Smile Foundation was established in 2002 when a group of young corporate professionals came together to give back to the society in their own way. Driven by a passion and commitment to work with grassroots initiatives for effecting positive changes in the lives of less privileged children, they were convinced that education was the cornerstone of all progress. However, it did not take them long to realise that child education could not be done in isolation, and Smile Foundation adopted a holistic lifecycle approach, working for the welfare of children, their families and the community.
In 2002, Smile Foundation initiated its flagship programme. Mission Education, to provide quality education and healthcare to less privileged children, focusing on remote tribal belts, underserved slums, and first generation learners. Beginning from a handful of projects benefitting a few hundred children, the programme at present has more than hundred projects spread across 23 states of India. Over 200,000 children have been educated and empowered under Mission Education so far.
Addressing the need of a comprehensive capacity building programme for grassroots development initiatives and community based organisations (CBOs), Empowering Grassroots, was initiated in 2003. The programme is aimed at handholding, training and enabling CBOs to maximise their impact on the ground, through intensive trainings and face to face learning sessions throughout the year. Empowering Grassroots is not only an effort to strengthen the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid in India, but also an attempt to bring transparency and accountability in the workings of the development sector at the grassroots level. So far, Smile Foundation has built the capacities of more than 5000 grassroots organisations under the initiative.
Affecting an estimated 2.79 million people, the Tsunami of 2004 was the single most devastating natural disaster that shook the whole world at the beginning of the 21st century. Smile Foundation too joined forces with the numerous government bodies, organisations and individuals to aid the relief and rehabilitation efforts for the survivors in Southern India. This led to the initiation of Smile Foundation’s Disaster Response programme, aimed at taking proactive action in face of the growing frequency and severity of natural disasters. Focused on children and families, the programme has ever since acted promptly to reach out and respond to the immediate needs of the disaster affected people, while also maintaining a sustainable approach to help them rebuild their lives by facilitating their education, healthcare and livelihood.
Swabhiman started as a safety, self-defence and awareness programme for women and adolescent girls in 2005, eventually evolving into a community intervention programme as more and more women, youth and even male members of the community joined the movement to ensure equal participation, access and opportunities for women, particularly in the areas of health and education. Swabhiman has so far benefitted and empowered more than 1.5 lakh women and girls, led by a strong cadre of change agents from within the communities.
National mobile hospital programme Smile on Wheels was launched in New Delhi on June 19, 2006. Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, the then Chief Minister of Govt. of NCT of Delhi, flagged off the first five pilot projects in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Designed to address the issues of mobility, accessibility, availability, affordability and awareness, today, the programme has so far taken primary healthcare services to the doorsteps of, and directly benefitted, more than 10 lakh children and families in the remotest of rural areas and urban slums.
The Child for Child (CFC) programme was initiated in 2006, with the aim to sensitise privileged children towards the life and aspirations of their less privileged counterparts, and inculcate in them feelings of empathy and conscience, helping them grow up to be responsible individuals and significant change makers. CFC currently reaches out to nearly 1.2 million children in more than 5000 schools, spread across 417 districts of India. In addition, their parents and teachers are also involved in the process. The programme has today reached out to every part of India with the exception of Lakshadweep.
Smile Twin e-learning Programme (STeP) was introduced as a national livelihood programme providing market-oriented skill training, along with placement support, to the less educated, unemployed and socio-economically marginalised youth in 2007. The programme evolved as a logical extension of the Mission Education programme, as an attempt to bridge the gap between limited accessibility of higher education and consequently viable job opportunities for youth from urban slums, and lack of skilled workforce to meet the needs of a fast growing retail and service sector in the country. STeP has so far trained more than 22,600 youth and placed over 14,500 in 150 reputed brands across India.
Smile Foundation became the implementing partner in India for the global “Action for Children” programme that was initiated in 2008 by Together4Change alliance, a consortium of four international organisations – Wilde Ganzen (Wild Geese), Wereldkinderen (NICWO), SOS kinderdorpen (SOS Children's Villages) and Investing in Children and their Societies (ICS), and supported by the Dutch government. Focused on initiatives aimed at improving the welfare of children by scaling up the brand and fundraising of grassroots organisations, the programme aligned closely with Smile Foundation’s philosophy of Civic Driven Change, giving the highest priority to change being achieved by local communities and masses themselves. The programme was successfully concluded in 2015.
In 2009, Smile Foundation decided to diversify its modus operandi. Having chosen to work with grassroots NGOs as the implementing partners for its programmes on ground, it realized that many a times the capacities of community based organisations (CBOs) were not adequate to meet the high expectations of large corporate social investors. The outreach model was adopted by Smile Foundation to directly implement its development initiatives in areas that required a highly intensive engagement for a wider and sustained outcome.
The very year the Right to Education (RTE) Act was enacted by the Parliament of India, Smile Foundation was conferred with the Asia Pacific Child Rights Award for its television campaign “Choone Do Aasman”, broadcasted on NDTV India. Instituted by CASBAA, ABU and UNICEF, the Award is given to the best television programme produced in the Asia-Pacific region with a focus on child rights. “Choone do Aasman” was an attempt to showcase real stories of struggle, survival and hope of children living in the interiors of India. The highlight of the show was that the children told their stories in their own words.
As a major step towards sensitising the civil society towards the needs, aspirations and dreams of a less privileged child, Smile Foundation produced the highly acclaimed film I am Kalam in 2010. It became the first film ever in India to be produced by a development organization. The film went on to inspire millions of children, youth and adults alike all over the world, travelling to 30 film festivals across the globe, including a world premiere at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. I am Kalam won 17 national and international awards.
Ramp for Champs, an innovative initiative weaving fashion with the cause of child education, was commenced in 2011. The show brings together people from different walks of lives and the children studying at Mission Education centres of Smile Foundation. The motivation for Ramp for Champs comes from the need to sensitize and engage the civil society proactively to bring meaningful change in the lives of these underprivileged children, by supporting their education. Over the years, the initiative has become one of the biggest and most awaited charity fashion events in the country, having hosted 12 successful editions.
Smile Foundation was conferred with the GE Healthcare – Modern Medicare Excellence Award for its phenomenal work in healthcare through its mobile hospital programme. The ‘NGO of the Year’ award was given to Smile Foundation from among five nominations, in recognition of its phenomenal work supporting medical causes and offering various services within healthcare industry. This award is instituted by GE Healthcare, the pharmaceutical division of global giant General Electrical.
In 2012, Smile Foundation became an organisation in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The Special Consultative Status allows Smile Foundation an opportunity to bring adequate global attention to the situation of child education, youth livelihood, family health and women empowerment in India by attending international conferences, participating in discussions and submitting written statements at major UN forums.
Smile Foundation was conferred with the Education Excellence Award by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industries (ASSOCHAM), and The Education Post. The award also recognised Smile Foundation’s unique working model by felicitating it with the certificate of ‘Leader in Social Venture Philanthropy in Child Education.’ The Awards aim to promote the best performing universities, colleges, institutions, academicians, NGOs working on education, and corporate working on education through CSR.
Smile Foundation was recognised by ASSOCHAM for its “outstanding contribution to skill development training & placement in the country” through a Certificate of Merit in Best NGO category for its Smile Twin e-Learning programme. Established in 1920, ASSOCHAM has in its fold more than 400 Chambers and Trade Associations, and serves more than 4,50,000 members from all over the country, representing the interests of trade and commerce in India, and acting as an interface between industry, government and other relevant stakeholders on policy issues and initiatives.
The maiden edition of the Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY) was held at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, and was an instant success with more than 80 internationally acclaimed films from around the globe being screened to a 10,000+ young audience. SIFFCY is a unique concept aimed at promotion of good, meaningful and value based films as a medium to engage young minds positively and inspire them to lead a better life.
Smile Foundation received recognition at the 1st ICAI CSR Awards for the ‘Best CSR Project in Women Empowerment’. The award has been instituted and conferred by the Committee for Cooperative and NPOS Sector and IND (AS) Implementation Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. Established in 1949, ICAI is the national professional accounting body of India, and the only licensing cum regulating body of the financial audit and accountancy profession in India.
Smile Foundation has partnered with Change the Game Academy, an international e-learning platform that aims to strengthen the capacity of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to implement the capacity building initiative in India. The programme will help CBOs involve the civil society in bringing change at the grassroots level, enabling them to raise support locally and become self-sustainable. Besides India, the initiative has also been launched in Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Uganda and South-Africa.
By 2016, Smile Foundation had spread its reach to over 950 villages and slums, across 25 states of India. Implementing as many as 200 welfare projects, today, Smile Foundation has become the youngest Indian development organisation to have the highest number of live welfare projects pan-India. In the year 2016, Smile Foundation directly benefitted 400,000 children and their families. But there are still many milestones, or as we call them “smilestones” to achieve!