Sonal Kapoor, Founder, Protsahan India Foundation

8th Oct 2010
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Protsahan –Encouraging the poverty stricken

It is not uncommon to see the youth of our country helping those who are less privileged than them. Most of us have probably served as volunteers for maybe a month or a year, satisfied our conscience and then forgotten about those who could use a helping hand. While the rest of India’s youth aims for the skies, Sonal Kapoor has not forgotten her lesser countrymen, she has set her sights on a more earth bound goal, the only difference is her goal will change someone else’s life…

Yourstory learnt more from our brave young entrepreneur Sonal Kapoor about her venture Protsahan and the rigors of social entrepreneurship in India.

What form has your zeal for social entrepreneurship taken with Protsahan?

Protsahan stands for Encouragement. Protsahan India Foundation was born in the summer in of 2010, by a 24 year old girl, in a lesser known area of Delhi in Vikas Nagar as a one-room classroom for educating the girl child on the street and in the slums. Today, we are positively impacting the lives of more than 40 children and numerous slum households. We work in the areas of education and livelihood generation in slums.

Which segment of society has Protsahan been geared to provide its services for?

Protsahan

We work with children and women in the slums. Out of 150 million plus slum dwellers in India, the majority are newly-arrived migrants from rural areas, living on the margins of society without marketable skills, access to basic services and infrastructure, languishing without opportunity for advancement.  We work to make significant changes in the livelihoods of the poor by simple ideas. We use simple ideas and execute them. Our forte lies with execution. We are reaching out and are impacting the lives of over forty slum children and started creativity program’s for the women in the urban slums. We carry our laptops, show videos, spread awareness amongst this audience. In the absence of funds to be given to trainers, we make use of YouTube to train them with things like how to make paper/jute bags; creatively paint, etc. and then sit with them and help them learn these skills.Protsahan’s strategies, programs, activities, and methodologies are still evolving, since we have just begun as an organization. Yet right from the start, Protsahan’s emphasis has been on 2 main general themes: Spreading awareness through education & expanding livelihood opportunities for the poor by training them and getting them into the mainstream economy. We work with women because they are half of the population and are vital in fostering change in their families and communities. We plan to start up slum micro enterprises teaching micro-entrepreneurship skills to women in slums.

Where does Protsahan differ from the other social ventures?

Started by a 24-year old girl, who had the courage to quit a regular 9-5 well paying job to start Protsahan, shows the commitment, it is set out with. Protsahan is a volunteer driven organization. Along our journey, our team of volunteers has become our family. So, it’s a group of very young people pan India, comprising, school students to young filmmakers, from coral experts, fashion designers & photographers to IIM and IIT grads as volunteers, each of whom is actually bringing a change, by contributing in their own way. Protsahan has got them together on 1 common platform and given each of them a chance to do something for the underprivileged in the country. The fact that we ‘execute simple ideas to perfection to change people’s lives’ with our young volunteers who really want to bring change in the country, sets us apart. Protsahan India Foundation aims to encourage and ‘create value’ for the poor in the country by training them with simple skills and subsequently find synergies between corporates and the slum communities.

How does a social entrepreneurship venture like Protsahan find the necessary seed capital to start off?

Protsahan

Protsahan’s first classroom for 23 children was started with my savings. However gradually as the strength of the class increased and we started working with the slum families on the livelihood generation programme too, one idea that really worked for Protsahan initially was, “food for work”. When as a young team we couldn’t pay them hard cash for their work, I thought of an idea. All the volunteers went to homes asking for people to donate dry foodgrains. We used these as a payback to the women working on handicrafts. That way, we were able to eradicate hunger from those starving families and at the same time didn’t have to spend a penny as a part of their wages/salaries. Also, gradually a little support started coming in from individuals and close friends. Now we sell the products the slum women make like, designer diyas, kurtas, designer jute bags, etc. by holding exhibitions in the corporates and by getting orders through Facebook and people have appreciated the products a great deal. We have had exhibitions at Infosys, TCS etc. However there is still a large need for monetary funding by corporates in our handicrafts-livelihood        generation program.     .What do you think is an indicator that Protsahan and its ilk are necessary and socially effective?

We have shown that, ordinary young citizens with their sheer grit and courage can initiate change in the country. Our biggest achievement is that just within five months of starting Protsahan in a slum cluster in west Delhi, our children there can recognize words, construct little sentences in English and Hindi, and do basic calculations. This is a victory for us. These are the same children who were thrown on the streets and in slums and made to work as daily wage labourers in households. We have opened a library for slum children with not just champaks and other little story books, but also showing movies and inspiring videos to further education. You should see the smiles on the faces of the slum women when they creatively paint the diyas and pack them up for the market. People have started recognizing us for the happiness we are creating. People have started associating Protsahan India Foundation with ‘HAPPINESS’, which is an inspiration in itself for each of us.

Does the thought that social entrepreneurship is not equivalent to financial success ever deter you?

Protsahan

Never. The happiness of making a child learn a new thing and giving a starving family a reason to smile is too overwhelming to think of anything else for me. As Mohd. Yunus puts it, ‘Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.’ So, there was nothing like leaving any of this and going back to some place with the sole objective of making money. This decision was seriously a no brainer for me. I had to do it and did not want to wait till I turned 60, to do something.The fact is that poverty alleviation with an entrepreneurial zeal has become a goal for me. My business model is based on creation of happy faces. The more the no. of happy faces Protsahan India Foundation creates, the more inspired my team and I will be on this journey.

What is at the top of Protsahan’s priority list for the coming years?

In the coming decade, Protsahan India Foundation remains committed in addressing the issues of massive poverty in the country’s slums. It seeks to further expand its reach to at least over 10,000 families by the year 2020. To achieve such scales of operation, Protsahan is aware of the need to venture into new things, and not continue doing only more of the same. This requires a radical shift in stance, becoming more outward-focused in goals, more proactive in collaborations, and more aggressive in building synergies with corporates.

What is the prime reason why social entrepreneurship works?

Just trust yourself enough. Nothing else will have the power to waver your belief in you. As Bill Drayton says, the biggest problem is getting beyond the “you can’t” syndrome. The moment you figure that out, you’re on your way to flying. All the problems sitting there are an invitation for you to be creative, make use of your skills and resources and find a solution. Of course you can do it. It doesn’t require brilliance. It’s just giving yourself permission and then being persistent.

Yourstory wishes Sonal and Protsahan success and a long career in socio- entrepreneurship. We hope that our readers will take heed of their work and lend a helping hand to them if possible.

Join them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/PROTSAHAN/106400072733741#!/pages/PROTSAHAN/106400072733741?ref=ts

View their work on Youtube at : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0Iqdjf0eMs

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