‘This isn’t activism; we’re empowering rural India’

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on April 28, 2014

Doctors For You: A finalist of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge, conducting a health camp in rural Bihar.

What started off as a small initiative to make people donate platelets has become a lifetime calling for Ravikant Singh, who realised the potential of setting up a social enterprise to tackle the myriad challenges of healthcare. Similarly, for Piyush Jaju, it was a social enterprise start-up to help the adoption of energy solutions across rural India.

The two were part of the four finalists of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge, a joint initiative with the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIM-C), to find India’s most promising early-stage social enterprises.

While Ravikant Singh is the founder of Doctors For You, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) tackling disaster relief and rehabilitation work, and has recently bagged a ₹36 lakh project from the Assam Government to train the State's 1,000 doctors and pararmaedic staff, Piyush Jaju is the founder of SwitchON-ONergy, that is setting up last mile energy distribution and service networks across Assam, Bengal and other states.

"This is not activism for the sake of tackling climate change issues. It is aimed at questioning India's ability to power its rural sector,'' said Sudipta Dawn of SwitchON-ONergy, speaking to Business Line. Stating that the bottom of the pyramid did not have access to energy, Dawn said the start-up decided to ensure capacity building and awareness of solar energy.

Speaking about rural consumers and their understanding of renewable energy, Dawn said: ``They understand that solar energy is derived from the concept of zero energy. Surprisingly, there is a deep belief in this form of energy in the smaller, remote villages, where energy is not destructive to the enviroment. It resonates well with the people in the hinterland.’’

Given that the endeavour of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge is meant to create an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship and to encourage sustainable, scalable and measurable social impact, Dawn said it was the first time that such an event took place in Kolkatta, at the behest of IIM-C.

"We have renewable energy centres and are tapping solar energy, We are looking at home lighting solutions (solar) that provide energy for 4-5 hours a day. There are places that have random power cuts and there is massive demand from Murshidabad district in West Bengal, and Asansol, Durgapur and Sonarpur, smaller towns outside Kolkata," he added.

SwitchON-ONergy is looking to tackle power shortages in West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and parts of Bihar, and aims to create a linkage between energy access, income generation and community development. ``We are part of the Bihar Innovation Council initiative and aim to intensify operations in remote areas that have no access to electricity. We aim to touch 1 million lives by 2016,'' he added.

Medical needs

Responding to human suffering was paramount for Ravikant Singh, when in August 2007, there was a huge outbreak of malaria and dengue fever in Mumbai. "All the blood banks and KEM hospital (in Mumbai) were out of platelets. A platelet donation takes more time than blood donation. We decided to conduct an awareness drive, since one can donate platelets 24 times a year. Within four weeks, we doubled the platelet donors at the KEM hospital,'' Singh said.

"We have been appointed consultants for Unicef state-level National Disaster Authority. We have 40 full time employees and 500 volunteers. We crossed a turnover of ₹1 crore and are looking to go past ₹3 crore soon," he added.

The winner of the SAARC Youth Award 2009 for outstanding work done during the aftermath of a natural disaster (Bihar floods, 2008), Singh is now fully involved in his NGO, Doctors For You (DFY). His team was present in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka during the 2009 floods, Odisha during the 2011 floods, Assam in 2012 and in Uttarakand last year, when floods ravaged the region. DFY also has health centres in Mumbai and Bihar, and trains doctors, police and paramedics on emergency medical aid.

Realising the importance of working professionally, Singh said, ``I don't feel the need for any financial assistance from venture capital funds. We get funds from state governments and UN agencies. At the moment, we are overburdened with lots of projects, and are looking to hire 30 more people in the next one month.''

Published on April 28, 2014

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