outsourced to
SourcePilani by Jaipur-based Truworth Infotech.
The American-accented English and medical jargon make it a herculean task for rural folk to
transcribe the reports, but with constant training, these hurdles have been overcome. I have
successfully done 50 reports so far with an accuracy level of 90% and above, boasts a proud
Rathore.

For The Money
From the outset, Vasudevan wanted his firm to be a profit-making enterprise. Our focus was
on building a solid business model first and then seeing how we could maximise the social
impact.
SourcePilani, with its limited resources, has quietly built a reputation for efficiency. Its
manpower is 30-40% cheaper than that of urban BPOs, with the average salary of an
employee ranging between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,000. Clients also benefit from lower charges.
And attrition, which can be as high as 50% in an urban BPO, is a non-issue. The company
has quietly ushered in a social change in the region. Earlier, youngsters used to leave home
seeking better jobs in nearby cities. But now, its just the opposite, with people returning
from Jaipur, Delhi and Gurgaon to Pilani. Back home, they no longer have to shell out huge
sums on accommodation, transportation and food. The icing on the cake is that they get to
live with their families and put a little away for a rainy day.
Getting Rs 8,000 or Rs 10,000 in Gurgaon isnt great (because of the huge expenses). They
would prefer to draw Rs 4,000 in Pilani, live with family and enjoy peace of mind, declares
Vasudevan.
For example, Roshan quit his job at the Aditya Birla Minacs BPO in Mumbai to join
SourcePilani so he could be with his family. In Mumbai, he was an entry-level executive; in
Pilani, he has now risen to the post of quality and training manager. Says Roshan: I may be
earning much less here but my bank account still has something left at the end of the month,
unlike in Mumbai.




Shaky Start
Though it is well on the road to success today, the initial months werent easy for
SourcePilani. There was a lot of scepticism from clients and the BPO market was also down,
recalls Vasudevan. He had to get potential clients to come on board by testing SourcePilani
out with small pilot projects. It was basically to prove ourselves. There were many ups and
downs. But after a lot of experimentation we improved our processes, quality and
procedures. And, along the way, the organisation picked up a
few clients.
SourcePilani has thus far handled projects for around 45 clients,
with six of them being annual contracts. These include Hyper
Growth Stocks (Canada), King Smart Technology (Hong Kong),
Sagacious Research (India), Truworth Infotech (India) and
Wikinvest (US).
It has also partnered with digital agencies to get access to clients;
Vasudevan is tightlipped about which ones. Says Majety, It was
very difficult for us to directly crack clients like Nokia and
Motorola. So, we partnered with these agencies, which are
already providing services to big clients. The global recession
and the slowdown in India also impacted SourcePilani, with some clients opting out. For six
months I, and most of my team members, had to go without a salary, recalls Vasudevan.
But the bad times have passed and the enterprise is on firmer ground now. It turned profitable
six months ago, claims Vasudevan, but wont reveal any numbers. The immediate plan for
the SourcePilani team is to take the headcount to 100 people. After that, our goal in the next
four to five years is to have five centres and a strength of 500.
One way that Vasudevan is considering doing that is by tying up with large BPO players,
such as Genpact and Wipro Infotech, as their rural partner. Large BPOs are looking at the
domestic market, where margins are low. They can partner us to tap this market, he feels.




Earlier,
youngsters used
to leave home
seeking better
jobs in other
cities. now, they
are returning to
Pilani.




But its early days yet for such ambitions to take wing. Immediately, the SourcePilani teams
energies will be devoted towards consolidating the Pilani centres operations. Prem Singh
Rathore, for one, wont complain about that.
Waiting Line
TeamLease hopes to create private employment exchanges that actually make people
employable.
Sebastian PT


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Mission Making the countrys youth both employable and employed, and, in the
process, making money.
Benefits TeamLease provides both temporary and permanent staffing. Has a lower
administrative cost than government exchanges.
Governmental inertia can be an entrepreneurial opportunity. There are more than 1,000
employment exchanges in the country that are supposed to better match the demand for, and
the supply of, work opportunities primarily in the governmental sector. But ask anyone who
has registered with any of the exchanges: they would have seen their youth pass by, waiting
for a job.
Fifteen years ago, Jagadish Srinivas had registered himself with the Bangalore Employment
Exchange. As a state-level power-lifting champion, he had high hopes of getting a job under
the sports quota. He didnt even get a call, and till date has no clue what he lacked and
whether he could have done something about it. Now 40, he runs his own gym. It was a
waste of effort, he laments. Some lucky ones do get called, but the odds of winning a lottery
are probably higher.

Winds Of Change
There are about 40 million people registered with these exchanges, but the placements have
been only for 200,000 candidates so far, says Manish Sabharwal, the 39-year-old Co-
founder and Chairman of TeamLease. His Bangalore-based company, founded in 2002,
provides both temporary and permanent staff to over 1,000 clients. In the last five years, we
have substituted the employment exchanges and done better than them. We have placed about
500,000 candidates, hiring someone every five minutes, he says. More importantly,
Sabharwals company has been responsible for the winds of change blowing over the
Bangalore job exchange.
TeamLease had approached the Karnataka government in 2009 with a public-private
partnership (PPP) model to rev up its employment exchanges. In July this year, the countrys
first PPP employment exchange was set upthe Karnataka Employment Centre(KEC).
KEC does not just match profiles of candidates with available job options. Rather, the
applicants eligibility is assessed and he is suitably trained to fill the available position
mostly private sector openings. The process includes assessment, counselling, training,
certification and placement. So today, a Srinivas would be counselled on what skills (soft
skills, accounting, etc.) he needs in to get a particular job that is available. And the business
model is for the outcomethe government will pay TeamLease for every person recruited
not for the inputs.
The company has spent Rs 1 crore on the infrastructure and training platforms. The initial
target is to train and place over 2,000 candidates in the first year, with the government paying
about Rs 1,000-2,000 per candidate.
TeamLease actually runs two employment exchanges under the PPP model. The pilot-run
was started at its other centre in Mangalore, Karnataka, in November 2009. The business
model, however, has been different, with the government providing the basic infrastructure
and TeamLease, the trainers. We provided about 1,500 jobs in three months with an average
annual salary of Rs 70,000 per year, which is more than what the Exchange had provided in
the last three years, says Sabharwal.
He points out that the administrative costs have been high for every job provided by the
government employment exchanges. For instance, last year, the Delhi Employment Exchange
provided 500 jobs at an average annual salary of Rs 50,000 at an administrative cost of Rs 2.5
lakh per job, Sabharwal says. We spend only Rs 4,000-8,000 per job. Already, about half a
dozen states including Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Orissa are apparently in talks with
TeamLease for replicating the Karnataka model.


Job Ready: The acquisition of IIJT, a vocational training provider, enables TeamLease to
offer training services.(Photographs by Nilotpal baruah)
Blended Returns
Incidentally, TeamLease is not the first company started by Sabharwal with his college
friends Ashok Reddy and Mohit Gupta. Having started his career in 1990 with the Nagarjuna
Group, Sabharwal joined Nrupender Rao as his executive assistant when the latter founded
the Pennar Group. There, he saw entrepreneurship from close quarters. Ignited by the idea of
being a creator and entrepreneur, Sabharwal decided to become one, too.
In 1994, he incorporated India Life even before he went to study business management at
Wharton. There, unlike many who looked for a cushy job on graduation, Sabharwal was busy
incubating India Life as a health insurance company. India Life was my final project in 10
out of my 22 classes. Armed with a business plan, he found venture-capitalist View Group
at Wharton itself, ready to fund $2 million. In 1998, India Life was started and, by 2002,
when it had become an outsourcing company, it was sold to Hewitt. It had revenues of Rs 30
crore then.
Under Sabharwals deal with Hewitt, he worked with the HR firm in Singapore for the next
two years. (Reddy and Gupta, however, were under no such obligation. After having my
own company, I didnt like working for another, says Sabharwal. Meanwhile, their old
clients were telling them that there was no organised staffing business, and the trio knew
what they wanted their next company to be. We wanted it to be three things: profitable, fun
and good for India. The result was TeamLease, the countrys first temporary-staffing
company. While Reddy and Gupta took the lead this time around, Sabharwal, who had
invested in the company, joined them in 2004.
The company now claims to be the countrys largest HR services provider with 75,000
employees in over 800 locations and more than 600 core employees. Our revenues were
Rs 700 crore last fiscal, Sabharwal says.As an entrepreneur, there are two kinds of
companies one can create: a baby or a dwarf, says Sabharwal. India Life was a dwarf. The
difference, he explains, is not just more money but the scale of operations and the nature of
opportunity. TeamLease is more motivating as it involves public policy impact and public
good.

Problem Of Unemployability
TeamLease now wants to manufacture its own employees. In April this year, it acquired a
70% stake (with the option to buy the rest in two years) in the Indian Institute of Job Training
(IIJT), one of the largest vocational training institutes in the country with 250 centres and
1,400 classrooms nationwide (mostly rural). In a years time, when the destinies of IIJT and
TeamLease sort of converge, Sabharwal expects to go great guns.
The plan is to convert the centres into private employment exchanges that will provide
assessment, counselling, training and placements, and ultimately, to become the countrys
largest vocational provider and private employer with at least a million people on its rolls.
We hope to become a Rs 2,500-crore company in the next five years, he says.
Two things, however, stand between him and his million employeesthe countrys labour
laws and poor skill development systems. Sabharwal feels the labour laws have only bred
unorganised employment. He points out that 93% of Indias workers are in the unorganised
sector. The labour laws encourage us to buy machines rather than hire more people, apart
from encouraging corruption.
For a country that takes pride in the potential of its demographic dividend, India has a
severe shortage of productive youth force with employable skills. The problem of
unemployability is, thus, bigger than unemployment. We have been able to hire only 5% of
the youth who approach us, says Sabharwal.
There is a gross mismatch between peoples educational and vocational qualifications, and
their job skills. In other words, the countrys educational systems have been producing
candidates with knowledge but not with job-ready skillsets.
Also, the opening balance of a candidatehis place of birth, parents, their education
often determine the jobs he would get or not get. Not just regular schools and colleges, even
the many engineering colleges and the 6,000-odd government-run Industrial Training
Institutes (ITIs) have not been able to align their products with the job market. In short, there
is no pipeline of productive people to reap the dividend.
In addition, India is a vast country. People are usually far removed from where the jobs are.
For instance, Sabharwal says in the next 10 years, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and
Orissa are likely to account for 40% of the labour force but only 10% of the jobs. It will be
the reverse in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, which are likely to
account for 40% of the jobs with just 10% of the people.

Unfinished Business
Clearly, there is a lot that needs to be done to address the skill deficit. There are enough ideas
from a avriety of sources, but execution will be key. What is needed is that the centre and
states come not just onto the same page, but the same para. Blending the synergies of the
public and private sectors may be the way forward.
Undoubtedly, the success of companies like TeamLease will depend on how well they
innovate at the intersection of employment and employability. More importantly, can they
click in Indias small towns? The answer remains to be seenand TeamLease will hope it
will be the one to provide it.
Capital With A Conscience
Rang De helps the haves lend money to the most desperate among the have-nots.
Sriram Srinivasan


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Mission To fund small-time entrepreneurs in remote areas far removed from the
world of formal finance.
Benefits For struggling start-ups, Rang Des loan disbursals come at a very
reasonable rate of interest.
Chennai-based book publisher Badri Seshadri is an unlikely lender. From time to time, he
logs on to the peer-to-peer micro-lending platform Rang De, and lends sums of as little as Rs
500 to entrepreneurs in dire need of funds. He gets a 3.5% return for his efforts. Now, why on
earth would anyone in India invest for such a low return?
If you know the answer, youd know why Rang De is in business (its a non-profit
organisation). Actually, its not about the interest rate at all! I am not bothered about returns.
You get far better returns elsewhere, says Seshadri, who also sits on the board of Samasta
Microfinance. The point is about making a difference to peoples lives. His contributions
and those of thousands more like him, fund small-time entrepreneurs in remote areas far
removed from the world of formal finance.

The Fund Link
Rang De was started by NK Ramakrishna and his wife Smita in 2008 with the aim of
bringing the haves and the have-notsthose with funds and those who needed them
together. On the one hand, it targets people like Seshadri, through a very different kind of
incentive. The focus, as Ramakrishna puts it, is on social returns. Thats deliberate, he
says, because commercial returns defeat the purpose for the person investing.
On the other hand, it helps people like Vanita Vilas Thorat of Pusad, Maharashtra, who needs
funds for working capital, at an affordable rate and without collateral. According to Rang
Des website, Vanitas husband is a daily wage earner. With four children to take care of,
they struggled to make ends meet. Then, five years ago, Vanita started a tea stall to
supplement her husbands income. After making a success out of her tea stall, she wants to
take it to the next level and ensure a better life. But for that, she needs an investment of Rs
5,000.
Rang De can provide Vanita a loan at an annual percentage rate (APR) of 16% (APR is the
actual yearly cost of funds, expressed as a percentage of the loan). This, its website states, is
at least 11 percentage points less than the APRs of other microfinance institutions world-
over. Says Professor P Sudarshan, founder-president of TDICI, Indias first venture capital
company, and also a founder-director of Rang De: The rates we are talking about are those
at which big companies get funds from banks.
Aftab Alam, Director of Bhartiya Manav Samaj Kalyan Sanstha, Rang Des partner in UP,
lists other benefits. One, no banker or financial institution reaches the segment we reach.
Two, even in areas where they reach, banks have a checklist of trades to lend to. With Rang
De, you dont have to change your trade to get a loan, he says.
On the whole, Rang De has helped 3,700 entrepreneurs like Vanita borrow a total of Rs 2
crore until now. It has 18 partners, basically non-governmental organisations, helping it
identify deserving candidates and disburse loans. The funds have come from 1,625 individual
investors and five corporates. The repayment rate: a heart-warming 99%.

Healing Touch: The trigger for Ramakrishnan and wife Smita was Garmeen Bank Founder
Muhammad Yunus wnning the Nobel Prize.
How It Started
All this owes to a decision Ramakrishna and Smita took soon after getting married. It was
2004 and Ramakrishna had a high-flying career as an IT consultant in the UK back then. But
they promised themselves that they would come back home in two years and do something in
the social space.
There were options aplenty for that something. Smita had already been into social causes,
having worked with special children. The couple also thought of child labour and social
media, among other things, as possible areas of work.
But the real trigger was Grameen Bank Founder Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Prize
in 2006. We thought Bangladesh was the sort of place that needed micro-credit, recalls
Ramakrishna. Then we did some research and found that India too needs huge amounts of
microfinance.
They found even microfinance institutions charged very high interest rates in India. Further
research led them to a peer-to-peer lending model called Kiva that has, until now, disbursed
loans totalling $152 million. The California-based organisation, founded in 2005, has global
operations. It doesnt offer any interest to its lenders and passes on that benefit to the loan-
disbursing agencies on the ground. Still, its interest rates are as high as 46%.
Can we leverage this model? Can we use it to bring down interest rates? That was the
question uppermost in their minds back then, recalls Smita. What ensued was a tweaking of
the Kiva model. They decided to offer 2% to the social investors (translating to an APR of
3.5%). The partners would have an interest-rate cap of 5%. Rang De itself would get 1.5%. In
all, it came to 8.5% (an APR of 15.3%). Of course, Ramakrishna quit his UK job and they
returned home.

Baby Steps And A Hurdle
Using 6,000 of their own money as the founding capital, Ramakrishna and Smita started
Rang De, which has a high recall value thanks to the blockbuster Hindi film Rang De
Basanti. The technology and creative partners were signed on. And even before the first rupee
could be raised, Rang De had a couple of private equity offers. But they were turned down.
We said we are looking at capital with a conscience, capital thats patient, explains
Ramakrishna.
In fact, the duo almost called off the project at the outset, albeit for a different reason: there
wasnt enough legal clarity about a venture like Rang De. Would such a platform be allowed
to facilitate peer-to-peer lending was a question no one could answer clearly. Thats until
Nachiket Mor, now the head of the ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth, pointed to RBI
notifications and comforted us that we are doing fine. Mors reassurance was timely. For,
the couple was on the verge of sending regret mails to Rang De partners indicating things
werent working out.
Mor also offered Rang De funding, but on two conditions. One, that the couple would
relocate to Chennai, where he was based. Two, that Ramakrishna join him as head of
technology (a role he played until March 2009). Those satisfied, Rang De became a reality.
There are, of course, other initiatives similar to Rang De. One that, at times, it has been
compared to, is DhanaX, which is based in Bangalore. DhanaX didnt participate in this
story, but a Burgundy School of Business study highlights the basic differences between the
two organisations. The primary distinction is that DhanaX is a for-profit organisation. It also
offers its lenders an interest rate of 14%, far higher than Rang De.

Funds Ahead
Its still early days for Rang De, what with disbursals of just about Rs 2 crore until now.
Heres a comparison to put that in perspective. According to the SKS Microfinance website,
the current extent of micro-credit by microfinance companies is shown to be $6 billion. And
the potential: 10 times that.
Not surprisingly, Rang De sees growth in multiples. Its plan is to hit Rs 1 crore a month in
disbursements by April 2011 and Rs 4 crore a month by April 2012. That is likely to happen
in tandem with a scaling up of disbursement partners. The goal is to have 75 by mid-2011.
Rang De will reach out to the very base of the pyramid and, sometimes, even under it.
Thats where nobody wants to go, says Ramakrishna.
Sudarshan reckons one of the biggest challenges is finding credible local NGOs.
Ramakrishna agrees. He says a lot of due diligence is done and referral checks made before a
partner is taken on board. Rang De also ensures that the partner is willing to market micro-
credit to communities that had earlier been left out.
Ramakrishna says National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development has been helpful in
giving access to partners on the ground. In time, Rang De also wants to build skills among
other NGOs. The other concern is what would happen in case of more regulation (there are
suggestions of a separate microfinance regulator doing the rounds). Sudarshan says hes
neutral about such a scenario.
An official in the microfinance industry, requesting anonymity, says: Though its a big, big
step, Rang De is more social than commercial. And in a social environment, the challenge
would be scaling up. There are, however, others like Seshadri who reckon the model has
phenomenal potential. The idea hasnt been sold to the middle class yet, he says.
If that is indeed true, then the list of unlikely investors is only likely to go up.
School Is In
Schools for India believes the next revolution in education is waiting to happen in rural India.
Sriram Srinivasan


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Mission To build and run 6,000 state-of-the-art schools in rural India over the next 10
years.
Benefits It would prevent migration of families to cities in search of quality
education.
Forty-three-year old Venkatesh Chandrasekaran is head, R&D (automotive), Mahindra
Satyam. He also heads an important CII committee on the proposed Chennai Aero Park.
These days, though, hes talked about for another reason. Chandrasekaran wants to build and
run 6,000 state-of-the-art schools in rural India over the next 10 years. Thats about 10 each
in 600 districts. Heres a comparison: the Government of India has set up just 1,500 Kendriya
Vidyalayas and Novodaya Vidyalayas in the last 45 years.
Chandrasekarans efforts come at a time when non-governmental players are drawing up
plans for hundreds of schools. For instance, the Bharti Foundation, an arm of Bharti
Enterprises, plans to build 500 primary schools. And recently, Chennai-based private sector
player Everonn Education announced a target of 300 schools in the next five years, which
will need Rs 3,600 crore.
Pollachi-based industrialist Mani Chinnaswamy, who also runs a school, says this is the need
of the hour. Theres a severe shortage of schools. More people need to enter the educational
system if Indias high growth is to continue. The bill for 6,000 schools, conservatively
valued, could come to a whopping Rs 60,000 crore. Chandrasekarans belief is such an
infrastructure in rural India would just be the spur needed for parents to educate their
children. It would also prevent migration of families to cities in search of quality education.
Increasingly, he predicts, manufacturing will move to rural India. To sustain these centres
and attract workers, they will need good schools, says Chandrasekaran. The vehicle for his
ambitious plan is Schools for India (or S4I), a not-for-profit charitable organisation. The
Trust also aims to sponsor the education, food and uniforms of those who need them. An S4I
document says it will target the bottom-most 2% of the population in terms of economic
status.

Think School
The inspiration for S4I came in 2004 when Chandrasekaran visited a village in
Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, and was appalled by the condition of a school there. And,
thats exactly where his first school will come up. One key phase of that building should be
up by mid-2011, he says. The virtual model suggests the school will be nothing like the
vertical, unremarkable, structures most of us know. Instead, it will have horizontal buildings,
almost B-schoolish in appearance, on a well-landscaped area of 20 acres including a
playground and an amphitheatre. The schools will run three shifts (with 1,000 students in
each), another novelty.
In the six years since the idea struck him, Chandrasekaran has had
his hands full. He registered the project as a charitable trust,
worked with people in the US and UK to understand school
building design and got a design done for his schools (all schools
will have a uniform design) and bounced the idea off prominent
people such as the former president of India Dr Abdul Kalam. It
was Kalam, says Chandrasekaran, who gave us the direction of
latching on the RTE (Right to Education Act) and working with
the government to assist them in implementing the same.
Chandrasekarans modus operandi is to create groups in each district of the country that will
take operational responsibilities for putting up schools. These are quality resources who take
ownership for the district, he says. The groups not only have to assess the situation on the
ground but liaise with administrators, NGOs and individuals. And then, they have to identify
the land on which a particular school will come up. In time, the belief is that the community
will develop enough expertise to take over and run the school.
About 150 active members are now with Chandrasekaran on this project. Another 1,200
volunteers help him out with secondary research and data gathering when required.
MB Verma, the former programme director for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project, was
present when Chandrasekaran introduced this idea to Kalam. He promptly signed on with the
S4I project in Bihar, sensing its importance. He terms it a tremendous challenge. Only




Former president
Kalam gave S41
the idea of
latching on the
RTE Act.




when you go into the field do you realise infrastructure is shambles. We need power, roads
and qualified manpower to run this, he says. What has been heartening, according to S4I, is
the response of the locals, who in some cases were ready to give their land to make this
project a reality.

The Big Questions
Well-known blogger Kiruba Shankar has over the years watched Chandrasekaran promote his
pet theme, not just via seminars but also through novel means like cycle rallies. Why cycle
rallies? Shankar recalls asking Chandrasekaran. He replied, Because its easy for all to
participate. His next question, Why not running, then? got the reply, Because cycling
makes people sit up and take notice. The reason, says Shankar, why most people are
attracted to his ideas is that he can think 30-50 years down the
line.
If you are still dazed by the monumental task Chandrasekaran has
set himself, theres more in his bag to stun you. His contention is
that once the building for the land is acquired and the all-clear for
the construction given, the school will be up and running in 12
weeks flat. A project document of S4I indicates the importance of
an online bill of standardised materials, just-in-time construction
and innovative designs as a means toward the goal.
The big question now: what about money? The bill for this
venture could run to over Rs 60,000 crore. Chandrasekaran is
banking on top corporates. The developed world is also being
targeted. But he doesnt want to go up the ranks in selling the idea
to corporates. He has been reaching out to people who have
contacts at the highest levels and makes the pitch to them. He
reckons that its working well.
The investment in the education sector, from both the
government and the private sectors, is expected to be Rs 6 lakh
crore in the next 20 years, he says. The RTE will ensure that millions of students will reach
up to the eighth standard and the demand for quality schools will be very highoutstripping
supply.
Dr Kota Harinarayana, considered to be the father of the LCA project, is involved with S4I
in an advisory capacity. We have a common interest in improving life in villages, he says.
He isnt worried about the size of the project. But getting the kind of location that makes the
project viable over a period of time is important, he adds.
Walking On Water
Ravindranaths rural volunteers are helping riparian communities overcome the fury of flood
waters.
Sudipto Dey


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"Increasingly,
manufacturing
will move to rural
India. To sustain
these centres and
attract workers,
they will need
good schools."V
Chandrasekaran,
Founder, Schools
for India




Mission To help people living close to rivers cope with floods.
Benefits Many riparian communities are better equipped to face floods, having built
infrastructure to protect lives and grain during inundation.
The floods have come and gone
They left the germs of sickness behind for us
There are many diseases from water
So do not drink unsafe water
Say wise people
The 30 or so kids gathered at the village square in Kakori Kata Pabna village on Assams
Majuli island sing these words (in Assamese) with gusto. They may be too young to realise
the import of the song, but the parents and other villagers watching the performance are
pleased. They know these tenets are key to survival in the flood-prone area.
Majuli, the worlds largest inhabited riverine island, is situated in the middle of the mighty
Bramhaputra. For years, floods have wrecked its peoples lives and property. Official records
state Majulis landmass has shrunk by half over the last 100 years. And Kakori Kata Pabna is
among its 62 most vulnerable villages.
Hence the song. Having dealt with the danger of floods, its lyrics go on to educate the people
on the importance of maintaining good health, advocating measures like filtering and boiling
water and washing hands and feet.
The man behind this musical initiative is Ravindranath (who uses only one name), head of
Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC). The organisation is helping Assams riparian communities
overcome the devastation caused by floods and take preventive measures. Popularly known
as Guruji, this electrical engineer from IIT Delhi has worked with the people of the
Bramhaputra river basin for over two decades. Sensitising the kids to hygiene factors is part
of Rural Volunteer Centres philosophy of co-existence with floods. The idea, says
Ravindranath, is to educate the people to live with floods and reduce the risk on life and
property.

High And Dry
In line with this approach, some of the hand pumps in Kakori Kata Pabna are 7-8 feet above
the ground and can only be reached through a flight of stairs. A few toilets have also been
built at an elevated level. Any water-related disaster attacks the drinking water and the
sanitation system, says Ravindranath. These raised drinking water sources and toilets reduce
the risk of contamination and water-borne disease.
A few kilometres away, in Kamalpur, masons are hard at work to
create a high-rise concrete structure that will house a specially
designed grain bank. Each of the 70 or so families in the village
will contribute foodgrains for storage. The grain will only be used
when floods hit. The storehouse will also serve to protect
seedlings, which generally get washed away during floods,
affecting the farmers livelihood. High-rise grounds in the village
have already been secured with barricaded sheds to keep livestock
like pigs, hens and goats.
In Kamalpur, villagers have already built a bamboo bridge over a
moat that gets flooded every year. The bridge ensures that our village does not get cut off
during floods, says 40-year-old Dilip Michong, a resident.
The villagers share the cost of construction of these high-rise hand pumps, toilets and
granaries by contributing land and labour during construction. The volunteer centre pitches in
with technical expertise and also lines up funding from international and governmental
agencies, such as UNICEF and the European Union.
Many of these disaster-mitigation strategies have been successfully tried out in other river
basins across the world through an informal voluntary relief network called River Basin
Friends. The group is behind a global campaign to protect rivers and mitigate the impact of
water-related disasters. In India, RVCs disaster-mitigation models have been adopted by
Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal, among others.




Water pumps and
toilets have been
built at elevated
levels to reduce
the risk of
contamnation and
disease.





Better Prepared
The cornerstone of RVCs strategy is to keep the villagers mentally and physically ready to
face floods through self-help groups. The Duryog Pratirodh Samiti (Disaster Preparedness
Committee) in each village provides special flood-relief training to groups of village youth.
They, in turn, train others in the village, including women and kids, in disaster-mitigation
strategies. The growing network of volunteers from different villages keeps close tabs on the
water level and sounds the alert in case of flash floods.
In all, there are 6,000 RVC volunteers spread over the Bramhaputras 800 km passage
through India. They alert downstream regions on the possibility of floods. When the water
level rises in upper Assam, it takes around six-and-a-half hours for the water to reach
Bangladesh. A timely warning saves lots of lives and property, says Ravindranath.
Similarly, volunteers in the upper reaches of the Bramhaputra in Arunachal Pradesh keep in
touch with their counterparts in Assam through email, mobile and radio and regularly share
information and data on the river.
We are now better prepared to face the floods than at any time before, says Tapan Kumar
Chakraborty, a village elder from Kakori Kata Pabna, who has witnessed a lot of flood-
related devastation in his lifetime.
The Dhemaji district of North Assam, another flood-ravaged region where RVC has been
active for many years has gone a step further. It is now focusing on creating new and
alternative livelihoods for people, such as pig-breeding.
High on Ravindranaths agenda is making flood relief and disaster management part of the
local school syllabus. A disaster preparedness committee for kids is also in the offing at
Kakori Kata Pabna. Ravindranath is constantly looking for leaders among the children who
can help institutionalise the movement. When the community takes charge of itself, it is time
for us to get out of the system and move on, says Ravindranath. Until then, he will continue
to supervise more recitals on safety by Assams riverine children.
Empower The Maggots
How and why Daily Dump shows more faith in black worm-like insects and human
communities than in the government.
Kunal N Talgeri


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Mission Involve community participation in disposing organic waste.
Benefits Clusters of users from a community are now participating in solid waste
management. Daily Dump sells over 100 teracotta composters every month.
It is hard not to imagine Poonam Bir Kasturi as a character from Middle Earth, the world
made famous in JRR Tolkiens The Lord of The Rings. Founder of Daily Dump, she sits cosy
before an Apple MacBook Pro at her office in Indiranagar in Bangalore. Her venture
generated Rs 22 lakh last year, mostly by selling terracotta products that compost domestic
waste. The Daily Dump office is burrowed 12 feet beneath Kasturis house, connected by an
outside stairway. On a cold grey Monday, there are green leaves and moist twigs all around.
Given her deep understanding of everything organic, it isnt surprising to see a glint in
Kasturis eye as she proceeds to discuss black soldier-fly maggots. These worm-like insects
have a talent to convert organic waste into top soil.
If the surroundings are wet, you get lots of them, Kasturi says, excited. They are alive, a
squirming mass that comes out at night. At one point during the rains, I had maggots all over
my house. It freaked out my family. I felt, I have to figure out what these maggots can do,
and build an eco-system around that, she recalls her initiation into the world of solid waste
management, in 2005.
Daily Dump now produces about 150 terracota composters every month. In essence, this
business is about nurturing armies of black soldier-fly maggots. And moulding public
perceptions: not just toward maggots, but organic waste.
As Kasturi points out, composting is the best way to utilise and dispose off organic waste.
There is a loss of faith in the municipality systems around her, as urban populations are on
the rise. She wants to redeem a culture of cleanliness by involving communityand do that
with Daily Dump clones, to whom she farms out designs of her terracotta composters.
These are known as kambhas.

Decentralise To Spread
A kambha comprises three tiers of pots, each of which have tiny pores for some air
movement. It is priced Rs 820 onwards in Bangalore, and about Rs 1,100 in Delhi. Users buy
a large three-tier kambha to store organic waste from their houses, and this is ideal for a
family of four. The bottom-most pot is left empty, filled with dry leaves. The top tier is where
a user puts fresh waste everyday, only after ensuring there is no plastic material and hard
objects with it. It has to be separated. The segregation is critical for the waste to be organic.
Once the waste (typically, residue of kitchen waste) is filled up in the top-most pot, it is
moved to the middle-tier for composting. By now, the maggots are acting most efficiently.
The middle pot of the kambha now moves to the top for more dumps, which have to be
stirred regularly. In time, the remains of the second pot turn into fertile soil, for use in lawns
and gardens. It is a second life for domestic waste.
According to Gopal Krishna of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who
works as a consultant on clean industry, London-based consulting
firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has certified
garbage as most suitable for composting, rather than for
incineration. Citing the ERM-certified study of the Perungudi
dumpsite in Chennai, Krishna says composting is the sanest waste
management concept but technocentric companies perceive
Indian waste as a market for their failed technologies. Waste is a
problem that can only be solved by peoples participationnot by
quick fix technologies, he asserts.
She has been able to evince peoples interest in waste




Daily Dump
seeks to make
twice as many
composters a
month. Still
people dont want
to handle waste.




management. Kasturi has created myriad designs of such composters, which she gives free of
charge to interested entrepreneurs. And she doesnt care about royalties. There is not much
money in this right now. I am waiting for the time when there is enough money in this, so
that the Marwaris get into the business of waste management, she says.
Daily Dump has thus created clones of entrepreneurs-cum-users like her across India who sell
composters and build their own networks. With this approach, you give the autonomy back
to the individual, and citizens, she says. There can be some impact over a long period of
time. It becomes less intimidating and non-territorial because, now, there is no health
inspector to bribe. You can manage waste yourself.
MB Nirmal, Founder and Chairman of Exnora International, a civic movement involved in
environment issues in Chennai, agrees. If you look at waste management as a four-legged
chair, the councilan elected bodycomes first. That doesnt always work. Second, there
are consultancies who advise councils and grow. Third are contractors who facilitate the
groundwork. And, last, is community. The truth is: unless you enlist community
participation, everything else is futile, he believes.
In four years, Kasturi has 15 clones in India that source her composter designs from the Daily
Dump website, and sell the terracotta products. There is also one clone each in Chile, Brazil
and Florida. There are instances of user-developed designs too, as one Aurangabad
businessman has shown. He wants to create a rotating composter, and partner Kasturi in
designing it.

Pot Luck: Three-tier terracotta composters transform organic household waste into
nutrientrich compost.
Survival Of The Cleanest
Nirmal of Exnora has also embarked on a Daily Dump-like model: a concept called home
beautifiers who cultivate composting practices in households. Each home-beautifier handles
10 houses, visiting each to help them segregate organic waste from metal, plastics and other
non-biodegradable products. If 10 households join together, one home beautifier goes to
their houses, Nirmal explains. She or he will do composting, use the water from that for
gardens. From 10 houses, a beautifier can get Rs 2,000 at least per month. They can also sell
plastic waste from the houses to enhance their earnings. This is being experimented in
Vellore, Madurai and Trichi as 25 beautifiers go about increasing
composting practices.
Nirmal founded Exnora 24 years ago, sustaining it on his own. At
67, he plans to work towards creating a Rs 12-crore fund-raising
committee next year. We will be careful not to take money from
polluting industries, he adds. Exnora grew on the concept of
street beautifiers who collected waste from each household. These
are 4,000 of them today, but he plans to break up this model now
because it discourages waste segregation. Expect a growth in
home beautifiers hereon.
Much like Nirmal, Kasturi has funded Daily Dump by herself.
Until now, she has invested Rs 25 lakh from her savings in
creating a robust website, prototyping, production and operations.
She has her terracotta products made by potters in Palamner, near
Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Clones from Tamil Nadu, Goa and
cities like Pune also source from Palamner, but they are free to
source producers from wherever they want.
Daily Dump seeks to double production to 300 composters per
month. But the market for it is still not there, mostly because
people are reluctant to handle waste. Currently, it draws 80%
revenue from terracotta products like kambhas, 10% from services (installation, after-sales,
etc.), and the last 10% from other awareness products that are published for children and
different types of users. Kasturi has been able to plough back margins into business to sustain
it. From Rs 2 lakh in the first year, fiscal year 2010 generated Rs 22 lakh.
Scalability may require her to source funding. But right now, she is comfortable with the
open-source model. To rein in new users, she is eyeing clusters like kabaadiwallahs, the folk
who collect and dispose off paper waste for recycle.
In a workshop for kabaadiwallahs, Daily Dump invited 35 of them within a radius of 2 km
around the Indiranagar locality. Twelve turned up, and a third of them showed interest in
rebadging themselves as Green Warriors. The kabaadiwallahs may not know innately
about branding. That is where we can intervene. Give them a new face have an e-weighing
scale, and put down information for consumer about segregation and recycling, Kasturi says.
This cluster is also a knowledge repository of waste management. Daily Dump is looking to
organise them, and create a mutually-beneficial model of user development.
There have been unexpected results. For instance, when the union government launched a
National Sanitation project, its school-sanitation initiative featured composting tools. One of
these was a kambha, unveiled by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and brand ambassador Aamir





"I am waiting for
the time when
there is enough
money in this, so
that the Marwaris
get into this.
Then, the
transformation
will
happen."Poonam
Bir Kasturi,
Founder, Daily
Dump




Khan at Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi. It was a small step towards encouraging waste-management
autonomy among citizens.
Fairer Deal
FTFI wants to make sure fair trade does not remain a textbook term.
Taneesha Kulshrestha


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Mission To ensure social, economic and environmentaly fair trade practices for poor
and marginalised producers.
Benefits Producers can tap into a national network of fair trade trainers, and also
build stronger links with European and Indian fair trade businesses.
At the offices of Tara Projects, women from a slum in Delhis Ashram Chowk pack
necklaces in clear plastic packets. Others sit on the floor stringing beads. Jagwati, one of the
workers and also a leader for the slum women, asked for work at Tara. It is cleaner here,
Jagwati says. There are no children. I get Rs 3,500 per month. This was not the case before.
What goes into the making of things that involve intensive human labour? Even before we
say raw materials or large populations, we are actually thinking child and forced labour,
abysmally low wages, and dirty and unhealthy work environments. Truth is, we cannot say
with certainty that everything we buy is clean. Its not a pleasant thought. Now, employees
and buyers alike can draw comfort from the Fair Trade Forum, an international platform
thats trying to fix these issues. In the 10 years since its Indian chapter was established in
2000, Fair Trade Forum-India (FTFI) has become a national network comprising 75 member
partners. It works in close coordination with the Netherlands-based World Fair Trade
Organisation (WFTO) and WFTO-Asia. Through its members, FTFI betters the lives of
100,000 grassroots producers, including artisans and farmers.
Tara Projects, an FTFI member, creates sustainable livelihood options for artisans and
producers, chiefly of jewellery and handicrafts, in northern India. Moon Sharma, also
secretary of FTFI, has been running the NGO for over 20 years now. We have always tried
to ensure that our working conditions adhere to basic fair trade practices, she says.
Sharma says she has personally shot several films where children are working for a pittance
in bad lighting, cramped spaces and unhygienic conditions, producing goods for
multinational retailers like Walmart and Target. This is why we need the fair trade
movement, she insists. To empower people in asking for what is right.
To become an FTFI member, an organisation needs to be a micro or small enterprise (MSE)
committed to the cause of alleviating poverty, or be an intermediate marketing organisation
that supports pro-poor producer groups. It must be export-ready as well. FTFI runs entry
audits before letting in firms. We, at the forum, check organisations for transparent financial
records, regular operations and environment and social standards, says Fair Trade Indias
Executive Director, Iytha Mallikarjuna. Only then do we allow them to become a part of the
FTFI.

Tara Projects creates livelihood options for artisans of jewellery and handicrafts, in northern
India.
FTFI, in turn, provides the producers with a national network of fair trade trainers, a fair trade
tool kit for monitoring progress, support and training, access to information about fair trade
markets and, most of all, stronger links with European and Indian fair trade businesses. It also
works with members to build their capacities. The long-term objective is to create a collective
fair trade identity in the market.
Organisations engaged in fair trade have been growing at over
20% per annum and did over $4 billion of business worldwide in
2008. FTFI members exported goods worth more than Rs 200
crore in fiscal 2008-2009. Companies are now more open to
buying from Fair Trade members in India. For instance, Tara
recently started selling to The Body Shop. Since our work
groups are small, ensuring quality standards for big volumes is
difficult for us, Sharma says. We also charge higher prices as
we have to ensure minimum wages. But The Body Shop
understood why we were doing so. Its easier to make corporates
understand with the fair trade platform.
Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF), a social development
organisation that provides micro finance, trains and encourages
weaker sections of society, has a similar experience to relate. It
started work with Rs 500 in 1992 and now has over 100,000
members. Recently, ESAF received private equity participation
from the Netherlands-based Oiko Credit. It has now tied up with
Fab India to sell cane and bamboo products made by tribals in
Jharkhand. Says Roy K Alex, Director, Programmes, Fair trade
has helped a lot here in ensuring that we get to the right people.





"People may be
willing to pay a
higher price or
buy more once
they know that
they are also
helping a
cause."Iytha
Mallikarjuna,
Executive
Director, Fair
Trade India




Maximising Employment to Serve The Handicapped (MESH), another fair trader that works
with the physically disabled, provides them with working capital, training, design and
product development ideas, and educates customers about artisans and fair trade practices.
MESH, too, gets regular work for its people. Says KK Matthews, Director for MESH, We
are sure of buyers being on the Fair Trade Forum. Regular buyers go a long way in helping us
run our operations smoothly.

A Bigger Voice
The most obvious benefit is a bigger voice, says Mallikarjuna. The government considers
our demands and our presentations on a more serious note. Being a part of the fair trade
forum, market access has improved. We started with 12 members in 2000 and now have
75. There are more queries every day, he adds. He feels that no brand can afford to ignore
the principles of fair trade today. Take brands like Nike. They have had to ensure fair trade
principles in the wake of negative publicity. As people become more aware, fair trade will
only increase.
Mallikarjuna also acknowledges that greater awareness is a compelling need. FTFI is
working towards creating a single brand for selling products under the fair trade umbrella in
India. Most member units are export-oriented and, barring a few, most do not sell in India. A
single brand will help us in branding ourselves better and make us more credible, he says.
People may pay a higher price or may be willing to buy more once they know that they are
also helping a cause. Fair trade shops are also on the anvil. While some producers already
have retail outlets, a single big retail chain may bring in more customers.
Soon, many of us may start our mornings with fair trade coffee sipped from fair trade mugs.
Looking Great, Feeling Good
If Seth Petchers has his way, every Indian will Shop for Change in the years to come.
Ajitha Shashidhar


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Mission To promote fairtrade cotton among Indian retailers.
Benefits The retailers are assured they are buying eco-friendly cotton, while the
farmers find it easier to sell their product, and get a good price.
At the upmarket Valhalla Auditorium, in the middle of the manic throb of Mumbais
Churchgate, fashion quietly took on a new meaning last fortnight. Celebs from the haute
world of couture, among them Anita Dongre, Narendra Kumar and Neena Guptas daughter
Masaba, were in attendance to applaud the second-year students of the National Institute of
Fashion Technology. The students were showcasing ethnicwear designed with Shop for
Change-certified fair trade cotton.
So, what exactly is fair trade cotton? Its eco-friendly cotton that fetches a 10-15% premium
on the existing market price to the farmers organisation that supplies it. In a country shamed
by corrupt middlemen and over 200,000 lakh farmer suicides in three years, the showstopper
at the Shop for Change evening was that desperately elusive creature: hope.
The ultimate goal of Seth Petchers, the US-born CEO of the not-
for-profit Shop for Change, is to usher in a fair trade retail
revolution in India. He set up Shop for Change in Mumbai in
2007 to empower farmers and artisans through fair trade. It is
funded by the European Union and two Netherlands-based fair
trade supporters, ICCO and Hivos. It not only certifies farmer
organisations as fair trade practitioners but also works as an
intermediary between them and retail houses.
Petchers began his career in 1997 with Transfair, which played a
key role in getting fair trade coffee on the shelves of retail giants
like Starbucks and Walmart. Fair trade retail in the US was
virtually zero in the late 90s, he says. Through consistent
consumer education and awareness exercises, we made it into a
$1.1 billion (Rs 5,336 crore) industry. Globally, fair trade is a
$4.1 billion (Rs 18,860 crore) market. UK-based Marks &
Spencer, for instance, sold 7.9 million fair trade cotton products last year compared to just
500,000 in 2007. Most global retailers now stock a range of fair trade products across
categories. The average American, says Petchers, was not even aware of the problems of
farmers: Indians, on the contrary, understand the plight of their farmers very well. All that
we need to do is build an engagement between the farmers and the consumers.

Fair-Trade Cotton: It is eco-friendly, and pays a premium to farmers who cultivate it.
(Photograph by Dinesh Madhava)
Passage To India
Petchers first retail breakthrough came last year, a collaboration with fashion designer
Anita Dongre for her label AND. Dongre launched a collection of clothes made of Shop for
Change fair trade cotton in all her 70 stores in the country. Notes attached to the garments
explained the concept and personnel were trained to impart awareness in buyers. Apart from




"Indians
understand the
farmersplight.
All we need is an
engagement
between farmers
and
consumers."Seth
Petchers, Chief
Operating
Officer, Shop for
Change




lending its branding, Shop for Change also charged AND a licence feeits only major
source of revenue other than the grants it receives from its European donors. Shop for
Changes first co-branded effort proved a hit. Dongre, who launched her collection with
20,000 metres of fair trade cotton, has upped her order to 80,000 metres.
Petchers is also partnering with Bangalore-based Mother Earth, which has five stores selling
ethically manufactured apparel, home dcor and foods, to launch a line of fair trade cotton
printed T-shirts. Earlier, he had tied up with farmer organisations such as Chetna Organics
and Zameen Organics in Hyderabad, and Agro Cell in Gujarat. He has signed on model-actor
Gul Panag as a brand ambassador and is looking at selling fair trade handicrafts and food
products as well.

Are We Ready?
But is the Indian retail industry ready to promote shopping for a cause? And are Indian
consumers ready to pay a premium for it? Neelam Chibber, Managing Director of Mother
Earth, is categorical: I dont believe in shopping for a cause. You shop for something
because you need it. The manager of an AND store in Mumbai agrees. She says most of the
customers bought the Shop for Change label only because they liked the fit, not so much
because they were supporting a cause.
The awareness is definitely low, concedes Dongre. But it is
high time we committed to such causes. A number of topline
establishments are already working with NGOs and farmer
organisations. Shoppers Stops Back To Earth home dcor section
sources products from NGOs across the country. Even so, says
Rajiv Nair, business head (general merchandise and apparel),
most of them dont have a supply chain mechanism and storage
is a huge issue. Moreover, Nair feels there is often no clarity
about how much of the premium actually goes back to the farmer.
In India, where organised retail itself is in its infancy, fair trade
appears a long way off. It is a challenge for sure, agrees
Petchers. But I am sure it will not take us 20 years to popularise
the concept, as was the case in the US and UK. Hope,
fortunately, is not in short supply on the fair trade front.
Dream Weavers
Aagor Daagra Afad is helping Bodo women in Assams Chirang district weave their way to a
better life.
Sudipto Dey


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Mission Village development, create a handloom business in the tribal villages.
Benefits Economic empowerment to women; create self-reliant weavers who manage
their own business.





"The awareness is
defi nitely low.
But it is high time
we committed to
such
causes."Anita
Dongre, Chief
Operating
Officer, AND




Daisy Bramha and her daughter share a dream. My daughter wants to take up computer
training and a beauticians course after her Class X exams, says the proud mother, a tribal
weaver who works in the Rowmari village of Lower Assams Chirang district, about 10 km
from the well-known refinery town of Bongaigaon. Daisy, who works as a part-time weaver
from home and earns up to Rs 2,500 a month when the going is good, says she has enough
saved up to fund her daughters dreams.
Many others like Daisy see a better future thanks to weaving. For instance, in the heart of the
Bodo tribal belt in Rowmari, 20 women who used to work as maids in neighbouring towns
and cities now train to be weavers. So much so, many households complain of a shortage of
domestic help.
Twenty-four-year-old Jyotsna Basumatary worked as a maid for seven years, earning around
Rs 700 per month. After completing a four-month training course in the Rowmari campus of
The ANT (The Action Northeast Trust), a voluntary organisation active in the Chirang
district, a confident Jyotsna wants to be weaver for life. She was able to earn up to Rs 18,000
during the training period, working for 8-10 hours every day.
In all, around, 260 girls have been given this training over the last four years. Around 75%
of them do not go back to their jobs as maids, says Dr Sunil Kaul, an ex-serviceman, who is
The ANTs founding Trustee. Most women in this predominantly tribal belt prefer to weave
out of their homes while carrying on with their responsibilities at the hearth. Says Jennifer
Liang, managing trustee of The ANT: Bodo women are natural weavers.

Photograph by Priyam Dhar
Spinning Money
In 2002, The ANT helped set up Aagor Daagra Afad, an all-women weavers society that
manages the production schedules, sourcing of raw material as well as finances of its
weavers. Women weavers are the executive committee members and trustees of the society.
They enjoy the responsibilities of managing their own business, says Kaul, who now has an
advisory role. For market linkages, leading suppliers such as FabIndia and the Future Group
have been roped in. Products are also sold at The ANTs own retail store in Bangalore.
Kaul and Liang started off the weaving outfit in 2002 with a capital outlay of Rs 1 lakh,
borrowed from friends and relatives. Initially, the duo, along with the designers, had to cycle
from village to village to give weavers the raw material and designs, and then go back to
collect the finished products. Liang says the women, who worked from home, took to
weaving like a duck to water.
Sales zoomed from Rs 2.5 lakh in 2002 to Rs 80 lakh in 2007-08. Banks and some charitable
institutions pitched in with working capital loans. There was a visible impact on the day-to-
day lives of the 120-odd women weavers. Kaul says, It was a dream run.
Farming is the communitys primary occupation. The women weave for 2-4 hours and earn
up to Rs 150 in a day. As their contribution to household finances grew, so did their
confidence. We now get loans and repay them, says Bhanumati, a woman weaver. Shorani,
another weaver, can now fund the education of her two children at the village school. Over
the years, the incidence of domestic violence in the district has also dropped, as has the
problem of alcoholism among men. Women groups from the villages counsel men on these
issues, says Liang.

A Thin Red Line
Kaul says a skilled weaver earns more than she would have got as an NREGA worker, which
is typically Rs 100 per day. But the global economic meltdown of 2008 put The ANTs fair
price premium under threat.
Initially, sales suffered as retailers cut down on orders in the
second half of 2008 and export markets shrank. Payments from
some of the biggest customers were delayed for months. At the
same time, interest payouts on working capital loans ballooned.
This led to a cash-flow imbalance, with the balance sheet in the
red for the first time last year. Worse, when demand finally began
to revive from mid-2009, retailers asked for sizable price cuts.
Salaries of our office staff have gone up in the last two years, but
the weavers rates have not, Kaul admits, highlighting the
contradictions in the current situation. Also, An unskilled
labourer earns almost as much as a skilled weaver.

Weaver Ants
Though there has been a revival in demand from wholesale
purchasers in recent months, turnover is yet to touch 2007 levels. To run the business at
current levels without losing money, sales need to be at Rs 8 lakh per month. But the
bleeding continuesin July, the society managed sales of just around Rs 6 lakh.





"Bodo women are
natural weavers.
They took to
weaving like a
duck takes to
water."Jennifer
Liang, Managing
Trustee, The ANT




They are coming to terms with the nature of the beast that the market (economy) is, says
Kaul. He is aware that 2010 will be a make or break year for the Aagor team. The executive
committee of the society has been meeting with its members to take the tough call on whether
to sell at lower rates. Though a bitter pill in the short term, it will help the women secure their
order books.
Also in the offing is the expansion of the customer base to reduce dependence on big buyers.
Plans are on to launch a global brand. Kaul is keen to expand the number of The ANT-owned
retail outlets after the current situation has stabilised.
As the gutsy women weavers from Chirang learn to live with the vagaries of the marketplace,
they remain high-spirited in their aspirations for a better life. Most want their daughters to
join them as weavers. Daisy, of course, has other plans.
Gains Unlimited
Small farmers are rooting for a unique concept called Farmer Limiteds, engaging the market
like never before.
Naren Karunakaran


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Mission To group small farmers into companies, achieve process volumes and scale,
and integrate with markets.
Benefits Better returns for produce, greater confidence, and spread of well-being.
EM Koshy detests the empire building proclivities of do-gooders in the NGO sector. He
has watched with trepidation incestuous NGO dynasties mop up large funds with little
accountability. Even if they do some good, there is little to show in terms of scale and
impact, says Koshy. He should know, for he presides over an NGO himselfthe Delhi-
based Agriculture and Organic Farming Group (AOFG India). As an insider, a witness to the
erosion of values, he is now pushing reforms.
Koshy is onto a game-changing initiative. He wants to empower the farmers he is working
with, and make them partners and shareholders, in a series of private limited companies he is
promoting, called the Farmers Limiteds.
He sums up the essence of his experience of working with small, marginal farmers in the
north-east and the rain-fed areas of mainland India, in one line: small farmers want a better
price for their produce, they seek value addition. They can confront all other issues on their
own, he says.

In The Fold
To get his idea going, it was imperative to bring together hordes of marginal farmers under a
common umbrella. He recognised that volumes and economies of scale are the key to success
in the agri-processing business. And what legal entity would they fit into? The discredited
system of farmer co-operatives was ruled out.
Around 2005, when he began his search for a viable model, he examined a brand new class of
companies called producer companies, created by an amendment to the Companies Act.
This was immediately cast away, for he came across early-adopters struggling to raise
commercial capital.
Some of our directors have had to pledge their personal properties to raise capital for the
company, says Joshy Cherian, Vice Chairman of the Aluva-based Indian Organic Farmers
Producer Company Ltd. Producer companies are a hybrid or sorts between co-ops and
companies. Koshy therefore put together a crack team of legal and taxation experts, which
included Justice K. Sukumaran, former judge of the Bombay High Court. Why not create a
private limited company with farmers as shareholders? But there was one problem: Koshy
wanted a critical mass of farmers who could bring their produce in large quantities to process.
He wanted more than 5,000 farmers in a company. Only then would the entity be viable. The
law, however, doesnt permit more than 50 members in a private limited company.
The brainstorming led to an ingenuous idea. They would bind multitudes of farmers as
entities registered under the Society Actlargely meant for non-profit institutionsand then
incorporate a private limited company, with these societies as members. Large numbers
could thus be accommodated.
The Society Act is not explicit in preventing a registered body from earning an income or
engaging in commercial activities. But then, engaging in a commercial activity would mean
agreeing to be taxed. Farmers, all along, have been exempt from paying taxes; they would
now come under the purview of the tax regime; from income to sales tax, et al.
Again, Koshy goes against the grain. If farmers engage in a commercial activity, they should
pay taxes, he insists. They should learn to play the game like other businessmen. In fact,
last year, Wayanadu Organic Agro Farming Pvt Ltd, a farmer limited of marginal coffee
farmers in Kerala, paid Rs 3.8 lakh as sales tax alone. Once the tax conundrum was sorted
out, a lot of clarity emerged.
None of the farmer bodies, registered as societies, have sought tax exemption under Section
12A of the Income Tax Act, like other NGOs. The registration document mentions, we,
farmers, want to contribute to nation-building by paying all taxes.
The Kerala Sales Tax department is overjoyed. Never before have they mopped up tax
revenue from coffee growers, and small, marginal ones at that, says Koshy.
The hirearchy is simple. Farmers come together as common interest groups of 20 each
informal unregistered bodies much like the ubiquitous self-help groups (SHGs). Twenty-five
such groups form a Local Cluster Association (LCA), which is registered under the Society
Act.At least 10 LCAs hold equity in the private limited company along with the promoters or
investors. Zameen Organic in Hyderabad, a Farmers Limited, is held by 17 organic cotton
farmer LCAs, AOFG and Aavishkaar India Micro Venture Capital Fund.

Coffee Break: Coffee farmers of Kumily oversee the preliminary work for a 1000 MT
pulping unit and a 20,000 sq feet coffee drying yard.
Finding Funds
Organising and capacity building of farmers has been the biggest challenge. AOFG wanted to
float a bouquet of Farmers Limited and a requirement of Rs 5 crore was computed: Rs 50
lakh for marshaling farmers; Rs 2.5 crore for processing units and infrastructure
development; and Rs 2 crore as working capital. All efforts at raising money from
government departments, including state governments, came to naught.
On a visit to BioFach, the organic fair in Germany, in 2006, Koshy met Meindert Witvliet of
Stichting Het Groene Woudt (SHGW) of the Netherlands in a chance encounter. The focus of
the Foundation is connecting small farmers to markets. Koshy briefed Witvliet about his
funding need and the concept of Farmers Limiteds.
Witvliet didnt promise anything and a disheartened Koshy returned to India; only to find that
SHGW had meanwhile credited 100,000 to his account. Koshy couldnt find anyone ready
to provide capital for his idea in India, but found a supporter in Europe. From then on, the
concept gained momentum.
One of the first companies, Zameen Organics, is already gaining critical mass. Raising capital
is not as tough as it used to be. Farmers Limiteds are beginning to attract grant funds as well
as commercial capital. Rabo Bank sees great potential in these firms and is extending grant
money for capacity building. They need a lot of hand-holding at this stage to ensure
sustainability of operations, says Arindam Datta, Director, Rabo India Finance, who
believes specialised financial institutions focused on agriculture should be proactive.
Meanwhile, the Delhi branch of the Indian Overseas bank has extended a credit line, of Rs 6
lakh each, to four of Koshys Farmers Limited. Over the last three years, Yes Bank has
disbursed over Rs 20 crore as working capital loans, all of which have been repaid. The
Bank has committed another Rs 12 crore for this financial year, he says.

Harvest Time
The structures of Farmers Limited offer another advantage. The LCAs, as independent legal
entities, plug into various governmental schemes, without being beholden to the company in
any way. This year we are seeking funds for rain-water harvesting initiatives, says Jeevan
CK, an LCA office bearer in Adimali of Idukki district. Last year, 34 tonnes of robusta coffee
was collected and processed at the 500 MT coffee pulping unit here.
Koshy is now focusing on four Farmers Limited in Wayanadu, Kumily and Adimali. The
fourththe Western Ghat Agricultural Products Processing Co (Wapco)is taking shape in
the Kozhikode SEZ. Today, the farmer members earn over Rs 17 a kg for the raw coffee
purchased by the co, a premium over market rates.
I want to pay them at least Rs 30 a kg, insists Koshy. This, he thinks, is within reach once
the Kozhikode coffee processing unit comes on stream. He wants to extract caffeine from the
coffee beans, which is in great demand from the pharmaceutical sector. Around 100 kgs of
dry Robusta beans yield 1.5 kg of caffeine, which fetches around Rs 15, 000 a kg in the
international market.
Looks like, the marginal coffee farmers of Kerala, who, till recently, sold their produce to
rapacious traders for a pittance, have finally found the road to salvation.
Growth Pangs
Indian Organic Farmers, has lurched from crisis to crisis since inception, but thats only made
its member farmers more determined to succeed.
Naren Karunakaran


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Mission Rejuvenation of traditional farming practices and plugging of gaps in the
value-addition chain through collective action.
Benefits Empowerment of small and marginal organic farmers; better yields and
better incomes.
Its over three years since he pledged his five-acre organic farm and house with a
nationalised bank to raise a loan of Rs 25 lakh; not for himself, but for a collective he is
engaged with. Pullanthanikal Joseph Chackochan doesnt know when he can retrieve his
home. Yet, he remains unfazed.
I had to do it. Small, marginal pepper farmers cant wait after harvest. They have to be paid
for their produce, says Chackochan. The farmers he is referring to are members of the
Aluva-based Indian Organic Farmers Producer Co (IOFPCL) who came together in 2004 to
process and market their produce collectively. Chackochan is a director on the companys
board and he believes there was no alternative but to pledge his personal property to enable
IOFPCL raise a loan and procure pepper grown by its members. The bank was foxed by the
complexities of the strange corporate entity. What it wanted was solid security.

A New Hybrid
IOFPCL, by 2007, had no money to even procure produce from its members. The situation
was quite precarious, for the company was already frail and had been bludgeoned by one
crisis after the other ever since it was incorporated. It is indeed ironic because IOFPCL was
expected to showcase the concept of producer companiesa new hybrid between a farmers
co-operative and a private limited company. It was one of the first producer companies to be
incorporated after an amendment was made to the Companies Act in 2002.
The legislative amendment, in a way, combines some of the strengths of co-operatives
ownership restricted to primary producers, no trading of sharesand the flexibility and
autonomy intrinsic to private companies. We chose to go the producer way for we were
certain that the co-operative model, with its restrictive laws, and vulnerabilities to political,
bureaucratic meddling, wasnt for us, says Joshy Cherian, Vice-Chairman, IOFPCL. We
are serious growers.





"Producer
companies are
clearly focused on
primary
producers. Its
democratic. And
no outsider can

The initial enthusiasm of the promoters was, however, put to
check. The first CEO exhausted the Rs 6 lakh raised from
member farmers within eight months on administrative costs. He
was sacked and activities came to a halt. No financial institution
bailed out the company. We soon realised we were in a no-
mans land, says Cherian.
Around the same time, the Spices Board reached out to them for
organic pepper. The directors on the board, not wanting to lose out on the opportunity, pooled
Rs 7 lakh as unsecured loans and procured the pepper. This was their first sale (2005-06) and
the company made some money. This rekindled our confidence, recalls Cherian. Farmers
in the organic space have already gone through a period of struggle, as compared to the
conventional farmers. We dont give up easily.
The next crisis was one related to the quality of the cocoa produce. Two containers of cocoa
sent to a Swiss chocolate manufacture were rejected. Luckily, for IOFPCL, kindred souls at
Chocolate Bernrain AG hand-held them to overcome the quality issues, through rigorous
training sessions.
It took over six months for the cocoa farmers to develop a robust protocol. The big lesson I
learnt in the process is that there is a huge gap between science and technology and between
technology and enterprise, says Cherian, alluding to the dysfunctional agri-scientific edifice
in the country. In the last two years, the company has strengthened its supply chain for cocoa
and has established a fermentation and drying unit for the produce. Today, IOFPCL is at the
vanguard of cocoa processing technologies in the country.
Even as the company was nursing itself back to health, farmer members benefited. For
instance, in 2008, when market price for dry cocoa beans was Rs 100 a kg; the company paid
farmers Rs 104; an additional Rs 6 was paid as fair trade premium and Rs 4 as organic
premium, a total of Rs 114 per kg.
The oppressive labour situation in Kerala has only compounded the woes of the farmers and
the company. Labour is scarce and those willing to work charge Rs 250 a day for services
rendered. Even trimming of trees costs Rs 350 a day. Only those who have gone organic can
survive under such circumstances in Kerala. The premium received for organic produce
makes up for the additional farm expenses, says Chackochan, who has been helpful in
fostering relationships amongst small organic farmers in the district of Wayanad.
Despite the numerous setbacks of recent years, and the fact that they continue to struggle, the
directors of IOFPCL display confidence in the organisational model of producer companies.
Its clearly focused on primary producers. Its democratic. And no outsider can take over the
company, says Chackochan. Like other producer companies, facing a similar predicament,
IOFPCL hasnt divided its activities of procurement, processing and marketing between the
producer company and a private limited company, the latter created merely to circumvent the
flaws of the former, with regard to raising commercial capital.
The turmoil amongst the small breed of producer companies hasnt gone unnoticed. A
working group on producer companies, convened by Pradan, an NGO promoting such
enterprises, and chaired by Nitin Desai, former chief economic advisor to the union
government, has attempted to sort out issues. The laws governing producer companies makes
take over the
company."PJ
Chackochan,
Director, IOFPCL



it difficult to mobilise internal capital as there is no incentive for members to buy more shares
than necessary. There are no provisions for valuation of shares and for mobilising external
capital, leaving producer companies starved of funds. There is no provision even for an exit
route to members.
The Working Group has now demanded a mechanism to assess the value of shares held by
the farmers and declare a fair value periodically. This is expected to incentivise members to
acquire more shares. Issuance of debentures, bonds and debentures is recommended for
raising external capital. Governmental support in the form of grants during the early stages of
the company has been sought. Ironically, there is a move to bring producer companies under
the ambit of National Co-operative Development Corporation (NCDC) to help them tap into
various financial assistance packages. The NCDC was created by an act of parliament.
Lobbying for an amendment to the Act is on.Producer companies, expected to be a brave new
world of empowered farmer companies, will now have to bank on the munificence of an
entity meant only for decadent co-operatives!
Spinning Success
Masuta Producers helps tribal women in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh emerge from
poverty by spinning silk yarn.
Deepak Goel


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Mission Help women in Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal buy tussar silk cocoons,
provide technological inputs in producing silk yarn and create market linkages for the
produce.
Benefits Provides a livelihood to over 2,500 women members.
Malti Devi isnt quite your average village woman. A widow, this denizen of the remote
village of Danidih in Jharkhand employs a few locals to farm her 2.5 bighas (1.5 acres) of
land. She sends her three children to school, never failing to pay their fees. She even pays a
private tutor to help her eldest son brush up on his studies. How, you wonder, could this be
possible in one of Indias poorest regions, where most people struggle to eke out a living. The
answer: Malti is a financially independent woman, thanks to the efforts of Masuta Producers
Company, a silk-making enterprise. Malti, one of the producers who work with Masuta,
earns Rs 16,000-18,000 a yeara princely sum in Jharkhands outbackfor her trouble. Its
a huge addition to the income and sustenance she derives from her land.
There are 2,500 women producers like Malti working for Masuta. They make yarn out of
tussar (also spelt tasar) silk, a kind of wild silk processed from cocoons that grow on Asan
and Arjuna trees in Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhatisgarh. Masuta buys the yarn produced by
them and sells it to weavers, ensuring profits for both the producers and for itself. It also
extends credit to the women to help them purchase cocoons, the raw material for the silk.
The community-development company, which was set up in 2005, is the brainchild of
Madhabananda Ray or Madhab Da as he is popularly known. Ray, the Managing Director of
Masuta, says the companys primary objective is to help women living in the tribal belts of
Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhatisgarh earn sustainable livelihoods. Over the last four years, it has
made steady progress on this front, helping many families in the region.

The Genesis
The name Masuta is an acronym derived from Mahila (woman), Suta (thread) and Tasar. The
company owes its existence to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Pradan
(Professional Assistance for Development Action). The story goes back a few years. After
earning a Masters degree in Agriculture in 1995, Ray joined Pradan, which was helping poor
people in the eastern tribal belt grow Asan and Arjuna trees.
Pradan aimed to help the villagers sell the silk cocoons and earn money. But as more trees
grew, production of cocoons in the region went up. This brought the prices of the cocoons
down, defeating the purpose of growing the trees, explains Ray.
To wriggle out of the demand-supply mismatch, he decided to
move up the value chain and produce yarn, which was in short
supply because it was produced manually, through a painstaking
and inefficient process known as thigh reeling. Moreover, it was
an occupation that was restricted to the women in handloom
weavers households.
Sensing an opportunity, Ray approached the Central Silk Board
for help in automating the process. Pradan acquired a few
machines developed by the Boards scientists to produce silk
from cocoons, and trained the women to operate it. This ensured
that any person could weave yarn that could now be produced on
a much larger scale. Initially, Pradan had only about 200 women
on its rolls and the turnover was a modest Rs 1.5 lakh. But as the
business picked up, the NGO faced a dilemma: how could it make
and distribute profits when it was a non-profit organisation? We needed to have a for-profit
organisation, recalls Ray. And that led to the establishment of Masuta.
Since then, theres been no looking back. Masutas revenue in FY10 was Rs 9.52 crore, with
net profit at Rs 4.34 lakh. Those numbers will rise in multiples, given the potential, says Ray.
According to the companys website, the potential of the tussar market in India is huge, with
demand far outstripping supply. The country imports around 1,000 tonnes or 75% of its tussar
requirement every year. To get closer to its customers, Masuta has also set up permanent
marketing offices in Bhagalpur in Bihar and Raigarh in Chhatisgarh. Together, the two towns
host the largest concentration of silk weavers in north India.

Future Plans
Going forward, Ray says Masuta aims to increase membership four-fold to 10,000 women
over the next five years. The company is also working on a warfooting to improve
operational efficiency. We will constantly work towards improving the productivity of the
women members, declares Ray. To this end, Masuta has collaborated with the Technical
University of Delft in the Netherlands to develop a new machine that runs on electricity
rather than through pedalling. The machine will reduce the physical effort of the women
while also increasing their output. They will be able to produce about 600 gm of yarn a day





"We aim to increase
membership four-fold
to 10,000 women
over the next five
years."Madhabananda
Ray, MD, Masuta
Producers Co




from 300 gm per day now, explains Ray. He adds that the phasing out of the pedal-powered
machines will begin in the next three months.
Pedal powered or electricity powered, one thing is clear: the dream of a better life is not just
some old yarn for these tribal women and their families. Its a fact of life. And they have
Masuta to thank for that reality.
Participate And Grow
A new method of certifying organic producethe Participatory Guarantee Systemis
making organic farming more attractive for farmers.
Naren Karunakaran


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Mission Barefoot ecology, livelihoods and organic market development.
Benefits Securing incomes of tribals by mainstreaming their produce through
effective market mechanisms.
Honey is the mainstay of over 500 groups of Kurumbas, Irulas and several other tribes in
the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Many of these hunter-gatherers and slash-and-burn
agriculturists have taken honey collection from the wild to a degree of sophistication and
ritualistic splendour rarely seen elsewhere. When collecting from the precariously high Idigh
cliffs, the Kurumbas deploy forest vine ladders, spears and fresh leaf smokers, and also
engage in ritualistic prayers, to reach the hives of the Giant Rock bees, the sting of which can
be debilitating.
Keystone Foundation, an NGO in the Nilgiris, has engaged with the Kurumbas to add more
value to honey through filtering and cleaning. Today, even beeswax, which tribals
traditionally discarded, is used to make cosmetics branded Last Forest, and sold through
Keystones green shops.
Before Keystone began work with the tribals in the mid-90s, honey was sold to traders for
Rs 15 a kg. When we started, we began by paying Rs 50 a kg, says Mathew John, Director,
Keystone. Today, the Kurumbas earn Rs 100 to Rs 140 a kg, a premium over market rates.
Around six tonnes of honey is purchased by Keystone each year.
Keystones work in the Nilgiris has bettered the lot of tribals. Value addition and marketing
have been undertaken by NGOs elsewhere, too. What separates Keystone from the rest is its
faith in the prowess of the market (See box: Hitting The Right Notes), its focus on livelihoods
and organics and a concerted attempt to usher small farmers in India into an innovative
organic certification foldthe Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). John has been working
with farmers groups and the Bonn-based International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements (IFOAM) in tweaking the PGS model globally. PGS is gaining traction amongst
small, marginal farmers worldwide.
Over 5,000 organic farmers in India are already under the PGS umbrella. In Brazil, trade in
PGS organic produce by local farmer groups is already over $70 million, says John, who is
on the IFOAM international task force on PGS. PGS, with its decentralised approach based
on trust, social networks and knowledge-share, is different from the third-party certification,
common to organic farming systems worldwide, including India.
Certification is critical in the organic chain. How else would domestic consumers, and also
consumers in the countries Indian produce is exported to, know what they are consuming is
organic? In a third-party certification, an independent agency, Indian or foreign, inspects a
farm to ensure the farmer isnt using chemical pesticides and fertilisers and that all norms of
organic farming are adhered to. In PGS, there is no outside inspection agency; a system of
peer review prevails and checks are done by farmers. Paperwork is minimal and is in local
languages.

Third-Party Certification
Third-party inspections provide an audit trailfrom the purchase of seed to the sale of
produceand involves complex paperwork for which small farmers are unprepared. It can be
expensive. Indian agencies like Indocert charge each farmer Rs 8,000 a day during
inspection, which may last many days, depending on the farms size.
On recognising the need of small farmers, third-party certification
companies devised a separate system, even as the PGS was being
debated globally. The small holder group certification process,
with a focus on internal control systems (ICS), is ideally suited to
small farms, says Mathew Sebastian, Executive Director of the
Kochi-based Indocert. Yet, even under the ICS method, groups
spend around Rs 6,000 a day on inspection fees.
In the PGS, there are no fees; the expense is limited to minor
hospitality extended to host fellow farmers on appraisal rounds,




In PGS, there is
no outside
inspection
agency; checks
done by farmers
uphold organic
values.




says John. Ron Khosla, a US-based PGS evangelist, has come across instances where
individual organic certification of small farms under third-party have cost more per acre than
the sale of crops.
As the PGS banks on farmers monitoring themselves, the assumption is that its less rigorous
than third-party certification. On the contrary, PGS can be better than conventional
methods, insists CK Ganguly, Chairman of the Timbaktu Collective in Andhra Pradesh,
alluding to scams in recent times as profit-driven certification agencies adopt short cuts. Over
700 Timbaktu farmers in 36 villages are now under the PGS ambit.
Third-party certifiers were earlier inimical to the PGS rumblings but now believe they can
live with PGS that is focused on local, domestic markets. Third-party certification is
essential when exporting organic produce, says Sebastian. They now see PGS as a
complement to the third-party system. In fact, there are small farmers groups in India who
swear by PGS, but, at times, go the ICS way when they secure export orders.
PGS is beginning to attract small farmer groups across the country. Simplicity is the key.
Over 90% of questions in our appraisal questionnaire lead to a yes or no answer, says
John. Since 2006, when the PGS pilots were flagged off in India, a simple hierarchyfarm
family-local groups-regional council-Organic India National Councilhas come into being.
The National Council issues certificates to the local groups.
While a host of farmer groups revel in PGS, ironically, Johns main constituencyNilgiris
honey hunters have been left out. No PGS standards exist for produce collected in the wild,
honey or mushrooms. A global effort is on to devise a methodology. The Last Forest honey
bottles may well sport the PGS logo soon.
Counting On Chickens
A small cooperative poultry farming enterprise is transforming lives in Madhya Pradeshs
poorest villages.
Deepak Goel


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Mission To put money into the hands of women in Madhya Pradesh by helping them
raise poultry and sell it.
Benefits Has empowered women by making them economically independent.
Fifteen years ago, Neeta Bais husband lost his limbs in an accident. At the time, she had
no means to earn money and raise her children. Today, Neeta Bais daughter has passed out
of the 12th standard and wants to graduate.
Saroj Bai, also from the same village, is now able to afford the better tasting and more
expensive groundnut oil for cooking instead of the bitter gulli oil extracted from the seeds of
the mahua tree. These may seem like modest achievements, but in Salimet, a devastatingly
poor tribal village in Madhya Pradeshs Betul district, they are monumental.
Neeta Bai and Saroj Bai have climbed out of abject penury, rupee by hard-earned rupee. The
duo has learnt how to rear chickens and sell the produce for a profit despite facing intense
competition from private poultry companies. Neeta, Saroj and more than 2,000 other women
in the region owe their success to the MP Women Poultry Producers Company (MPWPP) and
Dr Hare Krishna Deka, its CEO.

What Came First
The poultry co-operative was originally a farming initiative launched by the NGO Pradan
(Professional Assistance for Development Action). Pradans grassroots work in the region
dates back to the 1990s. Focusing on sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor, it organised
the women of the region into self-help groups and engaged them in poultry farming. The
women bought day-old chicks, provided feed and vaccines for 40-45 days and then sold the
birds at the local poultry market when they reached a certain weight. This process, while not
exactly a runaway success, managed to stutter along.
Dr Deka, a veterinarian by training, joined Pradan in 2001. I realised that the production of
chickens was not up to the mark, he recalls. There were inefficiencies. The women were
buying more day-old chicks than they were selling as fully grown chickens. Many of the
birds were dying. Deka took charge of production.
Modern poultry farming is almost an assembly-line process, and
an exacting one, at that. To grow just right, for example, a
chicken needs 2,900 kilo calories (kcals) of energy in the first ten
days of its life and 2,950 kcals in the next ten. Feed is changed
even from season to season, Deka explains. Chickens need
more energy and protein in the summer. Gradually, he took
charge of the womens co-operative in the Kesla block of the
Hoshangabad district, where he had begun working initially.
By 2002, Deka was pitching in with his expertise at another
cooperative in the Churhat village of MPs Sidhi district. By
2005, four more co-operatives were launched in the Tikamgarh,
Chhatarpur and Dindori districts, along with the government-run
Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Initiative Programme.
Around this time, it was felt that all the cooperatives needed to be
brought under a common umbrella to achieve economies of scale.
The poultry business is a volumes business, says Deka. With volumes, you can control the
cost of raw material like medicines and vaccines and also have some negotiating power with
your suppliers.

All For All
Six cooperatives came together under the MPWPP banner in 2006 for collective procurement
of chicks, feed inputs, additives and medicines. The producer company earns its revenues
through commissions on the input purchase price.





"Our target is to
bring about
50,000 women
into the MPWPP
fold in the next 10
years."Dr Hare
Deka, CEO,
MPWPP




Presently, the cost of producing a day-old chick is Rs 14 though MPWPP spends an average
of Rs 30 in procuring it. Soon, a hatchery coming up on 10 acres of land near Itarsi in
Hoshangabad district will bring down costs by providing day-old chicks to the member
cooperatives. Its estimated production of 400,000 day-old chicks per month will take care of
two-thirds of MPWPPs monthly need.
The Government of India has committed Rs 2.6 crore to the hatchery under the Swarnjayanti
Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY). MPWPP will itself put in some money through internal
accruals. Members will also contribute directly towards setting up the hatchery, says Deka.
Dekas initiative has begun to pay off. The poultry co-operatives revenues stood at Rs 9.5
crore in fiscal year 2010, up from Rs 8.2 crore the previous year. Net profit rose to Rs 6.5
lakh in FY10 from Rs 4.8 lakh a year earlier.
MPWPP now supports more than 2,000 women producers, who each earn between Rs
10,000-20,000 annually.
Our target is to bring about 50,000 women into the MPWPP fold in the next ten years, says
Deka. Some of the tribal women now have houses bigger than my own house in Assam. It is
beautiful. I feel happy.
For the women producers, whether the chicken or the egg came first isnt important. Theyre
just glad that the MPWPP co-operative came into their lives.
Hitting The Right Notes
Outlook Business


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When IRMA alumnus Mathew John, ecologist Pratim Roy and economist Snehlata Nath
teamed up in the mid-90s to work with the tribals of the Nilgiris, the trio knew they would
have to engage with market systems, although the Keystone Foundation is registered as a
Trust. The efforts started early. After a protracted negotiation with SIDBI, they rustled up Rs
3.5 lakh in 1998; Rs 2.5 lakh as a loan and Rs 1 lakh as a grant for infrastructure building.
The amount was secured on the basis of personal guarantees of all three directors. A
demarcation was immediately created between marketing and the rest of the activities of the
Trust, says John, who heads the function. Marketing operated as an independent cost centre.
The balance, however, was precarious. Keystone was engaged in procurement, processing
and marketing of a range of products leading to quaint situations; the procurement team,
steeped in the NGO mindset, displaying a tendency to pay more to producers, and the
marketing team wondering how they would keep competition at bay.
In 2007, an Ernst & Young assignee on an engagement with social entrepreneurship,
recommended a formal split within; the Production Centre Development (PCD) to oversee
procurement and processing and Organic Market Development (OMD) to look after the
marketing functions. He was extremely focused. He just cut through our NGO blabber to
arrive at clear solutions, says John. This led to a system of transactions within Keystone;
PCD fixing a price at which it would sell to OMD and the latter going to market with a
markup. Stable supply prices, monthly sales forecasts, etc., became the norm. OMD turnover
in 2008 was Rs 60.08 lakh, which rose to Rs 71.09 lakh in 2009. This year, it is expected to
touch Rs1 crore.
The PCD price is usually a mark-up of 22.5% which goes into a special fund; 7.5% of this
goes to producers, in addition to the premium prices they get for their produce. Keystone has
now incorporated the OMD as a private limited company in which employees will hold
equity. Eventually, the PCD will also metamorphose into a company in which producers will
also be shareholders.
Blue Collar LinkedIn
Babajob has combined the Internet and cellphone to connect domestic help with employers.
Krishna Gopalan


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Babajob
Started 2007
Investment Rs 1 crore initially
Employees 19
Customers 193,000+
Social Impact Helping poor people to get better jobs, more money and better quality
of life.
***
Jaya Shelli is 43 years old and a very good cook. Her track record would bear out that
claim. Shelli returned to India eight years ago after 15 years cooking in places as varied as
Kuwait and Japan and she learnt to make Italian, Mexican and Japanese dishes from natives
of these countries. Still, it wasnt easy finding suitable jobs when she returned to Bangalore
in 2003. Then in 2007, a friend whod gotten a job through Babajob suggested Shelli too
register with the company; she did and was very quickly placed with an Italian expat family
in Bangalore itself. I was quite surprised to get a decent job with a foreigner. They were
equally taken aback at getting someone who could cook Italian food, she says with a laugh.
Shellis moved on from that job but shes no longer worried about finding employment.
Babajob has helped me four times since I got back and it has been a good break each time,
she says.
High praise, but not unjustified. From the time it launched in 2007, the Bangalore-based
Babajob has helped match over 60,000 job seekers to potential employers every month,
people with positions like cooks, drivers, maids and receptionists. In just four years, the
companys books are filled with over 193,000 job seekers, over 39,000 employers and over
615,000 job positions. And all this using the power of the Internet and mobile phoneit
sends out over 1 million job alert messages every month. So much so that its being called the
poor mans LinkedIn, a tag Babajobs Founder-CEO Sean Blagsvedt doesnt object to. It
makes a great headline, he grins.

The Trinity: Vir Kashyap, Maya Chandrasekaran and Sean Blagsvedt of Babajob.
Blagsvedt came to India in 2004 as an employee at Microsoft Research India. Like anybody
else in a big city, he had great difficulty in findingand retaininggood domestic help. But
that wasnt really the catalyst to starting Babajob. No, the trigger was a report presented by a
colleague at Microsoft on why Indian families get in and out of poverty. The findings: people
get into poverty when major health issues crop up; and people climb out of poverty through
income diversification, which usually happens because someone knows someone who helps
you get a different job.
The seeds of an enterprise were sown: somehow, Blagsvedt wanted to bring together people
from the bottom of the pyramid who were seeking jobs and people who were either looking
for employees or knew someone who was. Of course, it wouldnt be easy: the people he
wanted to address would not all be literate, have access to the Internet or own a mobile
phone. So, not only did he have to reach out to potential employers and employees, he also
had to bring in people who would be willing to help job seekers represent themselves online.
Enter Babalife and Babajob. While the first is a social networking site where relationships
can be created, enhanced and renewed, the second aims to connect employers and job seekers
by leveraging their social relations from Babalife.com. While employers can browse job
seeker profiles based on skills, location, salary, etc, job seekers can do the same and apply for
jobs by sending an SMS. Theres an added bait: mobile phone credits or cash payments to
help others get jobs or even just help employers and employees hook up.
Blagsvedt invested over Rs 1 crore into the venture: his lifes savings as well as money from
his stepfather. The first year was spent in just making door-to-door visits to get people to
register and create a database. The website went live a year later, with 3,000 registered job
seekers. Last year, angel investors from the US and India put in another Rs 1 crore. We are
looking to raise another $1 million from more investors and that should take place over the
next few months, says Babajobs COO, Vir Kashyap. He adds that the company broke even
sometime back but declines to share current income figures.
Mobile Magic
The Babajob office in Bangalores Richmond Town is buzzing. The telephones ring
continuously, interrupted only by the beeping of incoming text messages. Indeed, its the
mobile phone thats fast becoming the backbone of this enterprise. The reach of the mobile
phone has changed everything. It is really thanks to mass mobility that we exist, says
Kashyap, who has been with the company for about two and a half years.
The greater penetration of mobile telephony has helped Babajob
take off in unprecedented ways. One of the greatest hurdles was
that lower-end employees werent likely to have access to
Internetwhich was why the company was incentivising
mentors to help job seekers connect with employers. Now, the
company has partnered with several mobile operators and relies
on direct SMS alerts from both job seekers as well as employers.
The decision to make its services available through mobile
phones was taken by Babajob in 2009. That today has translated
into partnerships with eight service providers to launch Babajob
VAS. For the operators, it gives them access to a large database
of employment seekers. In India, the cost of digital
communication has got only cheaper, which is not so in the case
of a market like the US. That opportunity is hard for us to ignore, points out Kashyap.
The emphasis on mobile technology isnt the only change in Babajobs functioning. It began
with the intention of helping domestic workers find jobs but now concentrates equally on
providing low-end staff (such as drivers, store assistants, receptionists and security guards)
for offices and businesses. Depending on the profile and the salary scale (the range is now
from Rs 3,000 to Rs 25,000 a month), value-added services like SMS alerts, smartphone
applications and walk-in registrations are provided. Babajob currently operates on a
subscription model: the employer pays Rs 999 for a regular hire while a successful premium
hire carries a Rs 2,999 tag (this service offers a larger database of phone numbers. Typically,
this is for those who want people urgently). A tieup with the Hyderabad-based Jantakhoj
helps in providing background verification as a value-added service.
The Way Forward
In the next five years, Babajob wants to reach out to 20 million job seekers and have a few
hundred employees on its own rolls (it currently has 19 full-time employees). Those who
have tracked the company acknowledge the challenges involved. Where Babajob has




Babajob has
partnered with
several mobile
operators and
relies on direct
SMS alerts from
both job seekers
as well as
employers.




succeeded has been in playing the role of the aggregator in the informal sector. They are
definitely trying to do something that has never been done before, thinks Ashok Reddy,
Managing Director and Co-Founder of staffing solutions company TeamLease Services.
Still, it wont be easy. It is hugely important for us to simplify the levels of interaction with
the job seeker. Literacy, too, in any language is still a problem, concedes Maya
Chandrasekaran, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Babajob. Another view comes from
Reddy, who thinks handholding after a person is placed could be a challenge. It is very
different here as compared to placing people in a company and that is a challenge, he adds.
Blagsvedt isnt worried by the challenges ahead. The biggest social impact we have made is
to help people in the process of getting better jobs. If they can make more money and bring
about a better quality of life, that will be significant enough.
Himalayan Effort
AirJaldi is connecting rural communities through wifi and innovation.
Himanshu Kakkar


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Air Jaldi & Rural Broad Band
Started 2009
Employees 20
Customers 330 (mostly institutions)
Social Impact Facilitated access to information and development in rural and remote
areas.
***
Its name was born out of a joke, but AirJaldi is very serious business. The social enterprise
provides wireless broadband to remote areas across Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It
began its journey in sleepy old Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, and now broadcasts to
Garhwal and Kumaon in Uttarakhand as well as a few regions of Jharkhand. Its efforts have
brought scores of rural communities online.
So, how exactly did it get the quirky name? A group of likeminded individuals had banded
together in Dharamsala to provide wi-fi broadband to the region. Taking a leaf from the
much larger AirTel, we jokingly called it AirJaldi, explains Michael Ginguld, the companys
Founder and Director, Operations. The name was later formalised, when AirJaldi was
registered as a non-profit organisation. Today, it purchases huge bandwidth from AirTel and
distributes it to its clients, offering speeds ranging from 256 kbps to 6 mbps for now. It is also
capable of offering speeds as high as 60-70 mbps.
Ginguld, a native of Israel, proudly points into the distance from the terrace of AirJaldis
office: This hill, that hill, across that valley, that school on the top of hill our wireless
broadband reaches there. Pointing at a vertical relay mounted on a rooftop, Relays like this
beam wi-fi signals across the valley, he says.
He makes it sound simple, but the job was far from easy, given the terrain and the costs
involved. AirJaldi got around these challenges by innovating with infrastructure and
technology. Inside the office, Ginguld points at a relaya tall steel rod with a router in the
middle and a circular antenna on top. The relay batteries are powered by solar energy. It
may not be the most elegant thing, but it does the job, says Ginguld. Heavy precipitation
Dharamsala receives the most rain after Cherrapunjidoesnt affect it. The equipment will
even withstand Rajasthans heat. AirJaldi has deployed 30 such relays across Dharamsala.
We believe in desi, but not jugaad, says Ginguld.
The Tibetan Connect
AirJaldi was born out of the efforts of a group of people who visited Dharamsala frequently.
They developed an affinity for the place and its peoplemainly Tibetan refugeesand
wanted to do something for its development. Yahel Ben-David, an internet pioneer from
Israel, was one such individual. Gingulds love for McLeod GanjUpper Dharamsalais
almost as old as the Free Tibet movement that he was associated with.
The group realised that a network that connected local institutions and the community via the
internet was needed. However, the infrastructure wasnt available. But things began moving
in 2005, when two bandwidth ranges (2.4 ghz/5.8 ghz), known as wi-fi ranges, were
delicensed by the Government of India. The group could then interconnect locations without
having to procure a licence.





AirJaldis
objective is to
harness the
capabilities of
wireless
connectivity and

Ben-David seized this opportunity. In 2005, eight campuses
around Dharamsala were networked, which included institutions,
monasteries, NGOs and other public serving institutions. Ginguld
left his job in Boston and the moved to Dharamsala in 2007. It
wasnt a difficult decision, he says: My wife is from here, and I
feel affinity for the people.
By then the informal group realised they could do more to link up rural areas. And in 2007,
they formed AirJaldi to harness the capabilities of wireless connectivity and benefit all
communities. They trained people, shared knowledge and developed products. AirJaldi was
buying bandwidth wholesale and selling it retail. The difference was: we were doing it in
areas where others didnt want to go, doing it with local people and innovating, says
Ginguld.
In order to scale up, it was decided to form a for-profit arm as well. And so, in May 2009, a
company called Rural Broad Band (RBB) was incorporated with capital infusions by Indian
partners and US investors. Apart from Ginguld, Jim Forster, an ICT expert from the US
(Chairman), Alok Gupta and Manoj Arora are the other members on the companys board.
Ginguld wont reveal the quantum but says the investments arent very high: From the
beginning till now, a few hundred thousand dollars have been invested.
Following Demand
RBB doesnt set up infrastructure and then look for customers. Its the other way round.
Clients have approached it with projects in difficult terrain. In Tehri Garhwal, for instance,
the company has provided services to Micro Banking Enterprises. Similarly, B2R, a rural
BPO, was provided connectivity for its centres in the Kumaon region. It takes us long to get
clients. But in the long run, very few clients have left us, says Ginguld.
RBBs pricing is not cheap but equivalent to what other players charge. Dharamsala, the first
one that covers 100 x 70 km area, is profitable. Garhwal is already on the road to
profitability. It now has institutional and private customers.
Tenzin Tsundue of the Tibetan Youth Congress, an NGO, has been using AirJaldis services
in the office and BSNL at home. He finds BSNL bureaucratic and slow. In Dharamsala,
AirJaldis competitors are Tennor and Vayudoot. But they are solely profit and city
oriented, says Ginguld. AirJaldi, on the other hand, has more than one bottomline.
It takes great persistence to sustain a social enterprise. For those who stay firm, there is
commercial potential in rural connectivity too, proclaims Ginguld.
One Click At A Time
NIITs hole-in-the-wall initiative is helping bridge the digital divide between rich and poor
kids.
Allan Lasrado


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HIWEL
benefit all
communities.



Started 2001
Revenue Rs 3 crore
Employees Under 50
Social Impact Imparts basic computing skills to children from underprivileged
backgrounds.
***
In 1999, Sugata Mitra, NIITs Chief Scientist at the time, shook the world with a simple
experiment. He drilled a hole in his office in Kalkaji, New Delhi, and stuck a computer into
it. The office was next to a slum and he wanted to observe what would happen. In no time, he
found scores of curious children flocking to the PC. Over the next few days, he saw that, left
to themselves, the children were perfectly capable of picking up basic computer skills. The
results were the same when he repeated the experiment elsewhere, including several rural
locations.
Since then, the groundbreaking research has won many awards and received saturation
coverage in the media. Mitra has moved on from NIIT but the company has continued the
good work through a separate business unit called Hole in the Wall Education (HiWEL), a
fully owned subsidary of NIIT. The progress has been slow but it has been steady.
The original hole in the wall is no longer in existence, nor is the slum. But a government
school nearby has installed two PCs on its compound wall. There, the sight is the same as at
other hole-in-the-wall sites in India and abroad. Children mill around the learning stations
and take turns using them. I like the games most, says Raju, one of the children. So do the
others. The content, which includes game-based learning and videos, has been developed by
HiWEL, NIIT, TCS, National Geographic and others.
We have three verticals, explains Sanjay Gupta, Head, HiWEL. They are schools (mostly
government schools), CSR (initiatives of companies/ foundations/ NGOs) and foreign
projects (Ministry of External Affairs). On the school front, HiWEL has deployed learning
stations under various development initiatives, particularly Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Under
CSR, organisations such as ACC, ICICI Group and Hindalco have sponsored them in rural
areas. As for the MEA, it has roped in HiWEL to deploy learning stations in Africa (eight
countries), Cambodia and Bhutan. In all, a little over 50 have been deployed so far. More will
follow, with Bhutan alone set to have 131 by the end of this fiscal year.
Just As Smart
Mitras experiment proved without a doubt that children benefited from exploratory and
collaborative learning. This minimally invasive education, as it is called, gives children
unrestricted and unsupervised access to a computer. Curiosity pushes the kids to explore,
discover and share their learning with each other. The environment is a learning
environment, explains Dr Ritu Dangwal, a psychologist who works with HiWEL. They
will do whatever it takes to find out.
Dr Dangwal cites an experiment that HiWEL carried out in Kalikuppam village, Tamil Nadu.
A group of 10 to 14 year olds who knew only Tamil was asked to find out about
biotechnology, initially with a hole-in-the-wall PC and later with a facilitator who knew
nothing about the subject.
We then compared their outcomes with those of children from a
top private school in Delhi, she recalls. It turned out that when
the children relied only on the learning station, they achieved test
scores of around 30%statistically significant, considering they
had zero prior knowledge. When they had the assistance of the
mediator, who had barely covered five chapters, their scores
jumped to nearly 57%. The Delhi school students scored 70%.
They had expert help, knew English, had internet access and their
teachers had covered the entire syllabus. Also, they were 11th
graders.
HiWEL is now looking to get the children to generate content as
well. This led to an initiative called Content Co-Creation by
Children in 2010. A pilot project was tried out with the school
near HiWELs Kalkaji office At first, we thought nothing would
come of it, says Meera S Dutta, Senior Project Manager in an NIIT research division. But
the kids proved adept at creating and using email IDs, Google gadgets and so on.
Next, the children were asked to document something important about the local culture.
They decided to cover the Budh Bazaarweekly bazaarin the area, she says. Armed
with a camera and a set of questions, they interviewed traders.
Later, they sat down and captured it all on a computer, complete with photos. They even used
Googles language tool to translate what they had written into English. While not perfect, the
language is easily comprehensible to any English reader.
Innovative Solutions
In the early days, a few of the learning stations were damaged due to heavy usage. This
sparked off a series of innovations by our team, explains Gupta. After some trial and error
the company came up with a durable solution. It protected the PCs with steel and polymer
panels that could withstand vandalism as well as extreme climatic conditions. The keyboard
is housed in a panel that not only deters theft but also discourages adults from using it. The
touch-button mouse is a hardy piece of work with six buttons for left and right clicks as well
as up/down/sideways movement.
It didnt end there. A simple switch initiates the start-up and shutdown processes, eliminating
the need for a PC-literate caretaker. During power outages an automated power system shuts
the machine and turns it on when needed. In addition, HiWEL has also developed a software
that automatically shuts inactive windows and ensures the machine doesnt hang. Also,
remote monitoring software enables the Kalkaji office to monitor usage at every learning
station across the world.
NIIT still bankrolls all of HiWELs costs. The subsidiarys annual turnover is in the region of
Rs 3 crore, with expenditure exceeding that by around 10%. We hope to break even this
year, says Gupta. The costs are largely incurred on monitoring and evaluation, research and
development, and the salaries of the small team. Every learning station is paid for by the




Minimally
invasive
education gives
children
unrestricted
access to a
computer and
pushes them to
share their
learning with
each other.




school, corporation or concerned government that sponsors it. Vendors who supply the PCs
maintain them.
The price of a learning station is around Rs 1.6 lakh (plus taxes). Going forward, the biggest
challenge before HiWEL will be to bring down this steep price. Our top priority will be to
innovate and drive costs down, says Gupta, explaining the companys plans.
Its been a long, hard road, one thats taken the HiWEL team to remote parts of the India and
the world. Everywhere we go, whether it is in militancy-ridden areas of Kashmir or Naxal-
infested Dantewada, we are welcomed, says Nitin Sharma, a project manager at HiWEL.
As Suhotra Banerjee, Head, Relations, puts it: We are helping to bridge the digital divide
between the children of haves and have-nots. That is a reward in itself.
Growth Potion
Gram Mooligai has helped group medicinal plant gatherers in Tamil Nadu into a corporate
structure.
Krishna Gopalan


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Gram Mooligai
Started 2000
Revenues Rs 1.26 crore
Employees 250
Customers 22 companies and 50 social enterprises.
Social Impact Providing a sustainable living to farmers, women and the
underprivileged.
***
About 40 km out of Madurai and on the road to Tuticorin lies Sevaiyoor. It looks like any
village in Tamil Nadularge, green fields edged by trees and many, many farmers. Life has
a certain level of tranquillity and there is not very much to complain about. The name
Sevaiyoor (meaning place of service) isnt very old, but then the village itself isnt very old.
Until not too long ago, this land was classified as waste. We have created a manmade forest
on a 200-acre area. We also gave it a name, says a proud N Muthu Velayutham, Founder,
Covenant Centre for Development (CCD).
The forest and the farmlands inside it are at the heart of three initiatives started by CCD
Aharam, Adharam and Gram Mooligai. While CCD is a not-for-profit organisation, Gram
Mooligai (GMCL) is a public limited entity whose shares are owned by the primary producer
groups of medicinal plant gatherers and cultivators who work out of Sevaiyoor. We have a
variety of herbs being cultivated in this farm, says Velayutham as he bends to examine a
stack of dried leaves of Eclipta prostrata (commonly known as bhringraj or false daisy).
We produce 55 tonnes of this each year here, he adds. What the 11-year-old GMCL does is
simple: it provides assured market support to its shareholders by taking orders for medicinal
herbs from ayurvedic companies, extract makers and the like and passing them onto the
primary producer groups. They grow the herbs and send them off after sorting, drying,
crushing and packing them properly.
GMCL today supplies 1,000 tonnes of 18 different herbs every year to companies such as
Himalaya Drug, Natural Remedies and CavinKare. Its growth has been impressive.
Registered in early 2000, it has grown from Rs 25 lakh turnover in 2001-02, to Rs 86 lakh in
2008-09 and Rs 1.26 crore last year. We are in a growth mode, says Velayutham happily.
Humble Beginnings
Velayuthams journey started in the late 1980s when he interacted with slum children in
Madurai in the course of his post-graduate degree in social work. He founded CCD in 1988
with a simple aim: give back to society. Nearly 25 years later, while the focus remains
unchanged, CCD has grown far beyond Velayuthams imagining: it is a Rs 10 crore
enterprise that employs 250 people and has a community membership of over 22,000 across
states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. I grew up in a village so perhaps its
easier for me to understand the concerns of the people living here. And that has helped me in
the business, he says.
None of the land at Sevaiyoor actually belongs to CCD. It is all owned by well-wishers and
residents of the nearby villages who hand it over to CCD for 20 years for free. Over the next
three years, the organisation plans to acquire another 100 acres in the same manner. While
some part of the land has been kept aside for trees and cultivation of seeds, herb cultivation
accounts for nearly 80-85% of the available area. The 250 permanent employees are actually
part of the producer groups working with GMCL and are, therefore, shareholders in GMCL.
They come from 20 women gatherer groups and 12 farmer groups, all from the
neighbourhood. They live within 2-3 km of Sevaiyoor and walk to work everyday. During
harvest, many moreas many as 10,000 people in a seasonare hired on a part-time basis.





"We thought it
was good to work
for large
companies. Now,
I want to create a
community
corporate
structure."N
Muthu
Velayutham,
Founder,
Covenant Centre

For the producer groups, the association with GMCL has been
empowering and liberating. As farmers and farm workers earlier,
they would sell their produce to traders with no information or
conception of how the market operated. Now they sit on board
meetings and have a say in how the company functions. Take
Kumarayee, for instance. Earlier, she worked as an independent
herb gatherer and gave all that she collected to traders with no knowledge of where the herbs
would end up, in what form and on what basis she was being paid. Today, my income at
GMCL is based on the quantity of herbs I supply. It is a more transparent mechanism, she
says as she displays the share certificate that her group owns in GMCL. Her son is also
employed with GMCL: he assists with the procurement and quality control of herbs.
It wasnt easy getting CCD and GMCL off the ground, even though the biggest assetthe
landhasnt cost the organisation anything. Then, Sidbi gave a loan of Rs 3.8 lakh given its
social goals of providing a sustainable livelihood and empowering women. That opened the
gates for more financingPandian Grameen Bank offered CCD a Rs 14 lakh loan. Funding
became easy after that, says Velayutham.
Of course, it helps that GMCL has built excellent credentials in the market. The popularity
for herbal products is rising and not just in India, points out UV Babu, Head of R&D in
agrotech and phytochemistry at Himalaya Drug. India has large tracts of fertile land and is
also rich in biodiversity. Popular herbs like amla, neem and tulsi are found in abundance and
can also be easily cultivated, he says. From the herbal companies point of view, they reach
out to farmers to develop a secure supply chain. Some herbs can be cultivated on fallow land
and can also be grown as intercrops, says Babu. Farmers can continue to grow their regular
kharif and rabi crops, and supplement their income through herb cultivation, he adds.
Himalayas decade-long partnership with GMCL is part of its CSR initiatives, with a focus
on economic empowerment of marginalised communities, especially women farmers. This
partnership has been mutually beneficial, says Babu. Himalaya is able to procure good
quality herbs from GMCL and the women farmers earn additional income through cultivating
and collecting herbs for us. Its a win-win model, he says.
Power To The People
Another big story at CCD is Adharam Energy, which offers low-cost green energy products
to rural people. Conceived as a private limited corporation in early 2006, Adharam sells
Oorja smokeless biomass stoves in partnership with British Petroleum. Till date about 50,000
stoves have been sold, in the process generating jobs for 600 women across the country.
The deal with BP came from the awareness that smoke emitted by fuels posed a serious
health hazard. CCD, along with Mumbai-based development organisation Swayam Shikshan
Prayog (SSP), got an offer from BP to create a low-cost solution for village households. It is
important to reduce the levels of carbon emission in the villages, says B Jeyabala Murugan,
CEO, Adharam Energy. During the study, it was found that the bulk of rural incomeabout
60%went into food. After the outgo on education and other things, the man is left with
barely 10%, adds Murugan. Oorja is a smokeless, biomass stove. It is not only devoid of
health hazards but is also more cost-effective, leaving the household more to spend on better,
cleaner food.
for Development
and MD, Gram
Mooligai



Today Adharam is a Rs 3 crore company and is looking to expand in a big way into bio-fuels.
We call ourselves the manufacturers of bio-fuel, solar and hydro power, says Velayutham.
CCDs third entity, Aharam, is a traditional crop producer that procures cereals and pulses
from farmers and processes them. It is then marketed through a retail chain that exists in five
districts in southern Tamil Nadu. Since this is based on a co-operative set-up, we are not
allowed to make profits or raise equity, says Velayutham.
How the future plays out for CCD will depend greatly on the progress of existing businesses
and other areas like groundnut production, fruit processing and yarn production. According to
Velayutham, CCD and its affiliate companies have learnt a great deal by working for some of
the large companies and over 50 social enterprises. We always thought it was a big thing to
work for companies. I am now convinced that my objective of having a community corporate
structure is just as achievable. That will take care of everything else, he says. Everything
else would mean farmers getting the right price for the produce and a continuous interaction
between companies and the man on the field. Sounds like the perfect growth potion.
Watts From Waste
Desi Power provides off-grid electricity to villages using biomass as fuel.
Krishna Gopalan


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Desi Power
Started 1996
Employees 20
Customers 10,000
Social Impact Affordable and uninterrupted power for the poor, generated from
biomass.
***
Until some months ago, Shivnarayan Mondal used diesel to run the pumps that irrigate his
farm at Baharbari village. It used to take an hour and a half each time. With electricity,
Mondal says, pointing to the lush fields ahead, he finishes the job in just 30 minutes. That
isnt the only transformation power has wrought in this Bihar village close to the Nepal
border. Now there are mobile phones and DTH connections. Mondal hires a television
whenever he wants to catch a film since power is affordable: for lighting three CFL bulbs, he
pays Rs 3 everyday. We even go to the cinema hall now. Life has changed, he smiles.






Tellinglyand perhaps unfortunatelynone of this
transformation can be credited to the government. The change at
Baharbari is the work of a Bangalore-based company that builds
and operates off-grid electric power plants using sustainable,
renewable sources such as biomass, biofuel, hydro and solar
power. Desi (Decentralised Energy Systems India) Power is the
brainchild of HN Sharan, a well-known power engineer, and
Ashok Khosla, a leading environment and sustainable
development expert. Nearly 80, Sharans enthusiasm is still as
strong as it was when he launched the company in 1996. There
were three reasons for setting up power plants using renewable
resources, he says. Right on top was the need to make a
difference to the local people. It was also necessary to have the
full-time involvement of the local people. Finally, we were clear
about the need to involve women and this was an opportunity for them to be empowered. In
the past 15 years, Desi Power has installed 15 power plants across five states. Four are
currently operational, in three villages across BiharBaharbari, Bhebra and Gaiyari. The
villages where Desi Power has set up plants are areas where the conventional electric grid
wont reach any time soonnot for two generations at least, says Sharan. At Baharbari,
about 250 households have been linked to the plants; there is no other source of electricity in
the village. The two plants (32KW and 11KW) supply power to micro enterprises and run
irrigation pumps during the day; in the evenings, power is diverted to households and the
local market. In another village, the plant powers telecom towers and a cinema hall. The
plan is to cover 50 villages in the next two or three years and eventually, 100 villages, says
Sharan.
Renewing Energy
Desi Powers modus operandi is simple: it builds,
operates and later transfers the plants to local
ownership. It has identified biomass gasification
as the most appropriate technology for providing
uninterrupted and affordable electricity in rural
areas: biomass is cheap and easily available in the
form of agricultural waste, weeds, wood shavings,
etc. Renewable energy remains the most
attractive option, especially for energising
villages, declares Sharan. Although theres no
substantial difference in the price of energy
created by biomass or by conventional methods,
the former has the greatest social impact since
jobs can be created along the supply chain. The
technology at the plants, too, has been kept simple
since the plants will ultimately be run by the
locals: the biomass is burned with limited oxygen
supply; this generates combustible gas that, in
turn, produces electricity. And all this with zero carbon-dioxide emission.
"Renewable
energy is the way
forward and we
need to create a
sustainable model
around it. India
will need at least
20 Desi
Powers."HN
Sharan, Founder,
Desi Power



Local youths have been trained to operate and maintain the plants. While each plant directly
employs 20 people, the scope for indirect employmentthrough the biomass supply chain
route primarilyis at least 10 times that.
Of course, none of this is cheap and requires fundingDesi Power declines to discuss
investment and revenue figures although Sharan adds that the company broke even some
time back. A 70KW plant occupies 2,000 sq ft of space entailing a Rs 70 lakh investment.
Depending on capacity utilisation, each plant has a life of 15 years and takes six to seven
years to recover the costs: the production cost of power is about Rs 4 a unit, while the selling
price is Rs 6-10 per unit. Thats high, but these arent poor villages and besides, usage is very
low. Desi Power has had to look for grants, bank loans, government subsidies and any kind of
funding that comes its way. Village cooperatives have also been roped in wherever possible.

Power Point: Local youths have been trained to operate and maintain the biomass power
plant.
Coping With Challenges
Gyanesh Pandey, CEO of Husk Power Systems, which generates electricity through rice husk
in 250 villages in Bihar, maintains that biomass is a well-proven technology globally. It has
not taken off because of inertia; most people are not willing to try anything new. In the next
three to five years, it will realise 10-15% of its potential, he says. That could just be the
trigger Desi Power needs.
The task on hand is clear. For biomass power to take off there has to be supply of biomass.
Sharan suggests promoting biomass plantations. Renewable energy is clearly the way
forward and we need to create a sustainable model around it. For the next generation, India
will need at least 20 Desi Powers, Sharan says. If that results in more people employed and
power coming at affordable rates, this technocrat would certainly have created something that
will make a difference to Indias unelectrified villages.
Let There Be Light
Rural India covets light more than electricity. Greenlight Planet understands and shows the
way.
Patanjali Pahwa


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Greenlight Planet
Started 2008
Revenues Rs 35 lakh in July
Employees 69
Customers 800,000
Social Impact Reduces dependence on kerosene; provides alternate employment in
rural India.
***
It was a Friday evening in 2008 when Anish Thakkar, then a 20-something research
associate at ZS Associates, approached his employer at the Chicago-based companys 25th
anniversary party. In his pocket was the prototype for a solar lamp. Thakkar pitched the lamp
to Prabhakant Sinha, Co-founder of ZS, and convinced him to invest in Greenlight Planet
(GLP). It was the realisation of a not-so-old dream of two friends to light up rural India and it
was born, like many good ideas, of a failed experiment.
Thakkar and Mayank Sekhsaria, tech manager at Google back then, both University of
Illinois post-grads, had already helped set up a bio-diesel generator for a rice mill in Orissa as
part of a graduation project. When we came back the next day, we saw that they [the
villagers] were using the electricity not to run the mill but light bulbs in their homes,
remembers Sekhsaria, also a partner at GLP, which is registered in Illinois but operates out of
Mumbai. That is when we realised that the village needed light more than electricity.
The market for lights in India is massive500 million Indians live in villages with a
population of 500-5,000. A Times report points out that 400 million of these villages live in
darkness. The Planning Commission describes a village as electrified if even a percentage of
its residents have power supply. If one house in 10 is electrified, the village is considered
powered, Sekhsaria says. That leaves nine unlit homesand as many potential customers.
But first, the product. Enter Patrick Walsh, formerly with the Engineers Without Borders, an
outreach programme for infrastructure in developing countries. Walsh had linked up with
Thakkar and Sekhsaria at the bio-diesel project in Orissa. It was Walshs prototype that
Thakkar pitched to his boss. A Kopernik study panned the use of kerosene lamps, equating an
eight-hour burning time to the consumption of 40 cigarettes. Prabhakant Sinha, who
moonlights as an angel investor, had spent a greater part of his childhood in north Bihar
crouched near a gasoline lantern, pursuing a dream.
Still, I wondered if three 23-year-old men with no experience could build and operate such a
complex business, Sinha recalls. It was their achievements in engineering, including awards
for design from reputed schools, which motivated him to invest. Patrick is clearly a product
genius, Sinha says. Anish had worked in our sales consultancy and Mayank had gotten
through the rigorous recruiting process at Google. The mix of these three skills and
personalities gave me a great deal of confidence and hope, he says.
A few days after Thakkars pitch to Sinha, Walsh was sent to China to scour the market, from
where he called: We have found a factory. GLP subsequently managed to raise $350,000
through competitions and international awards, and $900,000 through angel investors.

Photograph by Priyam Dhar
Getting there
Sun King, GLPs brand, is a red-yellow lamp with an unbreakable plastic shell, connected to
solar panels through a regular Nokia mobile phone cord and a lithium iron battery in plastic
casing. Sun King is cheap; it can be repaired; and the upgrade can even power a mobile
phone. The lamps are priced at costs lower than competitors (Rs 850) and can run for four
years without changing the battery. It was extensive field testing that led to GLPs current
model of Walshs earlier version. Once, someone claimed a warranty lapse when a monkey
stole the panel, Sekhsaria says without rancour. Its makers put holes on the bottom so the
device could be fastened.
Next up, effective marketing and pricing. Thakkars family had owned an Amway
distributorship. GLP adopted a similar planintrusive marketing. It sought influential
members of village communitiesLIC agents, part-time teachers, veterinariansbuyers
were made local partners or saathis. Anyone with fire in their belly and wanting to earn an
extra Rs 5,000 a month, elaborates GLPs Bihar state manager, Shuvadip Bose.




Even though GLP
saved costs on
Manoj Kumar, for instance, is a 28-year-old part-time veterinarian
and full time saathi from Doripar, a village 50 km from Patna.
GLP targets a village towards the end of the month by setting up
kiosks outside schools that are holding monthly meetings. Kumar
was recruited at one such event in July. I have sold five lamps so
far this month and I intend to increase my income by Rs 5,000,
Kumar says. Kumars sales have primarily been to onion farmers
who use it while spraying pesticide on their field. The root needs
to be dusted at night, and you need light to see what you are
doing, said one villager. There have been a few more ingenious uses of the lamp as well. I
saw a villager tie the lamp to a bulls horns so it could see in the darkness. I wouldnt
recommend that, says Sekhsaria.
The method isnt without its problems. GLP quickly realised that misleading advertisements
put off the small income buyer. A saathi would claim that the product could run their TV,
which obviously isnt so, Sekhsaria says. Nevertheless, GLP remains convinced that the
long-term benefits of the lamp will place it in a better position.
Shadow play
Even though GLP saved costs on major advertising, the company has to compete with
government subsidies on kerosene. The government has also tried to implement the looks-
like-a-lantern plan, where they encouraged companies to make solar lamps that looked like
lanterns, with a CFL bulb in the middle, says Sekhsaria. Sun Kings design excluded it from
the subsidies market. GLPs competitors are either those that are in the subsidy market or
those that offer their lamps without warranty. There are several companies that play the
subsidy game, Sekhsaria says, But we dont want that.
In this sector, the margin is very thin, he adds. Since the technology is expensive, there is
a floor below which we cannot go, and because the market is price conscious, there is also a
ceiling. We couldnt use any traditional means; we had to rely on word of mouth and hope
the product would catch on.
It [GLP] is a single-product company, says Prasanta Biswal, Senior Manager-Missions and
Innovation, Selco. So there is not a lot of scope for growth, financially. Selco benefits from
subsidies. Biswal also doubts how well GLPs service network can be monetised with its
distinct lack of portfolio. He feels the way forward is to collaborate with microfinance
institutions to help customers buy products. He says that with sufficient innovations in cost,
A more expensive product of, say, Rs 7,000, can also sell, especially if it lasts for not four
but 15 years.
A brighter future
GLP, however, appears to be content with what it has and theres reason for that. The
company turned profitable in January 2011 while catering to just three regions in India and a
few more in Africa. It had sales worth Rs 35 lakh in July. Shuvadip Bose says GLP sold out
all its lamps and is importing more. The company has serviced 800,000 customers in the last
16 months across 80 talukas of Orissa and Bihar. It employs 69 people, including engineers,
and now has a 600-strong saathi network.
advertising, the
company has to
compete with
government
subsidies on
kerosene.



Looking to perfect its product, an upgrade on its current modelSun King Propriced at Rs
1,600, is already available. There is a new model in the works that uses lithium iron
phosphate batteries, also found in hybrid cars, which are primed to last longer. Initial surveys
indicate it has a negative carbon footprint. Once a carbon credits system is in place, GLP will
be able to trade them for a higher economic benefit.
The next step is to expand territory. GLP is now looking at the North East and the rest of
India. Its target is to reach 24 million people by 2013. A tall task, until we remember where it
all started.
Walking On Water
Sunil Uplaps service keeps your water tank clean and hygienic.
Ajitha Shashidhar


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Tanclean
Started 1996
Revenues Rs 4.5 crore
Employees 3,000
Customers Residential complexes, commercial institutions, offices etc.
Social Impact Clean drinking water and a healthy society.
***
It was a lazy Sunday morning in December 1999. After a relaxed breakfast, Milind
Patwardhan, secretary of the Sai Shradha residential complex in Thane, was about to switch
on his TV when his doorbell rang. It was Sunil Uplap, a mechanical engineer, and he had
something unusual to offerat least for an engineer. Uplap said he wanted to clean the
overhead water tank of the apartment complex. Patwardhan was willing to have the tanks
cleaned but was bewildered when the engineer said he would do the job himself.
Patwardhan led Uplap to his buildings 15,000 litre tank. Over the next few minutes, the latter
and his five assistants drained the water in it. Then, after arming himself with a battery of
sophisticated gadgets, Uplap jumped in and began the cleaning process. He pumped out the
remaining water from the tank, removed nearly two feet of sludge, used a high-pressure water
jet to wash the inside and vacuumed it with an industrial vacuum cleaner. Finally, the tank
was sterilised with ultra-violet radiation. After an entire days work, Sai Shradhas water tank
was spotlessly clean. Patwardhan was dumbstruck. More so when Uplap charged him a mere
Rs 800 for the clean-up.
This was how Uplap launched Tanclean, his tank cleaning company. Twelve years on, it has
cleaned more than 4.1 million tanks and become a Rs 4.5 crore company operating in 140
cities across 23 states. It employs over 3,000 people and has more than 8,000 clients,
including corporates, institutions and residential societies.
In a country where millions succumb to water-borne diseases every year, a business of this
nature was bound to do well. According to a World Health Organisation report, effective and
affordable interventions such as periodic cleaning of water tanks is essential to control water-
borne diseases. In fact, a recent survey by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)
found 12.5% of the drinking water samples in the city contaminated, leading to a rise in
sickness and deaths caused by water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and
gastroenteritis.
The Genesis
The idea of starting a tank cleaning service was purely accidental, says Uplap. In 1992, while
visiting a friend in Pune, he happened to notice a few people cleaning an overhead tank in a
residential complex. Curious, he went to observe what was happening and was appalled by
the poor hygiene. The cleaners smelled of alcohol, which put me off at once. To make things
worse I saw one of them spitting into the same tank that he was cleaning. It was shocking,
recalls Uplap.
The image of the worker spitting into the tank haunted Uplap, who continued running his
engineering spare parts business in Pune with two other partners. However, in 1994, the
business ran up huge debts when the company lost money due to the poor economic climate.
Thats when Uplap proposed setting up a tank cleaning business to his partners. But they
werent interested and parted ways. We have not become engineers to clean tanks, said one
of them.
My family was also not very happy about my idea of cleaning tanks. There was a certain
stigma attached to being a cleaner, says Uplap, grinning. But undeterred, he decided to go
ahead. He found out about a German company called Kranzley that specialised in tank
cleaning equipment, and purchased some from it. I put in around Rs 50,000 from my savings
and borrowed another Rs 1.5 lakh from my family to set up the business, says Uplap.
Uplap had no problem finding takers for his service and his enterprise was able to break even
within a year. Through it all he made it a point to clean each tank personally. I cleaned four-
five tanks a day and had three franchisees in place with a year and a half, he says proudly.
The entrepreneur was even approached by the Maharashtra Government to clean the tanks of
municipality schools and their office buildings.

Franchisee Model
When Uplap decided to expand his tank cleaning services to other parts of the country in the
later half of 2000, funds were a huge constraint. He, therefore, decided to go the franchisee
way, collecting an initial investment of Rs 2 lakh as a franchisee fee. To begin with, he
approached his friends and family to join him as franchisees.
The model worked well. Uplap today has a network of 324 franchisees across 140 cities.
Rajesh Kawoor, the Tanclean franchisee in Pune, has been in the business since 2000.
Kawoor says that he realised that the business had bright prospects from day one. There
were no organised entrepreneurseverything was haphazard with no system and technology.
So, when we went to our clients promising them a scientific method of cleaning their tanks
and ensuring their water would be safer than ever before, they lapped up our services at
once.
Kawoor claims that his franchise cleans tanks in 4-5 multi-
storeyed apartment complexes every day. It has over 500 non-
residential complexes and over 1,500 residential societies as
clients.
Nabin Roy, the Tanclean franchisee in Bangalore, joined hands
with Uplap five years ago. Roy, an IT consultant, claims that his
tank-cleaning business broke even in less than a years time.
This is a basic, health-related service that will always be in
demand. I have more than 5,000 clients in Bangalore city, he
says.
In 2005, Sunil Gorawat, Chairman of Earth Water Group, which
makes water-purification gadgets, picked up a 50% stake in




Tancleans hi-
tech cleaning
system has won
the company the
loyalty of
customers across
residential
complexes as well
as institutions
such as schools.




Tanclean. The basic idea of being able to provide safe and clean water, which is so essential
for the health of society, is what pulled me into this project, remarks Gorawat.
Uplap is now looking to scale up and claims to have already identified 250 cities that he will
target. I am now on the lookout for franchisees in these places, he says. He is also in talks
with private equity companies and venture capitalists for further funding.
Loyal Clientele
Uplap claims that though a number of small tank-cleaning enterprises have cropped up in the
past few years, none of them is anywhere close to Tanclean in terms of scale. Many
municipality sweepers have embraced tank-cleaning as a profession. None of them has the
sophisticated equipment we do. They still use brooms and detergent to clean tanks, he says.
The hi-tech cleaning system has won the company the loyalty of customers across residential
complexes, commercial buildings as well as institutions such as schools. Avni Turokia,
Secretary of the Ananda Krupa Co-operative Housing Society in Mumbai, says that she has
been using Tancleans services since 2001. The service is impeccable and the tanks are
spotlessly clean. I still remember the thick layers of sludge they took out the first time they
cleaned the tank. It was eerie, she says. Tanclean charges the housing society Rs 10,000 for
an annual maintenance contract and cleans its tanks every four months.
One of the companys more recent clients is Delhi Public School in Gurgaon. RS Nanral, the
schools administration in-charge, says that the quality of water in the school has drastically
improved. It is much cleaner now. I was impressed with the sophisticated technology they
use. It was a welcome change after being used to the manual methods of cleaning for years.
Despite scripting a success in a short time, Uplap is not taking it easy. My dream is to reach
each and every tank in the country. Considering how his clients stick to him loyally and the
essential nature of the service Tanclean provides, the entrepreneur looks set to achieve that
goal.
Building Blocks
Pipal Tree Ventures efforts are helping unemployed youth find work and bridging the acute
shortage of skilled manpower in the construction industry.
Arundhati Ramanathan


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Pipal Tree Ventures
Started 2007
Revenue Rs 6.5 crore (March 2011)
Employees 110
Investment Rs 11 crore
Social Impact Has tapped the pool of unemployed rural youth and provided a
sustainable livelihood while meeting growing demands for skilled labour.
***
Sahadev Pradhan, 27, had a dream. He wanted to build a home, get married, and help his
younger brother finish his education. But with a monthly salary of just Rs 3,500which he
earned as a draftsman in Rourkela, Orissahis dreams remained unfulfilled. All that changed
when he got in touch with Pipal Tree Ventures in 2009. The organisation got him a job as a
steel fixer and bar bender. Today, Pradhan trains others in this construction process and earns
a monthly salary of Rs 11,000. He has a guaranteed job in an industry where one usually has
to scout for work at the end of every project.
Pipal Tree Ventures trains economically weaker sections from the hinterland in construction
functions and helps them find jobs in the industry. The training curriculum covers areas like
steel fixing, bar bending, surveying, toll collection and so on.
The venture was born when Santosh Parulekar, 42, a software engineer, visited Andhra
Pradesh in 2006 to understand the microfinance systemhis employer provided SKS
Finance operational solutions. During his tour, Parulekar came across many out of work,
uneducated young men. He and his classmate from college, Shailendra Ghaste, MD of IDFC
Capital, realised they could transform the lives of these disadvantaged folks. They got
together with another friend, Vikram Reddy, Director of KMC Construction, to convert this
unskilled labour pool into a skilled workforce. The founders invested Rs 50 lakh each of their
own money. Andhra Pradesh-based BSCPL Infrastructure and KMC Construction poured in
another Rs 7 crore.
With their agricultural background, it was clear the underemployed youth could take on the
strenuous physical work involved in constructionan industry that is short of skilled workers
even on a good day. And, one that will need more workers in the years to come as the number
of infrastructure projects increase.

For Profit
When they started out in 2007, the founders initially thought of setting up a trust but
ultimately decided to operate as a private limited company, despite facing certain losses. But
why call it Pipal Tree? The companys website explains that just as the Pipal tree is the tree
of life, the organisation aims to provide its students with a means of livelihood, thereby
becoming a tree of life for them.
After nearly a year of surveys, evaluations, meetings with construction companies and
fundraising, a sprawling 40,000 sq ft training campus spread over 25 acres was set up in
Andhra Pradeshs Ranga Reddy district. Technical & Further Education (Tafe), an Australian
training institute, was roped in for its teaching processes and material. By 2008, the first
batch of 45 workers was ready to hit construction sites.
However, in the early days, Pipal faced a number of challenges,
particularly in getting companies to hire its workers. Because of
the unorganised nature of the sector, we had trouble convincing
companies about the accountability of the workers, recalls
Reddy of KMC. They solved the problem by putting in standards
and processes. We had to be accountable for the quality of
people we provided.
On the other side, it was equally hard to attract workers,
particularly because of the MGNREGS. When they can earn Rs
120 per day in their own backyard, why would they want to go
elsewhere? says a rueful Reddy.
Nevertheless, they stuck to the task and eventually began to taste
some success. Parulekar says the emphasis on training has today
made Pipal Tree a reliable and reputed name among construction
companies and potential trainees. The organisation has nine such
centres now, in AP, UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It
plans to open four more this year.
Pipal trains people between the ages of 18 and 30 in the
classroom and on site. Once employed, the cost of training (Rs 25,000) is recovered from
them over 18 months. We deduct anywhere between Rs 750 and Rs 2,000 a month,
depending on how much they earn, explains Parulekar, who is also Pipals Chief Operating
Officer. Often, a worker gains enough experience to earn more. For instance, Anil Kumar
from Rae Bareli saw his salary double to Rs 10,000 after two years of bar bending and steel
fixing. I have become so good at this job that I have time to supervise a team of 40, he
explains proudly. Thanks to the training, these workers earn about 30% more than their
unskilled counterparts, says Sanjay Londhe, Director, Ashoka Buildcon. The standard wage
for steel fixing and bar bending is Rs 3,000 whereas a Pipal Tree worker earns Rs 5,200.
High Attrition Rate
Despite the promise of better wages, Pipal Trees biggest problem is its dropout rate. Initially,
it was as high as 80% but has since tapered to 30%, which is still a worry. The main causes
for workers quitting are poor site conditions, remote locations and separation from family.





"The cost of
training is
recovered by
deducting
between Rs 750
and Rs 2,000 per
month, depending
on how much
they earn."
Santosh
Parulekar, Co-
Founder and
COO, Pipal Tree




The company has brought down the attrition rate from its initial high level by improving
conditions on site. Pipal provides food and accommodation and has tweaked its business
model such that the workers are on its payroll. This gives a worker job security and assures
him of steady pay despite working for different construction companies (the construction
companies pay Pipal a lump sum). These measures have helped Pipal Tree recover its
training costs to some extent.
In its efforts to improve retention, the company is also working to improve workers lifestyle
by providing semi-permanent accommodation, school facilities for children, medical facilities
and so on. Parulekar believes this will also bring profits. Even if the cost per person
increases, the dropout rate will reduce and cover those costs. Besides, the cost for all this is
not too high, he reveals.
Last year, Pipal Tree trained 3,500 people, of whom 2,500 are working now. This year, the
plan is to train another 6,000 and achieve 90% retention. The company is also looking to
increase the number of training centres to 13. These efforts got a shot in the arm last year
when IDFC Foundation made an investment of Rs 2.25 crore in Pipal Tree, taking the total
investment in the company to about Rs 11 crore.
With 10 large construction companies, including HCC, Ashoka Buildcon and KMC as
customers, the venture can assure its trainees of jobs because of surplus orders. But the high
level of demand for these skilled workers has meant that no project can get a large workforce
from Pipal Tree.
For instance, only 5% of Ashoka Buildcons workforce is made up of Pipals students.
Nevertheless, Satish Parakh, the companys MD, says these workers have helped his
company maintain project timelines. The company has donated space for Pipal Trees
training centre in Nashik. Londhe explains that it isnt a good idea to hire unskilled workers
as they could compromise the quality of construction. That is why we were enthusiastic to
support a venture like Pipal Tree, he declares.
Its been four years and Pipal Tree is some way away from breaking even. However, the
founders are bullish on its future prospects, given that Indias construction sector is estimated
to require at least 33 million more skilled workers over the next 10 years, according to a
projection by IDFC Foundation. Pipal Tree aims to train and employ 100,000 rural youth
over the next five years, declares Reddy of KMC. Judging from the good work it has done
so far, the company looks like it may well achieve that target.
A Village Story
Mambo is more than just a lending library. It is a resource centre for the children of a small
town and the villages nearby in Andhra Pradesh.
Kandula Subramaniam


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Mambo India
Started October, 2010
Investment Rs 2.5 lakh
Customers 45
Social Impact Inculcating a reading habit in rural children.
***
Dasari Lingam of Sarampally village never went to school. His daughter Padma does.
What makes Lingam most happy is to hear her tell him of the things she learns in school
every day. She talks of books she takes from a box, he says. My daughter tells me of stories
she read at school and she is happy that she can get story books because of the box.
Padmas box is the wisdom boxpart of a library concept started by two brothers,
Suman, 27, and Suneel Chennamaneni, 30, to make learning fun for children in rural Andhra
Pradesh. The wisdom box contains resources and material that children in villages can read
(or be read to) and access after school hours.
Mambos library in Sircilla, a small town over 100 km from Hyderabad, is a first of its kind.
It offers comics, fairy tales, pop-up books, activity kits, games and CDs that stimulate a
childs imagination. Some books from here go into one of the six wisdom boxes of the sort
Padma adores. They are taken to nearby villages for kids in schools there. This is done at no
cost. The wisdom box is opened once a day and children are free to borrow books of their
choice.

Bookworms: The Chennamaneni brothers encourage reading for pleasure.
Why a childrens library?
The Chennamaneni brothers are natives of Sircilla. Book lovers, there were no libraries they
could use whenever they came home from Hyderabad where they studied. Mambo wants to
provide libraries for children in towns and villages who, unlike their urban peers, dont have
access to them. A child who takes a liking to reading will retain that as an adult, says
Suman. Mambo is a social for-profit initiative. We have one full-fledged library in Sircilla
and six wisdom boxes now in operation.
The brothers gave a lot of thought to the name of their venture. We wanted to have a
character (like an elephant) that kids could connect with and felt the name Mambo went well
with the character itself, Suman says. While parents thought the library should have study
books that would make their children IIT toppers, they did the opposite.
Suneel, who has a background in design, and Suman, who has studied law in Hyderabad,
were already involved in their older brother Sreenivas IT business, Cube, before launching
Mambo in 2010. Around this time, Suman happened to read Paulo Coelhos The Alchemist.
Inspired to make his dream of a childrens library in rural India come true, he forged ahead. It
initially cost Rs 2.5 lakh to set up Mambo. Of this, Rs 50,000 came from a personal loan and
the rest was self-financed. Their initial calculation showed that they needed 100 enrolments
to break even and sustain the wisdom box, which the library cross-subsidises. Since last year,
the library in Sircilla has been able to get 45 membersmost of whom enrolled after Mambo
moved into the Siddhartha English Medium School. While school children get membership at
lower rates, the school itself doesnt have to make any investment in building and
maintaining a library. Mambo saved on rentals and now offers this schools children
membership at Rs 499 and less. It may reduce the fee further to encourage enrolment.
Meanwhile, Suman and Suneel spend 12-15 hours a week on the library project and rely on
their siblings IT business for a livingtheir bread and butter.
Read Some More
Already, the concept is making a difference. Kejia, a 9-year-old, Class 3 student of Sidhartha
Vidyaniketan school in Sarampally village, only had textbooks to read before. The wisdom
box introduced her to Amar Chitra Katha. She loves them and has finished the entire lot
available. Her teacher already has a list of what she wants to read next. Sircillas 12 year-old
Ruchita loves Amar Chitra Katha too, but she prefers the CDs and other play material at
Mambo, especially the do-it-yourself books. Kejia has free access to the wisdom box while
Ruchitas father shelled out Rs 699 membership fees for his daughterwhich was the initial
enrolment fee. TV Narayana, another resident of Sircilla, feels that his daughters reading
skills have improved since she became a member of Mambo. He says, I also feel I am
indirectly supporting the last mile initiative of the wisdom box.
We have learnt from our first initiative and we are confident that a similar initiative can be
replicated at less than Rs 1 lakh, say both Suman and Suneel. Three more libraries are due to
open in Siddipet, Jagtial and Konaraopeta, which have been identified carefully (Mambos
hub-and-spoke model requires that teachers from neighbouring village schools should not
have to travel great distances to reach the library). Suman says, Given our budget
constraints, we cant really launch in any town we like. Regardless, each library is expected
to have a unique set of books (no duplication), which will be circulated periodically among
all the libraries and wisdom boxes in the region.
Mambo is not unlike Kaleidoscope in Hyderabad, Kids Gurukul in Maharashtra or Mind
Gym in Karnataka, but its rural focus makes it stand apart. It also makes growth difficult.
We are always ready to make changes in order to increase coverage without compromising
on quality, says Suman. The next step is to rope in corporate sponsors and online support.
The Lingams will like that.
Clean Business
Village Laundry Service is washing dirty linen in private, and laughing all the way to the
bank.
Michael Correya


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Also In This Story
Village Laundry Service
Started 2009
Revenues Rs 50 lakh per annum
Employees 50
Customers 15,000
Social Impact Chamak laundry booths offer affordable laundry services and
employment.
***
On a trip to Mumbai, Hari Nair, a venture capitalist (VC), got to see a bit of
Maharashtras hinterland. During the journey, he couldnt help but notice how the humble
phone booth, which was ubiquitous in the 90s, had been made redundant by the advent of the
mobile phone. He saw scores of them lying in a state of disrepair all along the route. Being an
ideas man, Nair filed the information away for future use. In 2008, while brainstorming with
his partners on the format for a laundry service, it came to him: why not use a booth-like
structure? Thus was born Village Laundry Service, which uses a cabin slightly larger than a
phone booth to launder clothes.
The idea was to provide a quality laundry service for the growing middle class and at the
same time, generate employment at the bottom of the pyramid. Most entrepreneurs were
getting by with basic trading services like kirana shops, whereas services like laundry could
generate more income for them, says Nair, Venture Partner at Innosight, a VC firm, and one
of the brains behind Godrejs Chhotukool, a refrigerator for the rural masses. The service
was positioned between a high-end drycleaner and a much cheaper washerman or dhobi, he
adds.
The first service in Whitefield, Bangalore, was set up in the basement of a building with a
washing machine, a dryer and an ironing table. We were charging Rs 30 per kg. The first
day our earnings were Rs 67, recalls Sushil Mungekar, who took over as Managing Director
and CEO in May this year.
It was a slow start, but Village Laundry Service gradually found takers among the public. It
decided to operate under the brand name Chamak. Its short and easily recognisable across
Indian languages, says Nair. Today, the company has 12 booths in Bangalore, Mysore and
Mumbai. Each booth is equipped with a washing machine, a dryer, and an ironing board. It
can handle 36 kg of clothes over 12 hours. Customers are charged Rs 60 per kg for delivery
within 24 hours and Rs 100 for express service.
The operation is pretty simple. When a customer walks in with a
pile of wash, the booth operator weighs the clothes and issues a
receipt. When the clothes are done, the operator notifies the
customer to collect the clothes through a text message. A home
delivery option is also offered. It takes about four hours to
launder 6 kg of clothes.
The companys clientele largely consists of bachelors, individual
professionals, working women and students, who do not have a
washing machine or care to wash clothes themselves. Then, there
are loyalists like PC Rao in Bangalore, who, despite owning
washing machines, use the Chamak service. An insurance
executive, Rao likes the service so much that he wants to become
a franchisee. I have my clothes washed here every week and I like their efficient, timely
home delivery, he says.
The companys rig in Andheri East operates from 8.30 am to 8 pm, seven days a week. Ratan
Waigonkar runs the booth with his partner, Ashok. They handle about 15 kg of clothes per
day consuming four units of power on the wash. Half their orders are from repeat customers
and nearly 20% of all the customers ask for home delivery. We have a few problems due to
late deliveries and water supply, says Waigonkar.
Mohit Mathur, a 25-year-old software programmer, was at the Andheri East store on his
fourth visit. His verdict: The service is okay. I had some issues the first time I came here but
now things have been ironed out.





In 18 months,
VLS will cover
seven metros
Bangalore,
Mumbai, Pune,
Gurgaon,
Hyderabad,
Chennai and
Kolkata.




Complaint Management
The service has certainly had its fair share of complaints. Our customer satisfaction unit
takes over at such times, says Mungekar. We either take the clothes back to rewash them or
we give a full refund, he adds.
Crumpled clothes used to be a common complaint. Customers complained about ironing,
little knowing that the problem arose because they carried the clothes home in vertical plastic
bags, says CFO Devi Prasad Choudhury, 33, who is based in Bangalore. By the time they
reached home the clothes were crumpled. The company came up with a simple solution: it
now packs the pressed clothes in cartons similar to pizza cartons.
There have been some humorous interludes in between. Once in Bangalore, a customer
thought the booth was promoting a washing powder brand, says Nair. He took out Rs 60
and said: Give me a kilo of Chamak. Another strolled in to enquire whether we sell
washing machines, adds a chuckling Mungekar.
Former CEO Akshay Mehra, who is now in a consulting role at Innosights Singapore office,
still shares a deep bond with the company. He recounts the story of a dhobi who was running
a Chamak rig. We found clothes piling up and asked him if there was a problem. He said
that he could not wash clothes because that was done by his wife. No amount of persuasion
could make him change his mind, says Mehra.
Then there is the tale of Shankar, who ran away from his village to Bangalore. He was
promoted to an Area Manager in recognition of his hard work. We asked Shankar to train
the other workers when we promoted him. The next day he was absent, says Mehra. When
he came back, I asked why he was absent. Shankar said he was so excited that he went to his
village to give his father the good news.

Expansion Plans
Mungekar says the company is going ahead with a strategic
expansion plan. He plans to open Chamak booths across seven
metros in 18 months. With Bangalore under the belt hes now
concentrating on Mumbai. Other cities, including Pune, Gurgaon,
Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata will follow. Funding isnt an
issue. We received a second round of financing in May,
explains Mungekar.
The ultimate ambition is to open a Chamak booth in every city
across India, thereby creating jobs in non-metros and small towns.
To this end, VLS is also open to helping franchisees with finance
and management of the business in the initial stages.
Village Laundry opened an outlet is in the western Mumbai suburb of Malad. Ashok Ramesh
Sigam, 21, a Chamak operator, manages many of the operations of the newly opened centre.
The pride in his job is writ large on his face. Ultimately it is the employee who decides the
level of service in a business, says Mungekar. VLS is looking at revenues of Rs 6-7 crore in
24 months.
In a bid to ensure a high level of service, Village Laundry has made it a point to reward hard
work. N Ganesh was among Village Laundrys first employees. He started out as a rig
operator and is now an Area Manager.
The biggest challenge the company faces today is in hiring. We are looking for lots of staff,
says Mungekar. But he faces a peculiar problem when recruiting peopleconsidering the
company uses washing machines. The stock question is: Will we have to wash the clothes
with our hands?
Village Laundry is also trying to do its bit for disadvantaged people. Puneeta Palay, 31, a
mother whose husband works occasionally, was hired to work at the Malad centre. She was
sent to Village Laundry by Stree Shakti, an NGO, as she was looking for employment. The
company is also looking to get self-help groups (SHG) comprising five to six women to run
its rigs. Since women from the lower middle class cannot work 8-hour shifts, SHGs can
handle a rig. Each woman can work 4-5 hours and support the team, says Mungekar.
Mungekar is gung-ho about the future. There is huge latent demand for our services, he
says. For which customers are ready to pay a premium, too, he feels. Lets hope the middle
class, VLS target audience, thinks the same way.
Showing The Way
Sikshana is helping children stay in school and better their performance by developing their
all-round skills
Kripa Mahalingam


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Sikshana Foundation




A customer walks
in with clothes,
the rig operator
weighs the
clothes and issues
a receipt. When
the clothes are
done, he SMSes
the customer.




Started June 2005
Initial investment Rs 10 lakh
Working with Government schools
Social impact Improving the quality of education at government primary and high
schools
***
Suma (14) lives in Appareddy Palya, a suburb in Bengaluru, and studies in Class VII at
the local government primary school. Her father is a vegetable vendor and her mother stays at
home. Being the most educated person in the family, she loves going to school and never
forgets to wear her golden stars on her uniform every day. She competes with classmate
Nagajyoti for those golden stars and neither miss going to school, lest they lose an
opportunity to get more stars. Those stars dont come easy, though. Not only do you have to
answer well in class, you have to be regular in both classwork and homework. Suma and
Nagajyoti dont mind the hard work after all, you can trade in your stars for gifts
whenever you like. Bharti, who teaches English in the school, couldnt be happier. There is
a lot of change in the attitude of students; they just dont want to miss school now. The star
initiative has gotten students to learn faster because they all want to flaunt their stars on their
uniform, she says proudly. It wasnt like this before.
Things changed after Bengaluru-based Sikshana Foundation started working with the school
in July 2011. Sikshana works with government primary and high schools to improve
education standards and ensure reduced drop-outs. Winning can become addictive: that is
why people get hooked on to video games. It doesnt matter what the prize is you just
want to beat the highest score. We applied the same reasoning in our schools and it has
worked like a charm, says VR Prasanna, CEO of Sikshana Foundation, who moved back
from the US to India in 2007 to help scale up the organisation.
And that he has. Sikshana currently works with 1,200 schools mainly in Karnataka but with a
growing presence in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Sikshana believes that 85% of kids study
in government schools and any effort to have a meaningful impact to improve the quality of
education must begin here. The organisation actually began as the brainchild of ES
Ramamurthy who retired after heading Bhel in Bengaluru. I always wanted to start
something socially relevant and found there is a lot of work to be done in the field of primary
education, says Ramamurthy, the foundations chief mentor. There are approximately
45,000 government schools in Karnataka and we needed a low-cost model that is also
scalable. It has managed to do that by keeping intervention costs at Rs 400 per child per
year as against Rs 13,000-14,000 per year that the Karnataka government spends on a
student. It has also validated the model by scaling its presence across 1,200 schools covering
150,000 students and hopes to add another 1,000 schools covering another 160,000 by
January 2013.
Currently, Sikshana gets funds from donors in the US and companies like Dell, iGate,
Mindtree Foundation and GE, among others. While the foundation was started with Rs 10
lakh in 2005, the budget for the current year is around Rs 7 crore. Sikshana is now in talks
with the Karnataka government for a public-private partnership.
A+ for effort
The results were an outcome of interesting changes that Sikshana introduced in these schools.
It discovered students in rural schools could read the textbook decently but beyond that,
almost nothing. The problem was lack of reading material. Sikshana did something very
simple it started buying newspapers. Every child has to read some portion of the
newspaper during the morning assembly, and after that the papers are made available in the
class for reading. Another thing it did was to introduce classroom libraries where children
could choose books themselves, abandoning the concept of common libraries that used to be
mostly under lock and key. Now, since books are chosen by children themselves, they are
much more interested in reading them. I still remember what a little girl from a village
school told me when she entered a bookstore for the first time: I never knew there were so
many books in the world. No wonder the teacher keeps asking us to study all the time, says
Ramamurthy. The children also maintain a log of books they have read in their school diary,
so the teacher can track their progress.

Sikshana also discovered that kids were too slow in writing
because many of them could not afford to buy notebooks.
Although the government gave free notebooks, the supply was
limited. So it came up with a solution it started handing out A4
sheets on which children could practise writing, and they could
exchange their written sheets for fresh sheets every week. Now,
children have access to unlimited supply of paper, and their
writing speed has improved considerably, says R Satish who
teaches mathematics at Appareddy Palya primary school.
Sikshana also provided every school with one laptop with
preloaded applications and a pen-drive for every child. The idea is
not to teach them computing, but to help them get over the fear of




Sikshanas
initiatives like
classroom
libraries and
individual pen
drives encourage
children to read
more and unleash
their creativity




technology. They can unleash their creativity by painting or using animation and, of course,
save their masterpieces to flaunt it to whomever. Often, the laptop acts as a pull for the
parents to come and see what their children have done. Once they starting interacting with
teachers and see how education benefits their children, they are less likely to pull them out of
school, says Prasanna.
With results visibly in its favour, Sikshana wants to take this model nationwide through a
public-private partnership with the government funding Rs 400 per child and Sikshana
getting 14% of the intervention cost as management fee. Till that comes through, private
donors are anyway happy to support its efforts to fix the public education system. What we
like about Sikshana is that they are transparent in their dealings, innovative in their method
and they have built a scalable and sustainable model that not many NGOs have managed to,
says Lalitha Holla, manager at Mindtree Foundation, which has been working with Sikshana
for the past three years. And for this, Suma wouldnt mind giving Sikshana a gold star.
The Perfect Harvest
AgSris innovative solutions are ensuring bountiful gains for farmers
Michael Correya


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AgSri Agricultural Services
Started July 2010
Initial investment Rs 30 lakh
Working with Nearly 4,000 farmers directly and another 10,000 odd through partners
Social impact Improving sugarcane yields, enhancing farm income, reducing input
and labour requirements for nearly 15,000 farmers
***
As the road snakes out of Hyderabad, the scenery gets progressively greener. The fields
spread as far as the eye can see, and about a 100 km northwest of the Nizams city, lies
Huggelly village in Zaheerabad mandal, Medak district. It is the site of an ongoing project
that hopes to bring common sense to agricultural practices, raise crop yield and deliver more
with less in agriculture. There among the sugarcane crops, farmers voice their opinions on
the new method taught by Dr Biksham Gujja and his team. Its nothing remarkable, just
plain common sense, says Gujja, founder of AgSri, an organisation that helps farmers
improve agricultural systems.
In fact, the reactions to the organisations methods are so similar its become pretty ho-hum.
Initially, when AgSri started training farmers on growing seedlings using bud-chips, the first
reaction was that this must be a joke. Farmers who had been growing sugarcane for
generations did not believe that a small part of the cane could grow into a plant. A farmer in
UP even said, Since you are telling us we will try it, but we can tell you this wont work. A
month later, after looking at the healthy plants the same farmer said, If this is so simple, why
were we not told about it before?
Thats what Gujja is trying to do educating farmers about scientific methods in
agriculture, and offering alternatives to increase productivity. The results are visible at the
project site near Hyderabad.
With SSI, my revenue per acre increased to over Rs 74,000 from about Rs 26,000 using the
traditional method, says Talari Manaiah, a sugarcane farmer. Sustainable Sugarcane
Initiative or SSI, a system being spread by AgSri, has made a big difference to the farmers
here. The 40-year-old Manaiah has eight acres that he has been tending for the over 15 years.
Krishna, a 35-year-old farmer, from the neighbouring Hothi village, agrees with Manaiah.
My revenues per acre more than doubled after I started using the SSI method, he says.

Chipping the sugarcane buds; Bud chips ready for planting; Bud chips being planted in
trays filled with coconut pith; A sugarcane seedling ready for planting
The genesis
Gujja is a water management expert specialising in conservancy who has worked with
multifarious agencies such as the UN, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF International) and
NGOs. From 1987 to 1992, he was with Deccan Development Society, an NGO working in
rural Andhra Pradesh. Then, in 1993, he moved to Gland, Switzerland, with WWF. Ten years
later, in 2003, he led a team of professionals in a WWF-Icrisat project that focused on
improving water productivity for major crops such as rice and sugarcane. During this stint,
Gujja realised the potential for System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and SSI and how it could
make a difference. SRI is a method of rice cultivation that enhances yields besides greatly
reduces water requirements, while with SSI one can achieve higher yields using less of seeds,
less of water and appropriate use of fertilisers.
In July 2010, Gujja came back home to Hyderabad. He was brought up in a village 200 km
east of the city. With a seed capital of Rs 30 lakh, he set up AgSri, with own money and some
funding from his other directors.

Nurseries where the bud chips are kept in controlled conditions
New method
Gujjas method entails chipping off the bud from a sugarcane plant, growing them into
seedlings in coconut pith packed into plastic trays and saving crop from infections. The
farmers no longer need to hold back 10-15% of their crop as seed cane its far cheaper to
source the seedlings from AgSri because they can also use their farm land and labour to
engage in any other cultivation. Though Gujja is quick to add that his method is nothing new
and is being practised in some parts of the country, he wants to spread its use across India by
educating farmers in the SSI method.

AgSris main business is to sell sugarcane seedlings to farmers.
These are grown in nurseries where they chip the buds, plant
them (unused cane is returned to farmers for milling), and make
them available to farmers when they become seedlings at Rs 2 per
plant. A two-acre plot of land requires at least 10,000 seedlings.
While we were in the fields in Huggelly village, the farmers
gathered around were requesting him to reduce the price to Rs 1
per plant. I asked them to at least pay us Rs 1.50 per seedling so
that we could cover our costs, says Gujja. The farmers are used
to getting most things free of cost or at subsidised rates in Andhra
Pradesh, which makes them hesitant about paying the price even
if they know its for the best quality input. But these are the
obstacles that AgSri is trying to overcome by educating farmers
and teaching them to become self-reliant.
Money plant
Selling sugarcane seedlings brings in 85% of revenues for AgSri. About 10% of it comes
from consulting and balance from drip irrigation and other supplementary technology sold to
farmers. K Sree Kumar, CEO of AgSri, sees significant potential for sugarcane seedlings,
given that well over 1.5 million hectares are planted per year. Sugarcane has a cycle of three
years, which means a third of the crops have to be planted every year. At present, according
to Sree Kumars estimates, the organisation is catering to just 0.07% of the potential market.




With 45 million
farmers in India
cultivating the
sugarcane crop
over 5 million
hectares, AgSri
will have plenty
of work in the
future




AgSri runs over a dozen nursery units, and expects to open as many again this year. Each
unit can produce about 16 lakh seedlings per year. Given that the sugarcane season lasts
about six months in a year, AgSri runs a lean ship with just 35 employees. In FY12, AgSri
implemented (sell the seedlings and help farmers plant those) SSI on 3,000 acres, and
promoted it on another 8,000 acres through partners. AgSri is looking at solid revenue
growth since we have almost tripled our growth in FY12, says Sree Kumar. The company is
increasing its coverage by tying up with sugar mills, co-operatives and farmer groups.
Forming alliances with sugar mills is an important way to expand since most mills have
extensive catchment areas, averaging 10,000 acres each.
India has the second-largest area under sugarcane cultivation in the world; there are about 45
million farmers cultivating the crop over 5 million hectares with over 50 million people
depending on this crop. This huge market ensures that AgSri will have plenty of work in
future. But for now, the Huggelly farmers are keeping Gujja busy.
Mission Vision
Bengaluru-based Forus is making eyecare accessible in rural areas with its portable, cost-
effective device
Rashmi K Pratap


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Forus Health
Started January 2010
Initial investment Rs 3.5 crore
Social impact Provides affordable eye screening in rural India and small towns that
do not have access to ophthalmologists
***
Manoj Verma of Rampur Maniharan, a small town in Uttar Pradeshs Saharanpur district,
found his vision blurring. A gradual deterioration in his ability to see left him frightened and
sleepless with worry. In all his anxiety, the 42-year-old never imagined that his problem
would be solved by a specialised doctor in Delhi. The beleaguered Verma was suffering from
diabetic retinopathy, one of the leading causes of partial or total loss of vision, but postponed
going to even the local eye clinics because the dilation of pupils before an ophthalmic
examination would force him to miss a days work. Then Verma heard about the new eye
hospital in Rampur they could detect the cause of his problem within minutes, and
prescribe medicine the very next day, so he wouldnt have to compromise on his daily wage.
Could he really hope? Indeed, he could. Dr Shroffs Charity Eye Hospital in Daryaganj,
Delhi, which set up its satellite clinic in Rampur Maniharan in 2010, is using 3nethra, a
device developed by Bengaluru-based Forus Health. 3nethra is a pre-screening ophthalmic
device that diagnoses all eye-related problems, including refractive errors, by scanning both
the anterior and posterior segments of the eye in five minutes, without dilation. Verma was
grateful. His digital report was forwarded to the doctors at Shroff in December 2011, and he
escaped almost certain blindness narrowly and providentially.
Down south, in Karnatakas Tumkur district, where the high content of fluoride and minerals
in the soil cause cataracts in the eyes of 5-6 year-old children, 3nethra is a boon. The Sree
Sharada Devi Eye Hospital has installed the device in a mobile van, which travels through the
district and screens up to 200 people every day. Patients requiring surgery are referred to the
hospital in Pavgada, where they get more help in the form of free operations.

Purposeful: In a country with 15,000 ophthalmologists, 3nethra is a necessity in India
Behind these critical and resolvable scenarios is the simple, cost-effective and transportable
3nethra. A device which costs just Rs 6 lakh, can be lugged around in a suitcase, can be
operated by a trained person (who need not be even a paramedic) and consumes just 10 watts
of power (one-fourth of what a tubelight uses). This makes the device a landmark in the fight
against preventable blindness and the conditions that cause it, which could range from
glaucoma to cataract, and diabetic retinopathy to cornea problems.
Of course, there are several machines that assist in the diagnosis of eye problems, including
those made by multinational medical equipment firms such as GE Healthcare and Siemens
Healthcare, but they are much costlier. The basic device for medical imaging of the retina,
called the retinal camera, costs around Rs 15 lakh while more advanced devices are tagged at
around Rs 25 lakh and above. Moreover, they are sensitive machines that cannot be taken out
of clinics after installation, and can only be operated by experts, which keeps them out of
reach of most of rural India. The All India Ophthalmic Society estimates there are only
15,000 ophthalmologists in India. Clearly, in a country of 1.2 billion people, Forus 3nethra
is now almost a necessity.
Seeing is believing
Its not that 3nethra can be run without any tech support it is cloud-enabled, and requires
data to be sent to an online cloud-based platform so that doctors in city hospitals can diagnose
the problem and advise treatment. Internet dongles are used for connectivity and a UPS for
power supply when the 3nethra travels around rural India. If a connection is not available,
patients are advised over their mobile phone on the following day. Since other operations
happen through a laptop, it can get charged through battery of the van. Even the use of solar
panels is being piloted.

Set up by 51-year-old Dr Shyam Vasudev Rao, president and
CTO, and 45-year-old K Chandrasekhar, CEO, in January 2010,
Forus Health has already installed 40 of its devices in Karnataka,
Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi since July
2011, and one machine has been installed in Mauritius. In fact,
Forus is looking at installing 3nethras in 15 countries across
Africa, South East Asia and Europe this fiscal. The company
expects to put up 160 more machines through FY13, taking the
total number sold to 200. Our aim is to enable screening and
treatment of patients who cannot go to hospitals, says
Chandrasekhar, more popularly known as KC. Prevention is
better than cure and it applies to eye care as well, says
Chandrasekhar. About 80% cases of blindness can be avoided if
people are diagnosed early and treated on time, he says. The
detailed concept for 3nethra was first offered to Philips. The concept was exciting but the
business team was not impressed, recalls Rao. However, they decided to go ahead and the
duo started up with angel funding of Rs 3.5 crore from friends. Both of them pumped in an
almost equal amount in various stages and, thereafter, by July 2011, Forus was selling
3nethra by outsourcing production to contract manufacturers.
Going all out
Capacity is not an issue as these are large contract manufacturers, says Chandrasekhar, who
adds that Forus itself has only 30 employees. The scalability of the model got a thumbs up




Forus Health has
installed 40
3nethras in
Karnataka, Tamil
Nadu, Uttar
Pradesh, Madhya
Pradesh and Delhi
since July 2011,
and one in
Mauritius




from venture capital companies when Forus raised a funding of $5 million from Accel
Partners and IDG Ventures India in April 2012.
Those who have used the device are all praise for it. Kiran Anandam Pillai, who is trying to
deliver eye care in under-served areas, is installing the device in the premises of some general
practitioners in Chikballapur district in north Bengaluru. These vision centres, operating
under the Drishti brand name, will cover a population of one lakh, including small towns
and villages. Cases requiring surgical intervention will be referred to a hospital at the district
level. While Drishti is charging Rs 100 per patient, the screening is free for those who cannot
afford the services. We are expanding to four machines this year and we will have 10
centres functional in the next one-and-a-half years, says Pillai.
The first machine was presented to Aravind Eye Centre. From there on, sales picked up
through word of mouth. While the company is currently focused on rural areas, the idea is to
install the machine eventually in places like railway stations, airports or malls, where entry
barriers are low and people can undertake preventive screening. The companys role will be
limited to making machines rugged enough for use at these places clients, who are
interested in targeting those users, can install the devices.
Meanwhile, Forus is focusing on setting up a network to provide quick and effective after-
sales services. With 3nethra already being touted as a breakthrough, Chandrasekhar and Rao
have also started research on devices for screening ailments related to ENT, heart and
nephrology. The focus areas may have widened but the driving force for Forus remains the
same reaching out to the masses in rural India and small towns, and providing affordable
preventive healthcare. Forus comes from for us a device for all of us, not just a
privileged few.
Small Is Beautiful
Kinara Capital provides small ticket loans to enterprising SMEs that lack access to formal
bank credit
V Keshavdev


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Kinara Capital
Started November 2011
Initial Investment Rs 3 crore
Working with Small and medium enterprises across sectors
Social Impact Encourages entrepreneurship by offering loans to promising projects
***
KM Rajendra began working at Namaste Exports in 1989 when he was just 13. I worked
for Rs 150 a month as I had no other option since I had lost my parents quite early, he
recalls. Over the years, he moved up the ladder to emerge as a team leader of self-help group
Ashraya, run by well-known social entrepreneur Neelam Chibber. But the urge to run an
independent enterprise kept getting stronger. Today, the 34-year-old is the proud owner of
leather company VK Designs, which he runs from a rented unit in Bengalurus Koramangala.
He has 23 employees and clocks a turnover of Rs 3.5 lakh every month. I have achieved all
this because I got an unsecured loan of Rs 3 lakh at the right time, says Rajendra.
Similarly, Ashok Kumar, who supplies bags made from banana rope to an Ikea vendor
(Ramesh Flowers) in Bengaluru, needed working capital to buy banana bark. Despite being
an account holder with ICICI Bank, he could not get a loan because he did not meet the
banks lending criteria. I had started off in 2010 by investing Rs 3 lakh of my own money,
but I needed to invest in buying bark. I finally got a loan of Rs 3.5 lakh, which helped me
keep my business running, says the 47-year-old founder of Harita Enterprises. Kumars
business currently earns Rs 2 lakh a month.
Then theres R Ramesh Kumar, who runs an auto ancillary unit, Sigma CNC Products, at
Hosur in Tamil Nadu. Although Sigma has an annual turnover of Rs 2 crore, the firm has a
perennial need for working capital since the business needs a ready inventory of steel and
aluminium rods. Even though I have an overdraft facility at the bank, the documentation and
time taken by them to increase the limit is too much. I cant afford to sit on an order. I have to
ensure a faster turnaround, points out Kumar, who finally got Rs 5 lakh as working capital
within four days. Once he repaid that, he got another Rs 6 lakh as working capital loan and a
further Rs 2.5 lakh term loan to purchase a profile projector.

The common thread that links these three entrepreneurs is a
relatively new non-banking finance company (NBFC) called
Kinara Capital, run by Bengalurus Hardika Shah. For someone
who has spent over two decades outside India in strategy and
management consulting with Accenture, getting into the SME
lending space was more about providence than a conscious
decision. I had left India in the late 1980s for completing my
undergrad in the US. It was only in 2003 when I was setting up
the delivery centre for Accenture in Hyderabad that I came in




By plugging into
the supply chain,
Kinara reduces its
customer
acquisition costs




close touch with the undercurrents in the economy. Here was a nation that had many skilled
engineers who were ready to take on the world and there were others who were ready to do
anything to get a job, recalls Shah. But it was her close interactions with social enterprises at
Santa Clara Universitys Global Social Benefit Incubator programme in the US and, later, a
four-month project for Acumen Fund in India that showed her the way forward. All these
engagements were done during my vacation break at Accenture but went a long way in
influencing how my future would shape, says Shah, who later went on to complete an
executive MBA from Columbia University. By this time Shah was clear that dearth of
financing was a big issue for SMEs in India, but wasnt sure what was the right model to
address the issue. I spent two months in late 2009 travelling in India talking to anyone and
everyone from microfinance CEOs, private equity investors, venture capitalists and
bankers to small business owners in villages and in cities to understand whether the
microfinance model could scale to meet the needs of micro and small enterprises, says Shah.
The takeaway: the microfinance model could not address the issue of dearth of capital for two
major reasons. One, the maximum sum that could be lent by a MFI was Rs 50,000 and, two,
since MFIs work on a joint liability model, many stakeholders were averse to signing up for
loans over Rs 10,000. The challenge was to set up a model that was scalable, low cost and
yet could service the need of micro enterprises, says Shah, who decided that setting up a for-
profit NBFC focused on small businesses would be the right model.
Shaping up
To begin with, Shah raised some capital from friends and family. To skirt the cumbersome
process of setting up an NBFC, she acquired a New Delhi-based NBFC, Visage Holdings &
Finance, for around Rs 60 lakh. Though our legal name is different, Kinara is our operating
brand name, says Shah, who then quit her job at Accenture to make Bengaluru her new
home. In the second round of finance, Kinara roped in impact investors such as Unitus,
Halloran Philanthropies and John Ayliffe. By November 2011 Kinara was ready with a Rs 3
crore capital to kick off its lending operations. But, more importantly, Shah was clear that
Kinaras strategy would be to plug into the supply chain of companies and self help groups.
Such an approach reduces our cost of acquisition and also helps us become part of the entire
supply chain fabric, says Shah, who tapped into the networks of Industree, Mother Earth and
Villgro to begin with. By plugging into networks we get customers to open their supplier list
and see how the flow of money takes place, relationships that clients share, and how strong
the businesses are, she adds. Unlike other NBFCs, Kinara, besides its focus on SMEs,
ensures that most of the loans go towards creation of fresh jobs. All things being equal, if we
have to choose between two proposals, the one that will have the highest social impact in
terms of job creation will score better, says Shah.

Today, Kinara has a loan book of Rs 1.12 crore, largely driven by
three major products: term loans, working capital loans and bill
discounting. All our loans are in the Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh
range and carry an average interest rate of 22-24%, says Shah.
But dont SMEs baulk at the relatively high interest rates? Shah is
quick to point that private lenders the biggest source of
funding to smaller enterprises charge 3-4% per month.
Rajendra of VK Designs, who repaid the initial loan amount and
has since availed of a fresh term loan, agrees: Its not easy
getting money from private lenders and the rates offered by
Kinara are not costly. Till date, Kinara has sanctioned 50 loans
in two sectors manufacturing (auto parts and artisan products)
and agri-retail. The NBFC hopes to end the current fiscal with a
loan book of Rs 4 crore.
Interestingly, unlike other NBFCs, Kinara is not looking at branch-based lending and is
instead focusing on a hub-and-spoke model of growth. We need to preserve capital for our
core operations rather than splurging it on creating brick- and-mortar assets, says Shah, who
is operating out of a three-bedroom house in Bengaluru. To keep costs under check, Kinara
has invested in creating a strong management information system on the cloud. Besides me,
there are just two other employees, one who handles operations and the other finance. Unlike
the MFI model, we dont have agents going to collect repayments as we take post-dated
cheques, points out Shah, who is looking at maintaining operating margins at around 40-
50%.




Kinaras
shareholders
agreement
ensures that its
investors identify
with the social
objective rather
than monetary
benefits





The way ahead
For now, Kinara has the capital to grow its books but it will need to rake in more moolah if it
has to scale up. But the founder is clear that any new investor has to be completely aligned
with her objectives. We have a built-in social investment clause as part of the shareholders
agreement that ensures that our investors are not just aligned to the monetary part of the
transaction but also identify with the social objective, says Shah. More importantly, her
current set of investors have also agreed to a five-year moratorium a clause not all would
easily agree to. I dont want someone breathing down my neck; I need enough time to build
a business that should, at the end of the day, stand for the objective that it had set out to
achieve, says Shah as she rushes back to her office for a meeting with a prospective investor
Omidyar Network. If Kinara manages to seal a deal with the philanthropic investor in the
coming days, it will only mean that Shah has truly got the momentum going in her favour.
The Moolah Queen
Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank has struck a pot of gold through altruism
Adit Mathai


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Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank
Year started August 1997
Initial investment Rs 6 lakh
Working with Rural women in Satara district
Social impact Significantly enhanced lives of rural illiterate women by providing
loans, and welfare programs for rural farmers
***
What do you call a rural cooperative bank that offers a pension fund, a life insurance
scheme, a business school to boot and just deals with women? Meet Chetna Gala Sinha
she calls it the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank. Sinha, a portly woman in her fifties, is the
founder of this womens cooperative bank based out of Mahaswad village, Satara district.
Sinha, who spent her childhood in the bylanes of Null Bazaar in Mumbai, was exposed to
rural life when she joined Sharad Joshis Shetkari Sanghatana in 1984. After marriage she
shifted to Mhaswad and set up a farmers cooperative along with her husband. But it was Ela
Bhatt, a friend and the founder of the Self Employed Womens Association of India
movement, who suggested that she start a womens cooperative bank instead.
While Sinha was sold on the idea, setting up the bank was far from easy. After nine months
of intensive talks, Sinha roped in 5,000 women to be 100% equity stakeholders in the bank
with an initial share capital of Rs 6 lakh. But she ran into a regulatory roadblock when the
Reserve Bank of India rejected the banks proposal in November 1996, as banking laws did
not permit illiterate women as promoters. Four months later, Sinha led a group of 35 women
to Mumbai, where they met with the chief general manager of the Urban Banking
Department of the RBI. They demonstrated their adeptness with numbers and convinced him
to grant them a cooperative banking licence. In February 1997, the bank finally got its
licence.
In the first week of operation not a single customer walked into the bank. After making some
enquiries Sinha realised that women there didnt have the time to visit her bank. Then I
realised that if the horse cant come to the water, the water has to be taken to the horse. Thus
we started the practice of door step banking through field agents. The change was visible
soon enough.
Whats on the menu
Today, Mann Deshi bank has over 165,000 clients, mainly milk and vegetable vendors, goat
and sheep rearers, leather traders, and farm workers. Keeping in mind the unique
requirements of its women customers, Mann Deshi has modelled four different loan schemes
short-term loans with maturity of one year for street vendors and small shop owners with
12% reducing rate of interest (RRI); medium-term loans with maturity of three to five years
for SSIs at 14%; and long-term loans with maturity of 7-10 years for housing and housing
related expenses with 14% RRI. It also provides one-year gold loans at 15% RRI. While
loans below Rs 15,000 require just two women as guarantors, anything above that requires
collateral. The bank has 97% repayment rate. Encouraging the habit of daily savings keeps
the risk of default in check, says Sinha. In the rare event of default the bank auctions the
property of the defaulter.
Similarly, the bank has also customised its deposits. For street vendors, it offers the facility of
daily savings. Women wage labourers receive weekly wages, so they are offered weekly
savings.
The bank also offers a pension scheme to its clients in partnership with UTI Mutual Fund
where clients save on a weekly, quarterly, monthly or annual basis. It offers a life insurance
scheme in partnership with LIC and plans to introduce a micro insurance scheme and a health
policy soon.
Today, as of date the bank has managed to spawn 100,000 successful women entrepreneurs.

While Sinha knew the bank had addressed the issue of credit, she
believed that running a successful enterprise entailed providing
the right guidance as well. With that thought, the bank set up an
NGO, the Mann Deshi Foundation. Today, the NGO runs a
business school and also a mentorship programme. Udyogini, the
business school, helps women become successful entrepreneurs
through vocational courses and training. Besides, there is
guidance offered to scale up businesses through mock workshops.
Under the Deshi Entrepreneurs programme, guidance and
networking opportunities are given to those who need to expand
their business. We wanted to create 1,000 women entrepreneurs
under the umbrella of these two programmes in seven years. But we achieved 700 within the
first year itself. So, now the goal is to unleash more than a million women entrepreneurs by
2020, says Sinha, with a sense of elation.
Cut to Vanita Pise, a former farmer turned plate maker. Before my association with the bank
I didnt know how to market my products. Thanks to the training provided to me at the
banks business school I was able to do so successfully, she declares. Pise was awarded the
National Womens Exemplar award by prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2006.
The way ahead
Since its inception, Mann Deshi has come a long way. From a deposit base of Rs 28 lakh in
the first year, the bank has managed to grow the kitty at a healthy clip of 31% to Rs 40 crore.




The Mann Deshi
business school,
Udyogini, aims to
create more than
1 million women
entrepreneurs by
2020




Currently, the bank has a loan book of Rs 27.6 crore. But more importantly, it has managed
to keep its net NPA at 2.29%. This is because we have customised our loans to offer easier
repayment schedules. Besides, we have field agents who collect savings daily from our
clients that can be converted into loan repayment, says Sinha. Going forward, the bank
wants to set up branches in Pune, Hubli, Belgaum and Kolhapur. However, it faces two key
challenges here. The first is getting staff. Sinha says that the bank will advertise for fresh
talent. The second challenge is adequate capital. For this purpose we have built a corpus
from retained earnings, she adds. Every woman member of Mann Deshi bank exudes
confidence, capability and capital, concludes Sinha with a chuckle.
The Gift Of Knowledge
Sudiksha runs schools that offer quality education to kids from bottom-of-the-pyramid
families
Michael Correya


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Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions
Started January 2011
Initial Investment Rs 20 lakh
Working with Children from the bottom-of-pyramid, slums and semi-rural areas
Social Impact Quality education to 800 children and employment to 210 youth
***
The big round clock at the gate shows 9.05 am. Kalpana, 5, is impatiently waiting to see
off her father before rushing to school at Parigi in Ranga Reddy, a district just two hours
south of Hyderabad. As he waves from the foyer, 29-year-old Shankar, who works as a
tractor mechanic, cant help but feel proud about his daughters interest in studies. But the
person who is more than happy about the whole situation is 35-year-old Naveen Kumar P.
For someone who graduated with a degree in forest management from IIFM-Bhopal, in 2001,
entering the education space was sheer providence. Initially, Naveen worked with NGOs such
as Eklavya in Bhopal, Naandi Foundation in Hyderabad and Aide et Action, a French
funding agency, in Chennai. In 2009, he joined Indus Academy, a four-year-old low-cost
school franchise set up by an IIM post-graduate Satyanarayana. But a year later,
Satyanarayana decided to pull the plug on Indus Academy, which was operating seven low-
cost schools, as it was incurring losses. Thats when Naveen had an epiphany: why not run
these schools on his own?
Coming from a village in Ranga Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh, Naveen had seen many of
his relatives struggle to get quality education in good private schools. So he realised there
was a huge demand for good education because the bottom of the pyramid communities, in
villages and slums, do not trust government schools, especially at the primary level.
Though Satyanarayana counselled him otherwise, Naveen was adamant. The Indus Academy
project had been like a laboratory for him. He had learnt the importance of school
management, financial management, enrolment, marketing and brand building, among other
things. Thats when Naveen went ahead and set up an education management company,
Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions. While Naveen invested Rs 18 lakh in the venture, he
managed to rope in his IIFM course-mate, Nimisha Mittal, who pumped in an additional Rs 9
lakh.
Learning curve
Today, Naveen is successfully running 18 schools, of which 12 are pre-primary schools
(Sudiksha Kids) in urban areas near slums in Hyderabad, three primary schools (Joybells
Schools) in semi-urban areas and three primary schools (Indus Academy). Since schools in
India can only be owned by a not-for-profit trust, Naveen created two legal structures. A trust
(Progressive Education Foundation) that runs the school and books the expenses, and
Sudiksha that owns all the assets land, building, management and technology and
leases it to the trust for a fee.
But the important bit about Naveens business strategy is that he
is setting up pre-primary and primary schools in rural and semi-
rural areas where a sizeable number of people are looking out for
private schools for their children instead of the regular
government schools. Keeping that in mind Sudiksha charges fees
in the range of Rs 300-400 per month per student. Kalpana used
to earlier study in a government school but we were unhappy with
the quality of education so we got her admitted into Joybells,
says her mother Mrinalini, a housewife. And if Sudiksha has
managed to convince parents like those of Kalpana it is because
they are reaching out to families through outreach programmes
that include door-to-door campaigning and experiential marketing
tactics, such as library programmes and baal mela. A curriculum
management team works solely on the learning modules by integrating international trends in
creative education. Besides, the schools follow a flat management structure. There is no
headmaster or principal, only a teacher coordinator who, besides teaching, also handles
administrative and human resource responsibilities. To keep costs low, teachers are recruited
locally. But quality is not compromised. Prospective hires have to take a written test,
followed by a group discussion and a personal interview. The chosen candidates undergo
training, with an emphasis on activity-based learning besides being exposed to the
Montessori philosophy of education.
Challenges galore
With a total of 440 students, Sudiksha generated a fee income of Rs 1.76 lakh in FY12.
Naveen needs 750 students to break-even operationally. While the search for students
continues, Sudiksha is looking at additional sources of income.
For instance, in 2011, Sudiksha earned Rs 6 lakh when IL&FS conducted a training
programme in leather fabrication as part of its community welfare initiative on its premises.
While additional revenue streams are welcome, Naveen is looking at all possible ways to
scale up except franchising. As our schools are high on social impact and make a marginal
return, the franchise model may not work, he says. Hence, Sudiksha is looking at creating
entrepreneurs, especially women, by paying them Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per month and 10%




Even though
Sudiksha recruits
teachers locally,
the quality isnt
compromised.
They have to
clear a written
test, and an
interview




of the profit. In turn, they identify new locations to set up schools and canvass for students,
while Sudiksha creates the infrastructure.
Notwithstanding the fact that Sudiksha has been able to set up about 18 schools in the past
two years, Naveen has set an audacious goal of setting up 200 schools by FY16, across states
such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Fanning Naveens
ambition is Eleos Foundation, a venture capital fund which bought a 10% stake in the
company last year. Whether Sudiksha manages to achieve that number would largely depend
on more families like that of Kalpanas making that big switch.
Getting Them To Think
Arghya Banerjee quit his lucrative career in investment banking to start a primary school that
would emphasise learning through logical reasoning
Sudipto Dey


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The Levelfield School
Started June 2009
Initial investment Rs 50 lakh
Working with Children under the age of 12
Social impact Providing access to quality kindergarten and primary education in
small towns
***
In a path-breaking move in early 1900, literature-Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore
introduced students to the benefits of learning in a natural environment in an open-air campus
at Shantiniketans Visva-bharati University.
Around 100 years later, 35 km from Shantiniketan, a similar experiment is underway in a
school at Suri (pronounced Shiuri), a small town 200 km north of Kolkata. This time, the
focus is on giving children pre-school toddlers, kindergarten and primary school kids a
break from learning by rote, and develop their intuitive thinking and logical reasoning
faculties from a very early age. The idea is also to give children from small towns access to
high quality learning from an institution that would be like an IIT of school education, says
Arghya Banerjee, the founder of The Levelfield School.
Why Suri
It all began in 2004 when Banerjee was scouting for a school for his four-year-old daughter in
Chennai and Kolkata. He wasnt happy with what the best K-12 schools even in the major
metro cities had on offer. Even the best of schools touted the size of their campus, air-
conditioned classrooms, audio-visual equipment essentially, the infrastructure apparatus.
When it came to what-to-teach and how-to-teach, the stress was on learning by rote, and
cramming.
Around the same time at his work place, Banerjee, as head of India operations at Irevna, a
large equity research outsourcing firm, found it frustrating that highly qualified and skilled
knowledge workers that it hired struggled to express themselves clearly and logically in
spoken and written English. Many of them often found it tough to apply what they had
learnt in college to solve real-life problems, says the 36-year-old Banerjee, an alumnus of
IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Ahmedabad. At this point, most people would blame the situation on
systemic failures, and move on. But Banerjee took the most unlikely decision to set up a
kindergarten school himself.
He quit his job in 2008 and re-located to Suri, his hometown, to set up The Levelfield School.
I knew people in the town, it was easier to get things moving on the ground within a short
time, he says. He bought a two-acre land parcel on the outskirts of the town for Rs 15 lakh
and got going. It made sense to start the business from a small town it cost much less, he
says. Also the impact of what he was out to create would be more felt in a small town than in
a metro city. The question in small towns is not about affordability but access to quality
education, adds Banerjee.
Re-writing rules
Over the next two years, Banerjee along with his wife, began researching on ways to tailor
existing curriculum to develop the intuitive thinking faculties of young children. They spent
hours re-writing textbooks in simpler language and in a way that would stimulate thinking.
Many childrens classics like Gullivers Travels and The Prince and the Pauper were re-
written and open-ended questions were introduced at end of each story so that students could
exercise their mind. To inculcate thinking orientation at an early age, children learn through
analytical puzzles like Nanogram, Sudoku, Shikaku and Japanese strategy games such as Go
and Gomoku. We worked to get children to think every day, so that exercising the mind
becomes a habit for them, explains Banerjee.

Price of Quality
Situated five km from town, The Levelfield School a single storey structure with an under-
construction first floor is ensconced amidst a green belt. There are 12 classrooms with the
capacity to take in 400 students in two shifts pre-primary and primary. Children
typically 15 to 18 in a class sit on the floor with a study table in front of each. Each class
has a projector, a white board, and a laptop for the teacher. Starting off with 70 students in
2010, there are 250 now. Banerjees daughter Rhea, who studies in class IV, says the best
part of the school was no homework till class III.
The stress is on English-learning with each student reading almost 500 to 1,000 pages in a
year, all within the class. To improve spoken English, students and teachers are strictly
prohibited to communicate in any other language. The overall focus is on enriching
classroom experience. The school takes complete responsibility for teaching the kids, says
Banerjee. At the time of admission, parents are asked to give an undertaking that the child
would not take any private tuition. Children are assessed three times in a year. The first
assessment is done in presence of the parent.




At the time of
admission,
Levelfield asks
for an
undertaking that
the child will not
take private

At Levelfield, teachers do more homework than students, claims
Banerjee. For instance, primary school teachers work from 9 am
to 5 pm just like in an office job, and are well-paid. A pre-
primary teacher earns up to Rs 15,000 per month, while the figure
could get as high as Rs 18,000 for a primary teacher almost three times the existing
salaries in other local schools. Not surprisingly, up to 60% of schools operational expense
comprises teachers salary. We deliberately recruit teachers who come without prior
teaching experience without a legacy, they are more adaptable to our style of teaching,
says Banerjee. After school hours, teachers chip in to fine-tune teaching material.
Parents fork out Rs 1,200 per month as fee for pre-primary classes, and Rs 1,500 for primary
thats double of other English-medium schools in Suri. There is also a one-time admission
fee of Rs 12,500, inclusive of all teaching material. Quality education comes at a price says
Banerjee. But actually, parents realise our fee is not that high because they dont have to
spend on tuitions etc.
Banerjee kickstarted the venture in June 2009 by pumping in Rs 50 lakh from his own
savings. He also raised a loan of Rs 1 crore from the bank in 2010. He plans to raise an
additional Rs 50 lakh, through personal savings and internal accruals, by March 2013 to
create a 1000-student capacity school.
The school closed FY12 with a topline of Rs 30 lakh and while the project was cash flow
positive from first month itself, overall break-even after factoring in capital expenditure is
expected in 2014, with a topline anywhere between Rs 4 to 5 crore. I will scale up for
impact rather than size, says Banerjee, who wants to have a Levelfield School in 10-12
district centres across West Bengal. However, following his Suri experience Banerjee is in
favour of an asset-light strategy when it comes to expansion. A tie-up with a real estate
developer would help. We would like to focus just on managing the operations and running
the school, says Banerjee. A residential boarding school facility at Suri is another idea he is
toying with, to keep the fee at affordable levels for locals. Tagore would empathise with this
kindred spirit.
Medicine Man
Kautilya Phytoextracts is helping small farmers supplement their income by growing
medicinal plants and breeding rabbits
Shabana Hussain


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Kautilya Phytoextracts
Started July 2008
Initial Investment Rs 5 lakh
Working with Poor farmers in the North
Social Impact Alleviates farmers troubles through alternate means of income
generation. Covers 9,800 farmers across 300 districts in Bihar
***
tuition



Upendra Das, a farmer of Bihars Fatehpur village, walks with a swagger. And why
wouldnt he? Das broke the record for the highest income from Artemisia annua, a medicinal
plant thats an active ingredient in anti-malarial drugs its March-June crop fetched him Rs
40,000 this year. It is a 5-feet tall plant that looks similar to arhar dal, describes Das. It
also keeps insects and animals away, which makes inter-cropping possible. In Fatehpur,
farmers grew potato along with Artemisia precisely for this reason.
Das thanks Kautilya Phytoextracts for his fortune the Patna-based company told Das and
others like him that they could improve their income by cultivating medicinal plants along
with their usual crops. Now, even without Das exceptional results, the farmers of Fatehpur
routinely earn Rs 20,000-30,000 instead of Rs 5,000 with every harvest. Das, who owns a
half-acre patch where he grew rice before he switched to Artemisia, produced 25% more on
his land by cultivating medicinal plants along with the usual crops.
Kautilya generates additional income for farmers by contract farming medicinal plants for
pharmaceutical companies. It approaches them through seminars, trade fairs and
advertisements, and signs buyback agreements for agreed-upon quantities that meet the
quality standards and delivery schedules set by the buyer. The buyer supplies seeds and
teaches farmers to cultivate the crop, besides arranging to transport the produce. The
companies buy the harvested crop from Kautilya at a pre-determined price, which is fixed
with reference to the National Medicinal Plants Board and mandis. Kautilya gets a trading
profit of 1-3% of the value for acting as an interface.
Currently, Kautilya has seven buyback agreements worth Rs 38 crore with companies such as
Ipca Labs, Daburs Ayurvet and Anubhav Biotech. It grows eight medicinal plants, including
Artemisia annua; Mucuna puriens, used to treat Parkinsons disease; and vedarikand and
kaunch, both aphrodisiacs. Kautilya also has an incense sticks division, and will soon start a
rabbit-breeding programme.
Work where you live
Kautilya was started in July 2008 by Sanjeev Srivastwa and PK Pahari. The 39-year-old
Srivastwa, who hails from Bihar, says he was moved by protests in Mumbai against migrants:
People migrate because they dont earn enough back home, so I wanted to increase farmers
income. The duo ran an industrial consultancy business earlier and in the course of
preparing a project report, Srivastwa realised there is a gap between the demand and supply
of quality raw materials for medicines. Soon, a business idea was born.

Kautilyas growth has been remarkable. There are no outside
investors in the company: Srivastwa and Pahari invested equity
from their consultancy into Kautilya, which ended FY12 with a
turnover of Rs 26 crore and a net profit of Rs 15 lakh. The
company works with 9,823 farmers in 300 villages across 15
districts of Bihar and plans to reach out to 100,000 farmers in
three years through partnerships with local NGOs and politicians.
Srivastwa claims the company has made profits right from day
one. All quantities are pre-sold and if the crop fails, as has
happened twice because of drought, Kautilya and the company
that supplies the seeds, take the hit.
A plan to put up a solvent and extraction plant in Jamui, Bihar, is
now in place. The idea is to reduce the amount of leaves that are transported, elaborates
Srivastwa. Ipca Labs takes the Artemesia plant by truck to Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, for
processing. We plan to process the leaves at our plant so that the quantity is reduced to 2%;
that is, 100 kg of leaves will be converted into 2 kg of Artemisia. Dena Bank has given an
in-principle okay for a Rs 5 crore loan for the 3,000 kg per day plant.
Multiplying success
Kautilya has another business in the Dooars region of North-West West Bengal and Jamui
where it employs 5,000 women divided into groups of 15-20, and supplies them with training
and basic machinery to make bamboo sticks used in the manufacture of agarbattis. The sticks
are supplied to companies such as ITC and brands such as Badshah and Motorcycle. In
Dooars, due to the shut down of tea gardens, there is mass unemployment, notes Srivastwa.
He adds that his social, political and administrative clout helps him avoid conflicts with the
local mafia. We have made women [we employ] micro entrepreneurs. My income is reduced
but recognition is high. It works like this: Kautilya gives bamboo on credit. It then buys




In June last year,
the company
trained and
equipped 50
adivasis in the
Muzaffarpur and
Chakai areas of
Bihar in rabbit
farming




finished sticks from women after deducting the cost of raw material and the cost of
machinery deployed. The finished stick is sold to companies at a margin of 2% and the rest is
ploughed back into the company.
Finally, in June last year, the company trained and equipped 50 adivasis in the Muzaffarpur
and Chakai areas of Bihar in rabbit farming. Rabbit meat can be exported profitably and
Kautilya has already tied up with the Tamil Nadu-based Delta Farms to supply rabbits. One
kg of rabbit can be grown every 45 days, says Srivastwa. It will become an additional
income for farmers. Kautilya plans to train about 1,500 below poverty line families in rabbit
farming. It has sought the help of Jeevika, a Bihar Rural Livelihoods project, to recruit, train
and finance farmers where the proposal is still under consideration.
Here again, as in medicinal plants, Kautilya will get a trading profit from Delta for acting as
the interface between the farmers and the company the farmers breed the rabbits, sell the
meat to Kautilya, which, in turn, sells it to Delta for an as-yet undecided margin. We have
hooked up farmers with companies that dont have the resources or time to mobilise them,
Srivastwa says.
Good Harvest
Zamindara Farm Solutions pay-as-you-go model helps small farmers avoid a debt trap
Himanshu Kakkar


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Zamindara Farm Solutions
Started April 2005
Initial investment Rs 10 lakh
Working with Small farmers
Social impact Small farmers get access to modern farm machinery/implements at
lower cost. They need not buy a costly tractor and spend rest of their life repaying
loans.
***
Pakistanis reached until here during the 1965 war, says a local waving his arm around.
The border is just about 4 km away. This close to the India-Pakistan border in Punjabs
Fazilka district, boundaries get fuzzy. Farmers cross into no-mans land to tend their fields,
with passes issued by the Border Security Force, and tall tales of war and opium smuggling
are dusted off for the entertainment of any newcomer. But soon enough, the conversation
shifts to debt and farmer suicides.
Neighbouring districts like Sangrur and Bathinda may have grabbed the headlines but Fazilka
is no stranger to farmer suicides either. But the state government and Centre dont recognise
Punjab as a suicide-affected state and there is great disagreement over the number of deaths
the numbers quoted by various agencies range from 50,000 to 90,000 in the past 20 years.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, 65% farmers in Punjab are in debt
with an average per acre debt of Rs 18,000. Clearly, the countrys bread basket is crumbling.
And its taking the small farmer with it.
For several years, Vikram Ahuja was a mute spectator to the crumbling. Born in a land-
owning family of Fazilka, his family successfully ventured into selling tractors and farm
equipment in the 1960s. Ahuja joined the family business after completing his education; 20
years later, he decided he could no longer just watch from the sidelines. Small farmers are
neck deep in debt; the size of holdings is not viable, yields are stagnant, water table is
receding and labour costs are headed north, he lists.
Ahuja may not be able to solve all that ails Punjab but he made a
start by setting up Zamindara Farm Solutions in 2005. If you
want to fly to Mumbai, do you buy a plane? If you want to read a
book, do you buy an entire library? he asks. Thats the folly
small farmers commit buying the equivalent of an airplane.
Zamindara (from the Punjabi word for land husbandry) is Ahujas
version of an implement bank, quite like a library. His workshops
house 170 machines: tractors, harrows, JCBs (excavators),
rotovators, seed sowers, harvesters, fodder choppers and many
more. Farmers call to hire equipment for as long as they want,
paying a daily rental. Where needed, operators and know-how is
provided. Its convenient and cheaper than owning the machinery:
for instance, a farmer may need a tractor for a week during sowing, which will cost him about
Rs 14,000. Thats less than half the cost of replacing a tractors tyres (Rs 35,000). In fact, the
average rice or wheat farmer needs a tractor for just six hours every year for each acre of
land. Renting the machine would cost Rs 1,200 a year per acre whereas owning it means
spending about Rs 83,000 every year on interest alone. So unless a farmer owns 70 acres of
land, it doesnt make financial sense. The average land holding in Punjab, though, is just 1.75
hectares (4.3 acres).
Revolution baggage
Punjabs farmers are weighed down by the legacy of the Green Revolution. The high-yield
grain introduced in the late 1960s came at a cost it requires intensive use of irrigation,
fertilisers and machines. Anu Nagpal, director, Zamindara, explains that just a tractor and its
accessories costs Rs 6.5 lakh. But, Farmers like to own a tractor even if they die of the
debt because they think a farmer isnt a farmer without one, says Kulvinder Grewal, a
farmer with 18 acres of land. But he concedes that maintenance is costly. I prefer
Zamindaras services. God knows how the others manage.
The company organises meetings at gurudwaras and distributes pamphlets even the logos
on the machines have been replaced with Zamindaras to build brand visibility. But
convincing farmers remains a challenge. Explaining the economics to 40 farmers converts
just five, laughs Ahuja. They ask us what our political agenda is. In the past seven years,
6,000 farmers in a 300 km radius around Fazilka including Ferozpur, Mukstar and Sangrur
in Punjab and Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh in Rajasthan have availed of this service.
There are implement lenders in the unorganised sector but few offer the expertise that
Zamindara does. Which is why Ahujas Rs 10-lakh investment has grown to a Rs 6-crore
business.




Renting a tractor
will cost Rs 1,200
a year per acre
whereas owning it
means spending
about Rs 83,000
every year on
interest alone




Tweaking the model
Ahuja started Zamindara with a simple business model. The company would borrow from
banks to buy machines. The hourly rent was arrived at by taking the 13-14% bank borrowing
cost, and adding depreciation, operating expenses and margin of 5-6%. This way, an
implement breaks even in three years, says Ahuja. There were several hurdles: borrowers
used the machines roughly, switched new tyres with old. The company introduced a better
checking system, but the biggest change came from engaging farmers as partners. In 20
villages, Zamindara brought on farmers as co-owners of machines they invest Rs 30,000
and get a cut from the rent received. More importantly, they ensure the machines are in good
repair and the local partner becomes a hub for nearby villages.
At Taliwala village, 23-year-old Parminder is one such entrepreneur. He joined Zamindara
after having been a customer for a few years. Hes impressed by the economics of renting. If
you have 4 acres and spend Rs 9 lakh on machines, you will end up in a debt trap,
Parminder says. He hires out tractors and keeps 10% of the rent as his cut. We need
thousands of Parminders to solve Indias agrarian problems, says Ahuja. Meanwhile, a start
has been made.
A Window To The Villages
Rose Academy is bridging the digital divide by imparting computer education to rural youth
Veena Venugopal


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Rose Computer Academy
Started August 2007
Investment Rs 1.6 lakh
Working with Rural youth
Social impact Provides computer training in rural Haryana
***
In Gurgaon, National Highway 8 is not just a road. It is for all practical purposes the line
that separates Bharat from India. If you are coming from Delhi, your left hand side could be,
for a moment, mistaken for the business centre of any great city in the world all shiny
chrome and reflective glass. On the right, lies what is respectfully called Old Gurgaon, a
semi-rural region of unpaved roads occupied by farmers and their livestock. In what is
perhaps the definitive indicator of the non-inclusive growth of our economy, while the left
side is populated by people working for IBM, Oracle and Dell, on the right side, even as late
as 2006, there wasnt a computer academy where people could go and learn the basics of
operating this modern necessity.
Amit Kataria, 25, was born in Choma village on the right side of the highway. He studied at
the local primary school. However, the nearest secondary school was about three kilometers
away. Kataria is afflicted by polio and walks with the aid of crutches. His parents, both
farmers, did not have the means to drop him and pick him up from school. So Kataria was
sent to an aunt who lived in Delhi where he continued his education and returned after his
graduation. I came back to Choma during my final year of graduation and was shocked at
how there was no facility for any computer education, Kataria says. Even though his aunt
was only about 40 kilometres away, Choma and New Delhi were two entirely different
worlds.
Kataria then resolved that he wanted to do something towards the development of his
community. He drew up a curriculum and approached his alma mater the primary school.
The head mistress was pleased with his plan, and he started collecting signatures from parents
in the area. He then took the proposal to the district education officer who almost instantly
rejected the idea.

New windows
Refusing to give up, he decided to set up his own training academy. Back in 2006, the
Katarias had shifted to another house and the earlier one was decrepit but vacant. He decided
to fix that old house, a contractor promptly handed him a Rs 2.6 lakh repair estimate. Kataria
asked his father for money, but was told to wait until his sisters wedding. Unwilling to wait,
Kataria started tutoring students to make money. He borrowed Rs 1 lakh from a cousin and
with a corpus of about Rs 1.3 lakh started the renovation.
In 2007, Rose Computer Academy opened its doors with 65 Choma-based students on its
rolls. The courses varied from one to six months and the fee was as little as Rs 25 a month,
depending on the course. He named it Rose an acronym for Rural Organisation for Social
Empowerment. When it started, the academy had three computers. As inflows began, Kataria
used that money to buy more. In 2008, Kataria won Rs 80,000 in the ICT Business Plan
Award, which was invested in the business too. He also upped his fee to Rs 600-3,000
depending on the course.
So far, Rose has trained about 5,000 people in the basic use of
computers. It has three other centres in Islampur, Mullahera
and Rajendra Park, all of them catering to clusters of 10 villages.
It employs nine people of whom six are teachers and the rest help
with support functions like accounting. The students range from
four to 81 years old. Some of the former students are employed as
data entry operators or call centre executives in companies like
Wipro, Airtel and Aegis and earn anywhere between Rs 4,000
and Rs 15,000. Although the academy does not guarantee
placements, its alumni network informs new graduates about
possible opportunities. The fact that it has changed the life of its
students is indisputable. Two years ago, Oqaiss Alam, 22, did a
basic IT course, which he liked, and he followed it up with one on
graphic design. He spent about six months and Rs 8,000. Armed
with these skills, he decided to start a photo studio. He sells computer-generated prints and
earns between Rs 10,000 and 15,000 per month. To do this course in NIIT or other large
centres would have cost me about 10 times the amount, Alam says.





Rose plays a vital
role in closing the
gender gap in
education and
changing the rural
populaces
mindset. This
year, about 80%
of its students are
girls




Spreading cheer
Rose also plays an important role in bridging the gender gap in education. This year, about
80% of its students are girls. The problem is in changing the mindset. In villages, they wont
usually let girls study. But when they see one girl doing the course and learning new things,
then their resistance decreases, says Kataria. One of them who stepped out and tried was
Sonal Anjirwal. The 20-year-old who lives in Choma came to Rose as a student and learned
the basics of computing. She then did an advanced course. Today, she is a teacher at the
academy, training students in both typing and computer skills. When I finished my course, I
was offered a job here and since this was a place full of familiar people, it was easy to
convince my family, she says.
Though Rose had revenues of about Rs 5.5 lakh in FY12, it is yet to breakeven. This year, in
anticipation of some lucrative tie-ups with schools, Kataria is projecting revenues of Rs 10
lakh. Katarias dream is to open another 350 centres in Haryana over the next five years but
his biggest challenge is raising the required funds. Kataria requires funding worth Rs 25-30
lakh to carry out the expansion he has planned for the next couple of years. The other
challenge is sourcing teachers. It currently takes him about a year to train a potential teacher
even with the help of the NIIT Foundation.
For now, it seems the fragrance of Rose is spreading. Pradeep Yadav, 20, did a basic
computer course a few years ago. Today, he works in the fire department and even though his
job does not require the use of computers, the internet has opened up a whole new world for
him. I have taught my family to surf the web and our dreams have gotten bigger, he says,
and that is very important to be successful in life. Although it is a little drop in the ocean
right now, Rose is certainly bringing the right side of the highway closer to the left.
The Force Is With You
Artoos software solution to speed up loan disbursals is a hit. Now its extending its expertise
to other sectors
Rashmi K Pratap


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Artoo
Started May 2010
Investment Rs 40 lakh
Social Impact Uses technology to speed up loan disbursement by MFIs and improve
field staff productivity
***
The force has always been with him. When Sameer Segal joined Ujjivan Financial
Services as an intern in 2008, the electrical engineering student was given a vast brief: use
technology to find ways in which the microfinance firm could improve engagement with
borrowers. In his travel to villages in Tamil Nadus Hosur district, Segal found that Ujjivan
offered closure of an existing loan before taking on a fresh debt, but the pre-closure took up
to 15 days, delaying the disbursal of the new loan. Thats because the application was sent to
headquarters, which would in due course revert with the pending amount. Segal found a way
to shorten this cycle from days (if not weeks) to just a few minutes he created a software
application through which the MFI representative would send the borrowers details through
SMS to Ujjivans back office and get the account summary almost instantaneously.
Since the solution was created on Ujjivans time, Segal didnt get any monetary reward for it.
But the urge for entrepreneurship it created was bigger than even the Death Star. When I
was interning, I was told technology does not work at the bottom-of-the-pyramid. I was
determined to prove that wasnt true and I did it, says 26-year-old Segal. He went back
to college and graduated, raring to start something on his own. But conventional wisdom
prevailed and Segal joined HSBC as an analyst for all of nine months. In 2010, the Star
Wars fan quit and started Artoo (named after his favourite character in the epic movie series)
with friend Indus Chadha, now his wife. The initial investment of Rs 40 lakh came from their
parents. The agenda: to continue from where Segal had left off at Ujjivan. People at the
BoP dont differentiate between MFIs based on interest rates; they want to know how quickly
they can get a loan. My start point was the desire to reduce the time taken to process a loan.
Going Paperless
That means reducing the paperwork. Typically, applying for a loan takes 12 to 14 days,
during which the application goes to the regional office and then to HQ. Any error in filling
the form only delays things further. Artoos four-member team came up with a solution:
software that can be used on any handheld device, either a tablet or a smartphone. With the
Artoo Slate, field officers can fill forms on the spot and the software will reject forms with
any errors. With processing time slashed drastically as a result, loan disbursals can also be
hastened.

In December 2010, Ujjivan piloted the project, loading Artoos
software on Dell tablets. The MFIs HAL branch in Bengaluru
was taken online and the pilot covered collections, customer
acquisitions and training. The results were impressive. Of the
applications received during the pilot, 71% customer profiles
were created and approved within two days; the rest took a day
longer. With the traditional approach, it takes 10-12 days to
process a loan. Using Artoo software, the turnaround time was
reduced to two days, says Martin Pampilly, head, operations,




As Artoos
software can be
used on any
Android device,
loan processing
can be hastened




Ujjivan. At the time, though, the MFI couldnt implement Artoos solution on a large scale,
given the high cost of the device the tablet cost Rs 38,000. Now, with substantially
cheaper Android devices in the market, Ujjivan is evaluating the prospects of implementing
Artoo software across the board. It is a complete solution that can be used for loan
processing, repayment and even training field staff. Artoo has customised it to the local
language for our field staff, most of whom are not very comfortable in English, Pampilly
adds.
Meanwhile, other organisations have already adopted Artoo to help in training of sales and
mid-level staff. Grameen Foundation, which works towards improving productivity of MFIs
around the world, uses an Android-based application from Artoo in its field operations. The
application allows field staff to remain in touch with other participants as well as the
programme controller in real time: audio-video training modules are created by Grameen and
uploaded on the app, which the staff access on their mobiles. They are also given assignments
for various training modules through the app. Only when one module is finished can the
participant go to the next, says Faisal Wahedi, programme manager at Grameen Foundation
India.
Artoos solution has also found favour with Brighter India Foundation, an NGO with 11
million members that conducts internal elections across states to identify new leaders. Artoo
helps the foundation accept nominations, update member profiles and view results through
mobile phones. Election in one state would take about 16 days. With our solution, the time
has reduced to two days, says Segal. Brighter now plans to scale up implementation over the
next year.
Chasing growth
Since Artoo started in May 2010, it has earned Rs 23 lakh through its engagement with MFIs
and non-profit organisations. In each of the cases we did paid pilots built on a cost-plus
model. The pilots were priced at Rs 1-1.5 lakh a month independent of the scope, says
Segal. Further, Artoo charges a monthly subscription fee per field agent, which can range
from Rs 150 to Rs 250. It doesnt charge for installing the product and is, in fact, planning a
do-it-yourself platform where the tech person at the client-end can configure the software to
meet the organisations requirements. The revenue stream will remain unaffected, since that
is based on developing the software and use by field staff.
Meanwhile, the company is expanding its focus to other segments as well. Artoo now plans
to work with enterprises in the clean tech space, helping field agents assess the energy needs
of the end- customer, collect demographic and income/expense information. If required, it
will also help translate this into an application for a loan with a local bank. It is in talks with
some companies for these solutions but nothings been finalised yet. Besides this, the firm is
also focusing on individual and MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) lending in the
financial inclusion sector. We are hoping to build credibility by deploying two-three clients
in each sector before we look to raise our first round of institutional capital in March 2013,
says Segal. As long as he remembers theres no try, he should get there just fine.
Where Will Meets Skill
Empower Pragati, with governments and corporates, is training young Indians for jobs
Shabana Hussain

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Empower Pragati
Started June 2010
Initial investment Rs 7.5 crore
Working with Under privileged youth
Social impact Has given job skills training to 10,000 students across 12 states so far
***
Nineteen-year-old Jyoti Kumar trudges three kms from her home in a crowded transit
camp at Govindpuri to a training centre in south Delhis Tughlakabad every day. Its a long
walk but the muggy monsoon afternoons dont dampen her enthusiasm a whit. Jyoti is one of
15 students attending a skills training course conducted by Empower Pragati, a private sector
social enterprise started in 2010 to provide vocational training to economically disadvantaged
young Indians. Todays class is on Spoken English. Soon enough, the trainers eyes land on
Jyoti and he asks her to introduce herself in English. The whole class turns to look at the
young woman in the bright pink and black salwar kameez. She looks nervous. A lifetime of
aspirations weighs down that infinitesimal pause. Then, almost imperceptibly, the Class 12
government school pass-out straightens her slight frame, and speaks with near-perfect diction
in a language that was largely alien during her growing-up years. Its a carefully constructed
transformation in which Jyoti has found an unexpected and reliable ally in Empower Pragati.
The company, which has combined social awareness with labour market realities teaches
skills that will help Jyoti and many others like her in the real world.
Empowers five founders Rajendra Joshi, Rajiv Sharma, Arun Bhardwaj, Jagannath Rao
Dasigi, and Paul S Lalvani are unified by a strong background in corporate India and the
conviction that high-school dropouts need vocational training. There is a vast employability
gap and less than 2% of the workforce is fit for employment, says Rajiv Sharma, managing
director of Empower Pragati and former CEO of Bharti Airtel. We are trying to bridge this
gap by giving job skills training to urban and rural youth from the economically weaker
sections. Jyotis 45-day course covers subjects like Spoken English, Basic Computers,
training in Tally (the accounting software) and personality development. Students like her
have been placed in BPOs, large retail stores, banks and other service industries. Empower
Pragati boasts a placement record of almost 70% for some courses, courtesy Big Bazaar,
Lifestyle, ICICI Bank, Airtel and McDonalds.
Connecting the dots
Empower claims to have trained over 10,000 people in the past year or so. But as with most
start-ups, Empower is struggling to make ends meet the company earned Rs 4 crore in
FY12 and hopes to break-even this fiscal. Students are charged between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000
as training fees, although its waived in select cases. Thats not nearly enough to cover the
cost of training, so the government and companies are tapped as well.

At the government end of the business, Empower is a portfolio
company of the National Skills Development Corporation of
India (NSDC), a ministry of finance initiative set up to fulfil the
growing demand for a skilled workforce. NSDCs partnership
with Empower began in December 2010 the plan is to train
over 2 million people in 56 towns and cities over the next 10
years. It works like this: NSDC has committed to lend Rs 18.91
crore to a joint NSDC-Empower project, which focuses on
training youth for the BPO, tourism, hospitality and retail sectors.
The plan is to set up nearly 600 training centres across the
country for this purpose. Till date, NSDC has shelled out around
Rs 5 crore and has a 10% stake in Empower with an option to
increase it to 25%.
At the corporate end, companies step in to sponsor various training centres. Jyotis training
centre, for instance, is funded by DLF as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
agenda. Two purposes are served this way, Sharma says. The company achieves its CSR
goal and it gets brand traction we put up a board with the companys name at the training
centre. We have been working with Empower for almost two years now. We have set up 14
training centres across the country in partnership with them, points out Brinda Malhotra,
CSR head, Aircel. While the telecom company funds the entire cost of vocational training for
underprivileged youngsters at these centres, they go on to jobs in various industries.
Empower charges a placement fee from companies that hire its trainees, either as a 10-15%




Empower Pragati
has trained 10,000
people in the past
year or so and
plans to train over
2 million people
in 56 towns and
cities in the next
10 years




annuity fee every month or a fixed fee per student. The amount charged ranges from Rs 1,500
to Rs 4,000 per student.
Putting in place
Not everybody gets placed in the organised sector, though. Empower is also working with
some state governments to train disadvantaged and poor youth as chauffeurs and domestic
help. That may well be the way of the future, Sharma believes. This is a sector no corporate
has entered, he points out. There is a huge demand for skilled workforce in the unorganised
sector. In the next couple of years, it will set up skill-building centres in Odisha and
Jharkhand, focusing on training young men and women as security guards, domestic help,
chauffeurs etc. Currently, the company is running programmes where it trains people from
slums in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata in household activities such as caring for babies, elderly
and invalids, cooking and overall house management. Roadshows, street plays, meetings with
the panchayats and the parents help bring in potential employees and while the training is
provided free to the slumdwellers, the tab is picked up by the state governments or
corporates.
When Empower works with state governments (Andhra Pradesh and Odisha currently),
training is mostly residential, and hostel facilities are provided to students. We have seen
that many state governments prefer residential training because students who stay at the
training centre are certain to stick to the programme, said Arun Bhardwaj, co-founder of
Empower Pragati. The government incurs the cost of training and boarding for students.
The trained workforce is then taken on Empowers rolls. The maids and ayahs remain
Empower employees even when theyre placed in households: their salaries (around Rs 6,500
a month) are paid by the company, they are provided benefits such as ESIC accounts and 21
days paid leave a year.
At the Tughlakabad training centre, 19-year-old Gourango Paik, a former student, has
brought along his friend for admission. Paik got placed within a week of finishing his course
he now works at Digicall, a local BPO. I came here to introduce my friend, so he too can
get a job, he says with a grin. Meanwhile, Jyoti tells us that she is now an undergrad
pursuing a correspondence course in Commerce from Delhi University. She says she loves
accountancy. I dont care where I work, she adds with a slight smile on her face. I just
want to do something in accounts. And she no longer doubts that she will get there.
Stan Thekaekara isnt an economist by profession. In fact, hes a student of English Literature
who became involved with tribal groups during his stint with All India Catholic University
Federation, a Catholic student movement, in the early seventies. Later on, he
mobilised adivasis in the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu to fight for their land in a hugely successful
campaign in the late 80s. But that didnt stop Thekaekara from questioning one of the basic
tenets of economicsmarket forces determine prices fairly. The current economic system, he
says, doesnt benefit either the producer or the consumer. The only beneficiaries are traders
not just of goods and services, but also of capital, he says.




Co-ops sold sarees
at a lower rate to

Thekaekara learnt this home-grown economics the hard way. The
land reclaimed by the adivasis in 1988 was used for tea cultivation.
While this gave them control over productionthey were no longer
plantation labourers but tea plantersthey had no control over
prices. When tea prices crashed, hunger and poverty came back to
haunt them.
The search for an alternative system to the exploitative market
forces led Thekaekara to Fair Trade, a social movement, which seeks greater equity in
international trade by securing the rights of marginalised producers. But Fair Trade has
limitations.
One, its just as vulnerable to market forces as conventional trade. And second, the trade system
is often unable to absorb large volumes because it operates in a premium and niche market.
Positive Link
A chance meeting between a women weavers group from Madurai and the adivasis in 1993
gave Thekaekara and wife Marie their first cue. They observed these two groups exchanging
produce. Sarees produced by the co-operative were sold at half the market rate to adivasiwomen
while the adivasis sold their tea to the weavers at a third of the market price.
The interaction between the two communities not only ensured fair prices for both, it also
established a direct link for feedback. Thekaekara and his wife were more convinced of this idea
while in the UK studying community work in 1994. We realised that the middle-class people in
Britain were drinking our tea at higher-than-market prices while our adivasi planters got a
pittance for their produce. A direct link would help both these communities, recalls Thekaekara.

Back in India, the couple began talking about the concept of a direct link between communities in
every forum possible. The idea was to create an economic system founded on justice and
equityone which is driven by humane values and not invisible market forces. Although the idea
appealed to lots of people, few were willing to come on board. Finally, with some financial
assistance from Joel Jaffe of Oxfam and Marion Wells-Bruges of the RH Southern Trust, the
couple formed Just Change as a charitable trust in 2003. A friend of the Thekaekaras helped
connect them with Northern Tea Merchants in the UK who not only helped Just Change develop
a blend of tea that matched the best in the country but also assisted with packaging and
warehousing.
adivasis while the
adivasis sold their
tea to them at a
discount. The
interaction ensured
fair prices.



Connecting with communities in the UK to buy its products, however, wasnt easy. We followed
every lead but most of them didnt work out, recalls Thekaekara. Finally, Unicorn, a workers co-
operative in Manchester bought into his idea and started stocking Just Change tea in its stores.
This was followed by some more co-operatives and ethical stores (like 8th Day and Out of the
World) stocking the product. The a-ha moment finally came in 2006 when the Marsh Farm
Community, a hugely popular group in southern England, became the distribution hub for Just
Change tea. A chance meeting with the adivasis at the World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship
sealed the deal.
All For One
In India, Thekaekara managed to convince two womens groups in KeralaSawad (The Social
Agency for Women & Development) and BVM (Bhoodan Vikas Mandal)to join the Just Change
network. The groups sold coconut oil and hand-made soaps to the adivasis and bought their tea.
To make it self-sustaining, a for-profit company was formed in January 2006 with four community
groupsthe adivasi group (AMS), Sawad, BVM and POKS (Pashchim Orissa Krishijibon
Samiti)who came together to launch the Just Change India Producer Company (JCIPC).
These groups are also the shareholders of the company. The idea behind JCIPC is to take
control of the market by creating an infrastructure for producers and consumers to trade directly
with each other.
While producers are assured of a market, the consumers are assured of quality products at
cheaper prices (by weeding out inefficiencies in the supply chain). JCIPCs front-end includes
small shops run by a group of women as well as home delivery of a consolidated order sent by a
group. Currently 50% of JCIPCs products (rice, tea, coffee, coriander, chillies, tamarind and
some spices) are sourced directly from the producer community.
To avoid a clash of interest, JCIPC insists every member group that joins the Just Change eco-
system must belong to at least two categoriesthe three categories are producers, consumers
and owners of capital (or investors).
Thekaekaras mission now is to ensure more producer and consumer communities form part of
this eco-system for the Just Change movement to make a difference. The good news is that a
fifth investor-producer group from Kerala and a large producer-consumer group from Gujarat are
expected to come on board.
Last year, Just Change Indias turnover touched Rs 50 lakh. The company is looking to double
the number this year and breakeven. But Thekaekara knows only too well that once it achieves
scale the company will face its toughest challenge everthe wrath of the trader community. The
solution, he says, will be a collaborative effort and it will have to come from people working on
the ground.
This is archetypical Thekaekarathe man who delights in turning textbook theories on their
head.
Hand In Hand
Saaths myriad initiatives have helped Gujarats slum dwellers shake off poverty.
RAJIV BHUVA

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Healthcare, slum education, micro-finance, youth and womens employment Ahmedabad-
based Saath has myriad programmes to improve the lot of the urban poor. In some way, its
initiatives can be likened to a complex web that touches every corner of their lives. This web is
not to trap, but a mechanism to uplift the urban poor, says Chinmayi Desai, Director, Urban
Programmes, Saath.
UmeedUdaan, Saaths livelihood programme for the youth, has been running for the last three
years across Gujarat and Rajasthan. Our focus is to make youth employable, says Bhuneshwar
Choudhary, Project Director, UmeedUdaan.
The programme targets slum dwellers and school/college dropouts
for enrolment. Those who enrol go through a screening exercise that
assesses their existing skills and training needs. The training
curriculum, spread over three months, includes basic computer
skills, spoken English, customer relations, sales, logistics, etc.
Working with urban poor is not an easy task. The youth in particular
suffer from a sense of despair, says Rajendra Joshi, Managing
Trustee, Saath. The challenge is to convince them that they can
have a career if they work hard for it.
There are 44 Umeed-Udaan centres in Gujarat, of which, 21 are in
Ahmedabad. The training fee is Rs 4,500. Of this, the Gujarat Urban Development Mission,
which provides infrastructure support through civic bodies, pays Rs 3,500. Students pay Rs 500,
while the remaining Rs 500 is borne by the American Indian Foundation.
The results have been very promising. Of the 15,000 students trained across Gujarat, over
12,000 have already been placed in suitable jobs. Monthly salaries range from Rs. 3,000
10,000.
The program is a good source for readymade talent, says Pratik Soyantar, Area Head (HR),
Eureka Forbes. The company has hired over 75 Umeed-Udaan students. Forbes Facility
Services, which will soon require housekeeping staff at Ankleshwar and Sanand (both in
Gujarat), is in discussions to hire 300 candidates.
Joshi says Saath aims to train 20,000 youth this year and take that number to 100,000 over the
next three years. The challenge of such youth employment programmes is keeping the retention
rate high, he explains.
In 2008, Umeed Disability was launched to include disabled youth in the programme. Over the
course of the year, 143 students enrolled, of which, 31 were successfully placed. Today, the
disabled comprise close to 5% of all Umeed trainees. Joshi wants to raise that to 10%. There
are two sets of challenges there, he explains. The first challenge is to motivate the disabled
person to come and take the training. The second is to convince employers to take on disabled
candidates.
Home Managers
Another Saath livelihood initiative, targeted at women, is called Urmila. It trains women from
slums to take on a variety of household jobs and become home managers. Currently, the
programme has 200 such women working under five supervisors.




Of the 15,000
students trained
across Gujarat
under the Umeed-
Udaan programme,
12,000 have already
been placed in
suitable jobs.





Garba Time: Ahmedabads slum dwellers are leading happier lives thanks to Saath.
Once selected for the programme, the women undergo a detailed medical check-up and a
background check by the police. Next, they undergo 35 days of intense training in batches of 25.
Skills that are taught include cooking, administering first-aid, using fire-fighting equipment,
childcare and housekeeping.
Pushpaben, an Urmila-trained housekeeper works at Oxfam India. Her employers have nothing
but praise for her work and for Urmila. A thorough background check on a housekeeper is
difficult for employers, says Mahesh Kankal, Programme Coordinator at Oxfam India.
A customer has to pay Saath Rs 3,0005,200 for the services of a home manager. Of this, 90%
goes to the manager while Saath retains 10%. In turn, it gives 75% of its fee to the supervisor.
Supervisors, who have as many as 40 managers under them, thus earn well over Rs 10,000 a
month.
Supervisors seek out clients and ink contracts with them. Often, they visit clients to get feedback
on service quality. At the same time, they ensure the employee is not strained. When a home
manager is unable to attend work, another fills in for her.
Sharad Shah, a resident of Navrangpura, is all praise for the Urmila programme. His wife
Pramila, 70, has undergone five surgeries over the last two years and constantly needs an
attendant. Shah had earlier enlisted the services of a contractor who shifted an attendant as
soon as she got comfortable in the job. Now, that is not the case. The organisation is taking full
responsibility and my wife has an attendant who is familiar with her needs.
With top-quality service and no worries about the womens antecedents, demand for Urmilas
services has been high. We have a waiting list of 50 clients, says
Kruti Shah, Operations Coordinator, Urmila. The programme has seen women from
Ahmedabads slum pockets cater to clients in affluent areas. These women are trained and it
does not matter if they belong to the slums, says Ratna Baid, an Urmila client. Her daughter-in-
law, living next door, has hired two home managers, one of whom permanently lives with them.
We have demand for home managers even from Hyderabad and Delhi, says Chinmayi Desai.
Joshi adds that Saath is already talking to entrepreneurs in Baroda, Chennai and Mumbai.
The NGOs other initiatives include educating slum children and providing healthcare. As of
March this year, its microfinance initiative had over 10,000 members. Slowly but surely, all these
programmes are helping the urban poor live better lives.
Link Express
Industree has built a business by connecting rural artisans with urban consumers.
NANDITA DATTA

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Industree Crafts was founded in 1994 by Gita Ram, a voluntary sector veteran, and Neelam
Chibber, an industrial designer. From the outset the duo was clear that they did not want to set
up another NGO dealing with crafts. We wanted to be a for-profit company because we were
convinced craft could stand on its own feet, says Chibber. The idea behind Industree was to
connect two ends of the spectrumrural artisans and the market. The aim was to link rural
production with urban consumption. The journey began with a retail front-end being set up in
Malleshwaram, Bangalore. The products, sourced from rural artisans, were received well and the
shop did decent business.
When the lease for the rented premises ran out in 1999, the duo decided that a small front-end
presence was just not enough. Indian retail wasnt seen as a scalable option back then. So, we
decided to focus on exports, recalls Chibber. By showcasing their products in export fairs,
Industree bagged a few large orders from global retailers like Ikea, Crate & Barrel and Interface.
Over the next three to four years, exports were the main revenue earner for Industree. As a
result, its products gravitated more towards natural fibres like banana bark, river grass,
screwpine, water hyacinth and sisal. Countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and China promote
a lot of nature fibres, while India talks only about cotton, jute and coir, says Chibber. We wanted
to break this monotony. Having carved a niche for itself, Industree was on a roll.
A Hand To Hold
In 2000, the duo set up Industree Craft Foundation, a non-profit organisation, in order to protect
the livelihood of rural artisans. The organisation helps them become owners of their micro-
enterprises. This builds sustainability and encourages youngsters to become interested in
traditional occupations, says Chibber. It currently works with more than 350 artisan groups, co-
operatives and NGOs across the country.
While the for-profit company is market-focused (dealing with product design, distribution and
retail), the non-profit organisation is about capacity-building at the producers end (access to
capital, management of resources, skill training and supply chain). But by collaborating, the two
make Industree Craft a commercially viable and sustainable enterprise providing a market for
traditional crafts and supporting livelihoods.
With venture funding from Kishore Biyanis Future group, the for-profit company is now planning
to open stores offering apparel, furniture, home accessories, and other crafts in metros. For eco-
conscious consumers, its the quintessential roti, kapda, makaan.
The Benefits: Farmers have been getting better prices. Women have well-paying jobs.
Rudimentary Genius
Better prices for farmers, jobs for women, better products for consumersthat was the idea behind Rudi. And its
paying off.
RAJIV BHUVA

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In 2003, Hindustan Unilever approached Sewa (Self Employed Womens Association) in
Ahmedabad with a proposal. The FMCG giant wanted to expand the reach of its products by
selling them through Sewas network. Rather than selling a private companys goods, the Sewa
team realised they could do the same with small and marginal farmers produce. By connecting
the farmer directly with the end customer, they realised they could get him better prices for his
produce. This was the idea behind Rudi Multi Trading (Rudi stands for Rural Urban Development
Initiative). Umadevi Swaminathan, Rudis Managing Director, says: We realised the potential of
Sewas network and since then we have been slowly creating direct market linkages.
Initially (from 2004 to 2007), Sewa Gram Mahila Haata Sewa
affiliateexecuted the initiative. It set up a rural distribution channel
with technical support from Hindustan Unilever (the companys
products are not sold through the network). A pilot project was
launched in Gujarats Sabarkantha district. It was very successful in
achieving the programmes objectives.
In the following years, it was slowly expanded to other parts of the
state. Today, the network has spread to nine districts in which Sewa
has a presence.
Rudi came into being as an official entity only in November 2007. Although it has an urban
component, Rudis primary focus is to rotate village capital within the village. It has helped small
and marginal farmers earn more and has generated employment at the village level among
women.
Rudi has set up four processing centres in the state at Aniyor (Sabarkantha district), Dhangadra
(Surendranagar), Pij (Anand) and Radhapur (Patan). These centres procure, process, package,
distribute and sell the products. Farmers get prices close to market rates for their produce, unlike
earlier, when unscrupulous middlemen used to pay them rock-bottom prices.
Rudis workers process and package the products under the Rudi label. They are then sold
through the Sewa network. A team of saleswomen, called Rudibens, goes about selling the
goods door to door, mostly in rural areas.
All products are sold under the Rudi brand. While they are primarily agri products like pulses,
cereals and spices, Rudi is slowly diversifying to sell other need-based products. For instance,
Bajaj Electricals supplies light bulbs with Rudi packaging. Motorola and Idea Cellular have
bundled their services in cheap handsets, priced at Rs 2,300. We sell need-based products and
services through the Rudi network,
says Umadevi.
Rudis turnover has been increasing steadily. From a modest Rs 14.5 lakh in its first year,
turnover is estimated to have touched Rs 1.5 crore in 2008-09. Umadevi says the target is to
achieve sales of Rs 15 crore by 2014. The company expects to break even at the end of this
fiscal year. Volumes will be the key driver in Rudis profitability, she adds.




Women employed at
the processing
centre prepare
goods for sale. They
have steady jobs
and earn as much
as Rs 2,000 a
month.





Niruben Chouhan, who handles procurement in Rudis Pij centre, was earlier a farm labourer.
We would make Rs 80 a day in the busy season and around Rs 45 at other times for our
labour, she recalls. Once she became a processor, she learnt the nuances of taking stock,
maintaining accounts and also developing MIS systems. We never knew what MRP and
marketing was until we got trained, says Niruben.

Everybody Benefits
Rudis initiative has seen every stakeholder in the value chain benefit handsomely. Small and
marginal farmersthe first link in the chainare happy to work with Rudi. Middlemen exploited
farmers by paying them well below the market rate, says Umadevi. Now, farmers are assured
of getting the best prices. The second link is the women employed at the processing centre, who
acquire the goods and prepare them for sale. Thanks to Rudi, they have steady jobs and earn as
much as Rs 1,500-2,000 a month. The third link is the Rudibens, who get a 10% commission on
their sales. The last link, rural consumers, get discounts of 10-15% on the MRP of the products.
Villagers are accepting the business culture, says Umadevi.
Women are proud to go selling quality products door to door, says Manorama Thakkar, Rudis
district co-ordinator, who oversees operations at the Pij centre. Typically, a Rudibens monthly
turnover is close to Rs 15,000. This can go up to Rs 70,000 in the festival season. The income is
much higher than the Rs 40-50 a day most earned as labourers. Even there, they were not
assured of steady work, adds Thakkar.
Rudi has drawn up a multi-pronged approach to achieve its turnover target of Rs 15 crore by
2014. Firstly, it will push multi-level marketing to boost sales. It is also widening its distribution
basearound 150 women are being trained to work as Rudi stockists. This will help us save on
logistics, says Umadevi. The number of processing centres is also being increased to nine.
Ultimately, the plan is to cater to 1,500 villages in Gujarat.
Urban centres are not a focus area, but that is where Rudi can make money faster. The urban
rural mix would depend on market forces, says Umadevi. She believes that even if 20% of the
products are sold in urban markets, it would give Rudi a big boost. Unlike in rural areas, where it
offers discounts of up to 15%, Rudi can sell the products at MRP rates. Consumers benefit from
getting quality products free of adulteration and of the correct weight.
Already, Rudi sells its products through Star Bazaar, a retailing venture of the Tata Group, at one
of the its outlets in Ahmedabad. In the same city, two outlets of Morethe Aditya Birla groups
retail venturesell its products on weekends. Rudi is also in discussions with Reliance Fresh to
sell its products through the latters pan-India network of 600 outlets.
For all this, we need to expand our processing capabilities, says Umadevi. But she is in no
hurry to expand volumes. Quality is our differentiator. We want to be at par with competitors,
says Umadevi. Indeed, if it keeps up the good work, Rudi may leave the competition far behind.
Rural Sales Force
These 850 sakhis sell utility products for India Incfor a fee and a share of profits.
NAREN KARUNAKARAN

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Sakhi Retail owes its existence to brainstorming sessions that Prema Gopalan of Swayam
Shikshan Prayog (SSP) had with management guru CK Prahalad and Jeb Brugmann, co-
founders of the advisory firm, The Next Practice. The idea was to craft a business model that
allowed village women to participate in, and benefit from, every aspect of commercial activities
they would engage in.
Sakhi Retail distributes white goods and FMCG products in rural areas. Women who distribute
the products not only earn a commission on sales, but also share profits as owners of the
company. Each of the 850 sakhis, or friends as they are known in the villages, are members of
SSPs self-help groups, stocking and selling a variety of goods. The companys turnover touched
Rs 2 crore last year.
Prahalad led us through the transition by ensuring that our social objectives are not
compromised, recalls Gopalan. It was critical for she was wary, like most NGOs are, about
profit-driven market systems. Sakhi Retail has partnered with many companies in not only setting
up distribution channels, but also co-creating low-cost products for rural India. Examples include
a mini fridge for Godrej & Boyce and a stove for BP Energy.
Gopalan started work in the Mumbai slums as co-founder of Society for the Promotion of Area
Resource Centres along with Sheela Patel. Jockin Arputham of the National Slum Dwellers
Federation mentored them and taught them the art of feeling the pulse of communities.

The earthquake that devastated parts of Marathwada in 1993 shifted Gopalans focus to rural
areas. She oversaw the reconstruction of villages with several other agencies, empowered
communities to help themselves and also facilitated savings groups for women.
With microfinance, we could support only a limited group, she says. Now, with a business
entity in the fold, we are into fast-track development. Working with corporates hasnt been easy,
for most companies are focused on profits. We have to educate them on our social values, says
Gopalan. Earlier, we lobbied with government. Now, we are lobbying with companies.
This is just the beginning of a long haul in the NGOs dalliance with profits and business matters.
SSP is on the learning curve. So are the companies she is partnering with. The association has
apparently enabled Godrej & Boyce, for instance, to absorb the mental make-up of social
entrepreneurs. It has begun to think like one and a focus on livelihoods is now primary.
We may have to deskill manufacturing to benefit those at the bottom of the pyramid, says G
Sunderraman, Vice-President, Corporate Development, Godrej & Boyce. A joint manufacturing
venture, with village women at the helm, is possibly what he is hinting at. That, indeed, would be
progress.
Desert Rose
Ishita Khanna feels for Spiti. So she works at preserving the environment there.
SEBASTIAN PT

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Sermons are fine, but mostly ineffectual in making people work for environment conservation.
Instead, provide a sustainable economic incentive to the local inhabitants, and see it work. Why
shouldnt it, asks Ishita Khanna. She has been involved in an eco-conservation effort at Spiti
Valley, a cold desert region in the Himalayas.
Khanna is co-founder of Muse, a non-governmental organisation formed in 2002 and she
coordinates Ecosphere Spiti, a social enterprise set up in 2006. It comprises three non-
governmental organisationsMuse, Spiti Trans-Himalayan Action Group (STAG) and Spiti
Seabuckthorn Society (SSS). Ecosphere works towards the sustainable development of the
region, linking it to livelihoods and environment conservation. It is a collaborative effort of Spitis
local community and professionals, says the 31-year-old.
Ishitas tryst with Spiti started in 2000. She had completed her Masters in Social Work from Tata
Institute of Social Sciences. A conference on traditional medicines brought her to Spiti. She loved
the place. And came back to stay.
In 2001, she did a project for the Himachal Pradesh government linking environment
conservation to womens livelihood. The seabuckthorn shrub was singled out for raising the
womens income. The thorny shrubs medicinal value has now been exploited to help the women
earn additional income. For two weeks a year, when the berries are harvested, the women in
about 30 villages earn about Rs 500-800 a day.
In 2004, Ecosphere launched the Tsering brand to market seabuckthorn products and other
Spiti produce. Earnings are mostly ploughed back for development work, she says.
One thing led to another. Her next initiative was to bring tourism into households by organising
home stays. This gave tourists a feel of the place and the locals received income directly.
But, there was difficulty in marketing the concept. The travel agents and hotelsthough few in
numberwere not keen to push the idea. The home stays ate into their business. Therefore,
Ecosphere decided to sell the concept themselves. We got into marketing by default, she says.
Climate change has been a big worry. Spiti, which has extreme winters, has agriculture limited to
one crop a year. This is solely dependent on the winter snowmelt.
Any change in weather pattern can severely hit the local economy. Last year, winter was non-
existent, says Ishita. The snowfall that usually occurs in December was delayed by nearly two
months. Ecosphere has been trying to make the locals adopt many eco-friendly methods. The
organisation helped locals to remodel houses to increase heat retention. The use of firewood
has reduced by 50-60%, she exults.
The next step: Khanna wants to merge Ecospheres three NGOs into one company with the local
community as stakeholders.
Farmers Incorporated
He feels small producers will become stronger and more profitable if they unite to form a company.
SEBASTIAN PT

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Tackling poverty can be a profitable proposition. No, not by siphoning government monies
meant for poverty alleviation programmes. Instead, profits can be made by using private capital
to serve the needs of the poor, believes Adarsh Kumar. The 37-year-old is working on creating a
new model of venture capital funding. And unlike traditional venture capitalists or I-bankers, who
obsess over valuations and exit routes, he is focusing on creating the companies he plans to
invest in. Kumar plans to organise the countrys small producersbe it marginal farmers,
fishermen, craftsman or dairy farmersinto what he calls community-owned companies. Once
thats done, Kumar hopes to provide private funding for these companies.
His belief is simple. There is a huge business potential in the collective synergies of small
producers waiting to be tapped. The private sector is not innovating enough to meet the needs
of poor rural producers, says Kumar. To achieve this mission, Kumar is in the process of
creating a fund called Livelihoods Equity Connect.
Back in 1996, though, Kumar was not a man on a mission. After a
Bachelors in Business from Georgetown University, he was working
with RPG Cellular in Delhi. A chance meeting with Sanjay Ghosh,
founder of URMUL (Upper Rajasthan Milk Union Limited) changed
all that. Ghosh offered him a position he couldnt resist. An
opportunity to a head a team of 13, with a project budget of Rs 1.7
crore (a huge assignment then). The task: to work on the Integrated
Rural Development Programme (IRDP) in 13 villages of Jodhpur
and Jaisalmer districts. IRDP aims at providing self-employment to
the rural poor and transforming their socio-economic conditions.
Ghosh, soon after, left for terror-ridden Assam to replicate the
URMUL model there. Tragically, he was abducted by militants and was never heard of
afterwards. The opportunity Ghosh provided me was an eye-opening experience, says Kumar.
The Power Of Us




An unlisted public
company can be
formed by 1,000
small farmers.
Operations can then
be scaled up to
make it a
commercial
success.




Watching the poor in these villages from close quarters shattered many myths held by him.
Kumar realised that they were engaging with the market on a daily basis. You may think that the
poor are really those who need sops. But, each one of them is a businessman, says Kumar.
They traded their labour and sold products every day. But its the systemic inefficiencies that kept
their incomes low.
For instance, in the agriculture sector, small farmers had no access to mainstream markets and
were completely at the mercy of middlemen. Prices offered to farmers would only be a fraction
of the price sold in mainstream markets, he says. Individually, there was very little that these
farmers could do. Their operations were small, and they had little or no access to technical and
financial resources. But, as a collective, they could overcome most of these barriers, felt Kumar.
The Big Picture
After a few years in Rajasthan, Adarsh started getting frustrated. Making a difference to 30,000
people in 13 villages wasnt enough. He wanted to do something bigger. A Masters Degree in
Public Policy (1998-2000) from Harvard University followed. Then, a stint with the World Bank at
Washington, where he worked on efficiencies in welfare schemes in Philippines. Returning
home, he joined the Ford Foundation, where he worked on livelihood and micro-finance
institutions that serve the poor.
Then, Kumar decided to pursue his dream of effecting broader change. He founded the All India
Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA), which began as an informal association
of craft NGOs and producers in March 2003. Today, it is the apex body for the handloom and
handicraft sectors, helping poor craft producers get better market access, thereby increasing
their incomes.
Its at AIACA that Kumar experimented with the community-owned company concept. The
industry body tied up with Indian craft-maker Fabindia to create community-owned companies of
handicraft producers in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal. Even as AIACA
trained the managers of these companies, Fabindia tied up with venture capital funds and banks
like ICICI to provide funding. Its here I realised that though there was commercial potential,
most banks and others were reluctant to put in money.
Farmer Funder
Its the same concept that Kumar wants to extend to the agriculture sector. An unlisted public
company can be formed by about 1,000 small farmers, says Kumar. This is a profitable
proposition, he says. Operations can be scaled up and best farming practices adopted to make
these companies bigger commercial successes. Retail biggies like Reliance Retail, who now buy
from big farmers, can procure produce from these entities, he adds.
How will Livelihoods make money? Through dividends from our equity stake, he says. And,
after seven years, one can exit the company just as a venture capitalist would. Kumar has
already identified several pilot projects, from chilli farmers in Andhra Pradesh to pears and apple
growers in Uttaranchal. On one side, you are providing livelihoods to people. And, on the other,
make money as well, Kumar sums up. And change many a mindset.
Web Of Development
How one man spawned 20 businesses, 4,618 self-help groups, 75 market committees, 19 cooperatives, two
societies and one company.
ANURAG PRASAD

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If you somehow manage to comprehend the full scope, scale, complexity and beauty of the web
of development entities Arbind Singh has spawned over the past 14 years, all under the
headship of a registered society called Nidan, you might just be able to come up with a definition
to sum up all that he has done. We wont attempt the latter, but well try to give you a glimpse of
the sprawling development empire this 43-year old sociology graduate with a second law degree,
has resolutely built. There is the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), which
has 373 organisations representing about 300,000 street vendors in 20 states. There is Nidan
Swachha Dhara Private Limited, a collective enterprise owned and controlled by rag pickers and
sweepers; Sangam, a jute cooperative; Sanchay, which offers thrift and financial services to the
poor; Vama Swabilambi Sahkari Samiti, which makes stitch work, file folders etc; Hariyali, a
cooperative for vegetable glowers; Kangan Cooperative, formed to promote lac banglesthe list
goes on and on and on.
Some, who have somehow managed to count it all, say Nidan has floated 20 such businesses,
organisations and entities, 4,618 self-help groups (SHGs), 75 market committees, 19
cooperatives, two societies and one company. You could call Nidan a factory that unceasingly
churns out one development entity after another. One foundation defined Nidan as an
organisation that builds profitable businesses and peoples organisations that are led by asset-
less, informal workers. Others call it a rapid-fire incubator.
Champion Of The Marginalised
Like Singh, all the entities he has birthed are single-minded in their focus: facilitate the collective
growth of societys marginalised. Whatever be their legal structure, the way Singh builds each
entity is the same. He identifies a marginalised group, steps in to play the role of a catalyst,
mobilises them into collective initiatives that bring about their overall emancipation, provides
leadership, moulds the organisation, and eventually steps back and allows the stakeholders to
take charge.
Typically, these entities are owned and managed by, and comprise of rag pickers, vegetable
vendors, construction labourers, domestic helpers, micro-farmers, street traders, women and
other marginalised occupation groups. Nidan continues as an overarching umbrella. We have
created structures based on a sense of ownership, autonomy, financial discipline, transparency
and accountability, where workers fit in directly, says Singh. They benefit from collective
leadership and negotiating capabilities. Sample some of the development entities Singh has so
created and the work they have done.
Nidan Swachdhara Private Limited (NSPL) is an example of Nidans collective enterprise
initiative in urban areas. The 260-employee NSPL is an urban waste management company of
rag pickers and waste workers. It has a formal corporate structure with a professional CEO,
seven board members and 54 shareholding workers. NSPL currently has a turnover of Rs 6 lakh.
The company, under the SwachhDhara programme, provides waste-management services to its
clients, including households, restaurants and institutions. It has ventured into production of
vermi compost and recycling of waste too. It is looking to expand to Jaipur, Bokaro, Gaya and
Varanasi. We are not replacing municipal corporations. In Patna alone, they can hardly pick up
50% of the waste generated. We can extend a helping hand and, in turn, help our members,
says Rakesh Saran, CEO, NSPL.
The members of SwachhDhara are paid Rs 2,000 per month and also earn Rs 50-100 by selling
paper and other waste. Currently, the company is managing two municipal wards of Patna. But
more than the cleaning effort, the company has given its 48 safai mitras an identity. The card
and the uniform they wear represent the change they are undergoing. We can go to houses with
confidence and the trust levels are high. Often, we are in greater demand than Municipal
Corporation workers, says 22-year-old Jackie, working in the Patna City area.
Angana, a society that markets products of artisans, has an annual turnover of Rs 4.95 lakh. We
are looking to open more retail outlets. But first, we will assess the demand and see how we can
better utilise the skill sets we have, says Prakash Chandra, who has joined Nidan to expand its
livelihood and marketing programmes.
Then, there are teams like Durga Mahila Mandal, a network of SHGs offering lessons in
entrepreneurship. There are also women like 25-year-old Bimla, who a few years back could not
imagine stepping out of her house alone. Today, she is a health campaigner and a saleswoman
for sanitary napkins. I travel to different towns and districts, meet other women and educate
them on health-related issues. I tell them about HIV AIDS, says Bimla.
Web Of Fortune
Nidans evolution can be split into two broad overlapping phases. The first phase was of entity
creation. The second phase is when these entities start serving and feeding off each other. The
result is a sprawling and powerful web of development enterprises. For example, Sanchay offers
savings services to Kangan Cooperatives members. Angana, in turn, provides them retail outlets
for Kangans products.
As this web grows bigger, Nidan is stepping back and letting each of these entities go free. They
might take time, but they have to stand up on their own and grow. We can remove hindrances
and establish the linkages. They have to generate resources, says Singh.
Decentralisation of power and empowering the local member is the best way to replicate the
model. They should learn without fear, but with a clear plan in front. Having conquered Bihar,
Nidan is looking at an all-India canvas now. Singh has resisted political pressures and has
steered clear from the lure of politics. He would any day prefer a new development entity over
another political party.
The Fair Price Shop
He wants to make Bihar the vegetable capital of India. And give allfarmers, vendors, consumersa fair deal.
ANURAG PRASAD

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The seed for Kaushlendras business idea was sown very early in his student life. Growing up
in a farmers family in Bihars Nalanda district, Kaushlendra was troubled by two observations.
One, farmers struggle to get the right value for their produce. Two, consumers in Bihar, the third-
largest vegetable producing state, ironically, cant get fresh vegetables. By the time he passed
out of the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) as a topper, he knew what to do. He
started Samriddhii.




Vendors get
vegetables a tad
cheaper from
Samriddhii. Also,
since it delivers at
their doorstep, they
are free to do what

To know what Samriddhiis all about, consider what it does on a
daily basis. As early as 5 am, five of its members from Patna start
towards collection centres in rural Bihar. Waiting for them at those
centres are 600 farmers, with loads of fresh vegetables.
Samriddhiis members spend the next two hours picking and choosing the best vegetables on
offer. Having procured 5 tonnes in all, they pay farmers in cash. Of course, buying directly from
farmers is lighter on the pocket, what with middlemen fee absent. The vegetables then find their
way to homes, shops, mandis and hand-driven carts in Patna. By evening, Samriddhii sells all
the vegetables it procured early morning.
This has been the routine since December 2007, when Kaushlendra kicked off his business.
Before starting, he had to understand the needs of farmers, consumers and even vendors. And
then create a supply chain. It took him nine months in all. I discovered new aspects of the
vegetable supply-chain during this period. I understood why the mandi system does not work, he
says.
Kaushlendra might not have got any private equity or venture capital funding till now. But the 29-
year-old has done well in an area where biggies such as Reliance Fresh have failed and those
like Bharti are trying to find their feet. Less than two years since it sold its first kilogram of
vegetables, Samriddhii has an annual turnover of Rs 5 crore. Whats more, margins are between
20% and 30%.
The Right Price
Making money for itself, however, isnt why Samriddhii is in existence. Kaushlendra started this,
under the Kaushalya Foundation, to help small vegetable growers and vendors. To start with, it
brings together farmers and vendors under an umbrella, without which they will be left to fend for
themselves in a marketplace thats becoming ruthless by the day.
Take farmers. Samriddhii works with farming self-help groups. They are not tied to Samriddhii
and can sell their produce to anyone. But they continue to sell to Samriddhii, one of the big
attractions being cash payment. The formation of self-help groups has also given its members
easy access to bank loans. During lean times, Kaushlendras team organises training for farmers
in organic farming, best practices and cultivation of new exotic vegetables.
Kaushlendra says Bihars vegetables are still not getting the right price. Very few know, he
says, that Bihar has the lowest use of chemical fertilisers per hectare. About 60% of the
produce is, therefore, organic by default. We need to tell this to consumers.
Samriddhiis consumers can also look forward to grading and differential pricing. The taste of
vegetables changes within kilometres in Bihar, he says. Locals, today, pay the same market
rate. Kaushlendra believes premium pricing can work. He gives an example: The costliest rice
brand in the world is Patna Rice, owned by a US company. Why? Because it is said that
Gautam Buddha used to eat the same rice. And people pay a premium for something that no one
can verify, he says.
Vendors, on the other hand, can get vegetables a tad cheaper from Samriddhii than elsewhere.
But they can look forward to a lot more than just that. A vendor is a natural salesman, says
Kaushlendra. He should not waste his time and energy in other activities of the chain. We let
him do what he does best: sell. Generally, a vendor spends hours at the market, haggling with
the middleman. The vendors family, meanwhile, fills in for him at the shop. The Samriddhii
scenario: if the vendor is given vegetables of his choice at his shop, it leaves the vendor free to
do what hes best at. And then his family members are free too. His children can go to school, for
instance. Kaushlendra is also open to absorbing members of its vendors family in its centres.
There are 3,000 vendors attached to Samriddhii. On an average, 100 buy from it daily.
they do best: sell.



Scaling Up
The Samriddhii model loosely resembles how Mother Diary runs its fruits and vegetables brand
Safal in Delhi. But there are differences. The Safal model, which is over three decades old, has
its genesis in the co-operative model of Amul. Samriddhii works with self-help groups of farmers
and vendors. Unlike Safal, Samriddhii does not handhold farmers on the choice of crop and the
quantity to be procured. Rather, it sells quality seeds to farmers 25% cheaper than the market
rate. Safals procurement area is spread across the country, with different regions supplying
different products. Samriddhii works on the principle of local procurement (and doesnt sell fruits
as of now). The other big point is that selling to vendors is just an option for Safal.
Samriddhiis target is ambitious. It is gunning for a turnover of Rs 100 crore by 2011. By that
time, it should be up and running in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Its other plan
is to send vegetables to large retailers in Bangalore and Delhi. For this, it will get 15 refrigerated
vans from Europe by next year. Our expansion in other states will bring us the economies of
scale and revenues, says 26-year-old Anuj Kumar, who manages the supply side of the
business. Says Kaushlendra: We will scale up the model to an all-India level. In the process, he
wants to make Bihar the vegetable capital of India.
Building Bridges
LabourNet links informal sector workers and customers seeking their services.
NANDITA DATTA

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Ashoka Fellow Solomon JP has always felt that short-term vocational training or one-time
income generation programmes do not eradicate poverty. He believes institutions should address
the root causes of poverty at the systemic level. This led him to establish Maya Organic
(popularly known as MO), a for-profit company, in 2002. Solomons plan was to make MO a link
between micro-enterprises (such as a cluster of artisans, weavers, craftsmen, carpenters, etc)
and the market. The idea was to help these micro-enterprises become market ready.
MO proved a success. The makers of wooden toys in Channapatna, on the outskirts of
Bangalore, will testify to this. MOs marketing support helped them connect better with
customers. Buoyed by the success, Solomon decided to replicate this model with construction
industry workers, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. He recalls, They thought I was nuts. But
the construction industry is one of the largest employers of the informal-sector workforce in the
country. Thus was born LabourNet.
There were many hiccups initially. But the company ultimately became a facilitator between the
demand side (customers) and the supply side (urban informal sector workers).
LabourNets CEO V Gayathri explains: We do not employ workers. We only make them
accessible to customers. Initially, it was meant only for construction-sector workers like brick-
layers, masons and plumbers.
Later, this was expanded to include maids, cooks, drivers, and so on. All payments by customers
are routed through LabourNet into bank accounts specially opened for these workers. In addition,
they get accident insurance and healthcare facilities. Training is also actively encouraged.
Skilled workers are paid more and this acts as an incentive for workers to attend training
sessions, she adds.
Starting off in Bangalore, LabourNet has expanded to Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad. It
currently has a database of 30,000 workers and is aiming at a million. A marketing campaign to
attract customers is also on the anvil. So far its only been word-of-mouth publicity but the
response has been quite good, says Gayathri.
But its the response from workers thats the most heartening. Kumaran, a labour supervisor,
says the information he gets from LabourNet helps him focus on his work. Earlier, he had to
spend time searching for new jobs. By far the biggest advantage, he says, is timely payment.
Shiv, a construction worker, says his family of four is covered under LabourNets health scheme,
which is a huge benefit as he has aging parents. Its also a relief to know if something happens
to me, my family can claim accident insurance and not have to borrow from the local
moneylender. That peace of mind is testimony to the success of Solomons bold initiative.
A Fab Move
In one stroke, William Bissell solved a supply problem and made proud shareholders out of thousands of
artisans.
JOHN SAMUEL RAJA D

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Back in 2007, William Bissell, Managing Diretor of Fabindia, was wrestling with a complex
problem. The company sourced products for its 105 stores from thousands of artisans across the
country and this was proving a logistical nightmare. Bissell, son of Fabindia founder John Bissell,
wanted a solution. So he did something unconventionalhe organised the artisans into 17
community-owned companies, based on their geographic locations. With that stroke of genius,
he resolved the issueFabindia now sources all its products only from these companies.
The artisansthere are 30,000 of them todaybecame shareholders in their respective
companies. They bought their shares at Rs 100 a piece and together got to own 26% in the
entity. Fabindia controls 49% of each company through its investment arm, Artisans Micro
Finance (AMFPL). Fabindia employees own 10% while external investors hold the remaining
15%.
Over a period of time, we would like to reduce our shareholding to 26%, while increasing
artisans ownership to 49%, says Smita Mankad, Managing Director of AMFPL. Having artisans
own the companies helps us to tap new craft forms, adds Mankad, who manages Fabindias
sourcing operations. The company recorded revenue in excess of Rs 300 crore in FY09. It is
profitable but does not reveal numbers.
It wasnt easy for Fabindia to get the artisans to buy into the idea. Setting up these community-
owned firms is extremely challenging, says Bissell. In the beginning, it creates a tremendous
drag on the company.
The artisans, spread across the country, had little or no knowledge of corporate structures.
Organising them to participate in the proposed commercial entities consumed a lot of time and
energy. But the effort has slowly begun to pay off. To date, about 16,000 artisansmore than
half of Fabindias supplier basehave bought shares in their community companies. Becoming
equity partners in the company that sells their products has given them a sense of ownership.
Nevertheless, its one thing to have artisans as shareholders and quite another to determine the
value of their shares. But Bissell and his team have that tricky area covered. Every six months,
after the accounts of the 17 companies are audited, Fabindia opens a two-month window for
trading. People interested in buying or selling shares have to express their willingness. The
matching, in terms of price and quantity, is done by Fabindia. As a result, some artisans have
sold shares at Rs 500 (a profit of 400%), based on their companys performance and demand for
shares.
Though returns from social entrepreneurship business models are comparable, Bissell says the
community-owned firms would take at least a decade to pay off because it takes time to build
business volumes. Still, Fabindias initiative could prove to be an excellent model for other
companies to follow.
Lifesprings Bloom
This hospital provides maternal care at one-fifth of market rates. And it makes profits too.
ASHISH GUPTA

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Inside this institution at Hyderabads Moula Ali locality, an unlikely sight greets visitors. Listed
here are prices of all services offered. Thats interesting because the institution in question is
actually a hospital. LifeSpring Hospitals, as it is called, seeks to provide affordable maternal care.
Everything that our team does revolves around treating women as customers, says Anant
Kumar, CEO, LifeSpring. After all, pregnancy is no disease. So, why should we call them
patients? says Kumar.
If that doesnt please the customer enough, this would. At LifeSpring, normal deliveries cost only
around Rs 2,000. That includes the cost of a two-day stay in the hospital and the medicines. The
same could easily cost upwards of Rs 12,000 anywhere else. Similar is the case with Caesarean
operations. It costs Rs 7,000 at LifeSpringjust a fifth of whats charged outside.
LifeSpring is a 50:50 joint venture between the public sector
contraceptive maker HLL Lifecare (formerly Hindustan Latex
Limited) and New York-based private social investor Acumen Fund.
To understand why LifeSpring was started, check this piece of
statistic listed on the Acumen Fund website. About 100,000 Indian
women die every year due to the lack of skilled care during
pregnancy. These women have been historically underserved. The
big private sector names such as Apollo and Fortis are out of reach.
And the quality at the free government hospitals isnt up to scratch.
LifeSpring was started with the aim of addressing this deficiency.
The target group is catered to through small hospitals (having 20-30
beds each). Each hospital, the Acumen website says, is designed to serve 10,000 low-income
patients a year. Already, eight hospitals are up and running in and around Hyderabad. In the first
quarter of 2009, LifeSpring treated 40,000 patients and conducted 4,000 surgeries. The plan is to
launch 22 more such hospitals in the next 20 months at a cost of $4 million. Thats an incredible
pacea hospital every 27 days.
Asset Efficiency
Whats perhaps more astonishing is the fact that LifeSpring is profitable. The Moula Ali unit
became profitable in two years. There are several reasons for it. Kumar says most LifeSpring
hospitals are taken on long leases (15-20 years), from players who couldnt run them. The lease
model saves hugely on land costs.
Then, LifeSpring focuses on a particular niche: maternal care. This cuts down on the need for
many specialist doctors, and also on the range of equipment needed. We are very clear, says
Kumar. We will refer the more difficult cases to other hospitals around us, even if it means




At LifeSprings
hospitals, a normal
delivery costs only
Rs 2,000. The same
can easily cost
upwards of Rs
12,000 anywhere
else.




turning away customers. The equipment as well as the service is no-frills. So, at LifeSpring, you
will more likely come across an ultrasound machine costing Rs 4 lakh than a fancier piece with a
Rs 15 lakh tag.
The hospital chain has also standardised clinical procedures and kits, bringing down costs. This
indicates bulk buying. In addition, it utilises the services of the less qualified auxiliary nurse
midwives, rather than graduate nurse midwives. The former are trained as just birth attendants.
They are less expensive and less demanding, says Kumar. Their attrition rate too is low.
It also manages to generate efficiency in its system. This is how. It is aggressive in marketing. It
has low OPD fees. And its located very close to urban slums. All these have generated high
footfalls. The evidence is there to be seen one warm Saturday afternoon. The two-storied,
sparklingly clean hospital building in Moula Ali is teeming with activity, with both new and
expectant mothers. No wonder, LifeSpring utilises its most expensive assetdoctorsextremely
well. Consultancy firm Monitor estimates that LifeSpring doctors, on an average, perform four
times as many operations as their peers outside.
Further, a tiered pricing model helps its commercial viability, says a consultant with a brokerage
firm. Women, for instance, can choose to give birth in a general ward, semi-private room or
private room. Rates, accordingly, will rise. While the LifeSpring general ward is 30-50% cheaper
than comparable market rates, its private room is at par with the rest of the market. My job is to
make each of the LifeSpring hospitals a profit centre on their own, says Kumar, who in his
earlier job was selling condoms.
Acumen and Patient
The most important piece in the LifeSpring model is seen to be its funding partner. Acumen is
surely more philanthropic than a regular venture capital fund. And it talks of providing patient
capital than cheap capital. Its a non-profit global venture fund thats looking at issues of global
poverty. It essentially looks at investing in innovative and market-oriented ventures in health,
water, housing and energy.
In line with its goals, it isnt in a hurry with LifeSpring. It is not looking at 30-40% returns and a
quick exit. Acumens India Country Manager, the boyish-looking 35-year-old Varun Sahni, is
categorical that hes rather happy to be a long-term player with a 6-8% return. We will wait for
dividends from this chain of hospitals, he says.
So, how does Acumen manage with such low returns? It raises funds through donations from
institutions such as Google, Rockefeller Foundation, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
among others. Nearly half of the $20 million that Acumen has invested in India has been in the
healthcare sector alone, say Sahni. Thirty hospitals is LifeSprings immediate expansion plan.
But what, asks Sahni, prevents it from looking at 200 in five years?
Shelter From Pain
This organisation in Tamil Nadu helps women survive the stigma linked to AIDS.
SRIRAM SRINIVASAN

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In 1995, she became the first Indian woman to tell the world shes HIV positive. Since then,
Kousalya Periasamy has tried telling the world the travails of HIV positive women. And what
needs to be done to help them. Of course, over time, that single voice has multiplied a thousand
times. So, today when she talks about these issues, it is as a representative of a 7,000-strong
group (in over nine states).
Periasamy started the Positive Women Network in 1998, after having met with HIV positive
women for some time. There were issues to be discussed, questions to be answered and help to
be found. The group initially had 18 women. So difficult were the times that even a small gesture
mattered. Periasamy still remembers a citizens group, which offered costly antiretroviral
treatment for one of the women in her organisation.
Welcome To The Fold
The Network started small. A few of its members managed to get jobs. Donations started trickling
in. And it gradually started conducting seminars and workshops to press its case. Things began
to improve once it got technical support from UNIFEM and UNAIDS.
Over time, the organisation has successfully become a lobby group urging stakeholders to have
a separate focus for HIV positive women. One instance of the organisations success in this is
how it lobbied to waive the age criterion for widow pensioners. Usually the pension can be
availed of only by women over 35 years. Tamil Nadu has now waived the clause for HIV positive
women.
Says Periasamy: Women generally ignore health information. They think they dont need to
know anything because they are going to be only with their husbands. Periasamy herself
thought so when she got married in 1995 at the age of 20. She had no clue her husband was HIV
positive at that time. He was dead within months. And adding to the agony was the fact that she
was also diagnosed as HIV positive.
Positive Women Network was created to act like a support system for people like her. Padmaja,
a beneficiary and Periasamys colleague these days, says its been about 10 years since she
knew about her HIV positive status. Her family had supported her completely. But the social
stigma was always there. Without the organisation, I couldnt have gained anything on my own,
she says. For instance, before joining the network, she was aware of her rights and did not know
where and how to get the right treatment.
By opening up about her HIV status, Periasamy created a new space, says Suneeta Dhar,
formerly with UNIFEM and now working with a womens group. That has given opportunities for
people like her to get employed and treated, she says. But Periasamy is modest. Its just that
the stigma isnt as bad as earlier, she says.
King Of Hearts
Dr Devi Shettys Narayana Hrudayalaya mends heartslow-cost and on a large scale.
NANDITA DATTA

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Its no secret that Dr Devi Shetty admires Wal-Mart. You may question their business practices,
but theres no denying that Wal-Mart has used the concept of scale to bring down the cost of
everyday products, says the man who revolutionised cardiac care in India and made it low-cost
for the masses. Shetty dubs it the Walmartisation of healthcare. A small 300-400 bed hospital,
he says, can never hope to lower costs of healthcare deliveryscale is an absolute must. The
healthcare industry has two main costsmanpower and equipment. The former is a function of
expertise, hence, cannot be controlled, but the latter can be addressed by building scale. Shetty
explains: In the medical and armaments industries products have no price tags. Price is a
function of whos buying how much. Large volumes mean better negotiation and lower costs.
Apart from focusing on large format cardiac care units (a few thousand beds) and spreading
geographically (the network currently includes 18 hospitals; many more are expected to be
added over the next few years), Shettys Narayana Hrudayalaya also claims to use its assets
better. Instead of conducting only 8-10 surgeries a day like most cardiac centres in India,
Narayana Hrudayalaya does as many as 30. We do about 12% of all heart surgeries in India.
We are hoping to take this to 30-35% over the next few years, says Shetty. Specialisation is the
key to thiseach surgeon at Narayana Hrudayalaya is trained for a particular job. To reach out
to more patients, Shetty and his team have been using tele-medicine in collaboration with the
Indian Space Research Organisation.
Shetty was clear from day one that the hospital will not shut its doors on the poor. But managing
a mix of paying and non-paying patients has necessitated careful planning and internal financial
controls. The hospital has a unique daily accounting system where all revenue and costs for the
day are accounted for. Based on the profits earned daily we decide how many non-paying
patients and paying patients would be operated on the next day, notes Shetty. His doctors cite
the case of a woman from Kolkata who lost the money shed kept aside of her two-year-olds
heart surgery. She landed at Shettys doorstep without much hope but was told the operation
would be done within a week at no cost.
Besides performing affordable heart surgeries, Narayana Hrudayalaya has also collaborated with
the Karnataka government to launch an insurance scheme for the poor. With a premium of Rs 5
per month per member, the scheme has been a success and its model has since been emulated
by a few other states. With governments turning healthcare insurance providers, costs should
decline further. Well be able to do a bypass surgery for less than Rs 30,000, says Shetty. And
the man insists its not a pipe-dream.
Mobile Toilets
Rajeev Kher plans to make Indians hygienicby selling portable toilets.
TV MAHALINGAM

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If there was something that the Father of the Nation was obsessed more about than Swaraj, it
was the hygiene of Indians. Mahatma Gandhi wrote about it in his newspapers Harijan and
Navajivan, spoke about it at his prayer meetings, and even at AICC sessions. More than six
decades aft er Independence, over 55% of the population 660 milliondefecate in the open.
Given these statistics, its hardly surprising that India is ranked as the second worst country for
sanitation by international NGO, WaterAid, says Rajeev Kher, Founder and CEO of Shramik
Sanitation Systems. Th e Pune-based company sells, leases and markets portable toilets.
Portable toilets can help the country address the sanitation crisis we are facing, adds Kher.
Over a thousand kids die of diarrhoea every day in the country. Given the grim numbers, Khers
proposition cannot be brushed away lightly.
A letter from the Bill Clinton Foundation inviting Kher to a convention lies on his table. Micro-
venture capital funds like Aavishkaar India have invested in Shramik. But the recognition has not
come easy.
After completing his Masters in Business Management from Symbiosis Institute of Management
Studies, Pune, Kher wanted to do something diff erenta business that would solve the
sanitation problem that the country is facing. He faced scorn. What are you doing in the
business of bhangis, despite being a Brahmin, my relatives would ask, recalls Kher. People
expect you to wear a tie, sell credit cards or computers or go abroad if you are a middle class
boy with an MBA, says Kher.
Funding proved difficult. His father, a former army man, supported him. Kher wrote to a German
company Global Fliegenschmid GMBH with his ideas. Th e company understood his vision and
dispatched two portable toilet units, without anypayment. Kher hired a pick-up truck and toured
the country displaying the units. Finally, the Goa government agreed to purchase them.
It was a modest beginning for Kher. He was still laughed off by banks. People often ask
whats the need for portable toilets? People can use open spaces, says Kher. Unlike permanent
toilets (like Sulabh), portable ones dont need constant maintenance, government permission and
occupy lesser real estate.
Today, the company sells units to local government bodies like the Pune Municipal Corporation,
Southern Railways, and the Pondicherry government. Khers company also leases these toilets
to bodies that organise pilgrimages and events. Shramik is witnessing a spurt in demand from
the construction industry.
If the good times continue, Kher sees the company installing over 5,000 such toilets across the
country in the next three years from about 1,000 such units now.

Feature
MAGAZINE | SEP 05, 2009

Santanu Bhattacharjee, Technable Solutions
The Mission: To guide students towards suitable careers and enhance their job skills.
The Benefits: Students know which jobs they have the aptitude for. Thousands have found suitable jobs.
Making Careers
Santanu Bhattacharjee is helping thousands of students in West Bengal and the North East find the right job.
SUDIPTO DEY

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When he was in college, Subrata Das would wonder what career to pursue. By the time he had graduated in English Honours, he still wasnt sure.
Like most of his classmates, Das began appearing for the various exams that would land him a secure government job. Then, an ad in a local
newspaper caught his eye. Kolkata-based Technable Solutions was organising an aptitude, competence and employability test (ACET) under a
programme run by the West Bengal governments Department of Information Technology.
The three-hour test assessed Das skills in three areas: analysis, listening comprehension and English communication. The
results showed he needed to improve his communication skills, conversational English and soft skills. So, he attended a
Technable training programme to brush up. At the end of it most of his batchmates got jobs in IT/BPO, retail and insurance
companies. Das himself was offered a job as a trainer in Technable. Like him, nearly 25,000 students (many are
undergraduates) from West Bengals districts have found their aptitude for various jobs over the last four years through
ACET. Of them 5,000 opted for further training.
Santanu Bhattacharjee, founder-Director of Technable, measures the programmes success with its ability to improve
candidates skills. Of the 5,000-odd who underwent training, 4,000 were placed in the IT/ITeS, telecom, retail and insurance
industries, among others. Thats a strike rate of 80%. And a reassuring one for potential traineesthe fee for a six-month
course is Rs 11,000. Most students come from families with a monthly income of Rs 10,000-15,000.
Over 80% of those placed come from the vernacular medium, with 30% being women. The starting salaries range anywhere between Rs 3,500 and Rs
9,000 per month.
However, what surprises Technables trainers is that barely 2% of those who have taken the ACET till date have scored an A (the grade gives them a
job-ready tag). The vast majority have been found below par in terms of employability and require training.
On their part, educational institutions are beginning to acknowledge the gap between the knowledge and skill sets they impart and the actual needs of
industry. More than a dozen under-graduate colleges in West Bengal have approached Technable to manage their career development and placement
cells.
Expansion and Break-Even
Starting off with one centre in Kolkata, Technable now has 20 centres across West Bengal and the North East. In 2007, Bhattacharjee decided to take
the franchisee route to spread Technables reach. While his current focus remains on east India, a pan-India spread is planned for the latter part of 2010.
In the last three years revenues have grown from Rs 8 lakh (FY07) to Rs 1.5 crore (FY09). The company broke even in FY08, only its second full year of
operations.
We got into education and training because of the social impact, says Bhattacharjee, who has already invested Rs 50 lakh of his personal wealth into
the venture. He is also in talks with venture capitalists for an infusion of about Rs 3 crore in exchange for a stake in
the company.
Bhattacharjee, 49, is no stranger to the corporate world. He spent 22 years in the IT and telecom industries, both in the US and India. His CV includes
names like Nortel Networks and MCI Worldcom. The man isnt new to the world of start-ups either, having launched four tech start-ups during his 18-year
stint in Texas.
He completed his Masters in computer science in the US in the 1980s. Prior to that he got a degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute
of Technology in Rourkela, Orissa. I had decided early on that if I was to re-locate to India it would be during my productive years and not when Im
retired. Bhattacharjee moved back to India in 2003. But most of his friends were surprised by his choice of cityKolkata. He concedes that it would have
been easier to nurture a tech-start up in Bangalore or Gurgaon. At the time, West Bengal was waking up to an economic revival and there was degree of
restlessness in the socio-political situation. The chaos provided opportunities says Bhattacharjee.
Working Within The System
Instead of re-inventing the wheel while setting up a delivery infrastructure, Bhattacharjee integrated his strategies with government policies. For instance,
the government has appointed Technable its nodal agency for a number of IT/ITeS training programmes. The idea was to keep cost of delivery
minimum, and that would not have been possible if I were to re-create the infrastructure, he says.
The biggest challenge he faces is in finding quality trainers. Those from Kolkata are not willing to move to small towns. Thats where Bhattacharjees




Technables
revenue touched Rs
1.5 crore in FY09. It
broke even in FY08,
which was only its
second year of
operations.




background in telecom and networking is coming in handy. He is adopting e-learning techniques so that students can get top-quality teaching without a
teacher being physically present.
He also recognises the need to keep training programmes tailored to the changing dynamics of the industrial world. The global downturn has taken some
of the sheen off the IT/ITES sector over the last year. Job openings in the BPO industry have come down in recent months, says Bhattacharjee. But
there is huge demand in technology, marketing and customer-support jobs related to the domestic telecom sector.
His next objective is to find jobs for 40,000 people in the next four yearsa ten-fold increase from 2008. It is a debt I owe the country. People like us
have benefited hugely from the subsidised higher education system financed by taxpayers, he explains. We can only pay back society by helping create
jobs.

The Skilled Set
The services sector has jobs, but there arent enough skilled people. They want to fix that.
SEBASTIAN PT

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In 2007, Nishant Saxena, approaching 30 years, had a mid-life crisis. Since passing out from
IIM-Lucknow in 2000, he had been with Procter & Gamble. After stints
in Japan, the Philippines and India, he was heading the companys M&A division in Singapore.
Will I sell soaps and shampoos all my life? he wondered.
Saxena had a business idea for a new life. Although a finance and strategy man, he also did
some recruitments. Often, the MBAs he interviewed were not skilled enough. And that was his
general impression: Indias education system didnt equip people with sufficient employable
skills. In the services sector, which was adding the most jobs, the employability quotient was low.
Increasing it at the entry-level was the kind of opportunity Saxena was looking forone that
served society and earned him some bucks. No dichotomy there, says Saxena.
He shared his thoughts with other like-minded IIM alumni. Ankur Agarwal and Vinay Sharma
were also in a similar predicament. While Agarwal was a successful entrepreneur, Sharma was
Head of Marketing at Airtel. They bought Saxenas idea to offer job-oriented courses for specific
sectors. So did Professor Tapan Bagchi, Founding Chair of IIT Kanpurs business school in
1983. For funding, they wrote to 20 IIM alumni and faculty members; 15 agreed. Elements
Akademia was set up in September 2007, with a seed capital of Rs 3 crore and a tagline an IIM
alumni venture.
It designed six-month, part-time courses for those seeking entry-level jobs in banking, sales,
insurance, retail and BPO. These courses were designed with the help of corporate partners: for
example, Max New York Life and HDFC Standard Life for insurance, Kotak Mahindra Bank for
banking, Reliance Retail for retail. Some modules were common across courses: spoken English
designed by Genpact; personal grooming by LOreal; selling skills by Max.
Each course costs about Rs 15,000. They are offered through its six centres: in Bhopal,
Chandigarh, Delhi, Jaipur, Kanpur and Lucknow. It presently has 12 corporate tie-ups, which
enables partial placementElements claims a placement of 50-70%. Our corporate partners tell
us they have 8,000 openings (in the Rs 5,000-15,000 salary range). But they were able to fill up
only 3% of those vacancies, says Saxena. Elements also works with educational institutions and
state governments, customising its course to specific needsfor example, training bottom-of-
the-pyramid candidates for micro-finance jobs.
We are currently training 4,000 students, says Saxena. Its aim is make 10,000 Indians
employable by 2010. It is now focussing on increasing employability of MBAs from B-schools
outside the top 100, more institutional tie-ups, expanding its presence to 20 towns and new
vocational areas. Interestingly, Elements almost shut shop in March 2008. We were busy
opening new centres and some funding got delayed, says Saxena. However, one of their
investors, without any request, left a Rs 15 lakh cheque that saved the day. They havent looked
back since.
A School For Principals
Aditya Natraj wants to fix Indias education systemone principal at a time.
RAJIV BHUVA

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Anita Shekhu, the 37 year-old headmistress of government primary school in Seuwa village in
Rajasthans Churu district, is beaming. She has just managed to convince six dropouts to join her
school. When I met them, they complained that their Guruji (class teacher) beats them, Shekhu
recalls. I asked them to come and see my school. It is different. So how is Shekhus school
different from Indias 7,00,000 plus rural schools? She is one of the 100 primary school principals
to have enrolled for a Principal Leadership Development Programme run by Kaivalya Education
Foundation. In this three-year programme, Shekhu will sit through four modules to be covered in
20 classroom sessions every year. She will also participate in eight one-day workshops every
month.
Kaivalya Education Foundations goal: train and equip principals to run schools better. Aditya
Natraj, founder of the foundation, wants to fix Indias primary education systemone principal at
a time.
Power Of A Principal
About 55 million school-aged children drop out after less than four years of primary schooling.
But Natraj believes that training school principals can solve this problem. He formed this
conviction in 2002 when he saw one principal turn around his school. At that time Natraj was
working with Pratham, an NGO. Thats when he met Saurabh Patel, the principal of a
government school. Moved by the Gujarat earthquake, Patel got himself transferred to a remote
village, named Bhachau, in Kutch. At that time, Bhachaus school had two teachers and 20
students. But only five or six attended every day.
To begin with, Patel walked around the area to get a feel of the
socio-economic condition of the children. He discovered there were
over 200 children in the 6-12 year age group who were out of
school. He left his residence in an upper class locality, and bought a
small house in the schools neighbourhood. You have to live among
people for them to trust you and heed your advice, Patel told Natraj.
Patel then attended the local gram panchayatmeetings and
understood the politics. He spoke to some parents and understood
their problems. Over six months, he gradually got the community to
trust him and send 50 children to the school. When Natraj first
visited Bhachau, Patels school had 130 children. Over 120 attended
everyday.
If the passion and methods of Saurabh Patel were replicated across India through structured
leadership training programmes for principals, all schools could be turned around, says Natraj.




Classroom sessions
were not enough.
Graduates were
trained for four
months to work
closely with
principals for the
next 18 months.




The Spadework
As a chartered accountant and MBA from Insead (France), Natraj has lived in ten cities across
the world. But he always had a strong inclination to work for a social cause. Before leaving for
France, to pursue his MBA, Natraj worked in Chennai for five years, as a Consultant with KPMG.
And after finishing his MBA, he worked as Vice President for an European firm. He joined
Pratham after that, set up and grew its operations in Gujarat to over 300 staff working across 14
districts. Natraj played an instrumental role in improving Village Education Committee
participation rates from 18% to 54% across 300 plus villages in Surendranagar district.
He founded Kaivalya in January 2008. After spending months visiting over 15 universities and
government training institutions in US, UK and the Netherlands. He also studied systems in
Sweden, Singapore, Korea, Japan, China and France. Our aim is to develop school leaders who
improve the learning quality of their schools, says Nandita Rawal, member of Kaivalyas core
team and an ex-teacher trainer. The team includes ex-employees of Reliance, Marico Industries
and Azim Premji Foundation.
Natraj began the first pilot programme in Rajasthans Jhunjhunu district where 100 rural school
principals enrolled. Natrajs team is about to begin work in Ahmedabad, where 100 principals
from the urban schools will take part. And in 2010, the third project will be commissioned in the
tribal block of Chandrapur in Maharashtra.
The Jhunjhunu project is funded by the Ajay Piramal Foundation, while the Ahmedabad project
has got funds from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Knowledge support comes from IIM-
Ahmedabad in the area of organisational change. Jaipur-based Bodh Shiksha Samiti helps
Kaivalya in the area of pedagogy. HR consultant Mercer helps it in assessing its training
effectiveness. Ahmedabad-based Educative Initiatives helps it evaluate how well students have
understood concepts.
But Natraj figured that just classroom sessions and workshops were not enough to help the
principals. He began a 2-year fellowship programme called Gandhi Fellowship where graduates
from elite educational institutions take a four-month training programme and spend the remaining
18 months working with the principals. The idea is to ensure accountability from principals and
provide them support, says Natraj. One Gandhi fellow works with ten school principals. From ten
Gandhi fellows in 2008, the number has grown to 30 in 2009. The Gandhi fellows hail from Delhi
School of Economics, IITKanpur, Delhi University and Lady Shriram College, among others.
From the second workshop the sense of ownership is clearly visible among the principals says
Preyansi Mani, a Gandhi fellow who works in Jhunjhunu. Out of 500 principals in Jhunjhunu, 250
had applied to participate in the programme. Fifty per cent of the principals are volunteering
without any financial incentive, says a happy Natraj. But when they know they have to work
harder, a few back out, he adds. Its not an easy job to change mindsets, says the
Ahmedabad-based, Manubhai Raval, Chairman of Nagar Palika Shikshan Samiti. Raval was
initially sceptical of taking time out to see Kaivalyas work. But now I am keen to travel to
Jhunjhunu and will also forward the details of the project to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Raval
adds.
By 2014, Natraj wants to demonstrate 1,000 schools which work. Upon the success of the pilot,
Ajay Piramal Foundation is keen to fund 500 schools, says Natraj. Even Dell Foundation is
willing to take the programme to other cities of Gujarat like Baroda, Rajkot and Surat. For the
moment though, Natraj is taking it one principal at a time.
Bholu Goes To IIT
A maths prodigy, he had to stop studying for want of money. But he now makes sure he gives 30 kids a great
shot to enter IIT.
ANURAG PRASAD

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A narrow, waterlogged bylane. Two large tin sheds. Endless rows of wooden benches, a
blackboard at one end. Dust-laden fans suspended from the tin ceiling, ancient sound speakers
hanging from bare walls. Its hard to believe this derelict structure in Patnas coaching-college
lane has racked up a 100% success rate in the last two years in sending students to the Indian
Institute of Technology (IIT), Indias premier engineering college.
This is the Ramanujan School of Mathematics, a coaching institute
for competitive exams, run by 36-year-old Anand Kumar. Every
year, Kumar handpicks 30 students and grooms them for a shot at
becoming the countrys best engineers. As many as 6,000 apply,
drawn by his super success rate and his imaginative teaching
methods. The Super 30, as he calls them, are selected because
they demonstrate a minimum level of intelligence and, more
importantly, because they are the poorest of the poorkids of
rickshaw pullers, landless farmers, roadside vendors...
For one year, Kumar puts them in a hostel adjoining the school. He
sponsors their food, boarding and other educational requirements.
They are cut off from pursuits of pleasure. They are expected to do just one thing: get into IIT. In
each of the last two years, all the Super 30 have made it. In the last seven, the count reads 182
of 210a success rate of 86%. Buoyed by the success, Kumar tripled the seats this year to 90.
Even as Super 30 (or Super 90 now) hog the limelight, there are another 400-odd students who
come to Ramanujan for four hours every day to sharpen their maths and physics for competitive
exams. They pay Rs 6,000 per subject for the yearabout 10% of the market rate. Kumar
doesnt care. Its not about maximising his income. Its about giving opportunities to the talented
and the needy, something he was denied in his time.
Their Stories, His Story
Sparks of brilliance should not lose their shine for want of money, says Kumar. Fifteen years
back, the absence of money, compounded by a personal tragedy, prevented this maths graduate
from going to Cambridge for higher studies.
Even when he was graduating from Patna Science College, in 1994, Kumar was hailed as a
maths prodigy after he discovered the properties and characteristics of numbers. Devi Prasad
Verma, the then Head of Department of Mathematics in the college, took him under his wing.
Kumars articles and papers were published in leading maths journals in the UK.
Verma encouraged him to apply for higher studies outside India. Kumar got a call from
Cambridge, and was due to join on October 1, 1994. This was my big chance, he says. But that
August, his father died. Not only was his family unable to arrange the Rs 3 lakh needed to send
him to Cambridge, it now needed Kumar to support them. So, instead of going deeper into maths
at Cambridge, Kumar started giving maths tuitions to school kids in Patna.
Kumar did not charge a fixed fee, as many kids came from poor families. If they paid him, fine. If
they didnt, it was still fine with Kumar. Sir, I will pay you when my father harvests his potato
crop, a student told him. Kumar saw himself in the kid.
He started thinking about students whose talent went waste because their parents couldnt afford
their education. Thus was born the Ramanujan School of Mathematics. He started giving maths




In each of the last
two years, all the
Super 30 have made
it to IIT. In the last
seven years, the
count reads 182 of
210a super
success rate of
86%.




coaching to 30-40 students for competitive exams. For the next eight years, the number of
students kept increasing. Kumars income grew, from Rs 10,000 a month to Rs 1 lakh.
In 2002, some of his students suggested focused coaching for a select few for the IIT entrance
exam. This was the first Super 30 batch, of which, 18 made it to IIT in 2003. The success rate
kept increasing: 22 in 2004, 26 in 2005, and 28 apiece in 2006 and 2007. The last two years,
perfect.
Ricky And Bholu
Kumars gritty tale has won him many admirers. Requests from grants and donations keep
coming in, but Kumar turns them all down, as he fears losing his independence. Hes also made
some enemies. The 1 km stretch on Bhootnath Road in Patna is populated with coaching
institutes of all kinds. But when it comes to engineering entrances, every student wants to be in
the only coaching college on the adjoining laneRamanujan School. Kumar has got death and
extortion threats, and has been the intended victim of crude bombs. The two armed guards that
tag along with him are the baggage of such envy and hostility.
If the students clamour to come to Ramanujan, its as much for its incredible success rate as for
its non-textbook teaching approach. The three teachersbesides Kumar himself, former
students Amit Kumar and Praveen Kumarhave a conversational style of teaching. They use
teaching aids like characters and stories to explain complex concepts. The most recurrentand
populartool is the world through the eyes of two iterant friends, Ricky and Bholu.
Ricky follows the textbook to the T and learns by rote, but Bholu believes in learning by
understanding and questioning. So, Kumar first explains a concept in Rickys straitjacket way.
Next, he explains the same thing by getting into Bholus questioning and analytical mind, drawing
knowing smiles and titters from students. The names are giveaways to simplistic mindsets
Ricky the outsider, Bholu the localbut it works with students, who see themselves as Bholu and
seek to pick up his learning habits.
Kumar and team also use presentations, films and 3D images to encourage the young minds into
thinking for themselves. Books tell you one way, but there are many ways to do the same thing,
says Amit. If students grasp this, they can solve any problem. This teaching style means the
teachers are peppered with questions, as students try their own ways. We need to explain why
they are right or wrong. This keeps us on our toes too, says Amit.
Kumar is now thinking beyond Ramanujan School and Super 90. He wants to create a gurukul,
where students live and study without worrying about paying or earning money. A peaceful
place where I can polish young minds to compete in the Maths Olympiad or win a Nobel, he
says.
He gets numerous offers from leading Indian corporates and international funding agencies to set
up this school, but Kumar wants to do it his way. He wants to create a fund or a trust that can
support this self-sufficient model. Till then, he will continue to write for international journals, give
talks and send an entire class of kids to IIT.
Picking em Up
Sriram Ayers NalandaWay helps children with a bitter past move ahead.
SRIRAM SRINIVASAN

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Late in 2003, As a 10-year-old boy walked into his plush office selling agarbattis, Sriram Ayer
was annoyed. But, as the boy began to narrate his story, his annoyance vanished. The lad was
fatherless. He went to school by day and sold agarbattis, made by his mother, in the evening,
often travelling long distances.
For months, Ayer had mulled over the impact of conflicts on children. But he didnt know what to
do to improve their conditions. The rendezvous with the 10-year-old was Ayers Eureka moment.
These are children who are willing to work hard, he says. They just need mentoring.
Within a week, 27-year-old Ayer quit his IT job, which paid him Rs 18 lakh annually. A few
months later, he launched NalandaWay, an organisation to mentor disadvantaged children.
Today, five years later, NalandaWay works with 5,700 children across Tamil Nadu, Andhra
Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.
Not long after he started NalandaWay, Ayer realised that the organisation had to do more than
just mentoring. We needed to make learning fun, he recalls. So, NalandaWay began to train
children in theatre, music and dance. It now works with children who are very, very vulnerable.
These include children rescued from child labour and riot-hit areas, juvenile delinquents and drug
addicts. They have already given up on life. So, its important to instill confidence in them, says
Ayer. The training programme spans 60 days a year, and is carried out in partnership with NGOs
and state governments.
V Prabhakar, 16, the son of a daily-wage labourer in Chennai, believes learning dance and
drama skills has improved his confidence. He now wants to crack the medical entrance exam.
But sensing that these skills could fritter away, NalandaWay has come up with the idea of live
shows. Last year, about 10,000 children from 17 districts of Tamil Nadu participated in one such
programme, called Art, Arattai, Arpattam. This year, the programme is likely to be bigger.
There are other avenues as well. Neelu Kumari, a 12th standard student in Patna, has already
interviewed a minister. The interview was broadcast on an AIR show, which Neelu and her
NalandaWay teammates produce every month. Not surprisingly, she wants to become a
journalist.
Ayers aim is to make the arts model workable. One component of his plan is to start a
production arm that could fund social projects. Ayer hopes this arm can provide at least 40% of
his organisations needs next year. All this, he believes, can help NalandaWay have a positive
impact on the lives of 15,000 children in the next two years.
The Water Diviner
He believed access to water could alleviate poverty. And Amitabha Sadangi has proved it many times over.
JOHN SAMUEL RAJA D

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Amitabha Sadangi, Chief Executive Officer of Delhi-based International Development
Enterprise (India), saw the link between water scarcity and poverty early in life. His parents,
marginal farmers in Ganjam district of Orissa, could sow only one crop a year due to the paucity
of water. In fact, the family barely had enough for its essential needs. With no income to speak
of, Sadangi was forced to sell newspapers to fund his education. Despite the hardships, he went
on to become a post-graduate in labour and social welfare, in 1981. But instead of taking up a
government job, like most of his classmates, he decided to work in non-governmental
organisations focusing on rural areas.
Sadangi started International Development Enterprise (IDE) in 1984
with the aim of making simple but affordable gadgets for rural folks.
He toured rural areas across the country, interacting with farmers
and their ilk. In the process, his conviction on the link between
poverty and water was reinforced.
I realised that if farmers could grow two more crops (in winter and
summer), they could earn at least an extra Rs 20,000 per acre, he
says. However, it took seven years for IDE to launch its first major
product, the treadle pumpa foot-operated water-lifting device to
irrigate small plots of land.
A key learning from Sadangis research was that poor farmers need affordable products, not
charity. People have to help themselves, he says. This knowledge has helped IDE sell over one
million units of its products in rural areas.
Pump Start
The treadle pump is a good example; it costs Rs 500, and farmers can get a return on their
investment in the first year itself. The pump can draw water from depths up to 25 feet. IDE
markets it in areas where the water table is pretty high but difficult to tap because of the high cost
of diesel-operated pumps. Selling under the brand KB (Krishak Bandhu), it found many takers
and is the bestseller among the companys products. To date, IDE has sold more than 750,000
such pump sets.
The KB pump is helping many emerge from poverty. Beerendra Kanhar, a marginal farmer in
Orissa, had a small dry patch of land with no means of irrigation. The land yielded nothing. This
forced the family to seek work as casual labourers. One day, some people came in a jeep and
demonstrated the KB pump. Thats when I decided to buy it, says Kanhar.
After installing the pump, he got good yields from his land and makes a profit of Rs 17,500 per
sowing. We have ample food says Kanhar. I will now be able to secure my childrens future by
investing in their education.
After achieving success with its cheap, foot-operated pumps, IDE launched drip irrigation kits in
areas where water was scarce. While other products in the market cost as much as Rs 50,000
per acre, IDEs kits can be installed at a fraction of that, at Rs 5,000Rs 7,000 per acre. Farmers
can get three times their investment by using our product, claims Sadangi.
In terms of water availability, India is ranked 133rd by Unesco. Also, of the total cultivable area of
195 million hectare-meters (mha), only 54 mha is under irrigation while the remaining 141 mha
are rainfed areas, according to a Planning Commission document. Drip irrigation can easily
increase the area under cultivation both in rainfed as well as irrigated areas.
Satish Patil and his seven-member family live in Chopet village (Maharashtra), which faces a
chronic shortage of water. This made his landholding of two hectares largely useless. As a
consequence he was compelled to take up odd jobs.
When Patil heard about IDEs drip-irrigation kits, he was elated. He bought one to farm
pomegranates and found it reduced the need for water by a third. He also got a good yield. After
pomegranates, Patil began planting cotton and vegetables too. Profits have exceeded Rs 5 lakh
and are still growing. We finally have enough money to fulfill a long-time aspiration to deepen the
well. The crops can now rely on it, he says.




Satish Patils land
was largely useless
and he had to take
up odd jobs. After
installing IDEs drip-
irrigation system he
makes lakhs in
profits.




Patils case proves Sadangis belief on how water can be life giving. The drip kit has transformed
his familys fortunes. For starters, it has helped them build a new toilet in the vicinity of the house.
Kitchen utilities, a table fan and a television set are some of the other new luxuries in their
possession now.
The kits high growth potential convinced US-based Acumen Fund to make its first water-project
investment in India. The fund invested $1 million in IDE. We should be able to give at least 10%
return on investment. It might even be possible to give 20-22%, says Sadangi.
Recent studies have shown that the drip irrigation kits raise the income of its small-scale farming
customers by an average of $400/year. This is done through water savings (30-50%), energy
savings (50%) and increased crop yields (30-70%), Acumen Fund said in an e-mail, explaining
its rationale for the investment in IDE.
Designing And Outsourcing
IDEs business model is simple. It studies the needs of farmers in the field, and develops suitable
products at its research and development centre near Delhi. Once the prototype is proven, it
outsources production to manufacturers across 35 cities.
The product specification and quality-testing are handled by IDE. Manufacturers, however, are
authorised to sell the products under the KB brand name. Though IDE does not demand a share
in their profits, it collects a royalty of Rs 50 per pump sold.
A pump that can draw up 1,000 litres in an hour costs Rs 300 to manufacture and is sold to
dealers for Rs 400. The end consumer gets it at Rs 500.
Sunil Kumar Jaiswal, a partner with Eastern Engineering Company in Ranchi, Jharkhand, is one
such manufacturer. He has invested between Rs 10-15 lakh so far and has been producing
pumps for the last four years. Last year we sold more than 2,000 pumps. This year (2009-10),
we expect to sell around 3,000 pumps, he says. Jaiswal hopes to recover his investment within
five years.
However in the case of drip-irrigation kits, IDE has floated a firmGlobal Easy Water Products
(GEWP)that acts as the main distributor and assembler. Production, however, has been
outsourced to seven manufacturers.
GEWP reported a net profit of Rs 1 crore, on a turnover of Rs 9 crore, in the first year itself. IDE
has sold more than 250,000 of these kits in the last five years.
CV Madeswaran, a manufacturer in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, makes lateral tubes for IDEs drip-
irrigation kits. IDE has helped us from the time we bought our first machine. An IDE employee
sits permanently in our premises to monitor quality and help us, he says. Madeswaran has
invested around Rs 40 lakh and employs 12 people. He gets a net profit margin of 10% after
meeting all expenses.
To many, it may sound simplistic to say that improving water supply will help eradicate poverty.
IDE has proved it is possible and that all stakeholders can benefit.
Bank At The Doorstep
Finos army of 6,000 agents is bringing the unbanked and the underserved into the financial services foldby
going to them.
TV MAHALINGAM

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Mary Paripurnam, 37, walks down the cramped, mud-smeared lanes of the Rajbali Chawl
twice every day, without fail. Located on the fringes of Asias largest slum, Dharavi, in Mumbai,
the chawl has about 1,000 houses. Paripurnam is quite the local celebrity. Dressed in a bright
blue saree, short and stocky Paripurnam exchanges greetings in Hindi and Tamil with thechawls
residents.
Her first stop is a small, 100 sq ft shop that sells everything from
biscuit packets to shampoo sachets. Thangam Nadar, 34, runs the
shop. She hands over a hundred rupee note to Paripurnam, who
pockets it, punches a few buttons on a console the size of a loaf of
bread and hands Nadar a receipt. Nadar has just deposited Rs 100
in her Union Bank of India account. The transaction was over in a
minute. Earlier, we had to go to a bank to deposit money, recalls
Nadar. Now the bank comes to us, she adds, flashing a toothy
smile.
This reverse flow in the banking sector is amazing. Even more
amazing is that its happening in Dharavihardly a locality that would be a magnet for banks.
Dharavi, in some ways, is a microcosm of India. It is home to a largely poor and illiterate
population, with small and irregular sources of income, and with almost no access to the banking
network. Serpentine queues, form-filling and elaborate documentation made people like Nadar
stay away from banks. Neither did banks seek them out, as a deposit transaction of, say, Rs 100
at the branch wasnt cost-efficient.
The Rs 2 Ice-Cream
Paripurnam and Financial Information Network & Operations (Fino), the organisation she works
for, bridged this divide. Fino is not a bank, and it does not lend money or accept deposits. Its a
technology and operations services provider that serves as a conduit between banks, insurers,
state governments, microfinance institutions (MFIs) and their customers.
The army of 6,000-plus Fino agents like Paripurnam, called bandhus (or friends), visit customers
at their doorsteps, and facilitate financial transactions over those consoles. Alternatively,
customers can do business at Finos 5,750 transaction points (primarily shops) across the
country. No need to visit the bank, insurer or MFI.
We started Fino in 2006 with the idea of taking banking and financial services to people not
covered by traditional networks, says Manish Khera, CEO, Fino. Khera traces Finos genesis to
his 13-year stint with ICICI Bank. There was a feeling that, as a bank, we were too focused on
the urban upmarket segment. We wanted to address the mass market, recalls Khera.




Fino is not a bank.
Its a technology
and operations
provider that acts as
a conduit between
financial services
providers and their
customers.





Home delivery: Mary Paripurnam, a Fino bandhu, on her money beat in Dharavi.
His brief was to create the Rs 2 ice-cream of banking. Ice-creams, says Khera, do not cost
much to make, but they cost a bomb to preserve and deliver. A Rs 2 ice-cream, however, sold by
an ice-candyman with a pushcart costs less because its frozen at the point of sale. That was the
driving service philosophy of Fino. An organisation that delivered cost-effective, tailored financial
services to an underserved audience.
We focused on keeping costs down and making the transaction process simple, says Khera.
For starters, to become a Fino customer, the only documentation required is proof of address
and a photograph. The applicant is fingerprinted using a biometric scanner and a smart card is
handed out. Time taken: 10 minutes.
Fino sells various services of the banks, MFIs and insurers it has tied up with. So, for instance, a
customer can ask a Fino agent for a bank account. The agent fills the forms and submits them to
the bank. Alternatively, the Fino agent can appraise customers of the many financial services its
partners offer, and help match their needs.
6 Million To 25 Million
Visitors to Finos office in suburban Mumbai are likely to spot a ticker that flashes a single
message: Chak Diya-Fino serves 6 million customers. Today, Fino offers a wide range of
financial services: from core banking services to micro-insurance, from micro-loans to
remittances.
So, for instance, a Fino customer can remit Rs 10,000the maximum allowedto a bank
account for a fee of Rs 20. Fino also facilitates payments for government programmes like the
National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Rashtriya Swasthya
Bima Yojana.
Fino, today, partners 13 banks, 20 MFIs, 3 insurers and 6 state governments. It reaches clients
in 25 towns and 30,000 villages, across 238 districts. For most of these services, its customers
dont pay anything. Fino earns its revenues from its partners, in three ways: commission for
bringing in a new customer, transaction fee and payments for using its technology platform.
By 2011, Fino is aiming for 25 million customers. Khera is currently focusing on expanding
across Uttar Pradesh, with the target of tripling customer base to 18 million by the end of this
year. That translates to a coverage of about 100,000 villages across the country. With steep
targets like these, its fitting the caller tunes of Khera and all the 800 full-time employees of Fino
is AR Rahmans go-getting anthem Jai Ho.
According to Khera, in 2008-09, Finos revenues were about Rs 50 crore. But it didnt make
profits due to its rapid pace of expansion. In 2009-10, Khera expects about Rs 2,000 crore of
funds to flow though Fino and revenues of Rs 180 crore. He is also eyeing profits this year.
You have to justify the faith placed by investors...we cannot be a charity case, he says. Its
investors include IFC, ICICI Bank, Intel Capital and LIC. We would like our customers to use
more than one of our services, adds Khera.
Paripurnam and her 6,000-plus fellow-bandhus may have to walk their beat a
lot more.
The Village Logs In
Rural India is crying for services. And Ekgaon has several technologies to take those services to them.
ANURAG PRASAD

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Its name means one village. Ekgaon Technologies mission is to use information and
communication technologies to make a difference to rural lives. The rural market is crying for
services, says Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, the 36-year-old founder and CEO of Ekgaon. The area
in which it is making the biggest difference today is financial services.
In what it does and how it does it, Ekgaon is similar to FINO. Both use technology to bridge the
gap between providers of financial services and the people who need those services. Yet, there
are differences. If FINO has a console, Ekgaons instruments of choice are a camera-mounted
mobile phone and a printer.
Ekgaon has tied up with banks, micro-finance institutions (MFIs) and insurers. It works with their
self-help groups (SHGs)30,000 of them, with an average of 10 members, in four states. Each
member has a card, with a bar code. Say, an MFI needs to collect an instalment of Rs 1,000
from a farmer. A designated person from the SHG, phone and printer in tow, goes to the farmer,
who hands him Rs 1,000 in cash.
The SHG person uses his mobile to take a picture of the bar code on the farmers card, and
sends it to the Ekgaon server through SMS or mobile Internet. Every 15 seconds, the Ekgaon
server syncs with the MFI server. It verifies the data on the code and records the transaction.
The agent generates a receipt from his printer, and gives it to the farmer. Transaction over. In 5-
10 minutes. Ekgaon gets paid 25 paise per transaction from its partners. Last year, its sixth, the
company recorded revenues of Rs 1.5 crore.
Ekgaon was born about 10 years back. Aditya, right after getting his management degree from
the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, joined a World Bank-IIM project on wide area
networks and rural connectivity. He started understanding technologies and what villagers
wanted. He started finding ways to generate a match. And, thus, Ekgaon was formed.
After some trial and error, Aditya realised any technology must have three things. One, it must be
based on a simple user interface on handheld devices. Two, it should be based on local
languages. Three, it should work on low bandwidth connectivity. Ekgaons application is based
on a mobile, it has an interface in four Indian languages and it works on SMS.
In the next three years, Ekgaon wants to have 300,000 SHGs, even go abroad in a bigger way (it
is working with a bank in Sri Lanka). For all this, it needs $3-5 million. Meanwhile, its revenue
push continues. Chief among them are remittances and mobile advertising (it is working with
Google). Beyond financial services, Ekgaon is working on e-governance applications like
monitoring NREGS, PDS and local public works. Essentially projects that act as a low-cost
facilitator between customers and enterprises. And empower villages.
Mobile Money Man
Anurag Gupta uses technology to let banks access customers.
TV MAHALINGAM

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Anurag Gupta lives out of a suitcase. In the last 30 days, his passport has been stamped at
airports in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Bahrain, Dubai and South Africa. In India, he has
travelled to Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Guwahati, Shillong and villages far from these cities.
So, whats making Mumbai-based Gupta a peripatetic nomad? He is talking to an investor in
South Africa. In the Far East, Gupta is exploring the possibility of creating a customised handset
with manufacturers. Discussions are on with Gulf companies to replicate the model he has so
successfully implemented in India.
The 48 year old architect by training is the founder and Chief Technology Officer of A Little World
(ALW), a Mumbai-based technology solutions provider that helps banks, governments and other
institutions to reach out to their customers in far-flung areas of the country. How does the
company do this? It harnesses the power of the countrys fastest growing communication
networkmobile phones.
ALW has 25,000 agents, mostly women, in 8,300 gram panchayats across 22 states, reaching
out to 35 lakh people. These women carry a smart-card-enabled mobile phone which acts like a
tiny branch. When a customer wants to deposit or withdraw cash from his bank account the
agent punches in the details on the mobile. The transaction is then verified by using a fingerprint
scanner and a receipt is printed immediately. The technology is being used to pay National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act wages in some states. Gupta hopes that co-operative dairies, too,
will come to use his technology.
Founded in 2000, ALW was set up to create an Indian payment platform for low cash
transactions. At that time, it had zeroed in on the then hot technology of smart cards. However,
by 2003, India was in the middle of a mobile boom. So, ALW embraced mobile technology. In
2003, a separate company MCHQ (now mChek) was born.
mChek went on to become Indias largest mobile payments company. Gupta , though, resigned
as CEO of mChek in mid-2006, sold the company and pursued his original dream of a payment
channel for low cash transactions.
ALW was back on track. Investors such as Dubai-based Legatum Ventures and Bellwether
Microfinance Fund lined up for a piece of the action.
For now, Gupta has big plans for ALW. In a year, he hopes to serve a crore plus customers. In
two to three years, ALW will serve 5 to 6 crore customers in 1,35,000 gram panchayatsthats
40% of all gram panchayats in the country, says Gupta. Thats a lot more places and a lot more
suitcases.
On a visit to Koba village in north Gujarat, Sulax Shah watched as, twice a day, farmers
brought their milk and sold it to the local co-operative society.
The process was cumbersomethe farmers had to wait for two hours as an official tested the fat
content (to determine the price) and weighed the quantity of milk. The system was susceptible to
manipulation on both sides and disputes were common. Worse, the farmers usually had to wait
two weeks to get paid.
Watching all this, Shah sensed an opportunity. An electronics engineer by profession, he realised
he could simplify the collection process to benefit all parties. The challenge was to provide a
solution for the entire chain, says Shah.
He created a simple system linking a microprocessor to a weighing scale and a fat-testing
machine. It gave remarkably accurate readings that were printed and given to the farmers. When
it proved successful, Shah quit his job and formed Shree Kamdhenu Electronics with six other
entrepreneurs. They began promoting the system, priced at Rs 50,000, in south Gujarat.
Since then, there has been no looking back; what began with a collection centre for 300 farmers
in Koba has grown to over 2,000 installations. In 2003, Shah created a more sophisticated
system with a graphical user interface. Christened Akashganga (Milky Way), it automated all the
collection centres operations, generating MIS data, etc. Akashganga costs Rs 1,25,000.
Shahs systems have revolutionised the milk industry in many South Gujarat villages. Earlier we
were not sure whether the society was paying us the correct amount. Now we are, says
Kanubhai Vaghela, a milk farmer from Karamsad, near Anand. And, instead of waiting for an
hour or two as they did earlier, the farmers were in and out of the society in nine minutes.
In our society, the turnaround time per farmer has shrunk to two minutes, says Harshadbhai
Solanki, Secretary of Karamsad Milk Producers Co-operative Society. Moreover, farmers are
paid within a day and often on the same day. The amount of milk sold to the collection centre has
risen 88% following installation. This was because farmers were able to buy more animals thanks
to getting paid quickly.
Kamdhenu Electronics has been selling 200 to 225 new units annually for the last four years. By
2003, however, the South Gujarat market had reached saturation. The company also needed
funds to expand. Shah found a willing supporter in Mumbai-based Aavishkaar Indian Micro
Venture Capital Fund, which invested Rs 18 lakh for a 26.62% stake. Since then, the companys
products have found buyers in Maharashtra, Sikkim, Bihar, Jharkhand and also in countries like
Nepal and Vietnam.
Power To The People
In a power-starved village in Bihar, Vivek Gupta is turning on the lights with his green plant.
ANURAG PRASAD

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Even when he was studying for his Class 10 boards, two years ago, Manish Kumar
never burnt the midnight oil. Even if he wanted to, he couldnt. The ineptness of the state
meant power supply was an occasional and fickle companion for this 17-year-old
resident of Garkha, a village 70 km from Patna, the capital of Bihar. So, he learnt to
sleep early to rise early to make use of the morning light. Today, two years on, as
Manish gets ready for the big 12, things have not changed at Garkha in Saran district
and they have. The state power machinery is still groping in the dark ages. But, a home
boy, Vivek Gupta, is offering a glimmer of hope to Manish to dare the midnight hour.
Guptas company, Saran Renewable Energy (SRE), has
installed a 128 kilo watt (kw) power plant at Garkha that runs
on a leafy plant called Dhaincha. On paper, thats good
enough to feed one fan and one light in about 2,500
households, 24x7. Although SREs output cannot meet the
needs of the entire village, about 200 businesses and shops,
two cold storage units, a cinema hall, a saw mill and several
genset operators are plugging in. And the genset operators
are, in turn, retailing power to households and businesses.
The cost to consumer is Rs 8-12 per unit. Thats about twice
that in cities and about the same as the subsidised cost of
solar power. But its 33% cheaper than the noisy and polluting diesel-powered gensets
the popular alternative in Saran district. Slowly, Garkha is hooking up to Guptas power
plant, whose uniqueness is two-fold: it is non-polluting and it is an operation self-
contained in the village. On the one hand, it provides power to the village. On the other,
it provides income to farmers who grow Dhaincha.
Planting Change
For Gupta, the plant is a labour of love. He grew up in Saran, but he was privileged.
There were others who werent, and Gupta couldnt forget that. Even when he started
working with ICICI Bank, after passing out from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade
(IIFT) in New Delhi, Gupta wanted to improve the standard of living of rural folk in Bihar.
He floated an NGO and also tried his hand at integrated farming, but neither was
successful.
The idea of SRE germinated in ICICI Bank. My bank was helping set up renewal-energy
projects, says the 31-year-old Gupta. I decided to give it a shot. He roped in brother
Ramesh Kumar to do a feasibility survey on the availability of fuel, land and electricity
demand in Garkha. He also brought in his father, Yogendra Prasad, as he knew a thing
or two about farming patterns in Garkha.
There were proven power-generation models that SRE could have easily replicated. Like
the model that uses wood and corn cobs as fuel, or the model that is powered by rice
husk, both of which were working in neighbouring districts. But Gupta ruled them out
because their fuels couldnt be sourced locally.
Gupta and his team zeroed in on Dhainchaa fast-growing leguminous plant that grows
well on clayey soils. In Saran district, vast tracts of the low-lying land between the rivers
Ganga and Gandak are water-logged. That makes them unsuitable for cultivating most
crops. But Dhaincha thrives in such climes and doesnt even require much tending. And
it grows in 6-8 months.
Gupta gave farmers an incentive to grow Dhaincha. He also gave them seeds for free.
They were only too happy to grow it. It is a zero investment crop and uses my barren
land. And I also get electricity, says MP Singh, a local farmer. Around 5 tonnes (5,000




It is an operation
self-contained in
the village. On the
one hand, it feeds
power to
villagers. On the
other, it gives
income to local
Dhaincha farmers.




kg) of Dhaincha can be produced on one hectare annually. For a farmer, that means Rs
7,500-10,000 per hectare per year from a plot of land of no use.
In 2008-09, its first year of operation, SRE could source only 2,000-2,500 kg of
Dhaincha, and had to substitute it with waste wood (its power plant is dual fuel). That
year, the plant operated for 11 hours per day. According to SRE estimates, electricity
from the plant replaced about 38,500 litres of diesel and avoided the production of about
103 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Since then, more land in Garkha has come under Dhaincha. This year is crucial to
determine our project viability. Much will depend on how much fuel we get, says Gupta,
pointing towards the vast areas under Dhaincha cultivation. At current demand, the
annual savings estimated in Garkha is 77,000 litres of diesel and 206 tonnes of CO2.
Power-Packed Plans
The project, however, has suffered both time and cost overruns. Its delayed by nearly
two years and the project cost has gone up by Rs 20 lakh to Rs 80 lakh. Land
acquisition problems, convincing locals about its benefits and doing the transmission
lines added to the cost, says Gupta.
Even for SRE, its been a learning curve. The main learning is that its feasible to
generate power, but transmission and distribution (T&D) is a different ballgame. Putting
up T&D lines is difficult, says brother Ramesh. We would prefer to be part of the grid
than set up our own lines. So, even as they manage T&D activities in Garkha, the SRE
team say future expansions will all be grid-based.
SRE is planning several renewable-energy plants, but on a larger scale5 MW in
Sheetalpur, 2 MW in Chapra and another 1.5 MW in Garkha. Besides these bigger
projects, it is working on a cluster plan. These would be smaller 20-40 kw plants on non-
electrified islands of Ganga or villages along the Gandak river. At least four husk-based
plants will be operational by end-2010 in areas where there is sufficient fuel supply. SRE
is also planning a plant similar to Garkha in Bharatpur, Nepal. And once these other
plants are underway, SRE plans to double capacity at Garkha.
Meanwhile, at Garkha, SRE is working with villagers to help them shift and adapt to a
way of life where power supply is a given. Most farmers there use diesel-guzzling
generator engines as motors in thrashers or for other mechanical work. To make them
switch to electric motors, SRE plans to work like a micro-finance institution. It plans to
give electric motors, costing Rs 10,000 each, to 20 self-help groups. If they switch, it will
boost demand for our power, says Gupta. One person who doesnt need any talking to
is Class XII Manish.
Lighting Up Lives
Five entrepreneurs are quietly lighting up the homes of millions who still have no access to electricity.
JOHN SAMUEL RAJA D

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They knew they had a good thing in their hands, but they werent sure if it would find
any takers. So, this quintet, all Stanford Business School graduates, decided to user-test
the product. The product in question was a battery-operated light-emitting diode (LED)
lamp, developed for the rural market. They distributed a few of the lamps in New Keringa
village, Orissa. A week later, they had their market validation, albeit from an unexpected
sourcethe police.
We were totally surprised by the reaction when we visited the
village after a week. A lady pleaded with us to supply another
lamp as hers had been confiscated by the local police, says
Nedjip Tozun, one of the B-school grads. The policemen had
taken away the lamps because they themselves were often in
the dark due to frequent power cuts, sometimes lasting for a
few hours.
It was then that the five-some realised that the product they
had designed in their classroom in the US was an instant hit.
They were part of the Design for Extreme Affordability
course, which they had enrolled for at the Stanford Institute of Design (as part of their
MBA course).
According to the 2001 census, about 43.5% of Indias households have electricity
connections compared to 30.5% a decade ago. The majority of the rural population still
has no access to electricity and is dependent on kerosene lamps.
Government data says there are about 18,000 villages in remote and inaccessible areas
without electricity. Even in villages with electricity, many households dont have
connections.
It was this market opportunity that Tozun, the companys President, and his four
friendsSam Goldman (CEO), Xianyi Wu (VP-Product Design), Erica Estrada and
Gabriel Riskwanted to tap. However, they knew affordability would be a challenge as a
majority of their potential customers were poor. Moreover, reaching them would be
difficult because of the thinly spread population.
Convinced that these issues could be handled, the five launched D.Light Design in 2007.
Initially, the company operated out of the US, but later, realising that they could do more
by being close to the target markets, they moved to India.
Before moving, Tozun spent some time in China, where the lamps are manufactured.
Goldman shifted immediately to focus on sales and marketing.
Unique Distribution Strategy
The company has so far launched two series of productsNova and Solatawith prices
ranging from Rs 800 to Rs 1,600. The lamps can be charged using AC power or solar
panels. When fully charged, the Nova series can provide illumination for up to 12 hours.
Developing the products was a big challenge. But after crossing that hurdle, the
promoters knew they had a much tougher job at hand: Creating awareness among




By replacing a
kerosene lamp
with a D.Light, a
consumer can
expect to save up
to $150 over five
years, according
to Acumen Fund.




potential users in remote areas. Taking the conventional rural-supply chain route
adopted by FMCG firms didnt seem quite right. Reason: The availability of the products
at retail points would not necessarily result in sales.
After some brainstorming and groundwork, the D.Light promoters hit upon the idea of
creating rural entrepreneurs. The plan was to build a base of 1,500 rural entrepreneurs,
who would each handle a captive market of 2,000 households, says Mandeep Singh,
COO, D.Light. The entrepreneurs would source products from dealers. This (rural
entrepreneur network) will function as our main distribution channel, explains Singh.
Our products need to be demonstrated to the customers by someone known to them, in
order to build trust.
The company is also selling its products through corporate retail chains, which have a
presence in rural areas.
Willing Backers
The promoters managed to convince investors to buy into their plan to cater to the
bottom of the pyramid. Six of themAcumen Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Garage
Technology Ventures, Gray Matters Capital, the Mahindra Group and Nexus India
Capitalhave jointly invested in excess of $6 million in D.Light.
Of that, Acumen has invested $1 million. We believe this is the best product in the
market, the Fund said in an e-mail response to a question about its investment
rationale. By replacing a kerosene lamp with a D.Light, a consumer can expect to
experience cost savings of up to $150 over five years. The Mahindra Group did not
respond to a questionnaire.
In the last two years, D.Light has sold more than 200,000 units in the Indian market. We
need to sell millions of units to achieve economies of scale and make profits, says
Tozun. But he did not reveal any financial details.
Sheetal Attri, who lives in Ghhandhholi village near Aligarh, bought her first LED lamp in
March this year. Subsequently, she invested in two more, with a mobile charging facility,
at Rs 1,250 apiece. They have many benefits. There is no light (electricity) in the
villages, so cooking becomes a problem at night, says Sheetal. During the rains, due to
the wind and water you cannot light deepaks (oil based lamps), so this (LED lamp) is
helpful.
The firm aims to sell two million LED lamps (covering about 10 million people) by 2010
and 20 million lamps by 2020. Customers using kerosene lamps would be able to
recover their investments in less than eight months, claims Singh.
But its not just about money. Amit Kumar Choudhary, from Bhojaka village in Aligarh
district, bought the lamps because they provided flexibility in terms of usage. Earlier, he
was using a CFL lamp, which did not survive a power surge and was also inconvenient
to carry around. I hope all farmers use this, especially since there is no electricity in the
villages. The kerosene that gets wasted can be saved this way, says Choudhary, who
has sold 300 lamps since November last year.
D.Light is now working on new, cheaper products for the nearly 300 million people living
in poverty. Slowly but steadily, it aims to expose more and more poor homes to some
electricity.
Sun Dialling
Harish Hande founded Selco to provide solar lighting solutions for the poor.
NANDITA DATTA

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Harish Hande, an energy engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur, began his
association with solar lighting during a field trip to the Dominican Republic. The trip was
in connection with his doctoral programme at the University of Massachusetts. He found
that the people of the Carribean country who used solar power were as poor as those in
rural India. On his return to the US, he changed his thesis topic to Rural Electrification in
India and Sri Lanka: Does Solar Make Sense. The thesis laid the foundation for Selco,
the company he formed with environment activist Neville Williams, to provide need-
based technology solutions for the poor.
In doing so, he went against conventional wisdom that the poor need grants and
subsidies, and that affordability issues cripple sustainable development. The company
solved this problem by partnering with banking and micro-finance institutions, hiring local
talent (80% of Selcos 140-odd employees are villagers), involving community-based
organisations and working alongside academic institutions. MIT, for example, has
committed six to eight doctoral research students who will work with Selco to come up
with designs for new products.
Yet, the initial years were difficult. Hande started Selco with savings from his scholarship
and then managed to survive with credit from his suppliers. Selco secured a conditional
loan from Winrock International, a global non-profit organisation, in 1996. If the venture
succeeded, the money had to be paid back. And I didthough not many thought I
wouldand that increased my credit worthiness, says Hande. Soon, funds started
trickling in. Rockefeller Foundation invested some money, as did Solar Energy Light
Fund, a US-based non-governmental organisation. Last year, Selco closed its second
round of funding for an undisclosed sum.
Selco designs and sells solar home-systems, primarily to meet the lighting needs of the
poor. The system comprises compact fluorescent lights (7-15 watts), roof-mounted
photovoltaic panels and a storage battery, which can withstand a significant discharge
every day. There are several variations of its products.
Selco believes in creating tailor-made solutions to meet specific client needswhether
its a business requirement or even to tie up finance. In fact, Hande often tells his sales
force that if a client cannot afford a Selco product, they have built the wrong product. If
our product caters to a clients need, theres no way he wont buy it, he explains.
This approach has led to several innovations, such as solar-powered headlamps for
rubber-tappers, mid-wives and flower-pluckers (so that they can work with both their
hands), portable lights to feed silkworms and one light to illuminate three rooms.
Future design innovations include energy vendor-carts, solar-powered signal lights,
improved cooking stoves and biomass-based dryers, among others. According to
Hande, Selco isnt just about solar technology or about designing innovative products.
We provide solutions that are need-based, he says.
Doctors In Deed
Dr Rajnikant Aroles brand of healthcare helped villagers fight diseaseand social taboos.
TV MAHALINGAM

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Four year old Yash Maneres eyes SPARKLE as he recites an eight-line rhyme. Its
not about twinkling little stars or Humpty Dumpty. Its a Marathi rhyme, something rather
mundane about mixing salt, sugar and water. Its a lifesaver, detailing the recipe for an
oral rehydration solution (ORS). Six lakh children die of diarrhoea every year in India.
Many of them can be saved if given ORS in time. Manere gets a resounding kiss and a
tight hug from his aunt, Baby Mohalkar, for the recital.
Fifty-four year old Mohalkar is a lifesaver too. In the past 16 years, she has delivered
over 150 children in her village, Kusadgaon. Five hundred kilometers away from
Mumbai, Kusadgaon looks like any other village in Maharashtra. Small by-lanes, a
village school and lush green fields. Mohalkars house though hosts the crowning glory
of the villagea blackboard scrawled with statistics. Population-1,615. Not a single
newborn below 2.5 kgs. No deaths during delivery. The Mahatma would have smiled.
Mohalkar, and her friend Kalpana Gaekwad, can take credit for this feat.
Over the past decade and a half, the duo has battled gender and caste bias to take
Kusadgaon to where it is. And they are not alonein 300 villages across four blocks
(Jamkhed, Karjat, Akola and Ashti)more than 60 women like them walk door to door to
administer basic healthcare. All this happens under the aegis of the Comprehensive
Rural Health Project (CRHP), or the Jamkhed project, which began almost four decades
ago.
The project is the brainchild of septuagenarian Dr Rajnikant Arole and his late wife Dr
Mabelle Arole. Growing up in rural Maharashtra, Dr Rajnikant Arole saw plenty of
suffering. When I was a boy, I got malaria, recalls Dr Arole. The untrained
village dai (nurse) ground the tablet, mixed it in water, and injected young Arole. Sure
enough, my malaria was cured. But I had a prominent abscess, adds Arole. A few years
later, several of Aroles classmates died in an outbreak of plague. These incidents
steeled Aroles resolve to become a doctor and work for the poor.
While studying medicine at Vellore, Arole met his future wife, Mabelle. We shared a
common vision of helping the rural poor, says Arole. Long conversations during their
internships made them realise they were soul mates. After marriage, they moved to
Wadalaa hamlet near Ahmednagarto work for the poor. We were doing
Caesareans and treating poor children with infections. But we realised that people were
falling ill in the villages and were not able to access us, adds Dr Arole.
That realisation was the seed of the Jamkhed project. The fact that healthcare is not
about medicines, doctors and hospital beds but about nutrition and the environment that
people lived in. After a course at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, the couple
came to Jamkhed to start their project. They could not have chosen a better place or a
worse one, to work in. A survey conducted by CRHP in 1971 across 12 villages in the
Jamkhed block showed that 40% of the population had just one meal a day. The villages
were filthy with stagnant water. Malaria and diarrhoea were rife.
The bigger problems were social ones. Women were ill-treated and untouchability was a
common practice. We decided to take the bull by the horns, says Dr Arole. The Aroles
started by organising farmers into clubs that cleaned up the villages water bodies and
roads.
Almost immediately, the results began to show. Communicable diseases began to drop.
However, the project had other problems. Nurses refused to move to Jamkhed since
many of them belonged to the lower socio-economic strata of society. They faced
discrimination in the villages. Also, local hoodlums targeted them. The Aroles tried to find
matches for the nurses to persuade them to relocate. That experiment failed.
Rural Nurses
Then the farmers clubs asked the Aroles to train the village women in basic healthcare.
Thus, the village health worker was born. Caste issues though continued to haunt them.
The Aroles took a stand. As a principle, they started by training only lower caste women.
With ingenuity, they started chipping away the caste barriers.
A severe drought hit Jamkhed in the early 70s. The Aroles called in a water diviner and
asked him to scout for places in villages where borewells could be dug. But with one
preconditionthe borewells would be dug in the Harijan areas of the villages. The
upper caste people were forced to draw water from the wells which were located in
Harijan areas, recalls Yosef Pandit, a healthcare organiser who has been with the
project since inception. During community feeding programmes, the Aroles noticed that
lower caste children would be seated away from upper caste children. My wife would
walk in and ask all children wearing a particular coloured dress to sit together,
reminisces Dr Arole.
As women started getting empowered, they realised that despite belonging to different
castes, they shared the same problems. That struck a chord. At Kusadgaon, when a
villager refused to drink tea served by Kalpana Gaekwad, who belongs to a lower caste,
her comrade Baby Mohalkar stood up for her. Tea was sipped, another barrier broken.
People used to call out to us earlier by caste names but now they address us
as tai (sister), says Mohalkar.
In the last 39 years, the project has grown. Today, village health workers handle
deliveries and counsel leprosy and TB patients. Between 1976 and 2006, the project has
built over 200 check dams for water harvesting and dug over 500 wells. But, funding
continues to be an issue. In all, it takes Rs 1.5 crore for the project to keep functioning.
About 60% of that comes from fees of patients. We have been frugal with salaries,
says Dr Shobha Arole, Dr Rajnikant Aroles daughter who now runs the project on a day
to day basis. The rest comes from donations. Its pretty hand to mouth though, says Dr
Rajkumar Arole.
Little Mac
He wants to do a McDonalds with low-cost and clean products for the poor.
ASHISH GUPTA

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Ashok Khoslas greatest life lessons did not come to him as he wrote his doctoral
thesis on experimental physics at Harvard. Nor did they come when he taught there. The
academic-turned-development activist learnt them during the vacations, when he sold
encyclopaedias in the American countryside, door to door. And when he sold
hamburgers, across a McDonalds counter.
As an ace salesmanthe encyclopaedia company gave him
the award for the best salesman seven years in a rowKhosla
realised the effectiveness of a well-run business. Still in his
early-20s, he was awed by the franchisee models ability to
expand rapidly. I fell in love with that model, says the 69-
year-old Khosla. For him, the fast-food chains ability to deliver
consistent quality, at low prices and across a country, was
greater innovation than the atom bomb. It was nothing short
of magic, recalls Khosla, who would go on to use the model to
take his low-cost innovations to remote villages in India.
Development Alternatives, the organisation he founded in
1983, would go on to create sustainable livelihood for three million people across the
country. Its affordable and environmental-friendly products like cooking stoves, recycled
paper, roofing systems and fired bricks would change the way people lived. The
pioneering work would win him the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, the equivalent
of the Nobel in Environment, in 2002.
Tackling Poverty
Nothing about Khoslas privileged upbringing points to the unusual road he chose. A
Kashmiri refugee from Lahore, seven-year-old Khosla stayed in Delhi for a year, before
moving to the West. His father, a professor, changed tracks to become a diplomat.
Studying in some of best schools and colleges of Europe and the US16 schools in 10
countriesKhosla was always a little different. Unlike other Indian students who
hankered after a Green Card, Khosla was fixated on home. India was the centre of my
universe, says Khosla, sitting in the study of his South Delhi residence, crammed with
books. From the beginning, I had always wanted to do something for the pooryou can
call it the spirit of that age, of that generation, he reasons.
Khosla, though, was convinced that neither the government nor Indian businesses were
really serious about tackling poverty. If they were, how come the number of poor
continued to increase every year? he argues. NGOs or grassroots workers, believed
Khosla, were the only hope. But they too were hamstrung by their inability to scale up,
which was crucial.
Even as he pondered over these issues, Khosla helped design and teach Harvards first
course on environment, set up the first environment policy unit for the Indian




Khosla came back
to produce
standardised and
affordable
products for the
rural poor, and
sell them through
local franchisees.




government, and then become the Director for the United Nations Environment
Programmes in 1982.
By this time, in his early-40s, he had decided to return home for good to make
development a business proposition. His project had to satisfy two goals: create
sustainable income for the poor and regenerate the environment. Khosla was going to
produce standardised and affordable products for the rural poor, and sell them through
local franchisees, the same way McDonalds sold its burgers. This would provide a
sustainable livelihood to the franchisees, and also improve their living conditions.
Cheap And Clean
When I returned to India in 1983, my salary was down from $1,50,000 a year to Rs
3,000 a month, reminisces Khosla. But he had no regrets. His father had left him a
house and, besides, those were exciting moments of his life. He got his highs from
working with talented youngsters, mostly from IIT, Delhi. His two-storied house doubled
up as his office, accommodating as many as 30 people at a time.
When three textile engineers walked in demanding jobs, he cut a deal with them. He
would pay them Rs 2,000 a month, allowing them the use of his computera novelty
thenday and night. In turn, within six months, they had to come up with the model of a
loom that could be sold to the poor. If they failed, it was the door.
Not only did they come up with an improved loomone that was 35% more productive
than the ordinary one and could also be used for different yarnsit turned out to be a
success. Called TARAloom, its now being used across the country.
Other low-cost success stories followed. The TARA Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln, for
instance. This is an innovation that reduces energy use by 55% and emissions by 50%.
It also offers an alternative to traditional technologies, which are now banned on
environmental grounds.
Development Alternatives has built 139 check dams to revive the water cycle of micro-
watersheds. It has set up 400 franchised local tele-centres to provide educational
courses, e-governance services and Internet connectivity on a commercial basis. It
provides agricultural information over mobiles to poor farmers in 1,000 villages.
The big challenge, though, is to be commercially viable while delivering alternative
technologies to the poor. Khosla wants banks to distribute small credit amounts (Rs
50,000) to franchisees so that they can scale up. When people told me that it was
impossible to make money and do good, they were probably right, he says.
Therefore, Development Alternatives remains a non-profit design and research firm,
focusing on creating environmental systems and technologies. These are
commercialised by Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a for-profit
entity with subsidiaries. TARA pays a royalty for the products it sells to Development
Alternatives to keep it going.
With a turnover of $5 million in 2007-08, Khosla hopes to create 100 million sustainable
jobs by 2018. The challenge is still the same: how to eradicate poverty and rebuild the
health of the environment? The answer, he says, lies in sustainable development,
wherein communities build the capacity to define their own problems and design
appropriate solutions. And thats exactly what Khosla is doing.
Ashok Khoslas greatest life lessons did not come to him as he wrote his doctoral
thesis on experimental physics at Harvard. Nor did they come when he taught there. The
academic-turned-development activist learnt them during the vacations, when he sold
encyclopaedias in the American countryside, door to door. And when he sold
hamburgers, across a McDonalds counter.
As an ace salesmanthe encyclopaedia company gave him
the award for the best salesman seven years in a rowKhosla
realised the effectiveness of a well-run business. Still in his
early-20s, he was awed by the franchisee models ability to
expand rapidly. I fell in love with that model, says the 69-
year-old Khosla. For him, the fast-food chains ability to deliver
consistent quality, at low prices and across a country, was
greater innovation than the atom bomb. It was nothing short
of magic, recalls Khosla, who would go on to use the model to
take his low-cost innovations to remote villages in India.
Development Alternatives, the organisation he founded in
1983, would go on to create sustainable livelihood for three million people across the
country. Its affordable and environmental-friendly products like cooking stoves, recycled
paper, roofing systems and fired bricks would change the way people lived. The
pioneering work would win him the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, the equivalent
of the Nobel in Environment, in 2002.
Tackling Poverty
Nothing about Khoslas privileged upbringing points to the unusual road he chose. A
Kashmiri refugee from Lahore, seven-year-old Khosla stayed in Delhi for a year, before
moving to the West. His father, a professor, changed tracks to become a diplomat.
Studying in some of best schools and colleges of Europe and the US16 schools in 10
countriesKhosla was always a little different. Unlike other Indian students who
hankered after a Green Card, Khosla was fixated on home. India was the centre of my
universe, says Khosla, sitting in the study of his South Delhi residence, crammed with
books. From the beginning, I had always wanted to do something for the pooryou can
call it the spirit of that age, of that generation, he reasons.
Khosla, though, was convinced that neither the government nor Indian businesses were
really serious about tackling poverty. If they were, how come the number of poor
continued to increase every year? he argues. NGOs or grassroots workers, believed
Khosla, were the only hope. But they too were hamstrung by their inability to scale up,
which was crucial.
Even as he pondered over these issues, Khosla helped design and teach Harvards first
course on environment, set up the first environment policy unit for the Indian
government, and then become the Director for the United Nations Environment
Programmes in 1982.




Khosla came back
to produce
standardised and
affordable
products for the
rural poor, and
sell them through
local franchisees.




By this time, in his early-40s, he had decided to return home for good to make
development a business proposition. His project had to satisfy two goals: create
sustainable income for the poor and regenerate the environment. Khosla was going to
produce standardised and affordable products for the rural poor, and sell them through
local franchisees, the same way McDonalds sold its burgers. This would provide a
sustainable livelihood to the franchisees, and also improve their living conditions.
Cheap And Clean
When I returned to India in 1983, my salary was down from $1,50,000 a year to Rs
3,000 a month, reminisces Khosla. But he had no regrets. His father had left him a
house and, besides, those were exciting moments of his life. He got his highs from
working with talented youngsters, mostly from IIT, Delhi. His two-storied house doubled
up as his office, accommodating as many as 30 people at a time.
When three textile engineers walked in demanding jobs, he cut a deal with them. He
would pay them Rs 2,000 a month, allowing them the use of his computera novelty
thenday and night. In turn, within six months, they had to come up with the model of a
loom that could be sold to the poor. If they failed, it was the door.
Not only did they come up with an improved loomone that was 35% more productive
than the ordinary one and could also be used for different yarnsit turned out to be a
success. Called TARAloom, its now being used across the country.
Other low-cost success stories followed. The TARA Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln, for
instance. This is an innovation that reduces energy use by 55% and emissions by 50%.
It also offers an alternative to traditional technologies, which are now banned on
environmental grounds.
Development Alternatives has built 139 check dams to revive the water cycle of micro-
watersheds. It has set up 400 franchised local tele-centres to provide educational
courses, e-governance services and Internet connectivity on a commercial basis. It
provides agricultural information over mobiles to poor farmers in 1,000 villages.
The big challenge, though, is to be commercially viable while delivering alternative
technologies to the poor. Khosla wants banks to distribute small credit amounts (Rs
50,000) to franchisees so that they can scale up. When people told me that it was
impossible to make money and do good, they were probably right, he says.
Therefore, Development Alternatives remains a non-profit design and research firm,
focusing on creating environmental systems and technologies. These are
commercialised by Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a for-profit
entity with subsidiaries. TARA pays a royalty for the products it sells to Development
Alternatives to keep it going.
With a turnover of $5 million in 2007-08, Khosla hopes to create 100 million sustainable
jobs by 2018. The challenge is still the same: how to eradicate poverty and rebuild the
health of the environment? The answer, he says, lies in sustainable development,
wherein communities build the capacity to define their own problems and design
appropriate solutions. And thats exactly what Khosla is doing.
Lady WithThe Bank
Ela Bhatts Sewa has helped millions break the bonds of poverty.
RAJIV BHUVA

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Anyone who thinks Gandhian ideology is a thing of the past need look no further than
Ela Bhatt. This firebrand has transformed the lives of millions of women, indeed, of entire
families, through a movement based on Gandhis principles. Bhatt founded Self-
Employed Womens Association (Sewa) in Gujarat, in 1972, with the objective of helping
poor women emerge from poverty. Sewasguiding principles are Gandhis satya, ahimsa,
sarvadharma and khadi.
Bhatt was appalled when she found that nearly 94% of Indias women workers were
employed in the informal sector and didnt have formal rights. She decided to something
about it. Sewas basic premise is that poverty cannot be defeated without the
involvement of women.
The poor, be they men or women, did not have any exposure
to the formal banking system, she found. They are thus unable
to tap finance either to meet their needs or to fund business
ventures. Her solution was to form a bank for poor working
women. We used the Gandhian approach, and built our own
businesses and our own bank, says Bhatt. A couple of years
after launching Sewa, she established Sewa Bank, Indias first
womens bank, in Ahmedabad. It helped mobilise savings and
provided loans to poor artisans, entrepreneurs and the like.
The focus was on getting into mainstream. Thats the reason
we established a bank, and not a microfinance institution, she
explains. The bank helped thousands unshackle themselves
from poverty and forge new lives.
Today, the learning from the banking initiative has seen the model spread across the
globe. Bhatt helped launch Womens World Banking (WWB) in 1979 and served as its
Chairperson from 1988 to 1998. Today, WWB has spread to over 60 countries and she
continues to remain an honorary trustee of the bank.
Sewa has also begun working in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In
Pakistan,Sabah (morning fresh air) is working closely with Sewa. The two have been
holding regular cross-border training programmes. We are working within their cultural
limitations, says Bhatt. Last October, Rudi Multi Trading Company, Sewas affiliate,
imported 10 tons of dry fruits from Afghanistan. We are creating a market for them, and
we will export our products to them, says Umadevi Swaminathan, Managing Director,
Rudi Multi Trading Company.
In India, Sewa continues to grow. After three decades, we have a presence in eight
states, says Bhatt proudly. When it started out in 1972, Sewa had a mere 1,017
members, all of whom were in Gujarat. In 2008, that number had expanded to touch
966,139. Of these, more than halfabout 5,19,309are based in Gujarat.




When it started
out in 1972, Sewa
had a mere 1,017
members, all of
whom were in
Gujarat. In 2008,
that number had
risen to 966,139,
in eight states.




For a long time, however, membership was predominantly urban. But since the late
eighties, Sewa has launched a concerted effort to embrace people living in the
hinterland. This has seen a sharp increase in the number of rural members. In fact, in
Gujarat, the urban-rural ratio stands at 35:65.
Bhatts efforts have ensured that members are assured of social security benefits, health
insurance and have easy access to credit. Sewa has even begun partnering with
corporates in an effort to widen the avenues available to the poor. But Bhatt hasnt
compromised on the movements core ideology. When industrialists act tough with Sewa
representatives, the latter calmly end the meeting. The moment they are told Elaben will
come for the next meeting, they become willing to negotiate, says Bhatt, her face
crinkling into a smile.
Since 2007, she has been one of The Elders, an independent group of eminent global
leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders offer their collective wisdom
and use their experience to support peace building, address the causes of human
suffering and promote humanity. Bhatts focus area is refugees and on finding ways to
help them make an economic revival. A cease-fire is not peace, she says.
In October, the 76-year-old iron lady will tour Africa. The women there want Sewa, she
says. And in her, they will, no doubt, find a saviour.
Champion Of The Disabled
Javed Abidi pushes for new laws and use of existing ones to make the disabled independent.
SEBASTIAN PT

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Give me an assignment and a deadline, the young man would say. If I dont deliver,
dont give me the job. Brave words from a 24-year-old who had just returned from the
US armed with a 4-year journalism degree. In spite of high scores, his applications for
jobs were rejected. Javed Abidi never tires of this story. Naturally, since he was the
young man and the year was 1989. His applications to publishing houses would reach a
dead end. All would go well till the interview. A look at Abidis wheelchair would
determine the outcome of the interview. The wheelchair was part of his life due to a
spinal problem. Six months of unemployment made him realise that India is not
disabled-friendly.
Not one to take things lying down, Abidi resolved to change this mindset. India had long
ignored its 70 million disabled population. The only legal provision that existed for long
was a 1977 policy that provided 3% reservation in public sector jobs. Just for C and D
grade jobs. The disabled only got jobs as peons or clerks, says Abidi. The few laws
that covered them later were breached more than followed. For two decades, he has
campaigned for the disabled.
Yen For Journalism
But, for Abidi, journalism was a challenge. He freelanced for small publications. I got the
first interview of Chandra Shekhar after he became Prime Minister, says Abidi. He also
brought Parles Ramesh Chauhan and Pepsis Ramesh Vangal together for an interview,
at the height of the cola wars. However, he still mulled the need to change conditions for
the disabled.
Life had other plans for him. Abidis family visited the Gandhis
on Rajiv Gandhis death. While talking to Sonia, Abidi blurted
out his views on discrimination against the disabled. A few
days later, he was called for a job in the Rajiv Gandhi
Foundation. In April 1992, he took over as head of the
foundations disability unit.
There was no looking back. He identified his prioritiesto
unify the disabled and guarantee basic rights for them. After
some networking, the Disabled Rights Group was formed in
1993. It was the countrys first cross-disability advocacy group.
In 1995, Indias first disability legislation, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal
Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, was passed. The Act
provided 3% quota for the disabled in top government jobs. And, for the private sector,
there were incentives for companies with more than 5% disabled in the workforce.
The Act provided quotas for the disabled in the public sector. But there was no level-
playing field for them in the private sector, felt Abidi and ActionAids Maya Thomas.
There was need for an organisation to focus on jobs for them in companies. The
National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) was born
in July 1996.
The next year Abidi moved from the foundation to join NCPEDP as Executive Director (a
position which he holds till today). And, the next chapter began. Sensitising the
corporate sector became a priority. Initially, the CII was reluctant to accept our views,
he says. In 2006, it released its Corporate Code on Disability.
Abidi fights for all disabled people, says Subash Balappanavar, 35, now in the US.
Balappanavar should know. The Disabilities Act provides for 3% quota for the disabled
in all government and government-aided educational institutions. In 1998, Balappanavar
applied for admission in IIM-Bangalore. But he was refused admission. He took IIM-B to
court. Abidi supported him. But the IIM mavens refused to budge. This was one of
NCPEDPs early battles.
The IITs and IIMs took advantage of a flaw to stall the quota, says Abidi. Section 39 of
the Act that provides quota in education was placed under Chapter 6, which was for
employment. The institutions argued that the provision was not under Chapter 5, which
was for education. Even officials of the Social Justice Ministry tried to pass the buck
saying it was a typists error. Balappanavar won the case, about six years after the Act
was passed. Though Balappanavar wasnt given a seat, he opened the doors for the
rest, says Abidi. More importantly, even the civil services had stalled the quota till 2000.
Sustained efforts by the NCPEDP and others succeeded here too.

Disabled Friendly
Abidi says his organisation takes a look at policies for the disabled, in three ways. Firstly,
it identifies areas where there is no policy and changes this. Lack of an electronic
policy was troublesome for the disabled. Using an ATM and surfing websites are a




The only legal
provision for long
was a 1977 policy
for 3% reservation
in public sector
jobs. That too,
just for C and D
grade employees.




problem for the visually impaired. That apart, the policy is being sought to be extended
to electronics goods like fridges, microwave ovens and so on. Many top brands make
disabled-friendly electronic goods abroad, but avoid doing so in India. The NCPEDP has
drafted a National Policy for Electronic Accessibility.
Secondly, the organisation also identifies a poorly crafted policy and works to remove
the lacunae. For instance, all public buildings must have facilities for the disabled like
ramps and lifts. But an American fast-food outlet here doesnt follow disabled-friendly
norms in their outlets. They will never do so in the US, Abidi says.
The root of the problem, he says, is the National Building Code, 2005. The Code, which
lays out norms for construction, is weak on provisions for the disabled. The NCPEDP
has come out with a new draft that fills these gaps.
Hawkings Visit
Abidi narrates the visit of Professor Stephen Hawking, the worlds leading theoretical
physicist, in January 2001. The professor wanted to visit some monuments in Delhi. The
disabled had long petitioned for facilities at these structures. All to no avail. When
Professor Hawkings desire was made public, the Archaeological Survey of India laid
ramps, literally overnight. The issue of accessibility in India for the disabled received
media focus, says Abidi.
Finally, the organisation identifies good policies not implemented. The 11th Five-Year
Plan has a section on empowering people with disabilities. India has ratified the UN
Convention on Disabled Rights. Both need to be implemented, he says. Abidis goal is:
India should be the worlds No. 1 in implementing policies for the disabled. Nothing less
will do.
Its In Your Hands
Bunker Roy believes solutions to rural problems lie within communities. Tilonia village is a testament
to that belief.
ANURAG PRASAD

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Norti Bai is 56, a Dalit. She stopped studying in class five. Yet, she can operate a
computer, work on an English keyboard and type in Hindi, and is proficient with
accounting software Tally. She learnt to operate a computer just two years ago. Today,
Norti Bai is passing on her computer knowledge to more women, at Barefoot College in
Tilonia, a village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan. Kesar and Bhanwari are in their early-50s
and dalits.
About 15-20 years ago, they stepped out of their repressed existence. Kesar started
making wooden toys at Barefoot, Bhanwari joined its education initiative. Since January
2009, they are being trained by an Italian doctor to perform basic dental procedure. They
will join locally trained pathologists, Gopal and Laxman, to treat patients in the medical
wing at Barefoots 80,000 sq ft campus.



In another part of the campus, Raghav is training Maina Devi,
Manna Devi, Kali, Indira and Fulki to make radios. Neither the
trainer nor his five trainees have any formal education.
Raghav used to broadcast songs on his homemade radio
transmitter in Mansoorpur village in Bihar. He was jailed for
running an illegal radio station. This year, Raghav moved to
Barefoot to start its community-radio programme. He now not
only runs the Barefoot College radio, but also teaches women
how to make low-cost radio sets.
The threads between the three stories are several. They are
all about emancipating women. The women are from Tilonia or nearby. They are mostly
from scheduled castes and tribes, and have had to fight for freedom in a gender- and
caste-ridden society. They found their freedom through the community-based
development model of Barefoot, where they learnt to sustain themselves and serve the
community.
The Changemakers
For 37 years now, Barefoot College in Tilonia has been chipping away at inequities and
prejudices in the belief that solutions to rural problems lie within communities. Leading
this movement is 64-year-old Sanjit Roy, or Bunkerji, as he is popularly known. In 1971-
72, Bunker was drilling and blasting hand pumps for Catholic Relief Services in water-
starved areas of Ajmer district when his associate Meghraj guided him to Tilonia.
Bunker set up Barefoot on the principles of equality, empowerment, transparency,
sustainability and optimism. These are not just big words mounted on a mission
statement, but a way of life here. And it started with Bunker, 37 years back. He drilled
hand pumps and stayed in an abandoned school building. He sat, spoke and ate with
people the world calls untouchables, says Dhama Ram Tank, an 85-year-old from
Chota Narena village. To change India, we need more Bunkers.
Among the first projects Barefoot took up was to ensure Tilonia and the neighbouring
Harmara area got water. This was followed by night school for children and vocational
training in handicrafts, toys and clothes. Early on, Barefoot decided it would focus its
energies only on women. Once a man gets trained or educated, he migrates to a town
or city. This defeats our purpose, says Laxman Singh, who has worked with Bunker for
22 years.
Soon, Barefoot was doing advocacy work on citizen rights like minimum wages and right
to information. In 1981, the fight for minimum wages brought together many groups of
women. Against the minimum wage of Rs 7 per day, the Rajasthan government was
paying only Rs 2 on the pretext of a drought. These women, who had never stepped out
of their houses, went to the local block office, to Jaipur, even to Delhi, to voice their
demands. Finally, the Supreme Court directed Rajasthan to pay Rs 7 even during the
drought period.

Barefoots goal is
to create skilled
workers from the
community. They
should be able to
solve local
problems and
make a living out
of the work they
do.





People power: Norti Bai (in pink) passes on computer skills.
A smile spreads on the wrinkled face of 54-year-old Bhanwar Kanwar when she is asked
how the Tilonia campus changed things. In 1981, there was no question of girls going
beyond the village to study. He got us education, hand pumps, pipelines, says Kanwar,
as she guides eight other women to make decorative wall hangings for a customer in the
US. And the vocational training helped me sustain my family.
People Get Ready
When he started working in Tilonia, Bunker was looking for people who had a curiosity to
work, a desire to effect change, confidence and intelligence, and mobility of skills to
grow. He assembled a team he believed would stay with Barefoot for life, who would
take up the challenge and for whom money wasnt a consideration. I did not see their
certificate or educational background. I was optimistic about the person, says Bunker.
Barefoots goal is to create skilled workers from the community, irrespective of their
caste or education. They should be able to solve local problems and make a living out of
the work they do. So, the solar, computer and radio engineers should be technically
proficient and confident of growing on their own. Being a local person also makes it easy
for them to convince others about the services they are offering.
So far, this has worked well. People have come to Barefoot, taken its learnings, and
adapted them elsewhere. There are 20 such establishments in 13 states, says Bunker.
Barefoot is also looking at Africa. Working with local social groups, it handpicks less
privileged women from small countries like Gambia, Kenya, Benin and Afghanistan. It
trains them as Barefoot engineers, mainly in solar products, and ensures a decent
livelihood for them.
At Barefoot, there is flexibility to move around, even take up new projects. He never
says no to anything, says Teja Ram, who joined him in 1982 and currently runs an
affiliated institution in nearby Kotri village. Even if I say I want to breed snakes, he will
say give it a try. That faith is repaid. Their (the workers) intelligence and confidence
humbles you, says S Srinivasan, who is in charge of the Tilonia centre and has been
with Barefoot since 1975.
Barefoot is changing with the times. Now, the idea is to create walking and talking
colleges (individuals) rather than physical structures, says Bunker. He himself has
become more of a mentor, leaving management to the second rung of leadership.
The foundations of Barefoot are sound to serve a changing society. Instead of hand
pumps, the focus is on water harvesting. While solar power is linked to climate change,
the digital divide is being bridged through computer training.
Even amid the technology upgrade, 45-year-old Ram Niwas, a class eight dropout who
started as an accountant in Barefoot, prepares his puppets for another show in Tilonia.
Jokhim Chacha, a puppet character born in Literacy House in Lucknow, is as popular as
a Bollywood star here. As the sun dips, Jokhim Chacha, who holds up a mirror to society
and also shows the way, delivers another message of hope.
Giving Them Dignity
For decades, Jockin Arputham has championed the rights of slum dwellers. His efforts are bearing
fruit.
NAREN KARUNAKARAN

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On May 14 last year, the waif-like Parveen Sheikh hid in a drum, stacked on a truck,
for over five hours. On the streets, an angry mob was searching for her and baying for
her blood. She was certain she would be lynched if she emerged from her hiding place.
A municipal team had arrived at noon that day and razed almost 700 shanties on the
pavements of Sewri, Mumbai. The crowd blamed Parveen, a pavement dweller herself,
for their misfortune. Some time earlier they had participated in an elaborate exercise in
mapping the slum with Parveen. She was an activist in an alliance of the Mumbai-based
National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), the Society for the Promotion of Area
Resource Centres (Sparc) and Mahila Milan, a network of womens savings groups in
the slums. Parveen was finally rescued when the truck was driven from the site to
Wadala railway station.
This is just one of many encounters that volunteers with Jockin Arputham, the stocky
man behind the NSDF, have to recount. Hes had some close shaves himself, but
prefers to let activists do the talking.
Despite setbacks like this one, the alliance has gone on to build toilet blocks in Mumbai.
Sparc is even building low-cost houses in Pune. Leaders drawn and groomed from the
slums drive these initiatives. Parveen is one of them. There are others like Rose
Molokane of South Africa and Sonia Fadrigo of the Philippines who have also joined the
group. They are all proponents of the Mumbai model which is being recognised by
many foreign governments as a strategy to address issues like urbanisation and the
proliferation of slums.
The Mumbai model aims to empower slum communities. The main job is enumeration,
mapping and surveys (like the one Parveen undertook). This, combined with the
activities of Mahila Milan, transforms a slum into a vibrant community. Arputham and
Patel of Sparc have taken this concept to over 30 countries through Shack/ Slum
Dwellers International.
But Arputham has a grouse. In India, the Mumbai model hasnt received the attention it
deserves, he says. While Brazil, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and several African countries
have embraced the concept, it awaits recognition at home!
Initially, the alliance built toilet blocks from grant funds. In 2001, a member of the
alliance, Sparc, bagged a contract for about a fifth of the $44 million Mumbai Sewage
Disposal Project financed by the World Bank. Contracted to build 320 toilet blocks,
Sparc got slum dwellers to pitch in. They contributed about $200,000 for the upkeep of
the toilets. Over the years, the alliance has constructed toilet blocks for over 400,000
people.
Our approach to hygiene infrastructure is entrepreneurial. We are constantly
demonstrating new ways of doing things, says Sheela Patel of Sparc. This model is now
adopted in housing, too, as the alliance assists community-led construction of low-cost
houses. In Pune, 1,200 houses of Rs 3 lakh each are being constructed with
contributions from the centre, state and the municipality. Slum dwellers are contributing
20% of the cost.
Confrontational Mode
However, in the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai, with a population of 600,000 squatting over
520 acres, Arputham and Patel are readying for a confrontation. The government is hell-
bent on herding dwellers into high-rise buildings to exploit the remaining land
commercially.
The vibrant economy and the sector culture of Dharavi shouldnt be disturbed,
Arputham says, as he gives the finishing touches to an agitation. Mumbai is organised
for the formal sector which is a mere 10% of the population, explains Patel.
Arputham, now a globe-trotter and guide to a formidable network of heads of state from
the developing world, is aware of the power he wields. His work and his unique
chemistry with slum dwellers across the world help him during confrontations. Yet, he
has never been lured by the trappings of formal power, as it were.
Getting elected is no big deal for him. These days, as the Maharashtra assembly
elections draw closer, political groups are serenading him. Slum vote banks can make or
break parties. He remains unmoved. If you turn into a politician, then you are
constrained to change yourself to suit politics. You dont change circumstances, he
explains. A case in point is the socialist leader George Fernandes, he adds.
Global adulation and even the Ramon Magsaysay Award of 2000 havent gone to his
head. In fact, to remind himself of his roots, he has retained his shanty in the Dharavi
slums.
Arputhams roots were not as penurious as many believe. He was the son of a chief
engineer in Karnatakas Kolar gold fields. The family, used to the lifestyle of the
British sahibs, owned a 100-acre farm, a bungalow and a car. As a student of St Marys
School, two tea boys accompanied him carrying his bag and tiffin box.
His fathers alcoholism left them penniless. Arputham left school and worked as a
carpenter in Bangalore for a few years till an uncle brought him to a Mumbai slum,
Chemburs janta colony, in 1963. It was here that he flowered into an activist, fighting
street and legal battles to secure the colony against demolition, until it fell to the
sledgehammers in 1976.
Over the years, militancy ceded ground to a more conciliatory approach. Arputham
realised confrontation was futile. All through my early years, the material benefit to the
people was zero. I couldnt build even one toilet and I didnt ask the government to build
toilets, he recalls. Time has mellowed the firebrand into a nurturer of a grassroots,
community-led slum infrastructure industries.
Yet, old habits persist. He finds himself involuntarily pulling the back of his shirt over his
trousers. As a young man, Arputham had to do this to hide the gaping holes on the seat
of his trousers.
Belief In The Blind
George Abraham has been visionary in his efforts to help the visually impaired.
SUDIPTO DEY

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As you watch him move about in his studio in South Delhis Safdarjung Enclave, you
cannot help but marvel at George Abraham. The man is visually impaired but moves
with the assurance of one with 20-20 vision. And he has a certain charisma. During a
recording, he cajoles a lady to reveal the challenges she faced getting her visually
impaired son admitted into a regular school.
The mother narrates how scores of schools refused admission. But persistence paid off,
and her son is now in a Ghaziabad school, doing all the things normal kids do. The boys
story, in some ways, mirrors Abrahams own. Though he lost his eyesight when he was
barely ten months old, Abraham has led an almost normal life. He went to school,
graduated with Mathematics honours and got a post-graduation degree from Delhis St
Stephens College. I was lucky. My family treated me like a normal kid, he says.
Only when he visited a residential school for blind people in Delhi in the late 1980s did
he realise how tough life was for other blind people. The living conditions in the school
were abysmal and the inmates were made to feel like they were a burden. Moved by
their plight, he chucked a nine-year career in advertising and started seeking ways to
improve their lot.
The radio showstarted in 2005is one such effort. The 15-minute show airs twice a
month on 30 All India Radio stations. It offers an interactive platform for Indias 40
million-plus visually impaired people. A telephone helpline offers counselling sessions,
receiving around 45 calls each week. Another radio show is set to debut in August with
actor Tom Alter as the anchor.
In March this year, Score Foundation, the vehicle for Abrahams activities, launched a
web portaleyeway.orgas a single-point online knowledge resource for the visually
impaired. It comes with features like screen magnification to help the visually impaired
read. A mobile SMS alert service, which provides information on job openings, training
programmes, etc, is also progressing well. Launched this June, the service currently has
over 500 subscribers. We add four to five subscribers every day, says Abraham. He
has managed all this with a paltry budget of Rs 50 lakh. Next on the anvil is extending
the helpdesk through regional languages and launching a Hindi version of the portal.
In the early 1990s, he started organising cricket tournaments for the blind and set up the
Association of Cricket for Blind in India. In 1998, he was instrumental in organising the
first Blind Cricket World Cup, in New Delhi. Since then, there have been two more
editions.
The journey hasnt been without its share of adversities. For instance, one of the key
sponsors pulled out 15 days before the first World Cup, threatening the whole
tournament. I give God a chance when I face adversity, says Abraham. His prayers
were answered; other agencies and NGOs pitched in to bridge the shortfall.
Clearly, this man is one of those rare beings who does not need to see to believe.
Towards Light
This eye hospital was founded to bring light into their dark world.
SRIRAM SRINIVASAN

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One can finish a meal in a typically fast-paced Madurai hotel in 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, a doctor at Aravind Eye Hospital, in the same town, would have completed
two operations. The hospital wont mind the comparison. Its founder, the late
Govindappa Venkataswamy, often spoke of Aravinds McDonalds model!
Aravinds recipesocially satiating, commercially yummyhas fascinated management
gurus. About 40% of its patients get free treatment, sometimes even free food and
travel, and another 20% get fee waivers. Yet, it makes 35% profit margins. (Aravind is
run by a non-profit trust). In a country with 12 million blind people, it was responsible for
2.7 lakh eye surgeries last year.
The starting point was Dr Venkataswamys (fondly known as Dr V) passion to eradicate
blindness. He started an 11-bed clinic in 1976. Since then, the focus has been always
on the patient, says RD Thulasiraj, Director of IT and Systems, and an Aravind old-timer.
For instance, a decade back, it stopped routine culture tests on surgical patients once it
found out that only about 1% of the patients benefited from it. Those tests used to fetch
it Rs 3 lakh a month. Much of our model is built on hindsight, says Thulasiraj. Things
may have been different had Dr Venkataswamys initial attempts to raise money worked.
Aravind has since then never sought donations for eye care. If you are an organisation
where you are financed by philanthropy, there is pressure on spending, he says.
Cut To Fit
Aravind emphasises efficiency. A busy private practitioner may use an equipment five
times a week. We might use it 30 times a day, says Thulasiraj. Consider this: about 2.7
million patients visited five of Aravinds own hospitals and four hospitals it helps manage,
including one at Amethi, last year. To ensure such volumes, the hospital needs a system
that feeds in the patients. Aravind does it through eye camps. Nearly 2,000 were
conducted last year, bringing in half of its patients. Meenakshi Sundaram, Senior
Manager, Outreach, says for the camps to be successful, about three-fourths of the
participants should be above 40 years of age. Also, a third of those should have cataract
problems.
Theres another dimension to Aravinds efficiency. Each piece of work is broken down.
Nurses and paramedical staff handle routine tasks. Doctors concentrate on diagnosis
and surgeries. Explains Chairman P Namperumalsamy: Instead of, say, having 40
doctors, we try to manage with 10. And have 40 nurses. It certainly turns out cheaper.
But while an ophthalmologist outside may handle 200 surgeries annually, at Aravind, the
average is 1,500. Ophthalmologist Aravind Srinivasan, Dr Vs nephew, says some even
do 4,500. Doctors arent paid according to these numbers. All this isnt possible if
Aravind doesnt recruit the right people. Says Director Thulasiraj: Aravind looks for
qualities like empathy, hard work, curiosity and initiative. Then, skills are checked.
Armed with these features, Aravind is targeting 1 million surgeries in the near future.
Bills Made Easy
MPs make laws that influence our lives. And he does his two bits to see they make an informed
decision.
SEBASTIAN PT

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About 30,000 feet above the ground, CV Madhukar finally knew what he wanted to do
in life. Flying Air India from Boston in 2002, watching Indian news clippings on the in-
flight TV, Madhukar didnt like what he was seeing. Politicians were holding forth on
national issues, but their argument lacked depth. They didnt seem to have enough facts
on hand, he thought. And if they didnt know enough, how could they shape policy
effectively? So, in 2005, Madhukar set up PRS Legislative Research to provide free
research on issues of policy and governance, with a focus on Parliamentary Bills. PRS
collapses the legalese of a Bill and the mass of information available on the issue into an
easy-to-read brief of 4-6 pages. These briefs are sent to all 790 MPs, as well as to
companies, journalists and NGOs. They can also be accessed by the public at large on
the PRS website.
We dont claim any expertise. Our basic focus is to provide unbiased, comprehensive,
researched briefs, says Madhukar. So, for every Bill it documents, PRS looks at
comparable laws in other countries, it considers legal precedent and views of
commissions. And, importantly, it doesnt take a stand or sides. MPs and stakeholders
can use the information the way they want to, he adds. PRS only hopes they take
informed decisions.
Research Support
The PRS Bill briefs get a vote of endorsement from Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan
Kumar Bansal. Although I study all Bills directly, the PRS material is useful to explain
Bills to people even outside the Parliament, he says. They dont push any agenda, they
only place the facts, adds Sushma Swaraj, Deputy Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha.
Those facts are much needed. MPs in developed countries get
continuous state-funded, institutional research supportfor
example, the Congressional Research Service in the US.
Indian politicos have a huge Parliament library, but no
framework that feeds them research and aids them in
decision-making. Our lawmakers cant research every issue,
says Madhukar. There is a need for ongoing research.
For the 41-year-old, the Parliament was the ultimate frontier,
as its every decision has a national impact. Madhukar wanted
to make Parliamentary debates more meaningful and
representative. So, he enrolled for a Masters in Public Administration in Harvard in 2003-
04. Till August 2005, he worked with a World Bank wing on strengthening Parliaments.
Later that year, he founded PRS, as a not-for-profit venture, funded by the Ford
Foundation and others. Its first two briefs were the then-pending Education Bill and the
Pension Bill. Since then, it has provided briefs on most crucial Bills tabled in Parliament.
Beyond Business
PRS wasnt Madhukars first venture. He always wanted to do something meaningful in
life. Even after completing his MBA (finance) from Houston University in 1992, he
wanted to return to India. But he wasnt in it for the money and he wasnt content being
in the corporate sector. So, even as he joined ICICI Securities as an investment banker,
in Mumbai in 1993, Madhukar kept looking around.
He met a number of NGOs. He was clear about three things. One, he didnt like the
guilt-tripping attitude of most NGOs; they had to be systems-driven. Two, he wanted
to work with the system. A lot can be achieved by working with the government, he
says. In fact, he dislikes the NGO tag given to PRS. Three, he believed in scale. India
needs solutions on a large scale, he says. If something can be achieved in 3,000
villages, then, why only in so many villages? Why not the rest of the country?
In 1995, he joined Pratham, the NGO chaired by then ICICI Chairman Narayanan
Vaghul. Pratham, which focused on primary education, had just taken off. Before joining,
one of the first things he asked its founders was: How large will the operations be? He
was satisfied with the initial target: every child in Mumbai is in schooland is learning
well. So, everyday after ICICI, he started spending a couple of hours, till 10.30 pm, at
Prathams office in Nariman Point.
After a while, he wanted to spend full time, understanding why only some NGO
projects were successful. In 1996, he took leave-without-pay for six months from ICICI.
He mostly visited projects to see how large-scale, replicable models could be built. The
next year, Vaghul deputed him to Pratham, and he stayed there till 2000. Pratham grew
rapidly, he says, from about 200 children to about 100,000.
When the Karnataka government, in 2000, wanted to replicate the Pratham model,
Vaghul let him go to set up Akshara Foundation. It was a tripartite foundation comprising
private funding, citizen volunteers mobilising kids and the state opening up its schools.
Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and others were supporting the programme.
Madhukar remained its Managing Trustee till 2003. In 2000, Wipro Chairman Azim
Premji too wanted to start a foundation to focus on primary education. Madhukar,
simultaneously, helped set up the Azim Premji Foundation.




PRS collapses the
legalese of a Bill
and the mass of
information
available on the
issue into an
easy-to-read brief
of 4-6 pages.




Centre To State
PRS seems to be giving him greater fulfilment. An IIM-A study in 2008 showed that
about 200 MPs from both Houses used PRS material, says Madhukar. Its aim is to
reach all MPs. With a core team of nine members, PRS is also looking to broaden its
coverage. It is currently making a database of all state laws. Even the Union Law
Ministry doesnt have such a database, says Madhukar, excitedly.
Political parties have used PRS briefs in different settings. BJPs Swaraj recalls that, in
2007, her party formed a Bills Committee to consider diverse views within the party and
outside, but adopt one line. The PRS material helped many a time, she says.
PRS has been working with the Confederation of Indian Industry too. We send them
alerts on Bills before every Parliament session, Madhukar says. While a handful of big
corporates closely follow Parliamentary legislations, Madhukar feels most corporates
are less rigorous. They need to realise that they are stakeholders in legislations. There
is only so much an industry association can do, he says.
He cites the example of the US healthcare industry to explain an ideal scenario. The
healthcare industry there is a vocal lobby and constantly engages with lawmakers; and
active citizen groups act as a counter-balance. In India, both are weak, he feels. Clearly,
much more needs to be done to increase participation in the countrys decision-making
process. And that keeps Madhukar going.
Organically Speaking
Sameer Mehra helps farmers grow organic cropsso that their profits increase.
AJITA SHASHIDHAR

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Forty-two year old Bhima Bhai has been growing conventional cotton, bajra and the
like for almost half his life. But two years ago, this farmer from Lakhchokhiya village of
Suren-
dranagar district in Gujarat, made a break from the past. He carved out half of his six-
acre patch for organic cotton in a contract farming deal with the Mumbai-based Suminter
India Organics. The latter helps him with know-how, seeds with an extended credit
period, and also buys produce at his doorstep at a 10-15% premium. His organic farm
costs less to maintain and produces less yield, but still earns more money.
Dressed in the traditional Gujarati folk costume kedia and a turban, Bhima explains the
economics. On the old farm, he spends about Rs 4,000 per acre on chemicals and urea
for the crops. In the organic tract, my only investment is a kilo of jaggery per acre, he
says pointing to an earthen pot containing a solution of cow manure, jaggery and roots
of the banyan tree. I now make a profit of close to Rs 2,000 per acre (from the organic
patch), he says. Adds 35-year-old Virji Bhai of nearby Tramboda village: Suminter
gives us money in advance due to which we dont need to make distress sales to buy
seeds. He started by setting aside an acre for organic farming in a deal with Suminter,
increased it to two acres, and is now ready to convert his entire eight-acre holding into a
Suminter organic farm. Like them, about 10,000 small farmers across Gujarat,
Maharashtra, Kerala, Uttaranchal and Rajasthan have shaken hands with Suminter and
have seen earnings grow.
Hard-nosed Businessman
But the companys 34-year-old founder and Managing Director, Sameer Mehra, is hardly
the farmer activist you would expect to encounter. He is a smart, hard-nosed
businessman. He is honest enough to admit that he did not start this business out of
love for society. It was purely an idea to build a profitable business model, he says.
Mehra is part of the family that was associated with Enercon India, a well-known name in
wind energy. He took a break from the family business in 1998, got an MBA from the
Emory University in Atlanta, and worked in a hedge fund in New York. While in the US,
he sniffed out a big business opportunity in organic products. Already, he has built
Suminter India into a multi-million dollar firm.
Mehra returned to India in 2003 and set up Suminter India in 2004 with a Rs 50 lakh
investment. He partnered with the Agha Khan Foundation, which was already training
farmers in sustainable agriculture. But Mehra made it even better for the farmers. Virji
Bhai, for instance, was first introduced to organic farming by the foundation, but had
given up because he didnt find buyers. Now, Suminter buys my produce and gives me
a better price, he says.
In the last five years, Suminter has tied-up around 50,000 acres of contract farming land
and has around 10,000 organic certified farmers. But thats only the first half of the
Suminter India story. The second part lies in the way it sells its produce to organic
vendors in the US and Europe, who in turn sell to leading retailers such as Tesco and
Wal-Mart.
Organic Stamp
Global consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic produce, but only if they are
getting the real stuff.
That means Suminter has to get its products tested at the labs of the vendors and get it
certified by Control Union, an agency in the Netherlands that complies with standards of
the US Department of Agriculture and the European Union. It took three years of
intensive work with farmers and entails an annual spend of Rs 20 lakh to get the
certification. That done, the first consignment of the companys produce, organic sesame
seeds, was shipped in 2005. But we faced huge pest issues, recollects Mehra. This
prompted Mehra to invest 1 million in an organic pest fumigation technology called
Eco2 at Indore in partnership with a Dutch company, Bergwerff Organic. Now, it is
investing in a steam sterilisation unit, likely to become operational this October.
All this was funded by $3 million raised from Nexus India Capital, a venture capital fund.
Sandeep Singhal, CEO Nexus India Capital, says that Suminter Indias business model,
which benefits its customers, suppliers (the farmers) and stakeholders, is what excited
them to invest.
Finally, Suminter Indias cotton project in Gujarat got a fair-trade certification. The
benefit: Suminter India gets a 15-20% higher price on the produce it sells, and farmers
get a fair-trade minimum price, or, the market price, whichever is higher.
Suminter India has also helped the farmers form an independent organisation called the
Gujarat Sustainable and Organic Farmers Association (GSOFA). Fair Trade rules say
that the premium earned by the farmers is to be used only on community development
projects. The GSOFA has the authority to decide how this is spent.
Bhima Bhai, who is also the President of GSOFA, says that the association got Rs 14.33
lakh as fair trade premium last year. This was invested in 21 community development
projects including bus shelters, crematoriums and hand pumps.
After touching the lives of 10,000 farmers, Suminters Mehra says he has learnt to be
sensitive to social needs. He is waiting for a second round of funding that will help him
expand and make himself, more farmers and their communities prosperous.
Fields Of Fortune
Cotton farmers can thank Zameen for better prices and community support.

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Three peopleGijs Spoor, Edapalil Mathai Koshy and Satish Chukkapalli. Three
different backgroundsan agricultural engineer, a rural development expert and a
garment-marketing honcho. But, bound together by one aimproviding Indian organic
cotton farmers with a sustainable agricultural livelihood, a healthy lifestyle and a fair
price for their produce. Thats the vision of Hyderabad-based Zameen Organic.
Founded in 2006, the Rs 6 crore for-profit organisation has taken sustainable livelihood
to a different level. Zameen not only pays an organic premium to its farmers in
Asifabad, Andhra Pradesh, and Amravati, Maharashtra, for adopting its methods, but
also pays a social premium for community development.
Now, for some facts: for each quintal of cotton harvested, every Zameen farmer is richer
by a few hundred rupees as compared to cotton farmers dependent on the governments
minimum support price. And, an organic farmer can earn three times as much as
conventional cotton growers thanks to reduced input costs.
Fair Share
To ensure that its 6,000-odd farmers get a fair share in the companys profits, 51% of the
companys stake is reserved for them. The farmers can buy back the companys shares
at par.
Today, most of these shares are held by Agricultural and Organic Farming Group
(AOFG), a network of farmers associations and other grassroots organisations. AOFG
not only monitors the practices of Zameen farmers, but also provides technical training in
organic farming practices and fair-trade regulations.
So, how does Zameen manage to pay a premium to its farmers? The answer, says
Satish Chukkapalli, Director, Zameen Organic, lies in targeting eco-friendly textile and
garment retail players abroad. They dont mind paying a bit extraRs 300 per quintal
(about 10% more)for pesticide- and chemical-free cotton, he says. This concept, fast
gaining ground all over the world, is called fair-trade agriculture and works on the
principle of trace and track. Companies can trace the origins of the cotton used by
them.
Fair-trade certification helps companies brand themselves as eco-friendly and also trade
carbon credits. By buying organic cotton from us, they can accumulate carbon credits.
We provide them supporting documents, says Chukkapalli.
This year, Zameen has a deal with Mumbai-based Alok Industries, one of the largest
textile and garment exporters in India. In addition to selling its organic cotton to Alok, it
will also help the company bag contracts abroad. We will get a 5% commission if we
swing a deal for Alok, says Chukkapalli. Zameen, clearly, is breaking new ground.
A Model Village
Rangaswamy Elangos regime as the panchayat president of this small village in Tamil Nadu has
been one of quiet revolution.
SRIRAM SRINIVASAN

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Rangaswamy Elango knows Kutham-bakkam, a village about 40 km from Chennai,
like the back of his hand. He has a story to tell about everything he sees here. Those
boys there, they are school dropouts and are potential troublemakers, he says, pointing
to a group across the road. You couldnt have walked along this road a decade back.
This was a conflict zone between different castes. This, about the approach road to the
panchayat office.
At the sight of the anganwadi, he stops for a moment: Grills have to be placed on those
windows.
Or else, even dogs can enter.
For those who know Elango, this is hardly surprising. The
former panchayat president turned model village developer is
already a legend here. Born a dalit, Elango grew up seeing
poverty, hopelessness, caste and domestic violence in his
village. He wanted to change it all. Even as a youngster, he
tried to do his bit by forming youth clubs.
Educationally, he did well, getting a chemical engineering
degree. Oil India lapped him up after a campus interview and
posted him at Orissa. But he realised that being far from home
would undo his dream. A scientists job in the Council of Scientific and Industrial
Research posted him closer home, in Chennai. Shortly, he quit his job.
In 1996, he was elected the panchayat president of Kuthambakkam. Over the next
decade, as president, this Gandhian used novel methods to build infrastructure and spur
the local economy. And in the process, rubbed officialdom the wrong way. A much
reported instance is how he used local granite slabs to build a drain. That saved a lot of
money too. But officials were hardly impressed. He had violated norms, they said.
Kuthambakkam had to use stones from a nearby place, not granite slabs from the




As its president,
Elango kicked off
the process of
putting up the
panchayats
financial
statements for
public scrutiny at
his office.




village. Elango was suspended. But he stood by his belief, and people backed him too.
Before long, he was firmly back in the saddle.
The Development Path
During Elangos term, Kuthambakkam got a reputation as a model village. Caste
violence abated and corruption declined. Elango believes villagers have shown a united
face against bribe-seekers. Gunasundari, do you bribe officials? he asks one among
the many villagers in the vicinity. She replies: No. They wont ask. Elango explains,
They fear the panchayat. People are powerful. As a parting shot, he reminds
Gunasundari and her friends: If they ask, hand them over to the police.
Elango tried to put in place a culture of transparency in panchayat administration. As its
president, he kicked off the process of putting the panchayats financial statements for
public scrutiny at his office.
Three years after his exit, the practice continues. Kuthambakkam is today close to
achieving all the developmental parameters, says Elango. The village water facilities
and street lights are fine. The roads will last for another 50 years, he says. His
successor, P Geetha, admits Elango had left little for her to do by the time she became
the president. But new goals have taken the place of old ones. We are now trying to set
up a higher secondary school, she says.
Beyond Presidentship
This is Act II of the Elango saga. He might not be the panchayat president anymore. But
he runs a trust, which works in tandem with the panchayat. The trust is involved in
getting orders for self-help groups and setting up of a computer-aided education centre,
among other things.
A trust can do things which panchayats cant, he says. Under the Panchayat Act, its
difficult to raise donation. And there are a lot of controlling factors, like official
permission. Thats his advice for other panchayat presidents as well. One need not aim
for big funding. One can raise Rs 50 or Rs 100 each from the villagers and give them
the receipts.
For his under-construction education centre, hes got help from a computer centre, an
engineering college, software companies, an oil company and a bank. Here, apart from
children, women can complete their schooling or degree in their free time and can
empower themselves, Elango says.
The trust has also managed to get orders from companies in Chennai for self-help
groups in Kuthambakkam. One of them is making 50,000 burners a month for stove-
maker Servals. Its difficult to deal with a self-help group, because responsibility isnt
fixed, says P Mukundan, Servals Managing Director. But, in this case, Elango has
taken it up. This is where its good.
Another self-help group is into packaging for a medical kit company. Indra, who works
here, is now comfortable economically. Her husband is a daily-wage labourer. We used
to depend on our husbands, she says. If we insisted on some money, they would shout
at us or beat us. That has ended. Now we save too, she says.
Elango believes Kuthambakkam stands on its own. But, he continues, if one village
does it, its not enough. It has to spread to others. Thats why his trust has started a
Panchayat Academy, which helps panchayat presidents learn best practices. I will tell
them how I started a trust, says Elango. We teach village-level planning, which isnt
just about concrete roads. You also must have a plan about equipping a child for
Chandrayaan. President of Michaelpattinam panchayat in Ramanathapuram district,
Jesu Mary, says: I learnt what and how to ask government officials about various funds.
I also got enough confidence.
Though its done by me, I am trying to do it through a system called panchayat, Elango
explains his strategy. He says, Some models like Anna Hazares or Nanaji Deshmukhs
cant be replicated easily because it depends on individuals.
Elango is not interested in using his panchayat experience as a springboard to higher
political goals. He has modest aims. We are aiming to set up about 300 outstanding
villages by 2011. By 2016, it can go up to 1,000 or 2,000. Unsurprisingly, Elango wants
Kuthambakkam to be the epicentre of change!
Clothes For Work
Anshu Gupta collects clothes for the needy and gives them a lifeline.
ASHISH GUPTA

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It was while working on a story about Habib, the professional unclaimed body
collector, that the idea struck him with gale force. Out on a bitterly cold December night
with Habib, to collect an unidentified body at Khooni Darwaza, near Delhi Gate, the
importance of clothing came out rather starkly. Even on that freezing night, the body was
clothed in just a thin cotton shirt but was clutching a packet of
food.
Surely,thought Anshu Gupta, former journalist and founder-
director of non-profit organisation, Delhi-based Goonj, he
couldnt have died of hunger, only of cold.
Thus began a movement, as he likes to describe his
brainchild, not just to make clothing a basic need of the poor,
but also to add dignity to it and turn it into a resource for
development. Thus, his mission began with the task of
collecting excess and unused clothes from well-off, urban
households and distributing them among the poor across the
country. Today, it has gone much beyond clothes to include all
urban wastageshoes, books, utensils and uniforms, among other things, which can be
used by rural folk.
The modus operandi is simple. Sourcing of clothes and other articles takes place
through camps in neighbourhoods with the help of resident welfare associations,
schools, corporate offices and local communities. People are informed about these
camps in advance, and are asked to deposit their items at these centres. From there the




Goonj sends
clothes anywhere
in India within 97
paisa, which
includes cost of
collection,
sorting, packing,
transport and
distribution.




goods are taken to various collection centres (there are about 30 in Delhi and 15 in
Mumbai), which are mostly houses of Goonj volunteers.
And before these materials are packed off to the intended beneficiaries, it is brought to a
central storehouse for inspection and sorting. The items are sorted into various verticals
like childrens clothes, womens clothes, shoes and bags, among other things.
Depending on their condition, the clothes are washed and repaired. Hired staff pay
attention to details like the pairing of shoes and socks.
In Need Of Funds
For the first five years of its existence Goonj has operated without any major source of
funding. We tried everybody, but came back empty-handed because we did not fall
within their parameters of funding, says Gupta, the former corporate communications
manager of Escorts.
The reason for its self-sustainability is Guptas innovative methods. His methods make
operations extremely cost effective. Sometimes, he even ensures that a part of the
transportation cost is borne by the local organisation.
What we are attempting is to ensure that people who donate clothes and other items
pay for their transport costs (Re 1 per item) too, says Gupta. Because what they are
doing is not charity but basically cleaning up their house. Today, he can send clothes
anywhere in the country within 97 paisa, which includes the cost of collection, sorting,
packing, transport and distribution.
Another reason for Goonjs successits revenue was Rs 1 crore in 2008-09lies in
developing partners. Today it has 150 implementation partners in rural areas and a huge
number in urban areas. And, funds have started flowing in. In January 2008, EXL, a
business process outsourcing company, promised Rs 10 lakh a year to Goonj from
employee contributions. Other corporates, such as SafeExpress, too, have chipped in
with their support and contributions.
Not satisfied with just donating free clothes, Gupta decided to give clothing a
developmental edge by starting the clothes for work initiatives. Villagers now have to
identify and solve pressing problems of their own area such as road repair, cleaning
drains and plantation, before receiving these clothes. In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh,
the village has built a tank without spending a single paisa, says Gupta. Clearly, the
initiative is paying dividends because there are many being started across India like the
desilting of a well in Chapra, Bihar, building a school in Sitamani, Bihar, and a
cleanliness drive in Maharashtra.
Cleaning Up
Ask him about his pet initiative and he shoots back, Sanitary napkins. Looking at the
raised eyebrows he explains. Rural women were using unhygienic methods during their
menstruation cycles. There were times when women in the same house would use the
same cloth after washing it, says Gupta. The situation was so pathetic that in the
Laporia village of Rajasthan a majority of the women had their uteruses removed by
quacks because of infections. He wanted to help rural women with low-cost sanitary
napkins.
So, he went into business to find a solution to this issue. He collected old cotton sheets
and discarded clothing, cut them into strips to be washed and sterilised and packed for
distribution to women at a nominal price. We priced each packet of five strips at Rs 3,
which is a fraction of what a regular branded napkin costs. Most of the napkins are
distributed free because the idea is to sensitise the public to a national problem, says
Gupta. This initiative brought him global accolades, including the Development
Marketplace Award from the World Bank in 2007.
Thus, what started as an endeavour to clothe the needy some 10 years ago has clicked
and grown into a nation-wide movement. Goonj sends 500 tonnes of goods every year
from Delhi to nearly 21 states through non-governmental organisations, self-help groups
and even the army.
And that does not include disaster relief. For instance, during the Kosi floods, 1,500
tonnes of relief material was sent to Bihar.
Anshu Gupta is one former journalist who is writing a story definitely with a different
ending.
Path To The Waterfall
Urban folks can feel the smell of ploughed fields or sleep with buffaloes. Villagers get paid for it.
NAREN KARUNAKARAN

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Inir Pinheiro is clear. Money or position dont really matter to him, unlike his friends
from the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar. I had given my father enough
warningsabout my inclinations and he was supportive, he says. I didnt look at the
placement exercise.
The 29-year-old Pinheiro consults with an NGO for his upkeep, even as he divides his
time escorting weekend tourists to Purushwadi village, a five-hour drive from Mumbai on
the Nashik highway, and doing the rounds of the office of the Registrar of Companies
(RoC) to give legal shape to a business that promotes rural tourism.
The venture, named Grassroutes, hopes to transform nondescript villages, near the
metros, into viable tourist destinations; viable for him and beneficial to the villagers with
increased livelihood opportunities. His proof-of-concept village is showing encouraging
signs. Purushwadi is a tribal village of Mahadev Kohlis. The principal sources of income
for the villagers are agriculture, farm labour and other income, which include non-farm
businesses and petty commerce.
The average other income of households has increased from Rs 3,745 in 2001 to Rs
15,223 in 2008, with almost Rs 2,000 coming from tourism and Rs 8,000 from small
businesses. Income from businesses earlier constituted just 12% of other income; today
its 51%. Grocers, local transporters, small-time dairy and poultry-keepers have all
benefitted.
Visitors are charged Rs 1,000 for a night stay in the village and they partake in all the
village activities, including farming, livestock rearing, and even a wedding. Its the taste
of the rustic life and the pristine environs that attract city slickers to Purushwadi. A village
tourism committee, which includes two women members, presides over the new
initiative.
Now comes the difficult part. All of this was achieved through almost two years of
capacity building, training and the construction of basic infrastructurewater tanks, solar
lighting, common toilets, among other things. The infrastructure investment in each
village, which remains common property, is Rs 10 lakh. Who will foot this bill as
Grassroutes expands the network of villages?
I am now partnering with local NGOs who can source grant money for infrastructure
building, explains Pinheiro. A hybrid modelnot-for-profit combined with for-profitis
emerging. He will remain focused on capacity building, marketing, and quality control.
Pinheiro hopes to generate Rs 8 lakh turnover from each village, with a 50:50 profit
sharing between his company and the community. I want to take this to 90:10, with the
majority going to the village, as soon as I gain critical mass, he says.
Its not a tall order as Pinheiro is being groomed for the challenges ahead by a band of
corporate experts from Mumbai brought together by UnLtd, a new incubator for social
entrepreneurs, already supporting 44 such start-ups. The financial model of
Grassroutes needs a bit of tinkering with, says Pooja Warier, Director, UnLtd India. But
once the loose ends are tied up, the scope for replicating Purushwadi is unlimited.
Will To Survive
Milind Ranade fights for the rights of Maharashtras poorest and most marginalised labour group.
NAREN KARUNAKARAN

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Comrade Milind Ranade, a member of the leftist Lal Nishan party, is as
entrepreneurial in theconduct of his union, the Kachra Vahtuk Shramik Sangh(KVSS), as
any social entrepreneur from an Ivy League institution.
He may don the street-fighting persona occasionally, but Ranade is very process-driven.
He organises the most vulnerable of all workers in the country, those even traditional
trade unions dont touch: the dalits. They form a bulk of the workers handling municipal
waste. In Mumbai, the organisation has about 6,000 members and is now moving to
other cities of Maharashtra.
In Nashik, for years, Ranade campaigned against Ramrao Patil, the politician-contractor,
who has now charged Buta Singh, Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled
Castes, with demanding a bribe to hush up a case against him. Unfortunately, only the
corruption issue has been highlighted.
What is ignored is the fact that Patil, mafia-like, enslaved hundreds of ill-paid workers
and duped them by forging signatures and taking loans of huge amounts in their name,
laments Ranade, as he makes the rounds of Nashik slums, urging those affected not to
give in.
I was beaten up with a hockey stick once, but kept quiet hoping I would be made a
permanent worker one day, recalls Vishwas Gaikwad, of his employment with Patil.
Even as he discusses the Patil case, Ranade admonishes Tarabai Manle, another
resident of the Bhagatsingh Nagar slum, for not registering with the bewda (alcoholic)
register of the union. The salaries of alcoholic workers in the register are collected by
the union and handed over to women family members.
Since 1997, when the KVSS was formed in Mumbai, Ranade has ensured minimum
wages to 3,500 of the 6,000 contract workers in the Municipal Corporation of Greater
Mumbai, through agitations and legal battles right up to the Supreme Court. It was a
sharing-of-spoils system at work, at the expense of contract workers.
Each garbage contractor earned Rs 36,000 as profit daily, while workers got just Rs 90
for three trips to the dumping ground. Today, workers in his union earn the minimum
wage of Rs 3,900 a month. The KVSS has also looked at larger issues and prevented,
what he says, is a conspiracy against the dalits by the Indian bureaucracy.
There was an attempt to bring conservancy workers out of the purview of the Contract
Labour Act through the back door, he explains. By doing so, the issue of giving them
permanent status and other perquisites wouldnt arise. This was the case popularly
known as the Almitra Patel case, which dragged for years.
Ranade, a seasoned campaigner, has come a long way since he got frantic summons
from his daughters school once. His daughter was asked about him, and she said, he
sings on streets and collects money. This was the time when Ranade and friends
collected money and grain for the riot-affected in Mumbai in the early-90s.
Mr Green
For over a decade, Ravi Agarwal has fought hard to contain toxic waste.
SUDIPTO DEY

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Ravi Agarwal has always been an avid birdwatcher. During the 1980s, he and fellow
enthusiasts used to take schoolchildren to Delhis Ridge to study different species of
birds. On one visit, they found a fleet of bulldozers parked in the area. They had been
sent in to clear part of the forest for urban dwelling units. Agarwal joined several
environmental activists protesting the move. Their efforts bore fruit. The Supreme Court
intervened, forcing the government to declare the Ridge a protected area.
That was Agarwals first brush with an environmental cause. His involvement with such
causes would grow over the years. But things could have turned out differently for the
man who heads Toxics Link, an environmental NGO. The electronics engineer and B-
school grad did a two-year stint in the corporate world. Then, he started a small unit that
made television components in South Delhis Okhla Industrial Area. However, he
increasingly found himself being drawn towards environmental issues.
In 1995, the plague in Surat put the spotlight on urban waste. Agarwal seized the
moment to highlight the poor disposal of medical waste in the country. The government
subsequently brought in legislation to ensure proper disposal.
The campaign made Agarwal realise that there was a lack of credible information in
India on toxic material and its disposal. He wanted to raise awareness on the various
kinds of toxins that polluted the soil, water and air. And so he launched Toxics Link in
1996 to serve as an environmental solutions advocacy group. The NGO disseminates
information on the dangers of toxic substances and how they can be contained.
In mid-2000, Agarwal trained his sights on the growing threat of electronic waste (e-
waste) in India. E-waste refers to electronic items that are past their lifespan and no
longer in use. According to estimates by the Manufacturers Association for Information
Technology (MAIT) and GTZ, a German research agency, India generates close to
400,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.
Agarwal is working with other groups and the industry to help the government frame a
law to deal with this hazard. Being a watchdog isnt enough. We need to offer
solutions, he says.
Until now, Toxics Link has been functioning as an NGO. Now, Agarwal, 50, is looking to
make it a for-profit venture and is in the process of drawing up a business plan for the
same. Revenues will come from selling environmental research reports to industry and
governments. It will also train government employees on environmental issues. In
addition, Toxics Link will provide consultancy services to industry.
Clearly, Agarwal will be a busy man in the years ahead. And the country, indeed, the
planet, will be better off for it.
Mr Green
For over a decade, Ravi Agarwal has fought hard to contain toxic waste.
SUDIPTO DEY

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Ravi Agarwal has always been an avid birdwatcher. During the 1980s, he and fellow
enthusiasts used to take schoolchildren to Delhis Ridge to study different species of
birds. On one visit, they found a fleet of bulldozers parked in the area. They had been
sent in to clear part of the forest for urban dwelling units. Agarwal joined several
environmental activists protesting the move. Their efforts bore fruit. The Supreme Court
intervened, forcing the government to declare the Ridge a protected area.
That was Agarwals first brush with an environmental cause. His involvement with such
causes would grow over the years. But things could have turned out differently for the
man who heads Toxics Link, an environmental NGO. The electronics engineer and B-
school grad did a two-year stint in the corporate world. Then, he started a small unit that
made television components in South Delhis Okhla Industrial Area. However, he
increasingly found himself being drawn towards environmental issues.
In 1995, the plague in Surat put the spotlight on urban waste. Agarwal seized the
moment to highlight the poor disposal of medical waste in the country. The government
subsequently brought in legislation to ensure proper disposal.
The campaign made Agarwal realise that there was a lack of credible information in
India on toxic material and its disposal. He wanted to raise awareness on the various
kinds of toxins that polluted the soil, water and air. And so he launched Toxics Link in
1996 to serve as an environmental solutions advocacy group. The NGO disseminates
information on the dangers of toxic substances and how they can be contained.
In mid-2000, Agarwal trained his sights on the growing threat of electronic waste (e-
waste) in India. E-waste refers to electronic items that are past their lifespan and no
longer in use. According to estimates by the Manufacturers Association for Information
Technology (MAIT) and GTZ, a German research agency, India generates close to
400,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.
Agarwal is working with other groups and the industry to help the government frame a
law to deal with this hazard. Being a watchdog isnt enough. We need to offer
solutions, he says.
Until now, Toxics Link has been functioning as an NGO. Now, Agarwal, 50, is looking to
make it a for-profit venture and is in the process of drawing up a business plan for the
same. Revenues will come from selling environmental research reports to industry and
governments. It will also train government employees on environmental issues. In
addition, Toxics Link will provide consultancy services to industry.
Clearly, Agarwal will be a busy man in the years ahead. And the country, indeed, the
planet, will be better off for it.
Calling All Recyclers
E-waste recycling convert Soni scouts for entrepreneurs to grow his sector.
SNIGDHA SENGUPTA

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BK Soni is mildly amused at being termed a social entrepreneur. He is happier calling
himself a kabadiwalla. His e-waste recycling company, Eco Recycling orEcoreco,
collects 100 tonnes of discarded computers and peripherals from firms every month and
disposes of them safely. Our business does have a beneficial impact on the
environment, but indirectly, says Soni, who set up Ecoreco in 2007. The company is
among just six registered e-waste recyclers in the country.
The 1,200 tonnes of e-waste that Ecoreco recycles each year is a tiny fraction of about
400,000 tonnes of such waste that India generated in 2008 alone, according to a MAIT-
GTZ study. The volumes grow an estimated 35% year-on-year, says Soni. In 2007, only
19,000 tonnes were processed using environmentally safe recyclers such as the
Mumbai-based Ecoreco. Unorganised recyclers took care of the rest. The biggest
impediment to getting more volumes into the organised sector is the social mindset.
The corporate sector, which generates 60% of Indias e-waste, is more aware of the
imperative to recycle than individual households. Yet the 400-odd companies that
Ecoreco and others service across the country recycle less than 5% of their e-waste
through registered recyclers. The reason why the unorganised sector still dominates is
that there are too few registered recyclers.
Not surprisingly, Soni yearns for more competition. Fifty recyclers is the minimum
required to handle the current volumes. And, we need to add ten new ones every year,
he says. He has been talking to environment-focused non-government organisations
and others to lobby for tougher legislation on e-waste recycling. The proposed
legislation, dubbed Electronic Waste (Handling and Management) Rules 2008, seeks to
make the disposal of e-waste via environment-friendly means legally binding.
For players like Ecoreco, this legislation could be crucial for the business. Since its
inception in September 2007, Soni has invested Rs 12 crore in the business, mostly
from his own resources. Funding has been tough to come by.
In a few months Soni expects to mobilise Rs 6 crore in bank loans on the back of his
newly set up, 25,000 square foot facility in Vasai, Mumbai. Operations are being moved
here from the Andheri East facility. The giant shredder in the facility will be able to
handle 4,000 tonnes of e-waste per year. Shredding makes up 55% of the volumes of
the company. The rest is recycled via refurbishment, which is handled by a team of
computer engineers here. Refurbished products find their way back to retailers or are
leased out to students at nominal rates. With the increase in volumes at the new facility,
the company hopes to break even in a year and a half.
But Soni has plans beyond just recycling e-waste. He plans to set up factories for
entrepreneurs on a turnkey basis. A friend introduced me to e-waste recycling in 2004
and I sensed a big business opportunity. In the bargain if it benefits society, well and
good, he says.
Goalpost Warriors
Ashok Rathod trains slum kids to tackle football and life.
TV MAHALINGAM

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Its eight thirty on a Saturday morning. Ashok Rathod is pacing outside the Bombay
Port Trust football ground, speed-dialling. Half his football team is missing. The
opponents are already there. Mentorto his team, 21-year-old Rathod knows not only
each of his players by their first names, but also their parents and what they do for a
living. Rathod is calling them.
A few kilometers away, the sources of Rathods edginess have just gotten off a local
train. Transport problems from Reay Road station in Mumbai to the football field have
delayed them. But, they make it, just in time.
Battle on. The Oscar team might lack punctuality but not athletic ability. The first goal is
scored in the eighth minute. By half time, Oscar leads 2-0. In fifty minutes, Oscar wins,
4-0.
After the match, the players begin their journey back home. All of them stay in Cuffe
Paradeamong the most affluent localities in the world. The Ambanis live there.
However, the football players live in the Ambedkar Nagar slums. For them, the game
makes things better.
How? The answer lies in the life of Ashok Rathod. He studied till Class 12 before
financial needs forced him to find a job. Its common in the slums, says Rathod. Several
of his friends too dropped out, and took up odd jobs. As they started making money,
they picked up bad habits like drinking, gambling and smoking, says Rathod.
He was lucky. Rathod started working for an NGO called Magic Bus which uses sports
as a medium to make children realise their own potential and drive change. It was then
that I realised how much sport can change your life, he says.
When Rathod saw younger kids in his slum drop out of school and take the same route,
he founded Oscar, in October 2006. Football was chosen because Rathod could play it.
The only condition was that kids in schools had to pass all exams to be eligible to play.
Dropouts, on the other hand, have to take compulsory study classes thrice a week.
Ashoks friends Ganpat and Suraj teach the kids.
But it has not been an easy ride for Rathod. His folks disapproved. The childrens
parents were not thrilled. Rathod convinced the parents. Personally. It wasnt easy, he
says wryly.
Football, though, worked miracles. A team member, Deepak (12), skipped snacks and
saved his meagre pocket money of Rs 3 a day for months to buy himself football boots.
The kids began to perform better. And the project itself has grown. Today, there are over
40 kids at Oscar, aged from 7 to 17.
It is also attracting volunteers like Nachiket Singhania from Mumbais prestigious
Sydenham College, who coaches the team on weekends.
Whats Rathods next goal? I wish I could do something for the girls in the slum. They
are in worse shape, Rathod says.
A River Runs Through It
Gopinath Parayil wanted to revive a dying river, and along with it, local culture.
NANDITA DATTA

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Five years back, when Gopinath Parayil went to the banks of the Bharathapuzha
River to perform the last rites of his father, he found that the once mightyriver had shrunk
to a trickle. There wasnt enough water even to take a dip. Also known as the Nila, this
legendary river is the longest in Kerala and has an intimate relationship with the states
cultural history. Many of the states art-forms sprang up on its banks.
Parayil had just returned from the UK. Shocked to see the river dying, he quit his job as
a fund-raiser with a UK-based NGO and set up the Nila Foundation in 2004. The idea
was to bring together people concerned about Keralas rivers, particularly the Nila. We
wanted to save the river. It wasnt just about the water, but also about the whole
ecosystem around the riverthe people, their culture, their lifestyle, he says.
He roped in anthropologists, environmentalists, musicians, writers and performing
artistes. The objective was to restore the unique river valley civilisation that was once the
pride of Kerala. The venture required money, but Parayil did not want to depend on
funding agencies for grants. We did not want to be dictated to by someone who had
little understanding of what we were attempting to do, he says. Contributions from
individuals werent seen as a sustainable option. Thats when the idea of using tourism
as a funding option came up.
But it wouldnt be tourism for tourisms sakeit would involve interactions with the local
community to save the many folk-art forms that were fading into oblivion with the river.
Says Parayil: The locals have amazing stories to tell about the place, its traditions and
culture. We wanted to use those stories to connect with people. Blue Yonder was thus
born as a responsible tourism company in 2003-04.
About 20% of Blue Yonders profits are earmarked for the Nila Foundation. This
contribution apart, Parayil wanted his tourism company to help local communities benefit
directly. Fishermen, musicians, craftsmen, artisans and even sand smugglers were
encouraged to be part of the team as guides, naturalists, assistants, boat owners and
storytellers. But instead of hiring them as employees and making them dependent on
tourism, Blue Yonder offered itself as a supplementary source of income. This helps to
protect their livelihood, says Parayil.
By identifying neglected folk-art forms and incorporating them into its travel itineraries,
Blue Yonder has ensured that older members of families pass on their skills to their
children. The art forms thus get a longer lease of life.
Blue Yonder has now extended its travel business to other destinations like Sikkim, Spiti
Valley, the Sunderbans and Rajasthan by teaming up with NGOs and individuals.