By Kavitha Srinivasa
Corporate to CSR
Santanu Mishra, an alumni of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), has worked in the corporate world. While professional opportunities have knocked his door, Mishra felt the need to give back to society. The idea was supported by like-minded professionals. It has been brewing in his mind for quite some time. He took the plunge when an earthquake devastated Bhuj in Gujarat in 2001. “The earthquake victims were being provided food and shelter. But many of them required medical care due to orthopedic injuries,” Mishra recalled. He then approached the director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to mobilize post graduate (PG) students of orthopedics and flew them to Gujarat. It was an impulse reaction, more an experiment, but it clicked. The system worked through a roster and when things came to an end, Mishra knew it’s a calling of a different order.
In 2002, Mishra and a team of corporate professionals started Smile Foundation to work with grassroots initiatives for effecting positive changes in the lives of underprivileged children, their families and communities.
Having climbed the corporate ladder, Mishra still made it a point to stay connected to his small-town roots. The conversation peppered with references to instances of poverty and apathy that Mishra saw during his growing years in Odisha. This idea is the bedrock of his work spanning national initiatives like Swabhiman (women empowerment), Smile on Wheels (mobile hospitals), Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (youth employability) and Mission Education (child education).
The corporate stint has helped Mishra optimize resources and gauge concepts like social return on investment (SRoI). This is also why Smile Foundation follows a multi-stakeholder approach. This includes partnerships with community based organisations, international development organisations, local government and civic bodies, corporate, institutions, schools, media, communities and individuals to exchange knowledge, combine resources and promote shared growth.
On the public front, there’s encouraging evidence that listening to troubled villagers is required for their healing. To simplify, urban slum dwellers don’t want to go to hospitals for several reasons. It may be away from their homes or they’re scared of doctors as many of them may not have been to a clinic. “There’s also an unwillingness to lose a day’s wage in order to reach the nearest medical facility. Healthcare for underprivileged remains unaddressed,” reasoned Mishra.
The Foundation runs mobile hospitals or Smile on Wheels (SoW). They traverse across regions to make healthcare affordable and accessible to the underprivileged. Slowly people shed their inhibitions and repeated visits to SoW made them Health Seekers.
Take the case of 82 year old Savitha who lives with her husband in a tin shanty in a slum in Chennai. Their health was dwindling, yet children refused to take care of them. They suffered in silence.
SoW has managed to keep Savitha and others healthy through regular checkups and distribution of free medicines.
Coming to Education, the girl child is an investment for the future. Sometimes girls hesitate to go to school. Mishra realized that such complex problems can be solved by a better understanding of the situation. Parents had to be made aware of the need for education. “Occasionally classroom sessions weren’t so engaging. Teachers have been provided the necessary training and classrooms have been converted to smart classrooms to improve learning outcomes of the children,” reasoned Mishra. “We have also incorporated solar powered electricity in select schools, where there is a problem of power outages to sure that there are no hiccups to accessing smart classes,” he added.
Women’s empowerment is essential because women, especially mothers are self effacing and sacrificing by nature. “Gender equality is essential for society’s progress. Men should be sensitized to realize the importance of women’s dignity and well being,” reasoned Mishra.
Technology interventions are three tiered. Internal processes and a beneficiary management system are online. Centralized online reporting software across departments, ERP or enterprise resource planning, database management and social media are other attributes.
At the second level technology brings healthcare to people through mobile hospitals or Smile on Wheels. Tele-medicine, video conferencing and GPS (Global Positioning System) linkages help SoW to offer medical assistance to less privileged people in remote locations. Partnerships have facilitated the process. “The health programmes and campaigns being carried out by Smile Foundation has helped strengthen health delivery system in Barmer, apart from informing the community about important health and hygiene issues,” said Dr Jitendra Singh, Chief Medical and Health officer, Barmer, Rajasthan. Smile Foundation has supported Padhaaro Mhare Laado, a joint initiative of the state health department and NGOs for new-born girls. “I am very happy to talk about the Smile on Wheels programme, it plays a very important role in our constituency. Previously in slum areas, there was no proper medical treatment. People had to go far to get treatment, medicines. But after SoW started coming, for the past three years, they have done a wonderful job. With their monthly roaster schedule, they have gone to each and every slum area and have given treatment and medicines, along with lab tests. There are no words to appreciate SoW where the whole team has been doing a wonderful job right from the project coordinator, to the doctor and the lab technician. It is amazing and we feel proud to be associated with the project,” expressed Uma Kiran, Social Worker, Women President-INTUC KR Puram, Bengaluru.
Education, the third component, includes smart classes and tablets. Smile Foundation’s educational initiatives include Pre-school [3-6 yrs], Non Formal Education [6-14 yrs non-school going], Remedial Education [6-14 yrs school going] and Bridge Course [14-18 yrs drop-outs].
Mission Education (ME) provides basic education and healthcare to underprivileged children. It focuses on early education development, non-formal education, remedial education and bridging courses, and concentrates on education of girls, especially in India's rural areas. Since its inception in 2002, ME has directly benefitted over 200,000 underprivileged children. “I could not sit for my VI standard exam and thought I will never be able to go to school again,” said Roshan, now studying in Class VII at a Mission Education Center in Odisha. His father who used to work as a daily wage earner passed away when Roshan was in VI standard. Before joining in the Mission Education Center he along with his mother underwent difficulties when his father expired. His mother didn’t have money to pay the school fees. With little choice, Roshan had to drop out of school.
A project coordinator of the Mission Education Center identified Roshan and enrolled him into the center. This was the turning point. Roshan began to take interest in his studies and made new friends. Such inspiring stories have made the Smile journey meaningful.
When it comes to employment, various issues need to be tackled. The youth comprises over one-third of the Indian population which in turn constitutes a major part of the country’s labour force. Nevertheless, many of them lack employable skill-sets. This insight led to Smile Twin E-learning Programme (STeP) that aims at creating a community of skill-ready underprivileged youth. This programme trains the urban underprivileged youth in English Proficiency, Basic Computer Education and Soft Skills for enhancing their employment prospects in retail, hospitality and BPO sectors.
Mishra’s philanthropic work began with the Gujarat earthquake. It’s only appropriate that the NGO has a Disaster Response programme, meeting the needs of the disaster affected people, right from the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 to the Kerala floods in 2018.
Smile Stones -
Smile Foundation has reached out to over 1,000 villages and slums across 25 states, implemented 350 welfare projects.
In 2018, 27,710 children were directly provided education through 261 centers in 22 states.
SoW has provided free healthcare services to over 10 lakh children and families.
STeP has trained 42,000 youth and 25,000 have been placed in over 200 brands through 95 national operational projects.
Smile Foundation has been conferred the GuideStar India – NGO Transparency Award in the Platinum Category in 2018.