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Education is The Key to Lead a Dignified Life: Santanu Mishra,Co-Founder & ExecutiveTrustee, Smile Foundation

Indiacsr (20 January 2013)

Santanu Mishra is the Co-Founder & Executive Trustee of Smile Foundation, a national level development organization that was established in 2002 by him and his friends as a part of their giving back to the society. Santanu is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, an Associate Member of Institute of Company Secretaries of India, and a qualified lawyer. Smile Foundation works on the subjects of education, healthcare, livelihood and women empowerment through 185 projects operational across 25 states in India. He comes from a background where volunteerism comes naturally from school days. So doing social good in one or other way always remain in the back of the mind. At present, Smile Foundation has 74 Mission Education projects functional across India. Santanu is the producer of Feature Film “I am Kalam”, which has achieved astounding success with the film travelling to over 30 countries and winning 22 national and international awards. With “I am Kalam” Smile Foundation advocated the cause of Sending Every Child to School.

In an exclusive interview with Rusen Kumar, Founder & Editor-INDIACSR, Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder Executive Trustee, Smile Foudnation shared about his work and passion towards Social Venture Philanthropy (SVP) model.

Brief us about the historical background of Smile Foundation and its mission.

The realization of a group of young corporate professionals, that it was their Social Responsibility to give back to the society, laid the foundation of Smile. I had come to Delhi for making a career and earning a livelihood. In the early 90’s when liberalization happened, we were the first ones to get the fruit of success beyond expectation. My needs are limited. The very thought of doing something beyond just professional gain started haunting me always. I brought in a group of likeminded 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.

On a larger picture, Smile Foundation has been trying since it’s inception in 2002 to develop efficient and accountable models in project management, bringing multiplier effect in social development, and involving civil society as partners in the development process.

What are the various social projects initiated by Smile Foundation in India?

Since 2002 Smile Foundation has been working on the subjects of education for children, livelihood for the youth, healthcare in rural villages and urban slums, women empowerment and sensitization of the privileged masses through following programmes.

Mission Education- The Education Programme for Underprivileged Children

Through the Mission Education(M.E) programme, Smile Foundation provides basic education and healthcare to underprivileged children, finally mainstreaming them to formal education. ME programme brings underprivileged children to the fold of education who otherwise would have missed the chance of empowerment for another generation. The education focuses on the overall personality development of a child.

At present, Smile Foundation has 74 Mission Education projects functional across 21 states of India. Mission Education has so far main streamed a little more than 39,000 children from its centres into 84 renowned schools across India.

Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP) – The Livelihood Programme for Underprivileged Youth

Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP) is a national programme that trains urban underprivileged youths in market-centric job skills and make them employment ready. Through this programme, training in key employability skills like English proficiency, computer operations, personality development etc is given to students. This helps them in getting a job in the growing retail and service sector.

13,500 trained and as many as 9500 STeP students have now been employed in more than 140 companies like Café Coffee Day, Domino’s Pizza, Westside Stores, ICICI, HDFC, Reliance Retail, Big Bazaar, Spencer, Croma etc.

At present, 54 STeP center’s are operational across 38 cities in 19 Indian states of India.

SWABHIMAN- A Programme on Girl Child & Women Empowerment

‘Swabhiman’ meaning self respect in Hindi is an initiative of Smile Foundation that has been working, with a bifocal approach, for the sustainable development of underprivileged women and girls. Initiated in the year 2005, the programme is specifically aimed at realization of both individual and collective self-esteem and inner strength for marginalized and socially excluded women and adolescent girls through innovative community practices.

The programme identifies adolescent girls and women from the community and developing them into Change Agents, who in turn actively contribute to the community mobilization process. Select Change Agents are then developed into Master Trainers who can advocate and sensitize women and girls regularly. ‘Swabhiman’ works towards its objective of all round development of women and girls, through the following interventions:

Educational Support
Providing Reproductive Health and Child Health Services
Male Involvement & Attitudinal and Behavioural Changes
Imparting Life Skill Education
Networking and Convergence Support
Sensitization of privileged Women and Youth

The programme has benefited over 150,000 women and girls since inception.

Smile on Wheels (SoW) – Innovative Mobile Hospital Programme

Smile on Wheels is a national level multi-centric project initiated by Smile Foundation with an objective of providing a comprehensive range of healthcare services to under-privileged community in outreach, remote rural areas and urban slums through equipped mobile hospitals. The programme is based on innovative concept of “Community centric sustainable health delivery model.” The programme focuses on providing wide range of promotive, preventive and curative health services to the beneficiaries. The model envisages an efficient and cost effective health delivery system for the community. Smile’s vision through SoW is to provide affordable & advance health care facilities at the door steps of the underprivileged communities. Till now Smile On Wheels has benefited over 5, 00,000 people.

You are leader for various projects in child education, how the project is serving the community?

Smile Foundation believes that education is the key to lead a dignified life. It enables an individual to become conscious about his rights, enables him to make informed choices. When we talk about empowerment it starts with education.

In 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, avail them with basic healthcare and also nutrition. Most of the children come from parents who have never been to school. Hence the basic awareness about the need to go to school is missing. Secondly, they cannot take the first step towards school. So we need to sensitize and mobilize the whole communities for sending their non-school 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 6-month training programme is modelled on skills as required by the retail and service industry for the blue collared professionals. The curricula include basic computer training, retail management, personality development, basic accounting, related soft skills etc. Microsoft has supported and certified the computer curriculum. Rest of the training modules have been developed by International Management Institute as a support. So far 9500 youth have been employed in more than 100 top brands in retail and service sectors across 50 cities in India.

Smile Foundation has taken a lead in Child education, could you give a rundown on the activities.

Development is very complex, serious and long term subject. Sustained efforts bring lasting changes in the lives of the needy. Smile Foundation has very defined programs in terms of education as mentioned above. For example, for Mission Education programme awareness is spread in the nearby communities, people are counselled, enrolled of children in ensured in our centres, they are retained, and finally at the end of the bridge course they are mainstreamed in the nearby schools. Today many of our children are studying in reputed schools across India.

What do you think of India govt emphasis on child education and rights?

The government is the custodian of a country and it makes the regulations, ensures governance and maintains the interest of the people at a larger perspective. Government no doubt is doing its best but everything cannot be left on laws and government alone. India is a big country with different demographics. Government can make laws and bring acts like RTE but taking them to people can not be done by government alone.

Right To Education (RTE) has provisions which can help in getting more and more children to school. But there is a major gap of awareness and enactment in terms of RTE. A majority of underprivileged population does not even know that there is something like RTE for them. For this civil society needs to be active to spread the reach and awareness of acts like RTE. The privileged section of our society should be proactive everything cannot be left on law or government alone.

The Smile Foundation calls itself a ‘Social Venture Philanthropist’ (SVP). Could you please elaborate a bit on that?

Social Venture philanthropy is one of the working model of Smile Foundation. It is based on the model of venture capital. Under the Social Venture Philanthropy (SVP) model, Smile Foundation identifies handholds and builds capacities of genuine grassroots NGOs to achieve accountability, sustainability, scalability, leadership. Through the SVP model, Smile Foundation makes an effort to broad base investment in order to maximize its reach and optimize returns by approaching and strengthening a large number of like-minded individuals and organizations globally.

SVP model helps us in reaching to the deserving communities and handholding them while providing resources to them. Moreover with our skills and expertise and professionalism we can pass on our learning’s to grass-root level NGO’s who are willing to do good work in the most deserving area’s.

What is the motivation behind producing child film “I am Kalam”. Kindly Share the achievement of the film.

Feature films have the intrinsic quality of transcending borders and differences and appealing to the audience. And this is the very reason why we have chosen to sensitize the masses through this medium. With I am Kalam we had stepped into the film genre. Cinema as a medium is visually very appealing that reaches out to a greater audience in a short span of time. Moreover being an audio video it depicts the emotions and message in a correct manner. It sensitizes the civil society towards the plight of poor and their importance in helping them to lead a better life. Movies is not the only medium but yes one of the mediums that can help in sensitizing the audiences especially the privileged one that can help in getting these children to school.

‘I am Kalam’, was an astounding success with the film travelling to over 30 countries and winning 22 national and international awards. With “I am Kalam” Smile Foundation advocated the cause of Sending Every Child to School. The story of a child daring to dream and surpassing the boundaries of reality won not just awards but accolades from the general audience across the world.

What are your future plans for the year 2013?

Smile Foundation would like to develop and promote good governance in the sector more intensely in near future. Application of technology in achieving efficiency and cutting cost would another area we are already working and it would be developed further. Thirdly, sharing the learning and knowledge in real time with similar development organisations both in India and in similar countries internationally 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. My future vision is to bring good and sustainable changes in lives of as many people as possible. Another object would be to bring better social return on minimum investment as there is always a resource constraint for development work.

What kind of challenges you are facing to implement to social projects?

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.

The biggest drawback of our sector is the lack of regulation and organization. We work in an imperfect environment. Though the things are changing now but it will take some more time for them to be in perfect state. In our country the giving culture is not so inclined towards development work. Hence aligning people with resources and the needs has always been a challenge since the inception. This sector had been struggling with trust deficit so changing the perception of people is another major task which we face.

Are there any motivational stories of the foundation which you would like to share?

I guess the birth of Smile Foundation and its decade long journey in itself is a motivation. We started with the thought that education is something that can be a solution to many problems. Once educated, a person can think and understand in a better way. He becomes aware about his rights, his capabilities & capacities. Once educated, a person can always lead a dignified life in whatever he does. With this thought M.E (Mission Education) became our first program. Then slowly we understood the need in other sectors and started with our other programs like ‘Swabhiman’ in women empowerment, STep in livelihood and Smile on wheels (SoW) in healthcare to name a few. We started raw with only a vision to do something for society development. We had our learning’s and today I am happy that we got full knowledge of how this sector works.

How do you measure Social Impact of the projects implemented.

Smile Foundation always believes in and follows good governance. We monitor our work both internally and externally. Internally we have an in bill process and a review is done on monthly, quarterly and annually basis. Smile also engages external evaluators to understand, evaluate our programmes, methodology and the impact of our work.

We not only get the evaluation done for our work internally and externally but also do course corrections and improvements in order to reach out to as many people as possible in a better way.


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