A batch of 1988 engineering graduates met at a reunion a few years back and reminisced about the good old times. They realised, with gratitude, how many of them were doing well for themselves. Unlike other reunions, the group wanted to come together and give back to society. No one had any idea how to go about it. The batch mates were living across different continents and needed someone who was passionate to take on the initiative. They unanimously nominated Narsimha Prabhu, a resident of Bengaluru, to take on the post.
Prabhu, a man in his early 50’s, holds a very senior position in an MNC and is passionate about social work. One of the areas in which the group wanted to work was education for the lesser strata of the society. For the next couple of months Prabhu spoke to a few village schools to figure out how they could help. The needs from each school were so different that they realised they will not be able to do justice if they had just one standard programme. So they decided to customise their program to suit the needs of every school. Thus was born Socio Active!
Five years since its inception, Socio Active is a now a non-profit which brings about socio-economic change in the lives of students who can’t afford school. Socio Active believes that education is the most critical requisite for socio-economic change in our society. One of the core values of the NGO is to have the spirit of volunteerism which means that the members of this group will not be paid any salary, stipend or any financial reimbursement and they all do it in their own capacity. This has helped keep organisational costs low. This is one of the reasons that the efforts of the oganisation are sustainable and replicable. Another highlight for this group is collective responsibility as they believe that victory or failure of any project belongs to the entire group and not just the individual. This ensures that people work together as a team and that they all have a common goal.
The members of Socio Active realised in their initial days that government schools get aid from government in the form of uniforms, shoes and lunch. What they don’t provide is the school bag and stationary. This is where Socio Active has stepped in to help children. Without books and other stationary items it is difficult for children to study and make notes. “Children from lesser income households, especially from first to fifth standard, need a strong foundation in education and for that they need to write and practice,” says Prabhu. The thought process behind the idea is that if young children’s basic needs in education are met, they will feel encouraged and inspired to complete their education. This idea has been welcomed by the schools as well.
Today, Socio Active is provides 100 school bags to 10 government schools. Each school bag consists of 10 books, a colouring book, crayon set, exam pad, pencils and erasers, enough to sustain a child’s stationery requirement for more than 7-8 months. These 100 school kits are given to the most needy and underprivileged students, most of whom may be children of migrant workers or those from poor families. Teachers help identify these students and Prabhu ensures that the kits reach them. Every child who receives the school kit is known as a Socio Active kid and the teachers who support this initiative are called Socio Active teachers.
“Most of these kids are from very difficult circumstances and sometimes come to school just for mid-day meals”, says Prabhu. “These children need motivation to come to school and once they get habituated, their aspirations also increase.” Aspirations could include becoming a policeman or a security guard as they feel these jobs play a powerful role and protect the society at large. Socio active is now spending over a lakh rupees per annum on providing school kits. Socio Active is also engaged with NGO ‘Pratham’ (a non-profit publisher of children books in Indian languages) which provides story books for these children in their own classrooms. In recent times, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools across the country have closed. Given the plight of migrant worker’s children Socio Active has donated a portion of their contribution to the ‘PM Cares’ fund. While the group has been funding expenses themselves for all these years, they are now looking for donors who can help them further their cause. The group wishes to expand its activities to create Socio Active classrooms and Socio Active schools. The members of Socio Active are also looking for volunteers who can help them to distribute more school kits to the needy. A simple reunion gave birth to an idea that has made real impact in the lives of many children across the country.
Socio Active has also shown the value of making your organisation a sustainable one which relies on the volunteering spirit of individuals as well as team work and coordination. Many of us attend reunions with our school and college mates. Perhaps next time you will be inspired to start something meaningful with your alumnus just the way group Socio Active did!