Hand holding potential youth through to reach their optimal
The PwC India Foundation is the development partner for the School of Social Entrepreneurship (SSE) India since 2016. Under the aegis of their partnership, the Foundation and SSE have formed an exceptional fellowship programme for the youth who are intending to become social entrepreneurs.
Naresh Sijapati is the chairman of Panah Foundation and a fellow from the 2016 School for Social Entrepreneurs India (SSE) cohort. Naresh’s journey began in 2005 when he migrated from Nepal to India to stay with his family living in Ahmedabad. To support his schooling and other household expenses, he worked as a rag picker for some time. Later, he moved on to the hospitality sector and then worked as an industrial laborer. Sustaining himself was a major challenge during this period. Interacting with local people proved difficult, given his lack of confidence. In 2013, he received a chance to work with a social development organization, Aajeevika Bureau, as a volunteer. This was the turning point in his life when he realized a person’s responsibility towards society in her/his profession.
In 2014, he began working as an office boy at Teach for India. Here, he found himself moving towards the realization of his vision, as there were opportunities to work with people from varied backgrounds and diverse values. He discovered his inclination towards social work, decided to set up his own organization, and, thereby, registered PANAH.
In September 2015, it began with an idea and in 2016 they established a labor resource center that focused on the holistic development of migrant laborers. The center later began teaching kids of its members, developing the skills of women, and so on. In 2019, the center was renamed Nagrik Seva Kendra and the focus changed from laborers to society at large. They tied up with the government for various programmes and helped migrants in opening their accounts in banks. Their office is located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. School for Social Entrepreneurs India (SSE) provided him with the platform to understand the entrepreneurial culture. He wasn’t comfortable with English, but SSE helped him overcome that fear as well. PwC India is one of the founding partners of SSE India and an integral part of its journey in the country. During the initial days of setting up SSE India, the PwC team volunteered in domains like branding, communications, and business development.
When Naresh visited the PwC India office for the interview, he gained exposure to the corporate culture. During his fellowship, he learned about the business model while peers helped him grow personally and professionally. He was provided with a mentor from PwC India who helped him align his thoughts. Thanks to the mentorship support from PwC India, he was able to structuralize his Panah Foundation work.
At present, Panah Foundation is working with two unions (auto and factory workers’ unions). There are more than 10,000 members associated with the organization and 20,000-plus visitors who aren’t members but they visit the center for the workshops. Through their COVID-19 interventions, they have reached out to more than 11,000 beneficiaries.
One of the beneficiaries, Hagma Devi from Prem Nagar says, I used to sew clothes with the help of one sewing machine. But during the lockdown, I lost my work. When I tried to resume work, my machine stopped working and I couldn’t afford to buy another. Panah Foundation helped me buy a sewing machine under the livelihoods programme because of which I could restart my business of tailoring.”
The best learning so far is that we just need to initiate something and everything else falls in place. Once the initiative for migrant laborers started, there has been no end to the support they have received. He could relate to the initiative because he faced the same issues while young and that is why Naresh took the necessary action.
Naresh Sijapati believes, “Help is a one-time investment and lifetime income”. Only one-time support is required to start a center, after which only a minimal amount is charged from members. Right now, 7 centers are up and running, which are self-sustaining. They also receive one-time donations from individuals. In the next two years, the aim is to start 5 or 6 more centers besides the 7 currently running. The plan is to diversify into the banking sector and focus on creating community leaders this year.
The collaboration also actively engages PwC people in several ways to offer their time and acumen to support SSE India and its members. These opportunities include a review of applications and selection of the final cohort, conducting sessions for the fellows as action learning facilitators, subject experts, and witnesses narrating their own journey, and providing one-on-one mentorship support to the fellows.
PwC provided funding support during the initial stage and continues to assist in many other ways to bring value to SSE India’s programmes. Since its inception, more than 75 fellows have benefitted from the SSE ecosystem to provide solutions to pressing challenges. They have helped generate livelihoods, empower women and vulnerable sections, including tribal communities, and contributed to supporting civic systems across Indian states.
Shalabh Mittal, CEO-School for Social Entrepreneurs India says, “At SSE India, we believe in bottom-up social change and help social entrepreneurs work in broken markets or the poorest of communities. Our partners such as PwC enable us to support and serve our fellows better by bringing their best resource – ‘people’. We value the time and passion that PwC people bring to support SSE India fellows. Five years, 75+ fellows, footprints in 19 states, and partnering in offering international programmes is a testament to the fact that our learning approach can empower entrepreneurs to start, grow and scale. We design programmes and build cohorts of fellows with diversity in mind, striving to achieve a balance of backgrounds, helping us keep everyone grounded to the cause of social enterprise.”
Jaivir Singh, Vice Chairman – PwC India Foundation, Leader PwC Global Office for Humanitarian Affairs says, “What makes the fellowship stand apart from other programmes is its inclusivity and diversity – the fellowship is open to anyone with an idea to create a positive social impact. We take great pride in the fact that several fellows have gone back to the grassroots and successfully managed to raise funds for their enterprises. Our deeply committed mentors from PwC India have also helped nurture our fellows while guiding them to grow into sound professionals. During the pandemic, our fellows have selflessly come forward to design and lead community welfare programmes while providing support and services to the most vulnerable – the Panah Foundation is one such example. Such socially relevant actions are testament to how SSE India along with its supporters is delivering on its mission of creating social entrepreneurs committed to bringing lasting and meaningful positive societal change.”