Farzana Cama Balpande wants to impact society differently through BookASmile.
Startups don’t have CSR mandates that their corporate counterparts are obligated to fulfil. So, when you see them lend a helping hand, their efforts becomes that much more special. BookMyShow, through one such charity initiative, supports special causes by way of “experience and enjoyment”.
Heading BookASmile, which functions independently of the online entertainment ticketing platform, is Farzana Cama Balpande (43), who concerns herself with everything from exploring new ideas and identifying causes in sync with their vision, to creative and financial decision-making.
“While most people live like they are immortal, I prefer to embrace the impermanence of life and live in the now,” shares Farzana in a freewheeling chat with HerStory.
Farzana, a thoroughbred Mumbaikar who started her career as a pre-school teacher, came on board BookASmile in 2014.
She had been looking for a change after being associated with pre-school education for about 20 years. The opportunity came when Ashish Hemrajani, CEO and co-founder of BookMyShow, brought up BookASmile during a conversation with her and how he was looking for someone to run the initiative.
Her husband Rajesh Balpande being the co-founder of BookMyShow, Farzana was no stranger either to Ashish or the company. She loved the idea and decided to take up the role. The exuberance in her voice reveals the joy the assignment brings to her.
BookASmile, conceptualised in 2012, offers the disadvantaged an opportunity to experience a world where they have access to entertainment, music, theatre, arts, sports, and culture. Given BookMyShow’s association with the entertainment industry, coupled with the fact that there were already numerous organisations working in critical areas such as health and education, they chose this particular path of giving back to society. Says Farzana,
“BookASmile is not an NGO. The work we do does not come under CSR and we do it purely because we want to give back to society the privileges that we sometimes take for granted. We continue to remain focused on the area of entertainment and related fields, the potential of which is largely unexplored.”
It takes just Re 1 to make a difference in someone’s life — that is not only their motto but also the money that runs BookASmile. As Ashish joked at TechSparks 2016, the users of BookMyShow across 400 cities have, knowingly or otherwise, actively been contributing anywhere between Re 1 to Rs 5 to BookASmile every time they make a transaction on the platform. For larger donations, people can directly make a contribution through the website. “To increase the BookASmile corpus, we have also begun to bring about different strategic changes to fundraising which has helped us scale vertically as well,” she shares.
The small team behind BookASmile is often approached with projects and events and after due diligence decides to take an opportunity forward. “Sometimes these initiatives are the result of something we have seen, heard of, or read about too,” says Farzana.
Initially, their focus was on Mumbai along with a few liaisons with NGOs outside Maharashtra.
“Over the next one year, through research, referrals, and showcasing the work that we did, we connected and liaised with many more NGOs and organisations across the country. Today, we are looking to grow and expand to different geographies in India and wish to impact lives and change perspectives of people residing everywhere, from big cities to towns and villages including kids, senior citizens, physically/mentally challenged individuals, or even the armed forces.”
They have already actively worked with over 100 NGOs across India and Farzana claims that they have successfully impacted over 15,000 lives.
The initiatives they undertake are properly vetted before they support the cause or the NGO. Some of the activities they have undertaken include movie screenings for children and adults with special needs and for old age homes; support to literary, theatre, and musical concerts; the creation of entertainment and recreation rooms for cancer-stricken and mentally challenged children in Bengaluru and Mumbai; and fundraising through employee engagement platforms like marathons, among others.
Farzana’s own association with pre-schools has made her realise that textbook learning is not education. Education, according to her, is about alternative sources of learning and exposure to things that help you grow culturally. With this, she also combines the idea of working out of the box and doing things differently.
She says, “The one thing that drives me is the fact that magical things manifest when you move away from your comfort zone. To do different things in the charity space only means that you are creating more opportunities for those who are not privy to them. We are constantly upping our game in terms of the work we do, the communities and causes we support, and the lives we want to impact. Whilst the core of our purpose is to work within the entertainment space, we are also exploring other avenues.”
Given that she loves her job, Farzana says no challenge is too big to overcome and going forward, all she wants to do is to impact society on a larger scale.