The alternative.in ( Nov 19, 2015)
What happens when a young professional gave up his lucrative corporate job to empower women and bring smiles to the faces of underprivileged children in India
This section on Social Innovation is made possible with the support of Deshpande Foundation India.
Started by a group of young corporate professionals with a vision to give back to the society, Delhi-based Smile Foundation was born in 2002. The NGO reaches out to more than 4,00,000 underprivileged children, youth and women directly every year through 158 welfare projects across 25 states of India. Smile Foundation works around four thematic areas such as Education, Healthcare, Youth Employability and Empowerment of women and girls.
Says Santanu Mishra, co-founder and executive trustee of Smile Foundation, “As corporate professionals living in India at a time of economic liberalization, I settled down much earlier in life than expected. I have always wanted to give back to the society. Informal ways of doing charity paved the way for more formal and structured involvement and Smile Foundation took birth.”
For 3 years, Mishra and his team of young professionals lent external support to the NGO. But, along the way, the importance of full-time involvement and deeper commitment was recognised by the team. In 2005, Mishra quit his full-time corporate job and assumed responsibility of running the day-to-day operations of the NGO, re-structuring it to achieve his larger vision. “Since I have always focused on doing creating positive social impact, it was easy not just to leave my own career behind, but to persuade a group of like-minded friends to join in my journey.”
A lifecycle approach to development
The primary objective of Smile Foundation is to improve the well-being of underprivileged children by ensuring their maternal welfare. Mishra explains,
“While education is the cornerstone of children’s progress, children can only go to school regularly when the family, particularly the mother, is healthy and empowered, and the family has decent livelihood opportunities and a steady income.”
Realizing this, Smile Foundation, with its basis in education, adopted a lifecycle approach with intensive programmes focused on family health, livelihood and women empowerment, which address the needs of children, their families and the larger community.
The development initiatives by Smile Foundation are:
Mission Education: Through this national level initiative, Smile Foundation promotes universal education by enabling streamline underprivileged children into mainstream schools in a sustainable manner. More than 2,00,000 children have directly benefited from Mission Education programme since 2002.
The Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP) is an employability programme for underprivileged rural and urban youth. The programme aims at creating a pool of young and independent people from marginalized communities through skill enhancement congruous with market requirements. It is an effort towards bridging the gap between demand and supply of skilled manpower in the fast emerging services and retail sectors of modern India. Over 12,000 youth have been trained and have been placed in over 150 brands through 45 operational projects across India.
Smile on Wheels (SoW): A national level mobile hospital programme taking curative, preventive and promotive healthcare to the doorsteps of urban poor and underserved villagers benefiting 3,10,000 lives directly every year through 22 projects in 265 remote villages and urban slums across India.
Swabhiman: The programme focuses on empowerment of on girls and women. It uses the highly effective ‘4 S Model’ which aims to develop healthcare-seeking as a behaviour, build support through education, encourage male involvement and support and sustain change in the community. Over one lakh girls and women have benefited from four intensive operational projects including mobile health clinic, health camps, awareness on reproductive and sexual health issues, scholarship support for secondary and higher education, and community engagement.
Smile Foundation’s Disaster Response Programme was designed to enable quick action and response to the immediate needs of the affected during natural calamities in a sustainable manner that helps them rebuild their lives by facilitating their education, healthcare and livelihood. By way of its relief and rehabilitation projects during the tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake, the Mumbai and Bihar floods, and the Nepal Earthquake, around 1,00,000 affected families have benefitted.
To create awareness among privileged urban dwellers, Smile Foundation introduced its Child for Child programme through which over 6 lakh school children are sensitized to be responsible citizens and participate in the development process.
Mishra said that when they began the journey, the chief lesson they learnt was that development is a slow process where input is not always equal to the output. “Finding the right grassroots NGO partners was tough as was creating a culture among those with resources of giving for development work”, says he.
Good governance is the key to impact and scale
As important as developing society is the process adopted to develop it. With this as its motto, Smile Foundation focuses on being knowledge and technology driven. It designs programmes and deploys the best methodology and technology to help achieve the ideal social return on investment and ensure scale. In order to maintain transparency of process and impact, the Foundation employs the principles of good governance in its management, monitoring, and audit processes, adopting a stringent four-tier audit system to determine the impact of the investment and accountability in utilization of funds.
Smile Foundation has evolved and operates through two different operating models:
A. Social Venture Philanthropy (SVP): This model adapts the successful model of Venture Capital in conventional business to the social and development sector. Under the SVP model, Smile Foundation identifies and partners with suitable grassroots organisations following which it handholds, and builds capacities of genuine grassroots NGOs to achieve accountability, sustainability, scalability, and leadership. The Foundation provides seed money for the launch of new projects and the expansion of old projects. It also emphasizes regular counselling to improve the productivity, enhance the efficiency, and build capacities of grassroots NGOs.
B. Outreach: In its outreach model, Smile Foundation directly implements various development initiatives like Mission Education and Smile on Wheels for underprivileged rural and urban communities by partnering with corporate bodies, PSUs and international development organizations.
On taking the movement forward, Mishra says, “Its relentless efforts have given Smile Foundation the experience and expertise in creating successful development models. We now wish to expand our impact to include underserved communities in across South Asian and African countries. This will also help us continue bringing desirable and sustainable changes in lives of as many people as possible, with the best possible social return on minimum investment as there is always a resource constraint for development work”.