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Grassroots initiatives: Pulse of Smile

‘A group of villagers (mostly illiterate) in rural Orissa embrace the collective responsibility of giving shape to the dreams of the poverty-ridden children in villages other than their own by offering their homes as hostels to those hailing from far-out places’.

‘A 70 years old retired teacher set up a model school for poor rural children in remote Rajasthan; a fabricator providing education to over 400 children after closing his shop at dusk in Lucknow; a group of volunteers running four orphanages in Sambalpur by contributing resources from friends and families.’

‘A newly wed bride, with little or no resources, runs from pillar to post to provide children their basic right to education in Delhi slums.’

The invaluable efforts of groups and individuals such as these need to be recognised by the decision makers in government, non government as well as private sectors; in individual as well as professional capacities.

The determination, grit and commitment of these extraordinary people ensure that promising solutions reach the downtrodden and deprived and bring them into the mainstream.

The sad truth is that very little is being done to support and encourage genuine grassroots initiatives in our country. Funds collected in the name of social work either go into the wrong hands or are wasted due to the lack of transparency, inefficient monitoring systems and virtually nonexistent scalability.

In this scenario Smile Foundation’s success with its social venture philanthropy model is relevant and timely. Smile has been locating genuine grassroots initiatives focusing on underprivileged children all over the country and subsequently financing, handholding and supporting them till they become self sustainable. Smile’s SVP model seeks consciously to broad-base investment in the belief that this will maximize reach and optimize social returns.

The focus has been on three aspects: scalability, sustainability and accountability.

Instead of confining attention to a single project and a limited number of beneficiaries, Smile’s emphasis is on providing support that leverages the strengths and efforts of like-minded individuals and organisations countrywide.

The result is the flowering of a breed of social entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they are doing and whose commitment to their cause is virtually a guarantee of delivery. There is also optimization of benefits for various target groups with transparency. In addition, it is possible that social entrepreneurs Smile supports will in turn support many other such entrepreneurs in the time to come – making it a movement of sort.

The Social Venture Philanthropy model has found recognition at international level giving a boost to the sector as a whole in India. Three leading Dutch organisations namely Wild Geese, KidsRights Foundation and Net4kids Aid Foundation have chosen Smile Foundation as the sole partner in India for their initiative titled, ‘Action for Children’. Besides India, other two countries under this programme are South Africa and Brazil.

As the only pan India partner under Action for Children initiative, Smile will build capacities of genuine grassroots NGOs across India in fund raising and communications with the sole objective of making these initiatives self-reliant. The modus operandi to achieve the objectives of the joint venture is aligned with social venture philanthropy model of Smile. Mr. K. K. Varma, Director - Programmes, Ms. Anupama Puri Kalra, Chief Programme Officer and Ms. Seema Ghule, Sr. Officer - Programmes of Smile Foundation spent a month in the Netherlands in November 2007. Ground work is being done to implement the programme across India by middle of April 2008.

The intervention will augment Smile’s effort in bridging the gap between the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ along with encouraging the growth of genuine grassroots initiatives.

Hopefully, this will be the dawn of a new era for the Indian development sector.

SMILE intends to reach out to millions
of children in India through partnerships with
like minded organisations and assume the
mettle of a leading national development agency.