In my first blog post for Forbes India, A Positive Story From India, I had said, “But for my first piece on this blog, I thought let me start with something positive.” I return today with another positive story (and there are many such stories all around us).
I have often wondered at the powerlessness of the individual in front of the big, bad, corrupt system and I am sure, so have many of you. But then there is the power of One.
Last Friday, I spent about two hours of my evening as a part of a group listening to the stories of 30 outstanding organisations that are tirelessly working to improve the lives of children, orphans, women, physically and mentally challenged people, and helping in the rescue of animals. All these were stories of individual efforts, dreams and passions and some of these organisations have become institutions catering to thousands of people.
Nurturing and building such institutions and humanitarian work of any kind also means a lot of sacrifice on the personal front is required. And to be brutally honest, most of us have no appetite for such sacrifices, perseverance or hard work. But an individual can still do a lot.
The story of Caring Friends shows us how. I came to know of Caring Friends through Vinayak Lohani of Parivaar. Vinayak is an IIT-IIM alumnus who, inspired by Swami Vivekananda, has devoted his life to take care of underprivileged children. In the five years that I have known Parivaar, it has grown from a residential institution for about 100 children to one which houses 750 children today and targets to house 2,000 in the next three years.
Within a day of visiting Parivaar on the outskirts of Kolkata in 2007, I received a call from a person who introduced himself as Ramesh Kacholia and mentioned my visit to Parivaar. We met a few weeks later; he explained the nature of Caring Friends’ work to me and presented before me a bunch of books on philanthropy.
Ramesh Kacholia or Uncle, as most people call him, is a sprightly 75-year-old man and walks 14 floors every day. He added me to his mailing list and I received regular updates from him. He kept in touch with me regularity and one fine day invited me to their monthly get-togethers and later their annual meet.
Last Friday’s event, that I mentioned at the start of this post, was the annual meet for donors and institutions that are being supported. Uncle is nothing but persistent. Nearly 200 people were there in the auditorium. There must have been many, moist eyes there as stories were shared.
Snehalaya’s efforts have perhaps made Ahmednagar [in Maharashtra] the first district in India where no minors are engaged in flesh trade. Unnati is training the youth to be skilled for today’s society. Wildlife SOS has ensured that there are no dancing bears in the Indian streets. Not only are they taking care of the bears but also rehabilitating the community that was dependent on dancing bears for livelihood.
Caring Friends is not an NGO, has no bank account and no office on its name. Ramesh Uncle and his colleague/associate/co-founder Nimesh Sumati identify and vet organisations that they would like to support for a period of time before reaching out to others. These people have created an informal network of friends and supporters; donors’ money goes to the institution of their choice and there are no administrative charges. Today, over Rs 300 million (Rs 30 crore) is being disbursed annually.
I have to mention a couple of incidents. When I was not sure about an organisation that I had helped raise some funds for, Ramesh Uncle said that if there was anything untoward, Nimesh and he would personally donate the same amount of money to any organisation or institution of my choice!
The second is about Vinayak introducing me to Caring Friends. How many organisations introduce their donors to other institutions?
Two people [Ramesh Uncle and Nimesh] have through their selfless work provided support and ensured growth of over 30 institutions engaged in the service of humanity. They do not come from any large corporate group; their names are virtually unknown outside the organisations they support (and the supporters of Caring Friends); they have no major fund-raising campaigns, but they have achieved something that even they would not have imagined when they started out a few decades ago.
This is not just about philanthropy; it is about improving our human resources, giving opportunity to the less fortunate ones, harnessing our demographic dividend, and leading more sustainable lives. Think of your own idea, your passion and persevere: Nothing can stop you. You have the power of One.