Seva Kitchen and IndianBloodDonors' Khushroo Poacha on what it takes to make changemaking a people’s movement
In eight cities across India - Nagpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Naya Raipur, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Palwal, New Delhi, and the village of Sawantwadi - thousands of free home-cooked meals are served every Sunday at numerous hospitals to hundreds of poor patients and their families. This is made possible by Seva Kitchen, a crowd-sourced initiative run by Khushroo Poacha. It is driven by volunteers who undertake the responsibility of cooking and feeding the hungry week after week. What began as a one-man effort to feed the hungry at the hospitals, has shown the power of collective responsibility today. Seva Kitchen also runs Neki Ka Pitara, which when translated, means ‘The fridge of kindness.’ Under this initiative, a refrigerator at hospitals is well-stocked with milk, juices, biscuits and similar eatables so that poor patients and their families can get access to nutritious food. The stock is replenished every week.
Khushroo has also been at the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, facilitating food and aid for thousands for families in need. In the last three months, he organised grocery kits to be distributed across cities and villages. Each kit contained grocery essentials that could easily last a family for a week. This is now an on-going effort given the gravity of the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities.
When selfless giving triumphs money power
Apart from addressing hunger issues, Khushroo says he does not accept money to run or manage any of the initiatives. “With respect to the Neki Ka Pitara and the COVID-19 relief kits, donors transfer money directly to e-tailers who provide the stock. For the meal distribution at hospitals, we have donors who cook simple meals and send them over. Volunteers chip in at every step -from distributing to coordinating relief efforts. Most of the coordination happens over WhatsApp groups, on our Facebook page, and via SMS,” he explains.
A superintendent with the Indian Railways in Nagpur, Khushroo says he takes inspiration from the traditional values of selfless giving - a desire to serve or doing Seva. Be it Mother Teresa or the thousands of saints who have worked towards alleviating the suffering of the most affected, “They never had a model that worked based on a cash runway to undertake humanitarian work. Yet, they helped millions over the years.”
For Khushroo, Seva Kitchen is his second effort to address societal issues. His tryst with becoming a changemaker began in the year 2000, when he started IndianBloodDonors, a portal that enabled blood donors to connect with patients in need of blood. Today, it has grown to become a 12000+ strong community of blood donors and has metamorphosed from a simple portal into an IVRS and Mobile App helpline.
“I started IndianBloodDonors as a self-funded initiative at a time when hosting a website was an expensive affair. But, over time, it became challenging, I looked at sponsorship as an alternative to keep the initiative afloat. But when a sponsor asked that the database be shared in return, I resolved to keep it community-driven. When he said good work cannot be sustained without money, I decided to prove otherwise.”
Today, 20 years later, IndianBloodDonors has not only sustained without monetary support but continues to help millions and has inspired many other similar platforms to take root. Having run an initiative with community support, Khushroo decided to run Seva Kitchen on a similar model.
A people-driven movement
Khushroo says, “While there is strong community participation that is pivotal to the success of IndianBloodDonors, since it is tech-enabled, the operation is not capital-dependent, unlike Seva Kitchen." To put things into perspective, each of the 20 refrigerators under the Neki Ka Pitara initiative are stocked with food worth Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 on a weekly basis.
"Not once have we faced a situation where we couldn’t replenish the stocks. Even with the Seva Kitchen initiative, every Sunday, we feed thousands of people. We have always had people who have pitched in, even though we do not run this initiative under a registered non-profit. That’s why I call these initiatives ‘movements’.”
Khushroo says there’s no hidden success formula to the two movements except that they run on passion and good intent.“To be a changemaker, you need passion and perseverance. But, at the core, you also need to be compassionate. Because that’s what continues to drive you amidst challenges and naysayers who you meet along the way. ” He says, “I have often been told how Seva Kitchen or IndianBloodDonors wouldn’t survive in the long run. Today, the former is running successfully for nearly six years and the latter for 20 years.”
The need to replicate changemaking
Khushroo reiterates that as a changemaker, you need to drive a model that is replicable, as opposed to scalable. "Quality trumps over quantity. But, the scope of humanitarian work is large. That’s why the model should be replicable so that it can inspire many others to follow suit. At the end of day, we are here to drive change and not to drive personal ambitions.”
It is here that platforms like The/Nudge Forum (global edition) are important drivers, Khushroo says.
“People are often surprised to know that I have been running this initiative for years without actively raising funds or money. But, when people do come to know that an alternative model exists, they are willing to take on the responsibility of the humanitarian work, which otherwise people think requires a lot of money."
A platform like The/Nudge Forum presents this opportunity to showcase success stories that can inspire many others. It helps to understand best practices and learn from other changemakers and leaders. It helps to build a larger perspective, which is otherwise very difficult to gather especially of that related to development, Khushroo adds.
At The/Nudge Forum (global edition), Khushroo will be sharing his journey as a COVID Warrior and the founder of IndianBloodDonors & Seva Kitchen, and how changemakers can further the development agenda of the nation.
Breaking down the entry barriers for citizens to participate and drive the development narrative
The/Nudge Forum (global edition) is a 24-hour non-stop global platform, that is bringing together world leaders and all stakeholders globally to come together - speak, listen, engage, network and more - for India’s development. The event will see participation from leaders like Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog; Dr. Devi Shetty, Chairman and Founder, Narayana Health; Faye D'Souza, Senior Journalist; Madhav Chavan, Co-Founder, Pratham; Ricky Kej, Composer, Music Producer and Environmentalist; Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital; Vikas Khanna,Chef, Restaurateur, writer, Filmmaker and Humanitarian; Ravi Venkatesan, Founder, G.A.M.E, among others.
The event is being organised by The/Nudge Foundation in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation and the Skoll Foundation, two key organisations that have been driving the development narrative globally. A collective working towards alleviating poverty, sustainably and scalably, The/Nudge Foundation observed that with the onset of the pandemic, not only did the scale of challenges shoot up pushing vulnerable population back into poverty, much of the resources to fight this new development had to be diverted to drive the immediate relief work . “With this, we saw there was a need to do far more with far less,” says Sudha Srinivasan. CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation (formerly known as N/Core). an impact stream of The/Nudge Foundation.
"We saw the need to bring to the fore a platform to increase invisibility and make development mainstream. Here, citizens have a direct role to play an active role in policy building, contributing to causes, engaging in conversations across platforms and forums and bringing to the fore good work on social media. We will also break down the entry barriers for the citizens to engage,” says Sudha signing off.
Join world leaders and global stakeholders on August 15 as they come together to rally for India’s development with a 24-hour non-stop conversation. Together for India. Sign up here.