This organisation works with NGOs and communities to create social impact
At the age of 22, Deepti Natarajan Iyer became a software engineer and joined Infosys. But soon, she found that the conventional route was not where her heart lay.
She yearned for a people-facing career, one that touched lives.
“I quit my job and started my career as a corporate trainer. Along with my mother, I also ran a call centre and a career-readiness training centre. I felt I was headed in the right direction,” she tells HerStory.
However, it took 10 years to find the “social impact” path she truly wanted.
She got an opportunity to teach English and soft skills to persons with visual impairment at the NGO, Enable India. She became a project manager, taking care of employment, workplace solutions, and solutions for the visually impaired. With a firm step in the social impact sector, she moved on to the Head Held High Foundation to head fundraising, corporate volunteering, and partnerships.
Her next stint was at CIPLA Foundation, heading their CSR activities in Bengaluru.
All through this time, Deepti and her friend and co-founder, Shravan Shetty, continued to have conversations on the gaps in the social sector. Shravan has extensive experience in the social sector.
“The funders are all on one side, the NGOs on the other, and the beneficiaries form the third side. The sector can be very disjointed, and we wanted to bring them all together under the same umbrella,” she explains.
In December 2021, this gave birth to, a philanthropy advisory and capacity-building organisation. It works with CSR initiatives, high-net-worth individuals, corporate entities, and students to help them give back in terms of money, effort, and skills. In essence, it is a social immersion benefiting everyone.
Children at its heart
The Bodhi Tree runs the HELPS Collective (health, education, lifestyle, profession and security), focused on children.
She points out that every NGO’s focus may be different—science education, livelihood training, and health, but a child needs all of these.
“During my earlier stints in the social sector, I realised that there were schools that were beneficiaries of health initiatives, but nothing was happening in terms of education. The reverse was also true—there were loads of science kits being donated but no effort was made to understand malnutrition in children or children dropping out because of the lack of clean toilets,” she explains.
Under this initiative, The Bodhi Tree keeps “the child in the centre, and builds a framework around her needs”.
The foundation then brings in different partners for the HELPS programme, and ensures the right funding to take it forward.
The Bodhi Tree works with children from slums, government schools, low-income families, shelter homes, and those with disabilities in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Deepti says identifying different needs is important.
She elaborates, “A disabled child has a different kind of disadvantage as compared to a child from a low income family or one from a shelter home. We take these different needs to the funders, educate them on how they can fund different programmes for different sections, all along keeping the child in the centre.”
It works with the Mewar Collective, an NGO in Rajasthan that produces sanitary pads made from banana fibre using local women. It has also partnered with Deskit to provide collapsible study desks to schoolchildren in homes and schools that lack study tables.
“At home, these children are studying under dim light with seven-eight other people around. We procure kits from Deskit, raise funds, and distribute them to children in government schools,” Deepti says.
Financial literacy for women
The Bodhi Tree has initiated financial literacy programmes for women in slums in Kannagi Nagar and Perumbakkam on the outskirts of Chennai.
“Around 25,000 families were moved by the government from the city to the suburbs causing a displacement. Twenty-five to 50 km away from the city, these places provided little scope for employment. The women, however, were enterprising and took up jobs in nearby IT parks, or as house help. However, they requested us to help them manage their finances,” Deepti says.
In partnership with The Freedom Foundation, The Bodhi Tree launched an extensive financial literacy programme, enabling these women to join the Sukanya Samriddhi, procuring for them PAN and Aadhaar cards, and giving them tips and advice on small investments.
The organisation’s activities on ground work on the not-for-profit model but its LLP setup charges for workshops organised for corporate employees or students. It raises money from CSR funds by helping them align with projects/causes they are passionate about, and from HNIs.
The NGO sector works in silos, which Deepti believes is a big challenge. She adds that partnerships can change the scenario.
“For instance, an organisation working for sports education can team up with one focused on nutrition. The disconnect between NGOs needs to change,” Deepti says.
Edited by Teja Lele