Daan Utsav: Are You A Philanthropist?
(Image: Udhyam website)

Daan Utsav: Are You A Philanthropist?

BloombergQuintOpinion

Me? Hell no!

That sounds like something you do after you retire. I just turned 40. Sure, the six and a half years I spent at Flipkart were rich enough to be counted as 20, both in terms of experience and money, thank goodness for that! I still think of myself as a young doer. A doer with lots to learn and lots more to do.

Can bootstrapping a non-profit organisation be considered as philanthropy?

With the financial freedom I gained from Flipkart’s success, I bootstrapped a non-profit organisation, Udhyam Learning Foundation. I can see how putting money into your own non-profit can be thought of as philanthropy. But is it?

Dāna has been defined in Indian traditional texts as any action of relinquishing the ownership of what one considered or identified as one's own, and investing the same in a recipient without expecting anything in return.

I must confess that I have large expectations of Udhyam.

This journey began in 2016. The crazy entrepreneur in me believed that I could make a dent in the education system! Change it for the better. I met almost a hundred people in the field of education: students and teachers, large university owners, education-tech startups, and of course, a lot of NGOs. Everybody warned me that the change in our ossified education system is going to be terribly hard and will take a long time. Yet, I have been pleasantly surprised with the education reforms Udhyam has enabled in three and a half years, touching almost a million lives.

In 2019, Udhyam partnered with the Delhi government to design and implement Entrepreneurship Mindset Curriculum or EMC, a new subject as the first period every day for Delhi school students of grades IX to XII. It is an 80% experiential curriculum with no exams and no textbooks. Government school teachers facilitate activities aimed at learning grit, creativity, empathy, problem-solving, communication, etc. It is a great feeling to see our education system moving away from developing just skill sets to inculcating mindsets.

I was delighted with the story of 16-year-old Ammar, a student of our Delhi EMC class. His father and elder brother lost their jobs during Covid-19. He used the learnings from his EMC class to start making masks at home and thereby becoming the sole livelihood earner for his family.

Ammar crediting the EMC classes made me understand the pride a teacher feels when their students succeed.

Udhyam has since then started work with four other state governments, Haryana, Kerala, Assam, and Maharashtra, to enable similar reforms. These definitely are the largest experiments globally in entrepreneurial education in schools, and if they go well, could pave a path for what education in the new world might look like.

The largest story of change here has been Udhyam helping ironing entrepreneurs (clothes pressers) shift from coal to LPG. Seems insignificant but a change that happened in most of our kitchens 40-60 years back hasn't reached this community yet. Working with coal means two hours daily managing it. It is also more expensive and poses a health hazard. This shift from coal to LPG has meant Rs 5,800 or 27% higher average monthly income. Udhyam is now looking forward to creating a #CoalToLPGMovement across the country.

(Image: Udhyam website) 
(Image: Udhyam website) 

Nano entrepreneurs have been terribly impacted by Covid-19. Gradually, most of them are starting to bounce back but we need to think of ways to enable them to be more resilient.

Right now our team’s focus is to get nano entrepreneurs back to the pre-Covid times of income level.

While I feel super grateful for the journey we have had, the pandemic has been a harsh reminder that we have a long way to go. I now have even larger ambitions for Udhyam. For, more and more people to be independent and creating more value for themselves and the world.

I care deeply about Udhyam succeeding. So the part about the Dāna definition: of not expecting anything in return, I probably will get to in a couple of decades, if at all…

So now you tell me – Am I a philanthropist?

This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of first-person accounts of how different organisations across India are making interventions at scale, or in depth, and bringing about significant transformation.

Mekin Maheshwari is Founder and CEO, Udhyam Learning Foundation; and Co-Founder, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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