How tough is it for an entrepreneur working in the slums? With Rashmi Misra, Founder, Vidya
Back in 1985, when Rashmi Misra saw five young girls playing in the drain that runs along the edge of IIT campus, she was hit hard by the gap in the education system. Right next to the premise of one of the prestigious educational institutes in India were girls who had no access to education. Rashmi decided to make a difference and opened her home to these children. What started as a small gesture of kindness has touched lives of 200,000 underprivileged children, youth and women in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore today.
A graduate from Lady Shri Ram college, a dance passionate, mother of two and a grandmother of one, Rashmi Misra is better known as the founder and chairperson of Vidya, an NGO for integrated development for youth and adults. She started at her home with five girls, she also conducted informal classes for children from nearby slums with the help of few volunteers and five years back Vidya opened its first school. Spread across 5 acres in Gurgaon, the school has a capacity to hold 1000 students to provide holistic education to underprivileged children, at a nominal cost.How Vidya made a difference
In its 28 years of existence, Vidya has strived to educate and empower the less privileged through the various programs it runs. These programs are mainly related to but not limited to education and provides opportunities for a sustainable life and career. Vidya conducts basic literacy programs in English and computers, skill training, engaging women in issues related to health, women’s rights, environment, as well as an adult literacy program. Youth management programs conducted by the NGP include courses in computer literacy, spoken English and life skills classes to drop-out youth, they also hold classes for helping students prepare for 8th, 10th and 12th grade exams.
Besides empowering women by helping improve their self confidence, Vidya also helps
them in earning a livelihood and provides skill training, microfinance, microcredit loans to needy women. The NGO also encourages social entrepreneurship in the form of making and selling handicraft products. They also run a canteen and catering services in Mumbai for corporate and retail companies.Rashmi’s life story
Rashmi left her job at the Austrian embassy and took up the cause of Vidya when she realized that children thirsty to learn but the opportunities and means are missing. She went to slums to find children and educate them. She continued to attract volunteers and like-minded people in her journey and today the organisation has 350-plus regular employees and more than 5000 volunteers.
Talking about her journey and Vidya at ‘Conversations with Namu Kini’, Rashmi said, “Raising money was very challenging. I used to get embarrassed in the beginning when people refused to give. There is an art in asking for money. After all, you are not asking for yourself, you are asking for someone else.” She shares the story of Mother Teresa who went to a rich merchant in Chennai, waited for an hour for his arrival only to be spat upon by the merchant. Instead of losing courage, Mother Teresa said ‘this is for me, what about my children’. Rashmi draws immense inspiration from her and always remembers this story whenever she faces the difficulty in raising funds for Vidya.
Rashmi takes pride in telling success stories of people who are today successful in life because of Vidya’s contribution and credits it all to her team and volunteers. We could see her eyes light up with every person’s story she told and it was obvious how closely knit she is with all those people and Vidya.
Neelam was a mother of 3 when she lost her husband, Vidya gave her with basic education, skill training and a micro credit loan of Rs 3,000 to start her own handicraft business. Her children have gone to college and today Neelam employs 300 girls in her small business and aims to empower more women in the future.
A 5th standard boy who ran away from his home in a village in Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh ended up with Vidya. Rashmi recollects Badra Sen Negi’s words – “Can you make me an engineer? I am 5th Standard pass.” He is a computer engineer today working in L.A. California. Humbled by the education and opportunities that Vidya provided him, carrying the purpose and vision of Vidya in his heart, he works actively to make sure every child in Kinnaur goes to school.
Vidya has transformed Vatsala’s life from cleaning dishes in 10 houses to that of a receptionist in a hospital by providing English reading and writing classes to their Bangalore centre. By instilling confidence and educating a girl who was suffering from polio and was looked down upon in the slums, Mamta was enpowered to sustain herself. She runs her own cybercafé today. These are just a few lives touched and changed by Vidya.
Concluding with her thoughts about entrepreneurship in India, Rashmi says: “We all start alone. We know raising money is difficult. But the toughest job is to be an entrepreneur in Indian slums.”