Home Bangalore Cover Story The social networkers

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    Looking past the sheer scale and deeply entrenched nature of social problems, these young people find ways to bring in individual focus and become the change themselves.

    In a climate that is strongly veering towards social and political change, the importance of social responsibility has never been greater with an increasing number of young people building enterprises that both generate wealth and directly impact a social problem. If Mumbai-based Chetna Sinha dreams of creating one million rural women entrepreneurs in India by 2020 through her Mann Deshi, Gurgaon-based Amit Kataria hopes to make rural India computer literate through his Rose Academy, while corporates are looking at CSR initiatives as more than a brand-building exercise. Closer to home, we look at three young initiatives that are trying to bridge, what they term as, a ‘trust gap’ — from a passion-driven NGO, to a unique business model and a broad-based initiative run solely through Facebook. 

    Aashika Abraham-Chittiappa (Initiative: The Butterfly Effect)
    JIT8580She comes from a solid marketing and finance background having worked with a consultancy service in her rookie years and then moving into the world of sports management. A successful career is exactly what motivated her to give back to society. “I have always been very saddened by the disparity I saw around me,” begins Chittiappa as she traces the story of her own little social awakening that began while she was in school. “The justification I came to was that, the more we are given and blessed with, the more it is our responsibility to give back,” she says of the philosophy behind her initiative, The Butterfly Effect.

    The art of giving
    Working from a simple Facebook page, Chittiappa brings together people who want to help people and who need it. From putting together an entire bridal and trousseau package for an under-privileged girl to building railings for a school in need of funds, she taps into her friends circle and social network. The story however, is still a work in progress, with many of her larger plans still in the pipeline. “As much as I would like to nurture a baby or pup in need personally, I decided to take my experience and skill sets into the development sector instead,” says Chittiappa, who currently works with six NGOs.

    Kind flaps
    About the attention-grabbing name of her page, Chittiappa explains, “I loved the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of

    I loved the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world could cause a storm at the other end. It resonated perfectly with my philosophy of kindness

    the world could cause a storm at the other end. It resonated perfectly with my philosophy that one act of kindness can grow exponentially.” Reaching out to various corporates and presenting this as a CSR initiative as well, Chittiappa connects organisations and people through her page that has over 500 members.

    She and her husband Nikhil, have also started a website dedicated to medical issues — Pulse Page. “A forum for people with various conditions to share and access first-hand information,” Chittiappa concludes.

    Areas of work
    Organisations dedicated to the care of abandoned children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, healthcare for the underprivileged and abused women.

    Projects 
    A bridal and trousseau package for an underprivileged bride. Railings worth Rs 5 lakh for a school. Solar panels worth Rs 7.5 lakhs for a home. Volunteer services for all organisations.

    Pulse Page
    The website allows members to create profiles, maintain calendars, archive records and access information from medical professionals and journal their experiences including those about treatments and alternatives. It is free for patients but charged for medical professionals.

    Details: facebook.com/contact butterflyeffect

    Rohan Abraham (Initiative: PledgeBack)
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    A qualified chartered accountant who decided to quit his corporate job after a decade and follow his heart because he “wanted to start something meaningful with a social objective”, Abraham talks of the trigger that motivated him to move towards social improvement and inclusive growth. It happened when he hit 30, had made it to one level below partner in his firm, and then lost interest. Taking a one-year sabbatical, the nature enthusiast who haunts the Nilgiri foothills, realised he wanted to “do something that would strike a balance between professionalism and social service”. PledgeBack was born with this ideal and in the nine months it has been active, works in a three-pronged format to mediate change — Volunteer services, Governance & Ethics and India Trails.

    Platform for exchange
    “This is where people can come in and volunteer their skills and time,” explains Abraham as he sketches out the structure on a notebook. While the online volunteer mediation service is currently managed manually, Abraham plans to go fully automated soon, opening up “a world of opportunity to bring more people together”.

    Abraham’s consulting background comes in to help NGOs systemise their worksheets and accounts. “We create a system (through Governance and Ethics) that tabulates their information and then advises them on optimum utilisation of their resources,” says Abraham, confessing that he also uses it as a filter. “When I started out, I wanted to also do fund-raising through the network I had built. But I needed to know organisations better to raise funds and the best way is to go into their accounts.” Today, he manages the accounts of six enterprises and uses it as an income-generating portal.

    A different track
    The latest initiative by PledgeBack is India Trails — “Responsible eco-tourism where we create trails across various regions of the country,” says Abraham, explaining that great care is taken to personally chart the entire trip. “At the moment, we are working on the North East (Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh), offering courses for professionals from how to use bamboo to organic farming. Plus, cultural experiences where they live and work with the locals,” he elaborates.

    Volunteer Services
    An online platform where volunteers can register their skill set and available time to be matched with organisations as per case-to-case requirements. Currently free of charge.

    Governance & Ethics
    A set of accounting professionals tabulate and qualify information from the organisation’s database in order to generate more effective results. Charged as per requirement.

    India Trails
    Takes participants to off-beat places of geographical interest with socially-driven activities and interactions. Begins with the North East and aims to move across the country to Rajasthan and down to the Nilgiris. Has a strict screening process and matches locations with professional skill sets.

    Details: pledgeback.org

    Satish Manchikati (Initiative: U&I)
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    Satish Manchikati and Ajit Sivaram run Synthesis, an HR firm alongside U&I, a two-year-old NGO with 17 employees and 500 active volunteers. “We believe that you can do your bit for society along with your other commitments,” begins Manchikati, a 35-year-old entrepreneur with a degree in computer science. “I was never cut out for a nine-to-five desk job and always preferred to work with people. After college, I went on an exchange program to England where I worked with some extreme rehab centres,” he shares. Manchikati returned with an affirmation of his instinctive people skills and decided to start an HR firm.

    Switching lanes
    “I realised soon enough that you really didn’t help people to grow as much as you helped the client companies to fire them,” laughs Manchikati recalling how he went on to meet Sivaram and set up a company with a difference – helping people to grow through training and workshops. And Sivaram, has ‘charity in his blood’, thanks to his grandmother and mother who run an orphanage of 100 kids in Chennai.

    Turning point
    “Two incidents inspired us to start U&I — when we began to teach slum kids around our office computers after working hours, we realised they were hampered because they didn’t know English and needed tutoring,” recalls Manchikati, adding, “then we visited a state home for 85 special needs children, that was run by just two caretakers and had very poor infrastructure.” Deciding to become more proactive, the duo set-up a trust and employed a fresh media graduate from Christ College because “we wanted to engage people in what we were trying to do”. U&I works through three volunteer-driven programs today — U&I Teach, U&I Care and U&I Rise.

    U&I Teach
    10 learning centres across the city with 500 women and children students that conduct specialised courses in English, computer training, special skills and tuition.

    U&I Care
    Currently works with one state home for boys with special needs and another for women rescued from human trafficking. They use a phase-by-phase strategy that begins with infrastructure and leads to an overall upscaling that they plan to roll out across the country.

    U&I Rise
    Dedicated to awareness drives, volunteer-generation events and fundraising through volunteer participation and initiative.

    Details: uandi.org

     – Susanna Chandy

    Pics: Jithendra M

     

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