In my quest to find out what had changed for Phanindra Sama after the acquisition of redBus.in, I met him at BITSAA Global Meet – 2014, Hyderabad, the largest alumni gathering of BITS Pilani. The star studded event had prominent alumni from all walks of life — academia, technology, business, entrepreneurship, arts and politics.
The smile on Phani’s face during the conversation carried the conviction of doing something which was long overdue. And it did not take him long to share, “I always had a lot of respect for social entrepreneurs (both for profit and not for profit) because of their commitment to a cause keeping the monetary ambitions aside. Moreover, like everyone else they also have the responsibilities, expectations and peer pressure, but what they do overcoming all these is phenomenal.” The acquisition of redBus.in has obviously given him the space and resources to divert his attention to the social sector. At this point of our conversation, we were joined by Raju Reddy, another BITSian, who had founded Sierra Atlantic. Even before I could think of a question with which to approach Mr Raju Reddy, Phani preempted me by saying, “Most people know Mr. Raju as one of my earliest mentors and board member at redBus.in, but we share one more common ground, our hometown Nizamabad.”
Nizamabad is a small district in northern Andhra Pradesh, 171 kms from Hyderabad and lies on the crucial Mumbai-Hyderabad route. With the literacy rate of over 80% (more than the national average of 74%) among the 300,000+ residents, the district is statistically not underdeveloped; nevertheless the scope of development in the education and skill development remains huge.
Raju Reddy and Phanindra Sama were very clear of not founding an organization but to bring multiple organizations together and work for the development of the area. Reddy said, “We have interacted with many non-profit organizations and liked the work of Deshpande Foundation. They have followed a bottom-up model for development which includes a great deal of participation from the communities. The idea is to use the principle of entrepreneurship to address social issues. ”
Choosing Nizamabad was a well thought decision as the odds of success are much higher here owing to the connections in the region. It has been slightly over three months since Raju Reddy and Phanindra Sama formed the Kakatiya Sandbox initiative on the lines of Hubli Sandbox by Deshpande Foundation. This brings together three organizations to empower the districts of Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Medak:
- Community Development: LEAD Nizamabad has played a pivotal role till now by motivating a large number of children and youth of Nizamabad to participate in initiatives like drainage construction, tree plantation, employment card allocation and more. On December 28, 1500 children from eight schools and four colleges from Nizamabad came together to perform a flash mob to create awareness about women harassment and child abuse. This broke the Limca Book of Records for largest recorded flash mob of 1300 participants.
- Education: Agastya International Foundation is working towards creative ways of learning math and science for elementary school (primary education) with mobile science labs. They travel to all government schools and organize sessions for children and train teachers in the innovative methods and simpler yet engaging way to learn these subjects. An example of such an exercise is the attached figure below:
The foundation receives INR 10 from Government of Karnataka for every $1 spent on these activities. It has also been working with them to empower the government schools with science labs.
- Livelihood: Pratham NGO has organized vocational training classes to teach people the basic principles of business. L&T has also provided livelihood support and training with guaranteed jobs of INR 5000-7000/month.
Commenting on the journey so far, Phani said, “We want to encourage the multilevel entrepreneurship among people of Nizamabad (and eventually in Karimnagar and Medak as well), including an equal participation of women. In many ways, this has been more challenging than building redBus.in and Sierra Atlantic.”
The activities in these three districts have been funded by both Raju Reddy and Phanindra Sama only to remove any dependency on others. According to them, working with these experienced organizations leaves no room for experimentation and hence avoiding any mistakes. Knowledge, expertise and credibility have been the three differentiating factors for Kakatiya Sandbox initiative. Sharing the vision for 2014, Phani and Reddy said: “We are aiming to work with eight to 10 organizations by the end of this year and getting people in the age group of 20-30 years come on board. These initiatives should become self sustaining by the year end. Looking at the larger picture, if we can replicate the Hubli Sandbox model to 20 more places across the country, we can impact over 20 crore people which accounts for over 25% rural population. We are in the process to find other people from these areas who can join us.”
With the support of personalities like Dr. Krishna Reddy, Chairman, CARE Hospitals, who has recently joined the Kakatiya Sandbox initiative, the ship of social impact seems to sail in the right direction. Though the captains of this ship — Phani and Reddy– have sailed redBus.in and Sierra Atlantic, this is an altogether a different journey.
We will keep you updated on the progress made by Kakatiya Sandbox. Watch this space.