Techie gives up job abroad to open 20 free libraries across 7 states for underprivileged children

Techie gives up job abroad to open 20 free libraries across 7 states for underprivileged children

Sunday November 12, 2017,

7 min Read

Joginder Rohilla started Sanskriti, which sets up free libraries and offers career guidance to kids, and EtechDreams, a startup that generates employment in rural areas.

As a techie with a flourishing career, Joginder Rohilla may have lived in Europe and South America, but flashes of Bahadurgarh, the small town in Haryana where he grew up, remained with him. On introspection, he realised that he had managed to make it out of that town despite his tough circumstances due to one game-changing factor: education. He returned home with the mission to start a three-pronged initiative involving knowledge, literacy and ambition.

Today, his mission – Sanskriti - has led to 20 free libraries being opened across seven states and conducted dozens of career guidance sessions that have put over 2,000 children on the right path. EtechDreams, his rural-based IT startup, on the other hand, hopes to serve the world and, more importantly, the community.

Working towards his dream

“My own educational journey was a bit tough, but I saw how my life changed through education and I wanted to make a difference in others’ life via education, reading and knowledge procurement,” says the 31-year-old, who goes by the name Jogi. 

Jogi holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Deenbandhu Chhoturam University of Science and Technology and a PGDBA degree from IMT Ghaziabad.

He came up with the idea for Sanskriti with his elder brother.

“We didn’t have a good library in our city and felt the lack of it,” he says. Thus, when Jogi’s career stabilised - even though his brother had unexpectedly passed away by then - he revisited the dream they had dreamed together, and it took shape in the form of Sanskriti in 2007.

“We started with a small free public library in our own home in July 2007,” he recalls. Sanskriti was formally launched in 2008.

Working with TCS, Gurgaon, at the time, Jogi would shuttle between Gurgaon and Bahadurgarh to manage his day job and Sanskriti. The library attracted countless children who would come down to read and study. In time, they became more disciplined and interested in what they were studying.

His career took him to Belgium and Chile in 2009, but knowing that they were on to something grand and meaningful, he did not cease to coordinate with his friends while he was there. He connected with people abroad who he felt could potentially support Sanskriti.

“An NRI reached out to me from the US when I was in Europe on social media and contributed books worth Rs 50,000 for our Bahadurgarh city library,” he recounts.

Back to his roots

He returned to India in 2013 to focus full time on Sanskriti.

“Leaving my job abroad was a courageous step and really tough, but with the support of some close friends and family members, it became one of the best decisions of my life,” he says. 

His energies were focused on Sanskriti and his startup, when he suffered a major setback. His father was diagnosed with cancer, a battle he eventually lost. But, he got his life back on track soon and with newfound vigour began work on Sanskriti, and a rural IT startup ETechDreams.

Seeing the impact of the library in our own city, we thought to open similar libraries across India. We have already opened 20 libraries across Haryana, UP, Telangana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar and Orissa. The aim is to provide a better reading environment to underprivileged kids and to promote reading habits in them,” he says.

Sanskriti collaborated with various local NGOs - discovered though social media and then thoroughly vetted - to create this network of libraries. While they have partnered with a publishing house through a team member (grants up to 40 percent off on books), they provide funds to NGO partners for basic library infrastructure like desks, chairs and shelves.

“We have a selected list of books to send. I give the address to publisher and he send the books. And for the furniture, the NGOs check about the required furniture in the local market, and send them a cheque. In a few places, the community also came forward with old furniture or other such contributions,” Jogi says.

Each library costs them between Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000 to erect. Sanskriti is aiming to open 100 libraries across the country, and is actively seeking funding for the same.

“There was a day I remember, when the number of visitors at our library in a day crossed hundred. That was really an achievement for a small library in our city,” he says. Many children leave behind notes in the library, thanking Jogi and the team for inviting them into the joy-filled world of books.

Step two: mentorship

Meanwhile, Jogi sensed another gap in these children’s lives - they would come up to him and his father filled with curiosity about all the vivid lives and careers favourite characters in their books led. Jogi researched this to see how many children actually pursue professional educations, and found that only 19.4 percent students in India procure a higher education.

“Higher education makes us independent and intelligent. There is no lack of talent in our country, but without proper career information, many students miss out,” he says.

Thus, Jogi started Career Guidance Sessions wherein his team goes to rural schools to mentor and counsel students about career prospects. The feedback of students at the end of the seminars egged him on to turn this into a regular affair.

“I met a student after three years in our library who told me that he was in one of my seminars and pursued engineering as he was inspired. This is how I know I am on the right path,” he says. 

The first seminar had over 50 children from Class 9 and 10 in 2008. He then organised similar initiatives in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, and has been able to guide roughly 2,000 students. He hopes to turn this number to 10,000 students over the next year.

“We get reviews like – ‘It changed my life completely’. There are many change stories like this,” he states.

The challenges he faced

Speaking about the challenges, Jogi says: “Building a good team is the most important thing to make a big difference. Many people come forward but only few stay over time.”

Completely funded by donations since they began, repeat contributions from benefactors have kept them going. But the lack of steady funding is also a hindrance.

“I put significant effort in connecting with more and more people who can support us - and we are aiming much higher now. There are 50-odd people connected to Sanskriti directly or indirectly, and an army of 1,000 well-wishers on social media,” he says.

Jogi dons several hats at the moment - his novel venture EtechDreams is a tech startup started two months ago on the outskirts of Dehradun, in a small town called Sudhowala. The idea is to save on overheads that come with big city life and, in turn, provide low-cost IT services to clients around the world. He already has a team of four people, and is aiming is to generate employment in rural areas in IT going forward.

With education and employment, Joginder ‘Jogi’ Rohilla is working to bring change to rural areas.