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
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
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.
IN INDIA, THE PRIVILEGED
SECTION IS HABITUALLY MORE INCLINED TOWARDS RELIGIOUS GIVING RATHER
THAN DEVELOPMENTAL GIVING
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.
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.
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
expressed in the article are
personal and do not refl ect the offi cial
policy or position of the organisation.)