IT’S a hungry road, the world of social innovations, a constant quest for the next idea that will enhance life, or rather livelihoods. Take the subcontinent at a sweeping glance. In the 1970s, it was the introduction of microfinance as Muhammad Yunus founded the first Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In 2012, it was the rejuvenation of the education of the girl child through the daring and eloquence of Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai. The flavor of 2014, without doubt, is India’s New Company Law that makes spending on Corporate Social Responsibility (wp) mandatory for business houses a certain revenue size and above.
Yet, we know, the mettle of an innovation is not in its inception, it’s in the integrity and ingenuity of people who carry it forward. In this specific context I introduce you to 26-year-old Rajkumar Janagam, given it is the parry and thrust of organisations such as his with wp of today that will shape the new law.
People still call Raj the Cycle Chalao guy, though that was an experiment back in 2009. In his present avatar, he is the founder of UnLtd Hyderabad. The job is quite a walk. Raj has covered 200 kilometers of villages, to find, fund, and support the best of early-stage social entrepreneurs in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, till they find footing, not to mention, large-scale funding. His latest discovery — Mr. Venkata Krishnudu from Kurnool, whose homemade organic pesticide for cotton farmers is a local hit. Krishnudu has sold over 50,000 units at 200% returns.
Raj is soft-spoken, a good listener, almost shy. Till you find him standing before a B-School audience, holding forth on entrepreneurship, advocacy, social change, individual failures, and the power to rise above circumstances. Raj should know. He grew up in a slum in Mumbai, his family caught between bad debts and everyday survival.
When he turned 18, Raj began to take up survey and research assignments so he could fund his own education. First stop, Ruia College. Then, an MBA at The Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. All this while he was holding down two part-time jobs. Though in management school, Raj says, between his scholarship and the money he earned participating in Business Plan competitions, his fees and expenses were covered and more.
2009. Right in the middle of his MBA, he launched Cycle Chalao that would turn the storyline forever. Raj was going home from the railway station in an auto-rickshaw, inevitably impatient with the traffic. The driver said, “If you are in such a hurry, you should ride a bicycle!” He did just that. With a few friends, he started a member-based bicycle sharing system. The buses and trains do not pick you up and drop you at the doorstep of your home or office. Raj found people who registered as members and against a monthly fee, got bicycles from various Cycle Chalao hubs to reach their destination. Outdoor advertising by corporates at the bike parks was to take care of the variable expenditures, and the municipality was to provide the parking space. Red tape and demands for kickbacks sealed the fate of the initiative, though not before opening for Raj the doors to the world.
Cycle Chalao won him the Global Responsible Leadership Initiative Challenge, Belgium. He was named one of the 100 most inspiring entrepreneurs and social change-makers across Asia Pacific. He won the Unreasonable Institute Challenge, 2011, selected as one of the 27 high-impact social entrepreneurs in the world to attend incubation support in Colorado. During one of those ridiculously long conversations we end up having every time we meet, Raj told me it was during this stint in the US that he finally started speaking English. I was surprised, because you would never suspect that he wasn’t born to the language any less than you and I.
As the head of Unltd Hyderabad, Raj has set his goal high: Support at least 100 social entrepreneurs across early stages of venture development. And, in doing so, integrate social entrepreneurship with wp projects, to the benefit of both.
Say, Cycle Chalao. Had it come into life today, it need not have gone through government channels and failed. The venture could have easily been supported by a wp project in the pro-environment arena, in the process offsetting carbon footprints with a very tangible model. Oil, gas and automobile companies would have become natural allies.
As goes his favourite lines penned by Piyush Mishra for the film Gangs of Wasseypur:
Ik bagal mein chaand hoga, ik bagal mein rotiyaan
(I’ll hold the Moon in One Hand, Bread in the Other)
Two possibilities come together to birth a new hope. Our dreams do not have to abstain from reality.
This space brings you stories about the biggest and the best in the realm of grassroots innovations, and how they can change the face of wp. Write in to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for business queries, clarifications and feedback