A college event, an old lady, and over 10000 lives turned around: Parul Mehta's selfless journey

21st Oct 2016
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It was at an eye camp that Parul Mehta was organising at her college, when everything fell into place and her life’s purpose became more lucid. A feeble old lady walked up to her after receiving a free cataract operation, held her hands, kissed them and told her that she was an angel sent to her by God, before she burst out crying. The woman had been suffering from cataract for a couple of years, but did not have the resources for her treatment. The joy Parul experienced at the lady’s happiness caused everything to fall into place for her at the time of reckoning. Aware that there were thousands more like her who are suffering but did not have a voice, Parul leveraged her privileged position in the societal food-chain, to dedicate herself to a lifetime of service.

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Knowing all along what she wanted

Besides her commerce degree from Mumbai’s Podar College, 51-year-old Parul Mehta, Founder and Trustee of Ishanya Foundation, has undertaken specialised courses from Nirmala Niketan and the Harvard Business School. She even holds a Bachelor’s degree in music from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad.

Since her college days, Parul was drawn to humanities and often pondered upon the disparity in the society. After the incident at the eye camp, she was all-in.“I learnt that on one side there were businesses that sought talented human resources, but could not find them.On the other hand, there was skilled talent available that was not technically sound. Thus, there was an immediate gap that needed to be bridged. It was my moment of truth and I found my path,” she says.

Born and brought up in an economically sound family, life has been kind enough to allow her to focus on the betterment of society – and she has never looked back. It started off with the charitable work close to the factories in Chindran village around Taloja, where they conceptualised and initiated several income generation programmes. One of the early initiatives was tailoring classes for the youth. This enabled them to design and supply items to boutiques thereby making them self-reliant. Driven by the success of this project, and the underlying thought of helping people identify and develop their true potential, Parul started Ishanya Foundation (IsFon) in 2006 to build a self-reliant and self-sustainable society.

The foundation has been conducting several livelihood, health and education programmes in the areas of women empowerment. Besides that, they also organise several medical camps and initiatives across western India and mobile libraries for schools in rural areas, benefiting more than 2,000 girls and women.

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Cutting the yellow ribbon

Observing the challenges NGOs faced to sell their products due to lack of resources and a physical space, they conceptualised a novel idea –the Yellow Ribbon NGO Fair (YRNF). Held before diwali, YRNF brings the collective work of NGOs, artisans and SHGs across India providing them with a platform to reach out to their stakeholders, be it individuals, corporate, government bodies among others. It gives them the opportunity to learn, share, network, generate new ideas and awareness about the marketing trends with the urban and rural market.

YRNF as a platform has grown from 43 participants in 2007 to 120 handpicked NGOs, SHGs and artisans in 2016.

“This year’s theme is ‘Skilling India’, and we are taking this spirit forward by focusing on India’a varied dying art forms and encouraging artisans to come forward and join this platform. There is need for collective action towards bolstering growth for our cottage industry, create a sustainable future for our craftsmen empowering them to become self-reliant,” Parul explains.

Success and transformation stories through this platform have been big and small, but all meaningful –like the Samriddhi Agro Group- makers of organic jowar products like vermicelli and flakes, who had been trying to get through to stores like Dorabjees in Pune for an opportunity to sell, but were not being taken seriously. “Post participation at YRNF in 2013-2014, Samridhhi got a breakthrough to sell at Dorabjees as well as Big Baazar. This experience also helped them improve product packaging and went on to set up machines to improve hygiene and production capacity. In 2013, their production capacity went up from 500 kga day to 200 kgan hour. Their hard work was recognised and they bagged the Doordarshan Sayadri Award for innovative products and methods of using jowar,” says Parul.

This year, YRNF received enquiries from over 400 NGO’s, SHG’s and artisans supporting varied art forms.

Riding on the digital wave

Actualizing the potential of the digital medium that is connecting the world today, they launched a unique marketing platform, www.heart2hand.org.in in March 2015, to bring together over 200 NGOs and give them a chance to feature over 400 of their products. In the first year of its launch, several NGOs tasted success by bagging sizable orders from both domestic and international clients. Today,the portal is constantly growing by both, bringing in new NGOs and trusts under its fold, and adding newer variety of products on the list. “The fact that the NGOs get to directly deal with their customers once the order is placed, goes a long way to showcase the transparency of this initiative,” says Parul.

A wider net

Over the last three years, Ishanya Foundation has initiated another unique project named “Muskaan” to empower financially challenged women. Under this initiative, Ishanya Foundation receives pre-owned garments, clothes and accessories through its ‘Muskaan Ambassadors’ in the city. These products are checked for quality and the ones found in good condition are sold at affordable prices to underprivileged families in various areas of Pune by 20 ‘MuskaanParees’- a self-help group of women affiliated with the foundation.

“Inspite of not having any formal education and training, women show a natural inclination towards learning and gaining life skills,” Parul opines.

Last year, 112 stalls were set up on the streets and in reputed hospitals in Pune like Ruby Hall, Jehangir, Shree Hospital KK Eye, Sahyadri Hospital. 7,704 individuals benefited from the purchase of these garments. The Muskaan Paree earn approximately Rs 4,000 to Rs 5000 permonth through the sale of these garments.

Also in the brew

Parul’s inherent sense of design, art and aesthetics has enabled her to start Pune’s first state-of-the-art art gallery called Tilting Art Gallery, which supports and encourages budding artists through training sessions conducted by some of the best names in the industry, and later, by providing a space to showcase their artworks. “With our retail establishment, we have become the incubation centre for several upcoming brands that display great potential and passion,” she says.

IshanyaFoundation is closely associated with corporates like Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Corporation Limited, who actively support and fund their initiatives. Next up, they will be partnering with the Industrial Training Institute (ITI)to build an institute that will house technical training programmes.

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