By Mitul Daiyan
Our very first stop in India was the city of Hubli to pay a visit to the Deshpande Foundation’s Hubli Sandbox. With a home base in the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Sandbox consists of five districts in Northwest Karnataka where entrepreneurs are given the space to test out innovations that address social challenges. We met with Naveen Jha, CEO of the Deshpande Foundation, who shared with us how the Sandbox welcomes any entrepreneur powered by passion and driven by their creative ideas. The foundation occasionally provides financial support but the true value comes from the network they have with the local communities in and around Hubli. To fully immerse us in Sandbox, the Deshpande Foundation put together an itinerary for a full day’s worth of site visits led by Golden Frankly, the Program Manager of Grants and Partnerships. We visited three incredible organizations thriving under the support of the foundation. Here are some insights into what we learned from these incredible two days.
Family Planning Association of India (FPA) Facility and Rural Site, Dharwad
FPA is India’s leading and largest reproductive and sexual health organization so a visit to the facility and site visit proved to be a valuable experience. Past the steps of the facility where children played was a waiting room filled to capacity with women, some there for treatment and others there for support. We were greeted by Sujata Anishettar, the Branch Manager of FPAI, who enthusiastically gave us a tour of the facility. The space was incredible. It included rooms where women could receive private check ups and counseling, large spaces devoted to educational training and conferences, an inpatient room where mothers could stay for recovery, and a sterile surgical room where abortions and sterilizations were performed. Sujjata gave us an in-depth overview of the cultural challenges that they had to overcome in order to encourage family planning and overcome the stigmas associated with an often taboo subject. One example she gave us was on the topic of vasectomies. While female contraceptive methods were deemed acceptable, they still had a difficult time with vasectomies because men were often shamed for getting a procedure that was believed to take away from their manliness. She explained that much of the process included working directly with communities and engaging in dialogue to work alongside members of the community who were hesitant or resistant to family planning. FPA strives to reach the poor, marginalized, and social excluded members of society and they’re constantly iterating their approach.
To supplement the facility visit, we drove over to a rural village site to see FPA at work within the community. In the heart of the village, the three-room clinic was interspersed with informative posters on reproductive and sexual health. Organized paper medical records sat in the corner with detailed information on the patients. Inside the doctor’s office, an elderly woman was being treated by a young female doctor and right next to them was a mini lab where a technician performed tests in house. Patients received the results of their blood work right away. It was a small clinic but had very effectively created a community that actively seeks healthcare – quite a feat for this area. We spoke to the doctor briefly. She was incredibly confident about the impact that Barakat Bundle could have on the mothers she worked with.
Save a Mother, Gadag
Save a Mother seeks to educate women about pregnancy, nutrition, immunization, delivery, and care of the child by training community volunteers to work with mothers on the ground. Save a Mother started their maternal mortality reduction program in the approximately 1000 villages of Uttar Pradesh in 2008 and are currently in the process of replicating their success in Gadag, Karnataka. We were taken directly to the site and had a surprise waiting for us. The community village volunteer (the Angarwadi) gathered the mothers together to talk to us so that we could learn from each other. We gave them an overview of Barakat Bundle, what we hoped to achieve, and how we sought to help mothers just like them. The community volunteers encouraged us to ask them any questions we had about their birth and childcare experience. The dynamic was such that the head of the village spoke on behalf of the women in the group. While she gave insightful answers, we were given a deeper understanding once she stepped out and the other women began to speak up. They explained that they wanted for their child what they didn’t have. One mother said that she hopes that her child will be successful and be a good and contributing member of society.
Some of the mothers invited us into their homes and that proved to be an eye opening experience. Little one room structures housed entire families and what little cattle they owned often stayed with them in the same room. They did not have access to electricity so the rooms were dark or dimly lit by kerosene lamps. Children slept beside their parents while babies were placed in sari swings fastened to poles in the room. It was an exclusive look at how the people we hoped to serve actually lived. This unique experience allowed us to bond with our hosts in a way that we didn’t deem possible.
The Deshpande Foundation Nutrition Program in Annigeri
Nutrition continues to be rampant issue across India. A social worker by the name of Rajabali Mudbul works with the Deshpande foundation to improve nutrition in the rural village of Annigeri. He has built trust with this specific community so while even police officers are barred entry into the village, he and his guests are warmly welcomed. Yet again, the Deshpande Foundation opened a door that we would otherwise have been unable to open ourselves. Like village in Gadag, they also invited us to sit with the mothers (and some fathers!) of the village to share what we were doing and how we hoped to learn from them. Children gathered around us as we conversed and one mother even pointed out her child who was labeled severely malnourished but with the help of Rajabali, he is now doing much better. They also invited us into their homes and unlike the previous village; these homes were slightly bigger in size though the conditions were not much better. There seems to be a common theme of hospitality in the midst of poverty. The faces of these people, their warmth and openness, alongside the reality that they live in encourages us to think more broadly about how we, as entrepreneurs, can do our part to lend a helping hand.
We were already impressed with the Hubli Sandbox before coming to India but these site visits enabled us to see just how the foundation nurtures innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. These field visits proved just how crucial it is to fully immerse yourself in the communities you aspire to serve. Barakat Bundle is grateful that foundations like the Deshpande Foundation make it their mission to create an environment where entrepreneurs hoping to create social impact feel not just supported but also empowered and continuously inspired.