How this social entrepreneur is transforming the lives of street children and women with her NGO
Rashi Anand was just 21 years old when she noticed the wealth disparity in urban cities. Looking at the plight of street children, she decided she had to do something to uplift their lives. And hence Lakshyam was born, driven by her vision to create a place where all living beings coexist and co-create in harmony. Today, the non-governmental organisation works towards the upliftment of underprivileged children and women in India and has touched over a million lives.
A courageous start
Rashi saw kids begging on the road for the first time in her life when she arrived in Delhi to pursue her graduation. Growing up in Ranchi, she had never seen such a sight before, and this led her to do something for these children. “Belonging to a family with a lot of young kids, I realized how different and difficult childhood on the roads was in comparison to a normal childhood. I had started collecting toys and books for these street children with the help of friends and family,” she recalls.
While she could give away the toys to street children, she couldn’t do the same with books as they were not useful to the kids living on the roads. The concept of Toy Library thus came into existence, and with that came the need for the formation of an organisation. Lakshyam was officially born in 2012. “Nobody believed that at the age of 21, I could start a nonprofit organisation and sustain it. So I just started on my own. And after a lot of groundwork and building credibility for years, today we have a board of directors, advisors, and a large team of volunteers and interns with us,” she says.
Growing with Lakshyam
Since Lakshyam’s inception, the team vowed to put an end to the widespread violation of people’s fundamental rights, especially of women and children residing in the slums of metropolitan cities. The aim was to empower them through education and employment by implementing models of development that are tailored to the needs of the community.
“There are millions of people living in makeshift homes in slums that are overcrowded, suffer from lack of adequate water supply, sanitation, and security. Children of these slum dwellers often do not get access to basic education and instead have to start working to support their families. At a tender age, they are forced to grow up in a haste, used as cheap labour, and suffer the loss of their childhood and innocence,” says Rashi. To help these children and their families, Lakshyam launched three models.
Butterfly (Child welfare and education) - Under this programme, basic education is provided to impoverished children through comprehensive learning methods. The concept of ‘Butterfly’ is based upon imparting the crucial aspects of welfare, holistic education, and well-round development. The team takes street children and enrolls them to the nearest government school. Lakshyam does the hand-holding till class 5 and ensures that the child’s counselling has been taken care of during the entire process.
Lakshyam Toy Library - The Toy Library was the first programme the team had launched. The child’s growth is supplemented using educational toys, games, and books in an environment which cultivates and encourages the child’s imagination and creativity. After collecting toys and books, the team identifies rural villages where they do not have access to resources. The team then opens toy libraries in those locations. So far, Lakshyam has opened 29 toy libraries, out of which 17 are in remote areas.
Rooh (Awakening women’s soul) - Women are empowered to generate self-employment and a means of income using training of vocational and professional skills.
Rising over challenges
One of the biggest hurdles for Rashi was building credibility and trust. With a background in events and advertising, she had no qualification in the development sector. “Nobody took me seriously, not even my friends, family, or the communities where I wanted to work. I used to face lewd remarks from men in the area. I realized I could not survive on the roads. Parents would come and say if you want to teach our kids, you have to give us Rs 100 for three hours because he would have earned that much in that time by begging. People would give more money if they saw a child in an unconscious state, and without clothes on the streets. I think I was too young and with no experience, I could not survive in that kind of atmosphere,” she shares.
Rashi then went to a slum and opened a library. She worked in that community for three years, learning how to deal with the community, understanding their challenges, and getting to know the police and local officials. Besides, she attended a lot of online sessions, opted for fellowships and coaching where she was coached on how to run an organisation and form a team.
Strengthening the brand with a .in domain
Lakshyam had a website since their launch in 2012. Speaking of their .in domain, Rashi says, “The .in extension has helped us in boosting our credibility and brand name in the Indian market. People can trust us and it has also helped in improving our SEO on Google search engine.” The .in extension helped make their brand more memorable, dominated local search results, developed credibility, and helped them reach their target audience - Indians. “It has helped us in Google search ads because we actively work on SEOs today. We also have Google grants coming from Google because we are also one of the organisations which is supported by Google. They give us $5,000 every month,” reveals Rashi.
Like Lakshyam, various companies across sectors have opted for the .in domain name. The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) has helped various businesses across sectors easily get access to a .in or .Bharat domain. Companies can choose between 22 languages for a domain name after opting for .in and .Bharat.
The team recently started two social ventures – 'Travel4Change' that aims to enable the development of marginalised communities by connecting global citizens with the locals and 'Holy Cow Lakshyam' with a vision to create sustainable and replicable development models ensuring to impact the lives of our three mothers - cow, women, and Earth. The latter enables the team to sell natural cow-based products online. And the .in extension has helped the team reach a larger Indian audience by connecting them with people who want traditional products.
The NGO has also set up various online classes and events, including multiple webinars. “We have done online sessions, webinars, and events with 38 speakers from around the world and raised Rs 5 lakh for social causes,” she says.
Rashi reveals that she wishes to see Lakshyam as a self-sustainable organisation. The desire stemmed from what they experienced during the pandemic. Various corporations working with them shut down their projects. “We started Holy Cow Lakshyam and Travel4Change, wherein we are offering products and services, which would help pump in some money to the organisation. Selling our products through the online model is one thing that we surely want to do,” she adds.
The Shaping India Inc's Online Growth series chronicles the journeys of startups and SMEs in India and how creating an online presence on the .in or .Bharat domain powered their success stories.