A year ago, Zameer, a brass utensil polisher in Patiala, was finding it tough to stay afloat financially. While he was one of the few polishers in the area and very eager to get more work, he didn’t know how to reach out to customers. Rajesh, another resident of Patiala, was dealing with financial crisis too. Today, Rajesh owns a rickshaw and is a trained tourist guide. The organisation behind these transformations is Patiala Foundation, an NGO headquartered in Patiala.
Ravee Aahluwali founded Patiala Foundation in 2009 with initiatives directed towards the unorganised skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workforce. The 40-year-old engineer-turned-social-entrepreneur tells us his motivation:
I always wanted to encourage livelihood projects in the community that would benefit the underserved in leading a dignified life.
The Patiala Foundation’s oldest initiative has been ‘Patiala GreenCABS’. Cycle rickshaws are given to men who seek the opportunity. After a certain period of time, the person can even own the rickshaw. Every rickshaw driver under this programme is given a uniform, insurance, membership ID, and all the other required documents to ply on the roads. These rickshaws have been specially designed: they’re lighter, have safety seat belts for passengers and have more space for luggage.
The beneficiaries are linked to nationalised banks and are helped to avail special government schemes, such as the Differential Rate of Interest (DRI), which are designed to help the underserved. Ravee adds,
We have signed an MoU with State Bank of Patiala under which the traction drivers shall be financed by the bank under DRI scheme at four percent for owning a Patiala GreenCABS. We have also signed an MoU with Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board to train eligible traction drivers as tourist guides of the city of Patiala.
The most recent initiative in sustainability for the target group is iSewa. It’s not just the skilled or semi-skilled that benefit from the programme, the people who request services from the beneficiaries are benefited too. iSewa is designed to bridge the gap between residents of a city and unskilled or semi-skilled workers, like a rickshaw driver, dhobi ( washmen), mochi (cobbler), mali (gardener) etc. This workforce is referred to as the essential service providers (ESPs).
First, the team at Patiala Foundation does a recce and lists ESPs. The ESPs are given adequate training to upgrade their skillset. All the details of ESPs are then uploaded on the mobile app (iSEWA) and an online portal (www.patialafoundation.org) for the community to use. Patiala Foundation doesn’t charge the ESPs or the service requesters for using iSewa. Citizens who avail these services also have the option to upload details of the ESPs on the app or the portal. The goal is to create a community-led service.
Once an ESP gains a certain amount of confidence in his/her field of work, they are given an option to learn more work to widen their horizons. Ravee adds,
They (ESPs) can enhance his/her income and can also avail the enhancement programmes provided for them from time to time. The families of ESPs also benefit, with their standard of living improving.
ESPs are also educated on being financially literate and on how to avail government schemes designed for social development and emancipation.
Patiala Foundation has facilitated 115 GreenCABS and 288 rickshaw pullers since its inception. All the richshaw pullers are now owners of the vehicles. Medical check-up camps are organised for the driver and their families. Patiala Foundation also organises free service camps. Project iSEWA is active in Patiala, Karnal and Hoshiarpur, with 71 service categories and 722 ESPs mapped to those services.
The Foundation has also launched free shuttle service from some areas of Patiala to a hospital. Ravee says, “We are part of the first non-motorised transport society (NMT society) of the State of Punjab at SBS Nagar.”
The organisation has also been working closely with the municipal corporation of Karnal and the Deputy Commissioner of Hoshiarpur to map the ESPs.
So far, Patiala Foundation has been bootstrapped but is now looking to raise funds. Ravee says,
We are eyeing CSR funds for further development of the project. We need funds for the backend operations and further expansion of the iSewa app and replication of the model in different cities to provide maximum possible benefit.
While financial viability is always a question, rewards and recognition have poured in generously. In 2015 and 2016, the Foundation’s work has been appreciated by the district administration of Karnal. They were awarded twice for their work.
In 2014, it was awarded the Community Heroes Awards by the Yes Foundation in collaboration with Yes Bank. In 2015, it was adjudged Promising Active Transport Social Entrepreneur at the CONNECTKaro Awards 2015 by EMBARQ India in association with WRI INDIA.
Ravee says that social acceptability of a new idea, finances, government support, resource mobilisation and plagiarism is a challenge in the field. With time, Ravee has learnt to bypass these challenges and his commitment to serving the underserved community remains undeterred.