Students and young professionals are the leaders of tomorrow. If they can come together and solve social issues, then there is a hope for a better future. Here is the story of Harsh Vitra who inspired young people like himself to make a social change in the world through technology.
“When you witness something inspiring, it lights up something inside you,” says Harsh, who had his first taste of social work in 2013 when he was in St. Xaviers College, Mumbai. He was part of the Social Service League working on Project Care. Witnessing his fellow students bring light into the life of slum children through education left a lasting impression on him. He carried this with him when he joined A. P. Shah Institute of Technology in 2014. Wanting to bring the same joy of social service to his new college mates, he started a small social team called Lakshya the end of 2016, which would take up local projects and use technology, both hardware and software, to solve problems. So by the time the RaktDaan project came to their college, Harsh and his colleagues were ready.
RaktDaan or blood donation drive had been organized by the Ministry of Health in association with Facebook. “People could add their blood group and put it up on facebook. If anyone in the locality needed the same type of blood, the app would notify them for a donation.” Harsh and his team together managed to create 2500 blood donation camps within 16 days between July 14 and 30, 2018. This was the first large scale project that the team had done and this inspired them to take it further. “We were aware of the huge gaps in the social sector especially when it came to technology. My team and I decided that we wanted to do something to reduce this gap,” says Harsh.
Meet Shah, who was in his third year at the same institute, had joined Lakshya shortly before the Rakt Daan campaign. He along with Harsh and three other students, Ankit Gupta, RikeshKamra, Samrin Baig, came together to launch the Enroot Mumbai community on August 15, 2018. “Enroot means to pick something by the roots,” explains Harsh. Starting with issues within Mumbai itself, they conducted their first event on Oct 22, 2018. “The event was called Innovate for Mumbai, and it was a hackathon,” says Meet. “We had more than 250 participants that hacked for 24 hours keeping social causes in mind.”
Several teams of students solved social problems during this event. “One team made an app where citizens could report their pothole problem and notify the municipality,” explains Harsh. “Another app was to track buses in real-time online, and yet another app could track missing people by matching the face of person with all the CCTVs in a particular area.” Many more such events were organised and the Enroot team would encourage students to participate in solving social issues and increase their community in this manner. “That’s how we did our own marketing,” says Meet. Within a few months, the Enroot Mumbai community had 12-13 specialised Whatsapp groups that looked into IT, design, marketing, etc and had a total of 110+ members.
But Harsh and his team were far from satisfied. “What people created in 24 hours were prototypes and not products. We needed to make products to put them out in public so people could actually use them,” explains Harsh, “That is when the team decides to jump into projects.” Using Steve Jobs' 30% rule, they launched several projects across various verticals. The ones that got success were further developed and the ones that didn’t were left after taking some significant learnings from each.
One such successful project was ‘Let India Breathe’, a project on climate change, which would spread awareness about industries taking over forest land. “We created a web application for them. This application is supposed to be a bridge between authorities and citizens, where citizens can raise their concerns for the environment over email to respective authorities. We had more than 1 lac visitors per month in some months,” says Meet.
In July 2019, Harsh and his team registered as Enroot Innovation Foundation, a non-profit organisation with a core team of 20 people. “We do things in a way which needs less effort and more impact. Most of our team members are students or are working and contributing to us part-time. We focus on learning and using best practices to get things done in less time. We push a message to our community and the volunteers to come up and tell us the area in which they would like to work,” says Harsh, explaining the model they use. “We train them, and sometimes we get mentors from the industry to guide them. Students get to work and solve a real problem of society which will be used to help people. We also offer internships to volunteers.” As of the moment, all of the projects undertaken by Enroot are free of cost for the NGO. How does the organisation sustain? “We sometimes get contributions from some NGOs for the efforts we have taken, but our model is such that we have very low costs of operations. We are very proud of that, and we want everyone to know that even a small contribution to society in the right way can be really impactful ” says Harsh.
In 2019, Enroot became associated with the Global Vikas Trust and the Global Parli movement, headed by Mayank Gandhi. Global Parli has been working in rural Maharashtra since 2016 and recently started working in Madhya Pradesh. The organisation provides water in drought prone regions, e-learning and skills training among other services. In early 2019, Global Parli began advising farmers to plant fruit trees, instead of traditional grains. In this way they could make more than 3 lac rupees per acre per year. It was a huge success. Some farmers even made 11 lac per acre per year. In 2019 alone, farmers planted 11 lac fruit trees. Enroot created an online system for Global Parli in order to make the process easier and faster for farmers. Through a digital portal created by Enroot, farmers could put in their details and book saplings. “Their trust grew because of this system,” says Harsh. “This year, 21 lac fruit trees have already been planted and more than 3000 farmers have enrolled. We are glad we met Global Parli at the end of 2019 and not any later as Corona would have affected a lot if we were not digital at the right time.”
In March 2020, Enroot covid19mh.com, a tracker for Maharashtra. The website gave a count of the number of cases, helpful resources, and testing centres. This product was made in three languages—Hindi, Marathi and English. “It operated for a month, then when covid19india.com started tracking more strongly than us, we shut down our project,” says Meet. During this time, they also developed a portable ventilator which could be used in a pandemic and otherwise. They are now working on a project to recycle plastic within a housing society.
Harsh is proud that he is able to mobilize other youth like himself to contribute to social change. “I want to inspire more youngsters to become leaders so we can solve more problems,” he says.
Giving Circle is proud to associate with Change Makers like Harsh Vitra. If you wish to inspire others the way he did, you can create your own Giving Circle or you can join one which is close to your heart.