“If you were to ask me for one event or incident that motivated me to get into social work, then I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I think that desire was always inside me and has been there since childhood,” says Meenal. “Growing up, I had seen my parents and other role models going out of their way to make a difference in someone’s life. I was with the State Bank of India till July 2007, when I sought voluntary retirement. I had decided that as soon as I complete pensionable years’ worth service with the Bank, I would retire and put the rest of my life towards working for the lesser privileged members of the society. And that’s what I did.” This is the story of Meenal Mandlik, the founder of Self Esteem Foundation for Disabled (SEFD) and her journey towards creating an organization that brings dignity and self-esteem to the differently abled.
August 2007 onward she started volunteering with G.O.D.S’(Groups of Disabled) Gift (a branch of MBA Foundation), a sheltered workshop for differently abled youths in Thane, Maharashtra. Always thorough with her efforts, she first did a RCI (Rehabilitation Council of India) course in Disability Management, followed by a diploma in Social Entrepreneurship from EDI (Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India)Ahmedabad. The first course helped her to become better acquainted with the various kinds of disabilities, while the second one helped to develop her understanding of how to make an NGO financially self-sustaining.
Equipped with practical experience as well as qualifications, Meenal founded the Self Esteem Foundation for Disabled (SEFD) on 9 April, 2011,with the support of Mr.C. R. Balalsubramanian and Mrs. Meenakshi Balalsubramanian, who are not only the chairpersons of MBA Foundation but also serve as her supporting guides. The purpose behind the organization was to find lucrative employment opportunities for the differently abled, spread awareness of their capabilities, and enable their inclusion in larger society. True to its purpose, a majority of the organization’s staff are differently-abled persons. Today, she is the Director- Social Marketing of the organization. “Whatever I am today, wherever I am today, is because of the very same people that I serve,” says Meenal.
As of date, at least 200 people have benefitted directly or indirectly by SEFD. In fact, the marketing has been so successful that the organization has a turnover of Rs 50 lakhs this year. Products include jute and cloth handbags, folders, note pad covers, gift envelopes & cards, food items and gifting items. Their products are bought by corporates, institutions as well as individuals who wish to contribute. Word about SEFD’s ability to “market goodness”, as we like to say at Giving Circle, has caught the attention of 16 NGOs from Thane district and the nearby tribal areas that send their products over for marketing. Even during the pandemic, Meenal and her team have taken part in two major global exhibitions, namely Namaste Bharat and World Trade Centre’s Handloom exhibition. The team, consisting mainly of differently-abled youths goes through many online courses for marketing and technical skills, which she believes gives them motivation and occupation. Her efforts have been recognized in the form of many awards and accolades including the Sakhi Sanman Award in 2016 by Lokmat Sakhi Manch. On Women’s Day in 2019, she was honoured by her alma matter State Bank of India Staff Union for her exemplary work. Apart from her work for SEFD, she was also selected as a mentee with the Cherie Blair Foundation in 2018, which supports women entrepreneurs from 105 countries.
“My biggest inspiration comes from G.O.D.S‘(Groups of Disabled) who are fighting against all odds to live a life with self-esteem and dignity,” says Meenal. Her ultimate aim is to reach and help as many differently abled persons as possible, and looks forward to our support in this endeavor.
We at Giving Circle admire and support Meenal Mandlik’s approach to social work. Afterall, only when we reap the profits can we benefit those in need.