Kolkata: Areeb Khan graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C), in April. However, unlike most of his batchmates, these days he is not crunching numbers for some multinational corporation. Instead, he’s busy fine-tuning www.purdafash.com, of which he is the chief executive.
“Our mission is to help the common man fight back,” says Khan. His website aims to be a platform where common people can write in, send pictures and upload videos. “There are lots of citizen journalists out there who have a story to tell,” says the 26-year-old, who graduated from Jamia Millia Islamia. “Purdafash will give them a platform to do this.”
Khan and his partners in Purdafash, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-K), graduate Siddharth Banerjee and Delhi University journalism student Nazia Erum, strongly believe that the solutions to day-to-day problems lie in banding together.
“Purdafash.com will make the best of the concepts of citizen journalism as well as social networking,” says Khan, who feels merely carrying various stories of problems isn’t enough. “We need to provide solutions,” he says.
To achieve this, Purdafash will have a network of retired civil servants, lawyers, journalists and social activists on its panel. “All posts will be honorary and driven by social service,” says Khan. “We are also keen to have serving bureaucrats, but that depends on service rules.”
This panel will help solve problems faced by people by giving advice or by using informal channels such as rapport with those still in service.
However, Khan says, Purdafash isn’t a not-for-profit venture. “We have taken money from an angel investor and he expects a certain return on his investment,” he says, adding, “We also have to pay for equipment and the salaries of subordinate staff.”
Khan says Purdafash would not rely on senseless advertising or corporate charity for its existence. “Despite having a profit orientation, at no time will commercial interests overshadow Purdafash’s primary mission—to help the person on the street fight back.”
Khan is the latest in a long list of graduates from the IITs and IIMs who have turned their back on attractive professions in a bid to give something back to society.
One such person is Vinayak Lohani. Immediately after passing out of IIM-C in 2003, Lohani, an IIT-K alumnus, set up Parivaar. What started out as a home for three children in a rented house, has turned out to be a full-fledged residential institution for 275 destitute children.
“Initially, Vinayak used to give tuitions to students appearing for management examinations,” says Sougata Roy, a professor at the strategic management group of IIM-C and president of Parivaar Education Society. Lohani himself is rather reclusive and doesn’t interact with the media.
Parivaar Ashram is spread over a 150,000 sq. ft campus at Bakrahaat, 30km from the city. “We take in homeless and destitute children, orphans, children of women in prostitution, street children and abandoned children,” says Roy.
Once in Parivaar, the children receive formal education at Parivaar’s own school, Amar Bharat Vidyapeeth, as well as overall development. “Vinayak was inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Swami Vivekananda,” says Roy, adding, “We are able to keep up our activities through contributions from individuals as well as organizations.”
According to Anindya Sen, the dean of IIM-C, people such as Khan and Lohani draw their inspiration from R.D. Thulasiraj, executive director of the Aravind Hospital in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district. “I was working with Berger Paints in Calcutta for about eight years when, in 1981, I decided to join Aravind Eye Hospitals,” says Thulasiraj, who graduated from IIM-C in 1973. “The initial years were tough and involved a lot of sacrifices.”
From a modest beginning in Madurai in 1976, Aravind Hospitals today has opened facilities at Theni, Tirunelveli, Coimbatore and Puducherry.
“More than two-thirds of the approximately 3,950 beds are free of cost,” says Thulasiraj, who oversaw the implementation of the Wi-Fi overland distance network (Wildnets) at the hospital in 2004. “With this, we’ve been able to reach patients at remote locations through our vision centres.”
Wildnets is being extensively used for doctor-patient videoconferencing through these 12 vision centres.
Aravind Hospitals, a World Health Organisation collaborating centre for prevention of blindness, is able to diagnose and monitor about 2,000 patients every month using the vision centres. “Each of these centres is responsible for up to 30 villages,” says Thulasiraj.
Once the problem is diagnosed, the villagers can either be treated at the clinic or, if necessary, be referred to the main hospitals. “This saving on needless transport and accommodation for poor villagers is actually a saving to the community,” says Thulasiraj.
According to him, he has been able to apply the skills he learnt at the premier B-school to help people from losing the gift of vision. “Money is a motivator till a point, but this is far more rewarding,” he says, adding, “I have no regrets having turned my back on the mainstream corporate world.”