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Heal the world with animals

Aakash Lonkar pursued a course in social entrepreneurship at Mumbai’s NMIMS only to train ‘therapy animals’ who help people in need, says Gauri Kohli .

education Updated: May 28, 2013 19:00 IST
Gauri Kohli
Gauri Kohli
Hindustan Times

When Mumbai-based engineer Aakash Lonkar decided to pursue an MBA degree, he knew that ultimately, the social sector was going to be his calling. He left his job at Honeywell India to get professional training in NGO management.

“There are very few institutes offering MBA degrees in social entrepreneurship. Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai being one of the well-known institutes offering the course, I joined there. NMIMS not only focuses on the social work aspect but also a lot on managerial skills required in the social sector,” says Lonkar, who helped in the growth of the NGO Animal Angels Foundation (AAF).

What is it about?
AAF is a registered NGO, founded in 2003, working in the field of animal-assisted therapy. It comprises a team of like-minded professionals from various medical professions and volunteers from other fields who believe in the benefits of human animal interaction. “We train family pets to be ‘therapy animals’ who work with us as our co-therapists or volunteers. We now have a team of 10 trained animal-assisted therapists, 50 trained therapy dogs and 40 volunteers across three cities (Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore). We plan to expand our projects to Delhi, Gurgaon, and Ahmedabad shortly,” says Lonkar.

Being a dog lover, Lonkar started with training dogs for therapy. Then he started training volunteer teams and therapy dog teams. “And with the MBA degree in social entrepreneurship, I have moved on to much bigger roles like managing our NGO, resource mobilisation, fund-raising, scaling up of the projects etc,” he adds.

It is one of the first registered NGOs in India to promote awareness of the miraculous healing effects of animals on humans.

Impact it creates
The goal of the therapy is to enhance the quality of human life through interaction with animals. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) helps special children in improving their self-confidence, social skills, physical skills, emotional responses etc. “Most importantly, it gives them the unconditional love which helps them to heal faster. It may not take the disability away, but it will help in improving the quality of life of these children,” says Lonkar.

A therapist who uses it facilitates change in a subject through his/her interactions with an animal. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, recreational therapists, teachers, social workers, and others can incorporate AAT into their treatments.

“We have successfully introduced and implemented this therapy for autistic children, hyperactive children, differently-abled persons, children with hearing and speech impairment, children with developmental disability, cancer patients, children with learning disabilities, and people with post-traumatic stress disorders. We are also implementing this therapy in hospitals - an area which is unexplored in India,” he says.

Till now, animal-assisted therapy has benefited more than 10,000 people, including cancer patients, HIV positive children, cerebral palsy patients and thalassemia patients, among others through their projects and events. Lonkar, along with one of his team members Minal Kavishwar, have been invited to attend the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisation conference in Chicago this July, where Kavishwar will be presenting a paper.

Life in a b-school
The course offered in NMIMS is a part-time MBA in social entrepreneurship. “We had lectures every weekend. So we could manage our work schedule and attend the college,” he adds.

‘His cause is unique’

Lonkar moved from a secured but mundane technical corporate job to develop his career as a social entrepreneur. He pursued his socially-inclined entrepreneurial initiative by managing the operations of Animal Angels Foundation in Mumbai. He is currently pursuing MBA in social entrepreneurship from NMIMS with the objective of gaining knowledge and skills to scale up the operations of the NGO. He was always passionate about joining the social sector and the cause that he has taken up is unique.

The weekend mode of the MBA programme enables him to balance his academic and work responsibilities. Being a practitioner, he makes every attempt to integrate management inputs with practical applications. He has now gained clarity in managing his own enterprise, understanding financial management and developing social marketing strategies. The course was introduced in 2006 for those who intend to work on the management side in the social sector.

— Meena Galliara, director, Jasani Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Management, NMIMS

Five facts at your fingertips

1. About NMIMS It was founded in 1981, as a management institute of Mumbai University. In 1991-92, it earned recognition from the All India Council for Technical Education. In 2012, National Board of Accreditation accredited all full-time programmes of NMIMS

2. Influencer Lonkar and his team train pets to be ‘therapy animals’ who work with them as their co-therapists to help people in need. These include autistic children, hyperactive children, children with hearing and speech impairment, children with developmental disability, children with learning disabilities and cancer patients

3. Programmes The following full-time programmes are on offer - MBA; MBA (pharmaceuticals management); MBA (capital markets); MBA (banking); MBA (HR); and MBA (entrepreneurship and family business). It also offers doctorial, executive, part-time, specialised and diploma courses

4. Mumbai It is India’s financial and entertainment capital

Some of India’s biggest business houses are headquartered here

The city is home to many professional institutes of higher education

5. Admissions Admissions to various programmes is done through NMAT. GMAT scores are acceptable from foreign students/PIOs studying abroad, graduating in March 2013. Visit for details. Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies was declared as deemed-to-be university in 2003

First Published: May 28, 2013 13:27 IST