I had written about a few businesses and leaders under the series titled “Conscious Business and Awakened Leaders: Under the Bodhi Tree” earlier. (Premise; CCS; The Bonsai Tree; Inclusive Growth etc.) Most of these articles featured businesses and leaders whom I had heard about or read about. This one is different, I had the opportunity to visit The Deshpande Foundation, meet people working there, see the impact on the ground and also had the chance to hear Desh talk about his vision.
This was an invitation from the Sandbox Startup incubation center at Hubbali to join a one day conference with their founder – Gururaj Deshpande. A day prior to the event, they had organized a one day tour of all the projects that they support in and around Hubbali.
We started off with a tour of Deshpande Educational Trust (https://www.detedu.org/). This is really a finishing school for students coming out of colleges, but are unemployable due to multiple reasons – could be as simple as the inability to communicate in English or lack of technical skills. The school’s premise is simple – they run a cohort for about 5 months or so – in varied disciplines – IT, Electricity, CNC Machines, Farming, Accountancy, etc. The idea being that by the time the students come out, they should be proficient in both spoken English as well as technical skills. This year ~ 2000 students have gone through this program. This is a residential program open to boys and girls and over 80% of those who graduate gets placed. A tie-up with a large number of companies looking for skilled employees ensures placements. Some choose to strike out on their own too. While staying at the campus, the students have a tough schedule that starts at 6 with yoga and ends at 10 and are engaged all through the 5 months with no breaks even on Sundays. While this sounds tough, it isn’t a detention camp, the foundation has built a nice program that keeps the students engaged right through. Sure there are dropouts, but that happens in the first week or so itself.
We then went to Akshaya Patra, which is one of the largest kitchens in Asia, serving mid-day meals to a staggering 10 lakh children every day; the Kitchen is supported by Deshpande Foundation (https://www.akshayapatra.org/news/philanthropists-passion-for-eradicating-hunger).
Post the lunch at Akshaye Patra, our next destination was a visit to a farm, 50-60 km away from Hubbali in a village off Navalgund. The story of transformation is told very passionately by Innus Khan – Dy Director of Agriculture at Deshpande Foundation, who hails from Rajasthan, went through the 5 months training program at DET and chose to join the Foundation. He stayed at Navalgund for 2 years working on building a sustainable revenue generating model that is now adopted across different states in the country. Rather than telling the story here, I will point you to this link to read more about it. (https://thestoriesofchange.com/2018/01/29/farm-pond-karnataka-navalgund-farmers-agroculture-neer-sinchana-farmers/); Innus Khan, tells me that there is a waiting list of over 3000 farmers wanting the foundation to dig ponds in their farms.
We came back to the city and were introduced to an initiative called Navodyami (http://navodyami.org/) through which the foundation is working with small and medium traders and artisans in helping them take their products to a larger market.
We met and spoke to a few farmers as well as owners who were positively financially impacted by these programs and had wonderful things to say about the impact the foundation’s work had on their income.
Closer home, I had seen the impact of River Rejuvenation projects, the Youth-Leadership-training programs and the commitment of volunteers and teachers of Art of Living; this was the first time I had seen such a committed workforce in a business social venture.
There are multiple kinds of philanthropy; this one demonstrated by Deshpande seems to marry the best of social and business worlds; is replicable, and our country should have more of it. Desh elaborates on the thinking behind this in a succinct interview here (https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/ZKNhFW8SwSe5HVUmXAGjgO/People-must-become-problem-solvers-Gururaj-Deshpande.html).
This was ‘Loka-Sangraham’ implemented in its true spirit. Shri Krishna says
सक्ता: कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत |
कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् || 3:25||
“The ignorant man works for his own profit, O Bharata; the Enlightened One’s work for the societal welfare, with the good of the world in view“.
If you ever get an opportunity or an invite from the Foundation to visit Hubbali and view their projects, don’t miss it.