These are few people who are making quiet, but important, contributions without seeking headlines, to help and make India and, in some cases, the World, a better place
1. Thomas Oommen
He has trained at least 600 Indian journalists in the art, craft and ethics of their profession and, at 70, is still at it. He pushes his students hard—his red pen is unforgiving. Some have hated him. Today they are editors, passing down the witticisms of one of India’s best kept secrets.
2. Vinod Kumar Bansal
At 24, the prognosis for this mechanical engineer was bleak: muscular dystrophy and imminent death. Confined to a wheelchair, he overcame the odds to help thousands of students get into the prestigious IITs. The success of Bansal Classes has spawned an entire industry in Kota, Rajasthan.
3. Mukund Choudhary
He has built a textile empire out of taking over sick units and turning them around—the same strategy L.N. Mittal used to build his steel empire. The managing director of New Delhi-based Spentex Industries wants to prove textiles in India can be a globally competitive enterprise.
4. Suresh Martin Chauhan
He runs a farm in Haryana like a corporation, where his labourers are shareholders. He uses principles of modern business—diversification, constant innovation and ploughing back profits into R&D—to reap prosperity. The tough choices he made have helped create a viable agricultural model.
5. Harsha Vardhana Singh
The World Trade Organization deputy director general is the highest ranking Indian in the agency’s Geneva headquarters. He is an accidental expert on the nuances of world trade. His commitment to agriculture and rural development happened much earlier, though.
6. Krishna Kumar
He heads NCERT, the government agency that decides what children between ages of five and 17 in India’s 8,000 schools—public and private—study. And he thinks they are studying too much. So he is busy trimming their burden through an ambitious curricula reform plan.
7. Wasiullah Khan
Chief ball inspector at the Meerut-based Sanspareil Greenlands, he oversees the production of every single cricket ball that is used in Test and first-class matches in India. A former cricketer at the first-class level, he understands the needs of players and tailors the cherry accordingly.
8. Asit K. Biswas
There is enough water for all in the world, he says. Where we are going wrong is in its management and distribution. It’s a lifetime of contribution to correcting those wrongs in countries around the world that won this India-born Canadian citizen the Stockholm Water Prize in 2006.
9. S.R. Srinivasa Vardhan
The professor at New York’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences has found the applications of a seminal paper he published at 26 in areas as far removed as quantum-field theory and traffic signals. His “fundamental contribution to probability theory” won him the Abel Prize in 2007.
10. Govind Kakadia
When he was 10, his mother sold her only piece of jewellery so that he could go to the city and get trained in diamond polishing. Today he heads the world’s biggest diamond polishing firm; his brands are worn by beauty queens. He employs 20,000 people.
11. Devendra Verma
In March, the Isro veteran’s California, US-based firm announced a $4.5 billion chip factory in India. That will plug a missing link in the supply chain of a product that is at the heart of consumer electronics—an industry expected to be worth $100 billion by 2015.
12. Pradeep Puri
The CEO of the firm that built the Delhi-Noida-Delhi flyway insisted on repealing a little-known clause that protected states from getting sued if they reneged on contracts. For public-private partnerships in the country, it has been a smooth ride ever since.
13. Jayashree Santosh
A professor of biomedical engineering at IIT Delhi, she invented the blow switch, a device that enables the paralysed to control ambient conditions or summon help by blowing on a sensor. India has 9.6 million fully or partly paralysed people.
14. V.S.S. Mani
The company he started in 1996 in Mumbai with surplus from running a matrimonial magazine has grown into a Rs521 crore venture service provider used every day by 100,000 people who don’t know what number to dial for a product or service. The directory service Just Dial is now entering the US market.
15. Kanwar Ajay Singh
Kanwar Ajay Singh is a security specialist with International SOS, a firm that provides security coverage to companies which run operations in high-risk areas. The former Indian Army captain coordinates a team of former military officers across South Asia that can rescue you from all kinds of tight spots —tsunami, Naxal threats or kidnappers.
16. Shantikam Hazarika
When he had to choose between his homeland and a high-profile corporate career, he chose the former. He set up the Assam Institute of Management—it offered the region’s youth a rare ray of hope. For companies looking for a trained workforce in Assam, he is the navigator.
17. Anuja Gupta
She works on an issue even potential donors feel awkward about—incest. She founded New Delhi-based Rahi, which helps victims of abuse at home say no and deal with the deep scars within. She showed incest is more common than we think.
18. Ashok Sahni
The palaeontologist put India on the world fossil map by discovering India’s earliest known dinosaur as well as its earliest known bird fossil. The achievement, however, came after 40 years of quiet digging, excavating and washing the dirt and grime off rocks buried over millions of years.
19. C.V. Madhukar
He wants to get more policy and performance into India’s personality-driven election debates. The former investment banker founded PRS Legislative Research, which provides uncluttered policy briefs to parliamentarians for free. Its unbiased policy analysis, communicated precisely, is also sent to NGOs, leading companies and journalists.
20. Harshwardhan Gupta
From his Pune flat, he invents machines. In a world obsessed with electronics and computing, he stays devoted to machine design and wins patents by increasing the industrial efficiency and profitability of companies around the world. He can teach you the design of design.
21. Srikanth Nadhamuni
Part of the key design team that built Intel’s Pentium processor, this techie-turned-social worker leads a silent revolution out of Karnataka’s Ramanagaram, better known as Ramgarh in the film Sholay. His eGovernments Foundation builds free software that helps manage municipalities more efficiently.
22. Dr Sameer Kaul
The surgical oncologist at Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital wants everyone to have a best shot at fighting cancer. Not just those who can pay for the expensive treatment. His Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Foundation does everything possible to help and, crucially, in time.
23. Uma Prajapati
It’s the personal battles she had had to win that inspired her to help the struggling silk weavers of Varanasi. The fashion designer does business with a deep social conscience. Looms are weaving again in Varanasi. If all goes well, some weavers will go to the Paris fashion show.
24. Sebastian Joseph
In the 1990s, he developed a variety of cardamom, Njallani, which yielded nearly 800% more than conventional varieties. Today, Njallani accounts for 70% of India’s cardamom production. He remains a marginal farmer in Idukki, Kerala. He knew nothing about patents, he says.
25. Champika Sayal
Secretary general of the Women’s Golf Association of India, all she can talk about is Golf. An administrator of the game with impressive organizational feats, she has doggedly brought sponsors and promising players onto the putting green.
26. Avinash Dixit
One of a trio of Indians who stand on the highest peak of academic economics, this Princeton University professor is widely recognized as one of the great theoreticians of game theory— the science of strategy. Watch out for him the next time they announce the Nobel.
27. Vidya Thapa
She has been a community health worker for New Delhi-based Action India for more than two decades. She meets with groups of women—mostly illiterate—almost every other day, spreading awareness about reproductive health, family planning, domestic violence, and the idea that they are not lesser beings.
28. Ashish Bose
In college, he questioned Thomas Malthus’ population theory. This demographer coined the term Bimaru, in a paper submitted to Rajiv Gandhi in the early 1980s. Not only did it draw the government’s attention to the northern states, it became a demographic classification that remains relevant today.
29. Amitabh Pandey
If you buy railway tickets online in India, you have him to thank. If you buy them from a counter, still thank him—he cut the queues. The success of online ticketing he undertook as an Indian Railways official makes him a sought-after e-commerce specialist.
30. Sunil Gulati
The Columbia University economics professor heads the US Soccer Federation. While his thoroughness in searching for a national team coach attracts media scrutiny, his passion for teaching draws students to the economics class. He loves them, too. On Valentine’s Day, quizzes are handed out on pink paper.
31. Anil Soni
While still in college, studying to become an astronaut, he learnt from a Ghana villager that health is the foremost priority of the poor. Today, as vice-president of the Clinton Foundation, one of the most far-reaching philanthropic organizations, he has a chance to level the global playing field.
32. Minal Joshi
Her philosophy: Pregnancy is something to be flaunted, not hidden under voluminous salwar kameezes. So the electronics and telecommunications engineer based in Pune set up Uzazi, the only indigenous maternitywear brand available in India. Many expectant mothers are thankful for it.
33. Vivek Bhatia
This electronics engineer lost a friend and his family in an accident. He invented No-Nap, a device that wakes up drivers who are falling asleep at the wheel. Today it helps prevent accidents in the US, India, Europe, Israel and Sri Lanka.
34. Anirvan Banerji
The Kolkata-based economist heads one of the leading economic research institutions in the US. He correctly called the US recession of 2001 at a time almost everyone, including then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, predicted fair weather ahead. He advises governments and corporations on beating the business cycle.
35. Shobha Tummala
By using Western business practices to sell beauty treatments from the East, this Harvard MBA set up a successful chain of salons in the US that is consistently rated top of the class by magazines and thousands of satisfied customers.
36. Sharad Devarajan and Gotham Cho
The founders of Virgin Comics want to make Indian content a hot commodity in the global comics market. They are passionate about comics themselves, and have so far got everything going for them—that includes backing from billionaire Richard Branson.
37. Subroto Das
In 1999, following a late-night accident, he lay bleeding on a highway, waving down vehicles for 7 hours before a milkman on a bullock cart stopped. Today, across 1,476km of highways, a trained team reaches an accident spot in 40 minutes, thanks to his Lifeline Foundation.
38. Shankar Ghose
He carries forward the mission that his son started—to make voices from India’s rural heartland heard in the mainstream media. Charkha trains activists, development workers and just about anyone in rural areas to write, and distributes their stories among publications in English, Hindi and Urdu.
39. Joe Madiath
He put hygiene on the agenda in 361 backward villages across Orissa. As many as 63.6% of India’s 192 million households do not have toilets. His Gram Vikas has built the most toilets in India for a non-profit. His principle: Low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality.
40. Anushka Ravishankar
No, not the sitarist. This software programmer-turned-writer writes nonsense verse. She has written 17 books so far. Children love them. Publishing houses love her. She hopes children in this country learn to read for fun.
41. Odhavji Raghavji Patel
He wanted to become a pilot, became a teacher and set up a company that is today the world’s biggest wall clock manufacturer. A water-harvesting pioneer in the Saurashtra region, he and his business are rooted in social development. About 5,000 of his 7,000 employees are women.
42. Abhay Bang
The Gandhian doctor and his wife transformed the backward Gadchiroli in Maharashtra from a public health disaster into a public health model that the rest of the country and parts of the world are now keen to adopt. Thanks to them, newborns there live longer.
43. Ahmad Rashid Shervani
He has a single-minded passion—to increase the presence of Muslim students in mainstream education. He gives out small scholarships to students who stay ahead of the learning curve in a hundred schools in UP, and uses sophisticated algorithm to determine the winners. He knows money is hardly the point.
44. Balakrishna Renake
He fights for people who don’t exist in records, who belong to the denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of India— he estimates their number to be 120 million. He knows the stigma attached to such tribes: He belongs to one of them.
45. H.R. Nagendra
The vice-chancellor of Svyasa University in Bangalore is an engineer by training. He puts his background to good use as Svyasa collaborates with the world’s leading research institutions to conduct clinical trials and scientifically establish the health benefits of yoga.
46. Devendra Shivlal Desai
He set up the Children Toy Foundation. About 78,000 underprivileged children across the country have access to toys, thanks to his toy libraries. In municipal schools with such libraries, attendance improves, as does student performance. His 260 libraries spread cheer even across jails and hospitals.
47. Natwar Gandhi
By consistently refusing to spend outside the budget, Washington, DC’s chief financial officer, better known as Dr No, brought the city to a surplus of $1.6 billion, from a deficit of $300 million in 2000. He’s also a published Gujarati poet.
48. Naresh Fernandes
Mumbai is his passion. Its problems and delights are his own for the man who edits the definitive guide to the city’s arts and culture scene—TimeOut. He’s perpetually on the lookout for “the little things that make the city unique”.
49. Madhav Chavan
He founded the educational non-profit Pratham. The model, which picks and compensates literate volunteers from within the community to spread literacy among those without access to schooling, today serves 262,000 villages. Among the 200,000 who volunteer for him are investment bankers and homemakers.
50. G.S. Gul Mohammed
A cooperative venture he launched in 1996 today accounts for three-fourths of the country’s production of mussels. The serial entrepreneur’s zeal has changed the economy of a village in Kerala, and the fortunes of 3,500 villagers. And he isn’t done yet. New ventures are still breeding.
51. Dina Nath Tiwari
He is the brand ambassador for jatropha seeds in Chhattisgarh and the force behind the country’s clean-energy push. The Union government turned down his proposal for a Rs1,500 crore demonstration project in 2002. He set up the Uthan Centre, which continues to demonstrate the potential of the seed.
52. Abhijit Barooah
He used the disadvantages of the North-East to his advantage. The IIT-trained chemical engineer runs two successful enterprises in Assam supplying liquid nitrogen to big public sector oil companies. Employing mostly locals from the politically volatile region, he is readying for the new economy’s opportunities.
53. Vidyadhar Damodar Kamat
He runs Kamat Foto Flash, India’s largest archive of images on the Hindi film industry. Neatly stacked in his Mumbai flat are some of India’s most loved and recalled stills. Preserving the rich visual culture of Hindi cinema is a labour of love for him.
54. D. Ashis
He saw people throwing away unused medicines. He also saw people dying, unable to afford medicines. So he bridged the gap. Today, the Medicine Bank model has extended to spectacles and expensive pacemakers —300 of them have been installed in hearts that badly needed the devices.
55. Kiran Seth
The mathematics professor at IIT-Delhi founded Spic Macay. Its 200 chapters today organize 1,000 events every year, promoting Indian classical music and culture. For student volunteers who run the show, it’s a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.
The former economics professor considers water key to the genesis of wealth, and in turn, of equality. He retired early to set up Akash Ganga International. The firm makes affordable machines that can make water from thin air—using a heat exchange process.
57. Nurul Islam
His Al Ameen Mission runs a network of residential schools in five districts across West Bengal. His schools don’t turn away those who can’t afford the fees. Supported by donations, students of all religions attend their day schools and tutorial classes.
The World Bank’s lead economist for South Asia negotiates across many borders sitting in a videoconferencing room in her Washington, DC office. Recently, she steered a $600 million loan to India for a project that will ultimately help the poor gain access to credit.
59. Surendra Malik
He publishes the thick tan-coloured volumes of books you see lining lawyers’ offices around the country. His decision to run the family business, Eastern Book Co., instead of practising law, has given India’s lawyers ready access to decades of case laws, dating back to British times.
60. Virendra (Sam) Singh
In Bulandshahr, western Uttar Pradesh, when asked how many children they have, mothers still count only the boys. With his quaintly named Pardada Pardadi Educational Society, Virendra (Sam) Singh has built a model of incentives that keeps children in school. When the girls graduate from his school, they know how to stand up and be counted.
Virendra (Sam) Singh
Compiled by Sruthijith K.K.
The entire series is available online at www.livemint.com under Profiles.
Mint’s 60 in 60 series evoked a huge response from you. Most of you wrote saying you discovered new heroes and many of you offered to reach out and help these individuals, who were all putting their sweat and money into projects aimed at helping others.
Several of you also took up our invitation to suggest people to profile and many of them became part of the series.
Here are some additional names that were suggested during the year. We thank you for your support and response and promise that Mint will continue to write about such unique individuals even though this series has concluded.
Please continue to send us your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Sambhaji Rane- Volunteer math and science teacher at Mumbai Port Trust Hospital Colony in Wadala, Mumbai, since 1970
• Vibha Krishnamurthy- Helping children with development disabilities through Ummeed, the NGO she started in 2001.
• Yogeshwar Kumar-Civil engineer who designs turbines, generators for villages in hilly areas
• Suresh Lulla-Qimpro Consultants Pvt. Ltd
• Khurshed Batliwala- Art of Living instructor
• Rashmi Parthasarathy-Dean, PSBB Schools, Chennai
• Dr Badrinath-Shankar Netralaya, Chennai
• Vikas Malkani- Founder, SoulCentre
• Anil K. Gupta-Executive vice-chairperson, National Innovation Foundation
• Dinesh Kumar Mishra- Barh Mukti Andolan
• Shiv Dayal- Langham Capital
• Swami Surya Jowel- Suryayog Foundation
• Sanjay Prakash-Architect of green buildings
• N. Gopalakrishnan- Scientist, CSIR, Thiruvanthapuram
• Hridaykant Dewan/C. Subramaniam-Founder members, Eklavya, an education foundation in Madhya Pradesh
• Rohit Dhankar- Founder, Digantar, an education non-profit in Jaipur
• Vinay Somani-Founder, Karmayog, an online networking platform for NGOs
• A.R. Nakadar-Founder, American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin, an organization dedicated to achieve 100% literacy among Indian Muslims
• A school teacher- who might have put more than 25-30 years of contribution in education
• An honest and truly serving government official/police officer, even a constable.
• Narayan Desai- Tribal Mensa Nurturing Program
• Navneet Pashu Ahaar- A cattle fodder provider
• Shobhana Ramachandhran- TVS Lakshmi Matric Higher Secondary School
• Dipesh K. Shroff-Managing director, Excel Crop Care Ltd
• B.R. Pai- Holistic wellness in Karnataka
• K.K. Nair- Executive director, Ahmedabad Management Association
• Manjit Agnihotri- Expert on disaster management
• Kiran Modi- Managing trustee, Udayan Care
• Narendra Vashi- Managing director, Valsad District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union
• Chinkholal Thangsing- Asia-Pacific bureau chief, AIDS Healthcare Foundation-India Cares
• Madan Mohan Jha- Former principal secretary, HRD, Bihar government