Rohan Abraham, is a chartered accountant (C.A), who was born in Calcutta but lived across India in different cities and towns. After graduating from Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi, he worked the corporate circuit with stints with Arthur Andersen, Ernst & Young and Grant Thornton. But the initial lure of corporate life dissipated, and left him bored of the 9 to 5 routine, he also felt that he was not doing anything positive. He left the world of corporate life in 2011, and took a year off to figure things out and do some soul-searching. The result of that has been two initiatives: first, PledgeBack Advisory Services, which works with NGOs, social enterprises and entrepreneurs and more recently, The India Trail, a socially responsible travel business. Besides being President and founder of these two enterprises, Abraham is on the board of a couple of social enterprises.
In this interview with SocialStory’s Nelson Vinod Moses, Abraham spoke of his two initiatives, the journey so far and the challenges in starting up.
SS: Why start PledgeBack?
RA: PledgeBack was started with two main objectives – 1) to create a channel that would allow me to help others – in whatever small way possible. Addressing the point raised above where I needed to feel like I am really doing something with my life. 2) to allow others the same opportunity.
SS: What does PledgeBack do?
RA: We work with three kinds of organisations – NGOs, Social Enterprises and Start ups/ Entreprenuers. We help them improve their processes and governance aiming at increased output, spread and effectiveness. [see attached document] We also act as a bridge to connect volunteers with such organizations [thus allowing people to channel their time and effort to various social causes].
SS: What have been the activities so far?
RA: With PledgeBack Advisory, we have worked with various organisations to help them - improve their financial operating processes, - conduct facilitative workshops for senior management, - setting up governance systems for effective management and oversight - advising the board on various strategic matters - promoting opportunities for entrepreneurs - training and workshops for entrepreneurs [with a focus on the North East] - accounting work - risk advisory - website building.
With The India Trail – we have sent many groups to the North East on exploratory and educational trips. For example, we have organized group trips for people to go and experience the culture of the tribes there, spend time with the kids in the villages to interact with them, and see if they can help in any social issues. We have organized work shops for architects to learn how to use bamboo in construction and design so that they can go back to their cities and promote sustainable building and green building concepts. We have encouraged entrepreneurship by offering opportunities to entrepreneurs from the North East to learn new practices so that they can implement the same in their own businesses [for example the Naga Food Festival].
SS: How has it been received and what has been the impact?
RA: So far it has been received very well with increasing interest among people. With PledgeBack, all our clients have come through referrals. It’s too new to gauge the impact with The India Trail. I will be able to answer that in six months.
SS: Explain the business model. Will you be adding more things to the mix?
RA: As of now, I think we have our hands full with the areas we have set out to work in. We will be adding a more formal and structured volunteer to NGO connect later.
SS: What have the biggest challenges so far?
RA: Running a business has many challenges – most are very different from being in employment in somebody else’s company. That has been the biggest challenge/ learning so far. Working with other professionals who are required for us to deliver to our clients seamlessly has been a challenge. No one takes your business as seriously as you do. For example we have struggled finding professionals to help us build our website and online platforms – finally the only solution that worked was for me to learn how to do it myself and I built it on my own in three days.
We are in the process of exiting the accounting business as well – working with other accounting professionals has not been a good experience for us – very unreliable and unethical practices at times. We now focus only on niche consulting work where we know we can add value and we are not reliant on any other outsourced professionals.
SS: How has PledgeBack been funded? Are you on the lookout for funding?
RA: Funding of PledgeBack has been solely through myself and through some members of my family. We have received a lot of support from family and friends and this has been incredible! PledgeBack has a strategic partnership with Bluefoot Cultural Consulting Pvt Ltd and this partnership has helped us survive some very tough and challenging times. Kudos to Kaveri Sinhji of Bluefoot for her continuous support. At present we aren’t on the look out for external funding. We are in the process of receiving the next round of funding but that has already been arranged.