These student-led startups are working on empowerment and inclusion in small-town India 

25th Apr 2018
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ISDM students make a mark in the social sector with their startups, be it a livelihood venture for transgenders, an organisation transforming government schools, or an endeavor to empower senior citizens. 

L-R: Individuals impacted by Sathrangi and SPEEE

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” - Socrates

With an aim to change leadership and management practices in the development sector, the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), Noida, has introduced a one year full time Post Graduate Program in Development Leadership to create a cadre of professional leaders and managers for the social sector. The institute has also started a eight week residency by partnering with multiple Indian and International NGOs, Social and Corporate Foundations, CSR, Social Enterprises, Think Tanks and other Social Ecosystem organisations to ensure creation of "a unique problem solving environment for its students."

Ravi Sreedharan, the founding director of ISDM, says, “Driven by the mission of transforming lives and not the objective of financial growth or profit generation, this new breed of millennial startups is now shifting towards a meaningful purpose.”

Although ISDM is just over a year old, the institute has incubated and nurtured many social entrepreneurs who are working in the development sector. We list a few of the student-led startups supported by the institution that are doing good work:


Sathrangi is amalgamation of two words – Sath, which means together, and rangi, which means colouring. Sathrangi, also translating into rainbow, is a livelihood venture that aims to create employment opportunities for transgender and queer people.

Founded by Koushik Hore in August 2016, the startup hopes to end gender and sexual identity-based livelihood discrimination by creating a society where all will be treated with dignity. To achieve this, they have adopted three strategies:

  1. Creating alternative livelihood opportunities by developing entrepreneurship skills of the transgender and queer people by providing technical and marketing assistance.
  2. Advocacy for systemic and cultural shift.
  3. Creating value chains for creating of transgender and queer people in society.

Presently, Sathrangi is working with 18 transgender people in semi-rural areas of West Bengal to develop their entrepreneurship skills. They create handicraft products and sell them.

Further, an informal learning and care giving centre for 43 minor children of the manual scavenging community is run by transgenders in Malda district of West Bengal.

“In this way, they have been able to create acceptance in the larger society. Those youth who were against this are now helping these transgenders in this school project,” Koushik says.

Sathrangi is also advocating and sensitising government line departments, local government bodies, and foreign corporates on trans-issues and helping create livelihood opportunities for the LGBTQ community.

Self-Reliant India (SRI)

With an aim to address the problem of “ineffective school environment and unsupportive home & community environment”, 24-year-old Biswajit Brahmma founded Self-Reliant India.

“We believe that the alignment and engagement of all stakeholders are critical to transforming government schools. Also, awareness of quality education alone is not sufficient to nudge sustainable behavioural change among parents and community towards government schools,” Biswajit shares.

Through SRI, Biswajit hopes to transform government schools by engaging and aligning with parents, teachers, and the community. He believes that improving the classroom environment will help create best teaching practices and, thereby, create role models among students and teachers. Additionally, community support will help to sustain and improve government schools.

To achieve these goals, SRI aims to deliver quality education through building community infrastructure and ownership. They have currently undertaken two projects:

  1. Nanhe Kalam: SRI, by collaborating with Jawahar Navodaya School, encourages children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their volunteers also help the children prepare for entrance tests to ensure that they get an opportunity for quality education. These classes are held at existing government schools. Presently 10 centres with 24 volunteers are functional across Rewari district, covering 16 schools across eight villages, and 2 cities in five blocks.
  2. Gram Shiksha Samiti: Through this initiative SRI creates a support structure for government schools. This committee helps government schools with funds and human resource support; members include people from the Gram Panchayat (sarpanch, upsarpanch), parents, local leaders, and youth.

As of result of their intervention, the team claims that student enrolment has increased to 150 percent with monthly parent teacher meetings; teachers are motivated to teach in English to compete against private schools.

Society for Productive Engagement and Entertainment for Elderly (SPEEE)

With a strong desire to fill the gap old age homes have failed to address when it comes to channelising seniors’ potential and free time to create value, 24-year-old Inderpreet Singh founded the Society for Productive Engagement and Entertainment for Elderly (SPEEE).

Inderpreet was seven years old when he lost his grandmother to throat cancer. By then, she had managed to live for 23 years post her diagnosis; he believed that this was possible only because of her desire to live and the care she received.

Since then, he craved grandmotherly love and wanted to feel connected to elders in society. This became a motivating factor for him to work towards their welfare.

The programme, founded in 2016, aims to provide a safe space to help the elderly remain occupied meaningfully during the day; in the evenings, they return home to their families. Chandigarh-based SPEEE engages with older adults for 48 hours a week via different activities across varied domains. Harnessing the inner strength, interest, and abilities of elders, the programme has evolved into two phases and ensures a dignified life post-retirement.

  1. Aspire: Motivates the elderly to experience new things by introducing them to various therapy sessions such as 40 minutes of physical exercise like aerobics and dance, 60 minutes of mental exercise activities, and 60 minutes of recreational activities like movie screenings, music, writing and one-on-one sessions etc.
  2. Manoeuvre: Enables hands-on experience in activities of their interest such as baking, painting, photography, and gardening. This includes 150 minutes to learn and create things on a day-to-day basis.

“The cutest thing I have found in this place is the smile on a wrinkled face. And I want to keep this intact,” Indrapreet shares.

Youth for Peace International (YfPI)

With an aim to foster harmony and peace in an era of transnational migration, 21-year-old Saumya Aggarwal cofounded Youth for Peace International (YfPI). The aim is to nurture young people in India and the world, with core values of non-violence, inclusiveness, and empathy to contribute to global sustainable societies.

Through theoretical and experiential learning modules, YfPI empowers young people to recognise and understand conflict as an opportunity to change and grow; and see how diversity is a collaborative and not competitive factor.

“Non-violence and empathy as values are missing in the educational diaspora of India. Such absence leaves conflicts - both personal and interpersonal – unresolved, leading to escalation, at times violently,” says Mridul Upadhyay, an ISDM student and Chief Advisor of YfPI.

The team creates co-learning spaces where youth are trained in workshops and participants brainstorm for potential solutions to challenges faced by communities in conflict areas. They collaborate with the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network, United Network of Young Peace-Builders, Government of India, International Youth Peace Group for Advocacy, and participate in ground-level activities.

Headquartered in Delhi, their projects include Global Training of Trainers on Youth and Peace Building, Sangharsha (Rohingya refugee rehabilitation support), and Guftagu (Project Indo-Pak peace online campaign).

Presently the team is working with Rohingya refugee rehabilitation support, and helping with policy research, strategy framing and advocacy. Its work is guided by United National Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on youth, peace and security.

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