VChangeU is a Hyderabad-based nonprofit organization with a mission to empower young leaders to solve local problems. Run on the core values of integrity, creativity, innovation, and transparency, VChangeU hopes that its work with local teams across the country will demonstrate the power of small community-based initiatives to create widespread change.
With this broad goal in mind, the team at VChangeU decided to focus its efforts specifically around health and health awareness. They believe that the importance of leading healthy lives extends far beyond the individual into the ability of society as a whole to flourish, both physically and economically. As such, they have narrowed their focus even further to identify two very preventable yet all too common causes of disease in India and across the world: alcohol and tobacco consumption.
The team at VChangeU has taken a resolute stance against alcohol and tobacco, holding education programs in schools and public information sessions about the dangers of these two harmful substances. They look to the globalization of the tobacco and alcohol trade as two of the greatest challenges they have faced, since the two industries have grown to be powerful forces in the world economy. By focusing on youth education as a way to prevent future consumption, VChangeU plans to use their various awareness and student empowerment programs to completely eradicate the use of what Vijay Bhasker, Founder and President, calls “the menaces.”
In a recent interview with Vijay, he explained to us the reason for his strong sentiments against alcohol and tobacco and the need for organizations like VChangeU to change the way the world thinks about these harmful substances. Edited excerpts:
Q: What distinct challenges do are we facing that make VChangeU especially relevant?
We are addressing the biggest menace in the world, claiming 8 million people every year, a burden for any nation. We will continue to address this menace by taking it to schools, colleges and companies to protect students and the younger generation.
Despite none of the core members of our organisation being from the health profession, we took health as our primary objective and have so far succeeded in making a difference.
For instance, our abstract, “TOBACCO-FREE WORLD: AN INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE APPROACH FOR TOBACCO CONTROL,” has been selected for presentation as a poster at the 2013 SRNT (Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco) Annual Meeting, taking place March 13-16 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel in Boston, MA. In the past we were a Scholarship Recipient for the 2nd National Conference held in Mumbai in 2010, and the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Singapore, 2012.
We believe that innovation is not necessarily just for business; even non-profits can create something to deliver and address the social causes for a better outcome.
Q: What do you think are the important factors that make the VChangeU’s strategy a success?
Technology was our inspiration and our strength to move forward and address the social issues. We use creative posters and animated short films to encourage students and youth to get involved and think positively, allowing us to keep them away from tobacco and alcohol for their entire life.Awareness has a primary goal of saving lives by increasing awareness of the menace. After a three-year study on tobacco and alcohol control policies and their outcomes, we have come out with an innovative strategy for tobacco and alcohol control.
We have designed a number of anti- tobacco and alcohol posters and campaigns with innovative ideas to bring awareness among the younger generation. We have produced live 2D and 3D animated short films on tobacco awareness and we showcase them in our presentations in schools and colleges.
We have also registered and hosted 300+ domains to create massive awareness on various social causes, and we’re supported by 150+ Facebook pages. We will continue to use these outlets to produce more innovative and creative solutions for social good.
Q: Since alcohol and tobacco abuse are so prevalent, what do you think will be the movement that starts a ripple effect to stop the use of both? Do you think it will be more important to target rural or urban areas for the large-scale change to be made?
Currently alcohol use is involved in half of all crimes, murders, accidental deaths, child abuses and neglect, and suicides. For us a person who supports alcohol and buys alcohol is a person who supports crime, child abuse and violence. The best way to stop the alcohol and tobacco menace is by relating it to current incidents and environmental factors associated with them.
We strongly support banning alcohol and tobacco. In the recent incident of Delhi gang rape everyone talked about the rapists and their deed but no one was talking about the alcohol, it was only because of alcohol that they would do such a horrible thing. Still no one has the courage to talk about regulating alcohol consumption.
The globalisation of the tobacco trade and marketing represents a real challenge to us in curbing the evils of tobacco. The tobacco industry acts as a global force. But we are focused, and stopping tobacco use is no longer just an individual concern, it’s the concern of environmental degradation and public health. This necessitates the need for public health to cross borders, and itself serve as a global force.
Creating alcohol- and tobacco-free villages and homes will help in bringing down the menace to a large extent as villagers have less access to best health care services compared to urban consumers. Since many activists and crusaders work in urban areas, awareness is increasing and lot of change is observed there.
Q: What do you think the government can do to decrease the use of alcohol and tobacco? They currently have set up checkpoints, more or less are cracking down on stores selling cigarettes to minors, but do you think the legal age for purchase should be better enforced or a should they be taking a different path?
In fact, the government is spending three times more money for treating major tobacco related diseases like cancers, heart and lung diseases etc. If tobacco is banned, this money can be used in supporting children from malnutrition.Since alcohol and tobacco is the leading cause of so many serious health problems, the government should raise the taxes on these products in order to pay for the rise of medical costs, which will also possibly control the overwhelming widespread use of these dangerous products.
There are many rules and prohibition acts laid by the government, but in reality most of them are not strictly implemented and monitored as required. Still minors can easily buy tobacco and alcohol products. Smoking is still seen in many public places.
Q: Any words of advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Our message for aspiring social entrepreneurs is to run a profitable enterprise, and to spend that money on charity rather than for luxury living.
Q: Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Though everyone has an interest to contribute to society, either their personal or professional commitments never allowed them to do so, or they don’t know where to start. Since independence India has produced many billionaires but the gap between poor and rich has widened. One spends Rs. 50 for a coffee and another earns Rs. 50 a day to feed his entire family. We need to bridge the gap. Change is always welcome in society but the entire youth should stand up and make it right.