The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”
– an early Facebook engineer to Ashlee Vance
There are many of us who would like to contribute our time and/or monetary resources to social causes and do our bit. But we are unsure about how to locate organisations working on causes we are passionate about. The bigger problem is that there is no way to validate the credibility of an NGO or entity to know whether genuine efforts are being made, and if the resources are being utilised efficiently. Amitha Pai, an engineer-turned-management professional, has created a curated platform, “One Good Step” to overcome these hurdles and increase society’s involvement in creating a better world. OGS is a platform that aggregates curated social enterprises and NGOs on one side, and citizens who want to participate on the other – connecting them over shared projects and causes.
The First Step
Amitha hails from a typical middle-class family in Udupi, where values and education are given primary importance. As an engineer, she started her career at Infosys. After working for a few years, she went on to do her post-graduation from the reputed Indian School of Business. She was living the kind of life thousands of middle-class Indian kids and their parents aspire to. “But there was always a nagging voice in my head that questioned the direction in which I was going. I felt that the best brains of our generation, including myself, were engaged in endless PowerPoint presentations. This thought was validated by my peers, but aside from cribbing about it, I had no genuine motivation to change that”, says Amitha about those days.
This is when a string of major adverse events in her personal life left her depressed for a while. This period also led to intense introspection, making the disconnect she felt with her professional engagements very apparent. While this realisation came relatively easily, what was harder to figure out was what she really wanted to do. “I had no particular ‘calling’ and I certainly had no clue how to navigate my way outside of mainstream career choices”, says Amitha about those confusing days. Her perfect career sequence, which seemed like a dream, was actually becoming a hindrance, because it hadn’t prepared her for anything outside the bounds of the steady corporate growth path she had been on.
But the calling was always there, sown in the early days of her childhood. Her parents had always helped others in the community, silently in whatever capacity they could. Her father, who was a doctor, often waived off his fees for the economically challenged. Often, grateful patients would repay the kindness with coconuts, fish, paddy or other produce. “It had a great influence on me, more than I could imagine”, Amitha says. This influence manifested in the form of research and multiple social venture business plans during her days at business school.
Taking the plunge
“I believe that working towards social develoment and conservation of natural resources is not ‘charity’. I definitely don’t think it is about giving money with no idea what change it will create. In an ideal world, social development should monetise efforts and create sustainable economic enterprises. My passion, I realised, was to redefine the way people think about and work on our societies and their issues” Amitha emphasises with clarity.
Armed with these thoughts, and a passion for social development, she decided to quit her job. Pulling herself out of the race was a major decision, but one that was supported by her family. ‘One Good Step’ took shape as a not-for-profit change-enabling platform in July 2014. OGS pre-screens and aggregates the most credible NGOs and social enterprises, so the audience knows whom to approach whenever they wish to contribute.
The other significant effort OGS makes is identifying initiatives that have the potential to create high social impact, instead of just being an NGO aggregation platform. OGS then structures them into projects with well-defined milestone-led execution plans with its NGO partners. “The project-based approach keeps us goal-oriented at all times and makes sure we never take our eyes off the impact we are creating”, says Amitha.
The platform provides the opportunity for a layperson to be involved with an NGO partner or to contribute specifically to an initiative. The team also focusses on closing the loop with all participants so that they always have visibility into the impact created by their contribution, increasing the chances of future participation.
OGS currently operates in Bangalore and its surrounding villages. In the short span of seven to eight months, the platform has impacted 750+ lives through multiple initiatives. The very first project the team undertook with an NGO partner was to bridge slum children into mainstream education. Children of varying ages were taken off the streets and transitioned into mainstream schools. This academic year, there are four times as many children involved in the project, with many of them having approached OGS on their own. Other projects undertaken include bio-fuel kitchens for village schools, alternate education methodologies for the visually impaired and providing solar lights for Class 10 students in rural areas.
“I have received tremendous support from my friends, ex-colleagues, and to my surprise, from strangers. In the course of this work, I have also got a glimpse into the lives of the economically deprived and the differently-abled at close quarters and realised that the world is a very different place for them. Personally too, their love and gratitude, despite the misery in their own lives, has been the most rewarding experience for me. It is also a validation of my decision to quit my high-paying job and test my skills and will-power in a resource-constrained work environment. The success of these projects built my confidence that we had a powerful model for change”, she says of her journey over the past few months.
Traditionally, it has been believed that working towards change is a daunting task and is the realm of governments and social workers. The only way that it will grow from being a niche exercise to creating sustained change over a long period of time is if more people are enabled to participate in the solution. Every one of us is capable, and what is more, many of us are interested in being a part of the solution – but now there is also a platform to make this happen. “Over the next year, we hope to give individuals more options to participate. More importantly, we hope to touch far more lives through our initiatives, “One Good Step” at a time”, signs off Amitha.