Conferred with the Nari Shakti Puraskar 2016, the highest national honour granted to a woman for outstanding work done for women upliftment, Janki Vasant is the founder of Samvedana, an NGO working for the welfare of children and women in the slums of Vadaj, Ahmedabad. Smile Foundation has partnered with and supported Samvedana for more than a decade now. This is a moment of pride for us as Janki is representative of the hundreds of social entrepreneurs whom we have enabled and empowered over the years.
Life changed for me at an early age being one of the passenger hostages of the Panama flight hijacked at Karachi in 1986. This incident brought me close to the real values of life, taught me what really matters in life, or rather things that do not matter in life.
As a young woman entrepreneur at 21, my first business was a grand successful exhibition at Agakhan Hall Delhi; displaying rich hand-crafted textiles to support Kutchi women. Kutch had suffered severe famine for three consecutive years in the early 80's. I was so happy to have contributed one lac rupees – a big amount at that time, directly to them. Somewhere the seeds of working for a cause got firmly rooted then.
Post the earthquake in Gujarat, I had volunteered as a lead coordinator at an earthquake relief camp, supporting 5000 earthquake victims. During the two months of profound experience at the camp, I found myself. And then, giving my compassion a name, I founded Samvedana. I started with 70 children fourteen years ago, and it was Smile Foundation that believed in my dream and gave me that much needed support to begin. Ever since, it has been an unstoppable journey, during which years of intensive handholding sessions and trainings by Smile have helped Samvedana learn and grow.
Working at the grassroots definitely presents a lot of challenges. A child with whom we connected, invested all energies, suddenly leaves education. A woman, whom we are working with, ends up taking her own life. There is a sense of failure at such times. There are many other challenges we face with education – early marriages of girls, father's attitude towards a girl child, issues of addiction, unfair practices and more. I feel I have lost, can't do beyond this! Yet, as a leader, I have to inspire my team to continue with the journey and not get disheartened, but trust in our philosophy at Samvedana – “Education means a hope. Although many questions still remain, the power of love can heal, transform, and traverse all barriers."
To do good work, we need good people. But these days, the young people's perception towards service has become more commercial. This makes it difficult for us, as an organization to motivate new people to join. There are many volunteers who are making extraordinary contribution, but they only stay for a limited period.
It depends on us whether we let failures become roadblocks or the ladder to success. I always try to see these challenges as opportunities – to work harder, get better and rise higher.
The national honour has elevated the perception, credibility and trust of all our stakeholders towards us. The Samvedana team members as well as the communities we work with are extremely motivated to see their work recognized; it has given them a big boost. Our supporters too have been further inspired to strengthen their support and commitment to the cause. Personally, I feel even more responsible and accountable towards my work, towards what Samvedana stands for. The award has fuelled my determination to take my efforts to a higher level and I am all geared up for it! ■