Smile on Wheels: Medical van doubles coverage area

Hindustan Times (18, July 2012)

How does Smile Foundation bring
smile on the face of the society?

The realization of a group of young
corporate professionals, that it was
their social responsibility to back
the society, laid the foundation of
Smile in 2002. I have come from a
background where volunteerism
comes naturally from school days.
So, the very thought of doing something
beyond just professional gain
started haunting me always.

I brought in a group of like-minded friends to start discussing what and how to do something which
can impact maximum lives with our limited understanding and resources.

As you know, wherever you look at in our country, there is so much to do in terms of development and nothing would look sufficient.
Smile Foundation has since been trying to develop effi cient and accountable models in project management, bringing multiplier effect in social development, and involving civil society as partners in the development process.
Since its incorporation, Smile Foundation has been working on the various aspects of the society like education for children, livelihood for the youth, healthcare in rural villages and urban slums, women empowerment and sensitization of the privileged masses. As it completes 10 years of catalysing development, Smile Foundation has successfully reached out to over 2 million benefi ciaries across 25 states in the country.
What are the special programmes conducted by your organisation recently?
Smile Foundation focuses in the field of education, health, women empowerment and livelihood through the programmes like Mission Education
(the education programme for underprivileged children), Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (the livelihood programme for underprivileged youth), Swabhiman (programme on girl child & women empowerment) and Smile on Wheels (innovative mobile hospital programme).

How does Smile Foundation empower underprivileged children and youths?
Smile Foundation believes that education is the key to lead a dignifi ed life. It enables an individual to become conscious about his or her right, enables someone to make informed choices. When we talk about empowerment it starts with education. Through our child education programme named ‘Mission Education’ we focus on bringing the children to the remedial and bridge course centres, provide them an enjoyable and effective learning. Most of the children come from such background where even parents have never been to school. Hence the basic awareness about the need to go to school is missing. Secondly, they cannot take the fi rst step towards school. So we need to sensitize and mobilize the whole communities for sending their nonschool going children to our centres. Then comes making the children continue studying in the centres, learn effectively and then mainstreaming them into government and public schools.

Once children grow up and get the basic education, there comes the issue of getting the right skills and become employable. Else, even after getting education, the youth from less privileged communities can still remain in the vicious cycle of poverty, and sometimes can slip into wrong path. Moreover, we observed that there has been a sudden surge in the service and retail sector in India, hence creating lakhs of entry level job opportunities. However, there is lack of relevant training infrastructure which can prepare such privileged youth to be employable.
We came up with a solution in the form of our underprivileged youth centric programme named ‘Smile Twin e-Learning Programme or STeP.’ This six months training programme is modelled on skills as required by the retail and service industry for the blue collared professionals. The curriculum include basic computer training, retail management, personality development, basic accounting, related soft skills etc. Microsoft has supported and certifi ed the computer curriculum. Rest of the training modules have been developed by International Management Institute as a support. So far 9,500 youth have been employed in more than 100 top brands in retail and service sectors across 50 cities in India.
Do you think the work culture of Indian NGOs is very different from Foreign NGOs? I don’t think there is any cultural difference between NGOs on that ground. NGOs exist in order to serve a cause they believe in. As for India, we have got everything so burgeoning thanks to our size and other things. In such a situation, NGOs mostly contribute their bit where the government is unable to reach yet. In other words, NGOs are complementing and supplementing the efforts of the government in serving the people in various areas like education, healthcare, skills training, empowerment, conservation, culture and heritage etc. Public participation in NGOs’ activities are very low especially in India. Is the scenario changing over the time? The humanitarian and development organisations work for the betterment of the society. However, the development process will always be inadequate and unsustainable unless we involve the civil society. In another word, unless we sensitize and involve people who are privileged, educated and having the capability to help the less privileged, we cannot uplift the underprivileged sections.
In India, the privileged section is habitually more inclined towards religious donation rather than developmental donation. On the brighter side, the trend is improving in favour of the development sector or NGOs. Along with this shift also comes a challenge for the NGO sector to live up to the expectation of the privileged section of the society who are already empowered and they make informed choice. The scenario is in fact changing for the better.
How you taken up any individual cases, which is based on their immediate needs?
Development is very complex, serious and long term subject. Sustained efforts always bring lasting changes in the lives of the needy. Smile Foundation has very defi ned programmes as mentioned above. For example, for Mission Education programme awareness is spread in the nearby communities, people are counselled, children are enrolled in our centres, and fi nally at the end of the bridge course they are mainstreamed in the nearby schools. Similarly for our mobile hospital programme ‘Smile on Wheels’ the duration and day of visit is announced for a particular community, awareness is spread on health seeking behaviour, cases in need of healthcare attention are identifi ed and fi nally brought to Smile on Wheels, again deserving cases are referred to relevant hospitals, rest are followed up regularly.
Have you faced any hurdles or resistance over the period?
We faced few challenges in the initial stages. First, all the founders being from the corporate sector lacked the proper knowledge on the development sector. Our intention was to do something great but we needed that understanding. Corporate sector works in almost perfect
models. In development sector, input is not always equal to the output. There are so many subjective processes and outputs which one needs to understand and appreciate. Secondly, the giving culture in India is not so inclined towards development work. Hence aligning
people with resources and the needs has always been a challenge since the inception. Third, you get to do certain things to achieve excellence in any sector. We found that the development sector was not ready for so many things. It took a lot of efforts and struggle to put things into perspective. Fourth, any enterprise you take up, everything depends on which sector it belongs to. When we started Smile Foundation, from the day one we realized a grave challenge – this sector had been struggling with trust defi cit. Perception management was a big task in itself initially.
What is your future plan for Smile Foundation? Smile Foundation would like to develop and promote good governance in the voluntary sector more intensely in near future. Application of technology in maximising effi ciency and costcutting would be another area where we would be working on; we have already stated working in that direction and it would be developed further. Sharing the learning and knowledge in real time with similar development organisations both in India and in similar countries globally would be something we would like to pursue further. Making the civil society members as partners in change in every developmental initiative locally is another
future objective.

(The views expressed in the article are
personal and do not refl ect the offi cial
policy or position of the organisation.)