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Helping doesn’t have to hurt

business Updated: Feb 25, 2012 21:39 IST

Who needs English to play?

Manuj Dhariwal graduated from IIT Guwahati in 2008 and worked as a software designer in Italy for six months before quitting. “I didn’t want a job with 10 days of leave a year and little creative satisfaction,” he says.

He then submitted an idea for a board game to a business ideas competition organised by IIM Calcutta. Of the 400 entries, most were cutting-edge technology ideas. Dhariwal won. His idea was for making an Indian language crossword-based board game called Aksharit. At around the same time, Manuj’s brother Rajat and sister-in-law Madhumita Halder decided to help him market the game. Both had quit their corporate sector jobs to become school teachers. The trio took turns to train teachers in Chhattisgarh on how to play the game, which is available in 11 languages and needs two to eight players.

With help from Saurabh Mehta, a venture capitalist, they have supplied their patented board game to 3,000 government-funded schools, potentially helping 2.5 lakh children across the country.

Fair trade, a click away

Two years ago, Kashif Ahmad Khan, a worker for Mercy Corps, a global aid agency that works in conflict areas, used to visit the homes of artisans in the Kashmir valley. On one visit, he learnt that a wood carver got Rs 15,000 from a shop for a bed, which the shop then resold for Rs 50,000. On another, he learnt that a carpet weaver earned Rs 70 a day while her work, which took a month to finish, fetched the trader who sold it around Rs 1 lakh.

“These stories of exploitation moved me,” says Khan, 25, an engineering graduate. He eventually quit his job with the agency in July last year and set up, a for-profit e-portal selling apparel, home décor items and spices bought directly from the locals, thus eliminating middlemen.

He teamed up with Muheet Mehraj Bhat, a 20-year-old computer application graduate, to help him set up the portal, which will start functioning in March. They plan to deposit 10% of their revenue in a fund for artisans’ health care, education and other needs.

Call centre in a small town

While working in BPOs in Delhi, marketing graduate Kushagra Bhatia, 31, noticed that at least half of the employees came from small towns. So after a decade of working in several call centres, a year ago, Bhatia and three others set up one in their hometown, Bijnor. The for-profit BPO hopes to play a part in stemming the migration of youngsters to urban areas in search of jobs.

It has 25 employees and three clients, to whom it provides services such as data-entry, database management and customer care.

“We are changing lives. Some employees were able to buy bicycles after working with us,” says Bhatia, who hopes to boost hiring.

Soothing minds

After seven years of working in the NGO sector, Raheen Jummani, 28, weary of having to negotiate red tape and organisational politics, set up her own collective, Open Your Arms, in 2010. Her eight-member team conducts psychological tests, offers counselling and organises therapy sessions using dance, drama, art, music, film and play.

The collective works for three government-aided schools, a CBSE school, nine night schools and five NGOs in Mumbai. “I didn’t want to run a commercial counselling clinic or join a corporate set-up,” says Jummani, who has counselled prostitutes, HIV and dementia patients and children in municipal schools and slums. Open Your Arms works on a cross-subsidy model in which 20% of what those who pay the full charge for various services goes to a fund for counselling those who can’t afford to pay.

Nishita Desai, 23, who has a Masters in hospital administration, quit her job at the Asian Heart Hospital to join this collective. “The job pays me well and also fulfils my desire to do social work.”