Rajani Paranjpe and Bina Sheth Lashkari founded Door Step School (DSS) in Mumbai in 1988 and later expanded to Pune in 1993. DSS provides education and support to the often-forgotten children of pavement dwellers, slum dwellers, construction site families, and many other underprivileged families. Many of these children are not enrolled in school and have limited access to books and a place to study. In addition, many children drop out of school to work or care for younger children. With neither support nor resources at home some children also suffer from very low learning levels.
An initiative as great as this, often find it difficult to execute its plans only because of lack of funds. Vibha, a social venture catalyst, stepped in 2008 to bring in the finance and also be a sounding board. Paranjpe tells us, “They started their association with us in 2006. It’s not just about the funds, it’s about how they helped us evolve as well.” She cites an example to elucidate her point. “One of our initiatives is to educate the children of construction workers. We charge nothing for this. But Vibha helped us understand that the builder could be willing to pitch in monetarily. We hadn’t even thought of the option at all. Vibha really understood our model, operations, impact, and donned the thinking hat with us.” DSS has now impacted the lives of over 50,000 children since its inception.
There are many such projects that ‘Vibha’ has undertaken over 24 years of its existence. Sikshana, an organisation that has created a replicable model that improves learning levels in the public education system in the rural and semi-urban areas; HEARDS, an organisation that aims at the eradication of child labour; Vidyarambam – an organisation that teach English in rural south India are some examples of the organisations ‘Vibha’ has vetted and invested in.
Vibha was started in 1992 by Ron Victor, Vijay Vemulapalli, and a couple of other like-minded people.
The mission is to educate, empower, and enable any individual who wishes to make a positive difference in the life of the underprivileged child. Ron tells us that since Vibha’s inception, 300,000 children impacted with over $13 million invested and 300 grass-roots social entrepreneurs’ enables.
The operational model
To begin with, the team and partner organisations at Vibha find grass-roots social entrepreneurs in who believe they have a solution to a systemic problem impacting the lives of underprivileged children. This step involves many field visits to understand the problem, the solution, and the execution plan. The next step is making sure that the organisation or initiative are in line with Vibha’s goal of a scalable, replicable, and self-sustainable cure for a systemic problem facing the lives of underprivileged children. Ron adds, “Once approved, we seed the project and invest in training, capacity building and ensuring the social entrepreneur is empowered with all the tools he or she needs to ensure success.”
Vibha carries out workshops, training, and mentoring in the areas of FCRA and accounting, marketing, impact assessment and how to measure impact, fund raising, effective use of IT, succession planning, organisation growth, and capacity building. A very important part of the workshop is networking with all stakeholders, and Vibha ensuring that all stakeholders play their parts towards the solution.What if they invest in a project and it doesn’t scale? Ron answers, “We always make sure that we give the project time, two to three years, and if after that things don’t seem to work, we slowly wean off. But we always make sure that any project we exit from has resources pouring in from other sources, we never leave them high and dry.”
A lean team
Vibha is a lean team that relies on volunteers to carry out the mission. The executive team takes care of day-to-day operations. The executive team only has volunteers and each with their own respective teams – also all volunteers. Vibha also has action centre coordinators who locally drive activities in various cities and again, are all volunteers. The India operations staff is the on roll staff who has significant experience and expertise in projec
t selection, mentoring, monitoring, capacity building, and impact assessment.
Fund raising and other challenges
As for any other organisation and especially social enterprises and NGOs, the tough part is raising funds. Vibha is a non-profit organisation and hence the investors obviously don’t earn anything back. We ask Ron how he and others at Vibha go about fundraising. “Local fund-raising events from walkathons to marathons to concerts, competitions to online campaigns and more; also foundations and now very actively CSR – we enable all corporates to leverage Vibhas’s experience and expertise over the past 24 years towards achieving each corporate’s CSR goals from all aspects (time, talent and treasure, that is, funding goals, volunteer utilisation goals, volunteer skillset utilisation goals),” he says. He adds that another challenge is obtaining ‘grants,’ “We have fabulous success stories that can be scaled and there are plenty of large grants out there available for such solutions. However, we haven’t been effective enough in that arena.”
The main challenges? Pat comes the reply, “Volunteers, Volunteers, Volunteers! The challenge of a volunteer-driven organisation is always the same. How do we constantly recruit, train, sustain, and grow the volunteer base? That’s the most challenging piece of Vibha’s operation. There are plenty of people globally who want to make a difference. How do we ensure they actually participate through Vibha and make that desire a reality? Everything stems from that one entity, the volunteer!”
Ron cites another challenge as organic growth. He explains that they have solutions ready to scale, however, the fund raising does not scale in a similar manner. “That’s the main reason for our CSR initiatives over the past couple of years. We have the solutions – we now want corporate India, through their respective CSR initiatives, to leverage those solutions towards wider impact,” he says.Despite challenges, Vibha has been chugging along for the last 24 years and will continue to look for organisations, individuals, and initiatives that are looking to solve a systemic problem that plagues the underprivileged children.
What’s Ron’s dream for the children, who are the very reason for Vibha’s existence? “To ensure every underprivileged child attains his or her right to health, education, and opportunity,” he signs off.