To provide platform to marginalized students for higher education, with complete support, where they just need to prepare and appear for the entrance exams, “just like a parent”- is what Bharat Calling offers to the society.
In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in, Sandeep Mehto - cofounder of Bharat Calling explains how he plans to tool his venture as a way to overcome poverty and its various dimensions.
Hi Bharat, Please tell us about yourself and your background?
My family hails from a village Pathrota amidst Satpuda forest, falls under tribal block Kesla. After convincing the society hard (not family, they encouraged a lot) because of poor percentage in 12th, to complete my higher education, I completed B.E Electrical engineering Honours from SATI Vidisha. I never found more than 2% of students from rural background in my college. In fact my friends far better than me in academics, dropped out due to lack of encouragement and poor education from schools.
In the final year of degree my father passed away due to a heart attack on the day of Diwali. The next day, there was the long queue of people to pay tribute to him. He remained in the heart of the people who still cry for him. I got my answer to the question I usually asked my father (who was questioned by many for working for the society without profit) and he used to smile.
This fateful day further strengthened me to choose what I wanted. I got selected for M.A in Social Entrepreneurship; the course that made me organized and provided me ways to prove to society, what my father did was actually the bigger goal - to make your life meaningful.
So how did you come up with this idea?
We were provided with the opportunity in the course of social entrepreneurship to start something of our own for internships. We grabbed it and went to explore our own area and unexpectedly as we went on exploring we were faced with the harsh realities such as a dropout rate of 86% and different socio-economic prejudice attached to the potential of the students. It cleared the picture in my mind that, ‘getting into higher education is by sheer opportunity because of the rich, social, cultural and economic capital a person gets and not intelligence’.
Things like no role models, online mode of application, prejudice and illusions (safety, fees, employment etc.) and no information attached to higher education made the access impossible for the rural students.
This research that amalgamated with my father’s experiences and exposure from TISS, laid the foundation of Bharat Calling.
What were the challenges you faced while starting up your venture?
Social - Many questioned us and asked us “Why are you working for these marginalized having brain in their knees? God has made them so by giving them birth in low caste society” Such were the societal arguments.
System - The system advised us to make practical and not ideal goals. Teachers told us that they were here since 30 years and were not able to do it, so how could a 24 year old?
Organization - Did all kind of jobs, from cleaning, filling of forms, taking students to exam centre, we were two - John Basumatary, my classmate and cofounder and me, taking care of all streams students.
Since when are you operational? How big is your team and are you looking at hiring?
We started in September 2009, and became registered on 13th July. We are two full time members, however there are 5 people working part time free of cost with incredible amount of work. We are looking forward to do innovation within the system rather than putting alien things around, this will draw the dimension of sustainability.
How many schools have you approached with in all across India? Which cities?
In fact we haven’t visited our own area fully. It is in itself big and diverse. However we are partners with the block education department and implementing the program in 28 schools of the block. We also read a lot about other schools and initiatives.
1/10 - they are webbed with the daily problems so much, and you make them to dream of thinking so big, what they feel is associated with socio-economic condition, it takes time. Already many companies have looted them, and there are no role models nearby. It takes time, though now we have good access to previously intervened villages.
What reasons prohibit the villagers to pursue higher education? How do you tackle that?
Lack of exposure, illusions about fees, complex ambiguous system filling online application and students study in kerosene lamps, commuting to exam centres, daily wage labours, how to arrange minimum basic cost and so on.
What is the male: female ratio of students who are willing to learn from you?
It is always 1:9 - Girls enrolment has increased tremendously.
Do you monitor their performances after they move to the cities? How do you handle the culture-shocks they might face?
We send them in groups and target only government colleges full of students from different socio-economic backgrounds. We keep on talking to them and also link them to the seniors.
Did you fund-raise to start up? If not, are you looking at getting funded now?
Yes, we had a hard time raising funds. Now it is bit easy, we have raised funds from various sources such as our personal contacts and professional and we are working with the government as well.
PLUSTRUST (www.plustrust.org) was the organization that extended their full support to us in initial years.
How has the government come forward to help your noble cause?
Tough, they kept on watching for two years, we kept on documenting and working, when the comparative analysis was made between us and district we were far ahead than similar programs of linking students to higher education. For example we trained 35 students for Polytechnic in the year 2011, on the other side government got none.
But having said that, we were very lucky eventually to get the support of Mr. Prem Kumar Pandey sir, Assistant Commissioner of tribal education.
How should anyone interested in joining your organisation approach you?
We are very raw, many people have volunteered for the program, we welcome all and have lot of work for any youth. They can share their initial preferences and thus we take the discussion forward according to the organization’s work.
Are there other players in the market doing similar things? Can you name them?
Drishti an initiative of Yuva is doing such job.
What are your greatest challenges and how do you prepare to cope with them?
Till now we have worked within our zone, now we are expanding thus it is becoming difficult for us to manage. The problem with me is thinking very big and taking extra responsibility which drains my personal life. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I get irritated, even if you ask about me to someone known- 9/10 lines would be of Bharat Calling. The biggest challenge is thus my youth and managing and shaping myself and hence as I mentioned smile ‘Bharat Calling’.
What is the ventures mission in a line?
Ensuring no students is denied right of higher education due to poor socio-economic condition is my ultimate goal at Bharat calling.
Special Mentions - I would like to acknowledge three persons here - co-founder John Basumatary, my class mate who shaped up the organization in initial years, now working in Assam; Dr. Sushma Pare mam who have worked with us throughout and supported us and Mam Lalitha Iyer, her organization Plustrust was the one who supported us in the initial years, when every other person suspected; and Rajkumar, Abhishek, Avinash, Jay, Ngopuni, Anil, Aastha, Anup and many students who supported us through out. And above all family.
Check out Bharat Calling for further details. And, do not forget to share your thoughts by commenting below.
- Abhilasha Dafria