In 2010, city-based Merwyn Coutinho bid adieu to his 14-year long corporate career and embraced the road with his 1980 Royal Enfield. After passing through Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, and several odd jobs later, Coutinho camped in a secluded non-electrified village of Arunachal Pradesh. Rajiv Rathod, a friend, joined him there. What struck them most was that come sunset, villagers had to forcibly cease all activities since the area didn’t have electricity. When the duo was invited to come back for Christmas, they did go, but this time with 100 solar lamps in tow. And that’s how The Batti Project (batti is Hindi for light) by Further & Beyond came about. “Further & Beyond explores the myriad facets of sustainability through the arts, sciences, cultures and religions of people—far removed from our reality,” says Rathod. This year, he shares, the Batti Project has provided 94 remote, off-grid tribal homes with light, 83 of which are in Arunachal Pradesh’s Lower Dibang Valley District. Today, Batti has made its way into 248 homes, benefitting about 1,200 people.
In the same year as Batti, Anoj Viswanathan and Mayukh Choudhury were tackling a similar project of their own–helping people in un-electrified areas get access to solar lanterns. Choudhury says, “Capital was a constraint for us, and with available resources, we could do only a limited number. However, we felt if there was a way to let people know of our initiative and seek contributions many may be willing to come forward, and it could be true for many other causes as well. This was the idea behind a global online platform to raise funds.” That’s the story of Milaap (‘connecting people’ in Hindi/Urdu), India’s largest funding platform for social and personal causes. Till date, shares Choudhury, Milaap has deployed close to `36 crore of funds ($6 million) in 17 states, impacted over 1,50,000 lives, and has users from over 100 countries. From enterprise development to sanitation and vocational training – Milaap has helped fund them all.
While Further & Beyond remains focussed on batti battles in Arunachal, and Milaap has taken up the mantle of seeing through social causes, it was the heaps of garbage piling up around the city that bothered Ashoka fellow Kuldeep Dantewadia. “After collecting garbage for a year from 150 households, I teamed up with Gautam (Prakash) to start Reap Benefit in 2012. At the time, Gautam was working with youth and children to address environmental concerns,” says Dantewadia. Their ideas resulted in Reap Benefit, a start-up environment services organisation working with companies and educational institutions , which now educates 15,000 young people across 85 institutions. They’ve developed innovations like an organic enzyme to convert food waste into compost (currently used in six cities in India), low-cost waterless urinals, greywater systems for government schools, low-cost weather stations and more. Pick a cause you are passionate about, and you’ll find that helping is easier than you thought it was.
— Nikita Puri