I have over 20 years of experience in diverse areas including social development, CSR, entrepreneurship, media, human resources management, business development, corporate training and teaching. After the acquisition of the company that I co-founded and the completion of the transition process, I voluntarily retired from corporate life in December 2012 to pursue my passion for community service and to set up a social initiative that can help make a difference to the underprivileged in India while bringing about positive social change.
In my personal capacity I have been actively involved in helping, both at the grassroots and strategic level, various charitable organisations that work for the welfare of underprivileged women and children, with a specific focus on education, vocational training, employment, health, nutrition and sanitation. My social responsibility organisation, ‘Let’s Do Some Good Foundation’ offers advisory services in the social development space and also provides a platform for individuals, corporates, and non-profits to come together and drive positive social change. My foundation focuses on working primarily for underprivileged women and children, specifically in the areas of education, health, nutrition, sanitation, employment and livelihood.
I have multiple diverse interests and am also an author, a documentary film maker, a motivational speaker and a mentor to women professionals and entrepreneurs. I like to invest in miscellaneous ventures in different verticals in which I am interested and currently have my fingers dipped in a F&B business and the production of a mainstream Bollywood film about a travel story (since I have serious wanderlust and love to travel myself).
Tell us about any current projects
Let’s Do Some Good Foundation (LDSG), along with Samridhdhi Trust and Manipal Foundation, is the convenor of the Bangalore Effective Education Task Force (BEETF), a voluntary consortium of 40+ corporates, NGOs, funding agencies, academia and individuals working in the space of education for underprivileged children.
Our flagship project, “Bridging Gaps in Education” works with the ultra-poor, out of school, urban slum children in Bangalore, giving them a very rigorous and rich one year bridge education program, bringing them into English medium or government schools in age appropriate classes in the following academic year. This year we are mainstreaming 300+ underprivileged children. We have an MoU in place with the state education department under which we currently run our bridge program in four government school premises. This academic year (June 2015 – 2016) we are planning to start six more bridge schools. We take care of the younger siblings (0-5 year olds) in our sibling care program in the same schools using the Montessori method. Without the sibling care program the older kids, 6-14 years, can’t come to school as they have to look after the siblings while their parents go to work. We also have an after-school program for the children that we mainstream since they usually have completely illiterate parents who cannot help them with their studies.
This year we are also piloting a skills training program for the 14 to 18 year old kids who we have mainstreamed, to ensure that they ultimately become employable. Along with education and employability, we focus on health, nutrition and sanitation as well, as we believe that all of these are very closely linked to the holistic development of these children and the communities that they come from.
The fundamental philosophy behind what we do is to collaborate with multiple stakeholders working in the same space in order to be able to collectively drive maximum impact, most efficiently, in the shortest possible time. The macro goal of our initiative is to dent the vicious cycle of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty. One of our focus areas this year is to cultivate relationships with schools where we can engage with the students, teachers and parents so as to be able to engage the young people early on. This way they can identify problems, think creatively, develop solutions and execute meaningful social development projects with tangible outcomes that make a difference that they can be proud of.
Essentially the idea is to help develop these children to grow to be empathetic adults who want to make a difference to the less privileged, while aligning to and within the context of the CSR goals of the individual schools. With this objective in mind, we have already successfully completed some small and larger projects by children under LDSG Foundation. One of the most interesting projects is the “Build A Toilet Project” run by four high school children who raised a substantial amount of money in record time through crowd-funding and built three toilets in government schools in the city with the help and guidance of LDSG Foundation.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
I feel very lucky because I think I am one of those blessed people who think of / wish for something and it happens. Fantastic opportunities have come my way and I have always seized them and given them 200% with complete sincerity, dedication and hard work and it never failed to pay off. Therefore I can hardly think of any big challenge that came my way. Of course there were multiple challenges as I worked towards building my start-up or as I work now on doing my non-profit work – but that’s all part and parcel of doing business and life. I think being the creative type helped me work around and surmount challenges more easily. Also, I am a firm believer that if I put everything I have into what I want to achieve, nothing can stop it from happening and this has been the story of my life so far. It is after all, the challenges that make the journey of life so interesting.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
My greatest achievement has been to be able to build a start-up enterprise with three other partners and then sell it to a large MNC; retire at the age of ~40 and then follow my dream to make a difference and plunge headlong into the social development space with my non-profit organisation.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
I’ve done almost everything that I’ve ever wanted to do and am now thoroughly enjoying and fulfilled with my current non-profit work. There seems to have been a natural and logical progression in the way my life and career has panned out, so I cannot imagine not doing what I am doing today. I think I would still be doing something very interesting and worthwhile given that, luckily for me, I always seem to have an affinity for attracting a myriad of interesting opportunities somehow.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I am an avid reader of biographies and autobiographies and have been inspired in some way or another, at some point of time or another, by all the stories of the numerous great men and women that I have read about. Indira Gandhi has been a great inspiration because of the strong woman that she was, even though I may not agree with everything that she did for the sake of politics and power. But the biggest inspiration has probably been my maternal grandmother who was a tiny little powerhouse who rebuilt the life of her entire family after having fled from Pakistan to India after the partition in 1947. She had borne many hardships after being reduced from riches to rags in the devastating exodus that followed after the partition but was always uncomplaining and smiling despite all the travails that she had to bear. And she remained her positive, happy self, looking after everyone, deftly solving all problems that came her way, until her very last day.
What does the future hold for you?
My life has been largely unplanned with many good things “happening” to me. I hope it will continue to meander thus in the future as well, with many rich experiences and opportunities to do some good for those who aren’t as fortunate as me. Having almost died during childbirth at the age of thirty two, I do not take a single day of my life for granted and just hope that I will live long enough to see enough tangible, positive, sustainable impact of the work that I am trying to do today through my foundation.
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This article was provided by WeAreTheCity Bangalore Committee Lead Puja Kohli.