Social Entrepreneurs and Everyday Heroes

Isn’t hope a lovely word? I just thought about it a lot today. And at the cost of sounding absolutely cheesy, I am going to say it is a frontrunner for my most favourite words. The others may or may not include words like glee, poop, aboltabol and hijibiji (that’s Bengali for gibberish) among others.

But then, hope is a word which means a lot to a lot of people. There is this movie, my favourite, Life is Beautiful which shows Roberto Benigni making up a fabulous game so that his son doesn’t get scared of the concentration camp. He teaches him to hope (and since it is fiction, the son actually survives and even gets to ride this awesome tank in the end).

Then there is hope on a more day-to-day relatable level. About people who work hard and make a difference. They are the heroes amongst us. And we all love hearing about them. They are the stories which get shared on Facebook, the people who are invited to talk and inspire others in college functions, the ones who are applauded by the people they have helped.

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Yesterday I went for a press-con on the same thing. On people who bring about changes in their own small way.

There I met Archana. A young and smiling house-wife from Karnataka. A house-wife who has recently, decided to make use of Karnataka’s abundant Areca plants. She started off with making small plates for her family and neighbours – collecting the raw material from one house. As business has grown and her plates have been used by temples, house parties etc, she now collects raw materials from 10 villages. More importantly, a woman who only used to cook and clean (how stereotypical, you say?) has now employed 85 people in the business.

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Then there was Jayanthi. She used to work as a house-maid. But decided to make candles and earn her living. When she went to the bank, they refused to give her family a loan because, as the joke goes, loans can only be given to people who can show they don’t really need the money. She managed to buy cheaper candle wax in bulk and would often collect used candle remains from churches and recycle them to make new candles. The slum children buy candles from her for a discounted rate. And she plans to get funding and employ 10 more people. She said she feels happy and proud when her neighbours call her initiative ‘a company’.

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Mageshwari has lit up schools and homes with her home made, solar energy lanterns; Lakshmi has employed 10 women in the past 7 months in her recycled paper bag business, Manoj from Uttarakhand makes all-weather, eco-tourism tents; Bangalore’s Muniraju converts plastic bottles into chips for re-use and is recycling five tons of plastic each month by collecting bottles from 200 houses, restaurants and hospitals; Mallaiah has opened a rural pathological laboratory that is providing access to medical testing facilities to residents of 10 villages, that’s 15,000 people; Nishaat has run her own small-scale fabric, button, and zipper dyeing business which is so successful that demand for her beautifully hand dyed fabrics is 50% more than the current capacity of her small home production. There are various organisations – both governmental and non-governmental which are helping these people. Maybe if you know someone, you could direct them to http://www.befundindia.com or to http://www.nif.org.in/ .

These are the stories I heard yesterday. I want to meet more such people of course. Maybe I would write about them someday. Some years back, when Tithiya Sharma started the hundred heroes project (she would travel the world and meet everyday heroes for a year and raise funds for them from her readers) I felt it was my life she was living. I wanted to do exactly that. Travel without losing the meaning of life. Because there is more to learn from people and experiences than from offices and classrooms.

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