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'Education Is The Only Medium To Bring A Long Lasting Sustainable Change'

In an interview, Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder & Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation, shared the objectives, major programme, initiatives and roadblocks of Smile Foundation

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In an interview, Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder & Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation, shared the objectives, major programme, initiatives and roadblocks of Smile Foundation

What led to you to shift your career from the Corporate to Social Sector?

A: Pursuing a career in the corporate finance sector, I came to Delhi in the 90's. This was also the period of early economic liberalization.. The economic reforms affected many sectors, finance professionals like me were the first one to understand this transition and success followed. In relative terms, the basic requirements of livelihood were achieved fast.

Coming from a humble background in Odisha, the disparities around us forced me to reflect on what I was doing in terms of giving back to the society. The very thought of doing something beyond just professional gain started haunting.

I met and brought in a group of likeminded friends to start discussing what and how to do something which can impact maximum lives even with limited understanding and resources. There was so much to do in terms of development and nothing would look sufficient. Children are the future of a nation. So we started working in the sector of education as education is the only medium to enlighten the children and bring about a long lasting sustainable change. But as the development sector was not so organized back then, it required and demanded a lot of time and effort to continue the work.

I gave up my corporate career and involved myself in building Smile Foundation. In the year 2002 Smile Foundation came into existence.

How has the experience been?
In terms of experience, it's been a wonderful journey throughout these years. When we started, things were not easy but our determination, commitment and hard work paid. We started raw with only a vision to do something for society's development with no definite goal or big plans. During this journey we had our learning's by facing rejections, challenges and today when I look back from where we started and where we have reached now, I feel contented.

From a larger perspective, I believe there is nothing as sufficient or a set goal in the development sector. Whatever you do, it always looks little and insufficient as the requirements are so huge. In the context of povert and disparity that exists in India, Smile Foundation has a long way to go. We have to expand and keep involving civil society as partner of change. We have to reach out to as many deserving children, their families and communities as we can.

What are the objectives of Smile Foundation?
Working for children is the prime objective and main focus area for Smile Foundation. For an emerging country like India, development of underprivileged children holds the key to the progress of the nation itself, and their education is the cornerstone of this progress. But education for children cannot be achieved without ensuring the welfare of the family - a child can go to school regularly only when the family, particularly the mother is healthy and empowered; the family has decent livelihood opportunities and a steady income.

Realizing this, Smile Foundation, starting with the education of underprivileged children, has adopted a lifecycle approach with intensive programmes focused on family health, livelihood and women empowerment, which address the needs of children, their families and the larger community.

Currently, Smile Foundation is reaching out to more than 400,000 underprivileged children, youth and women directly every year through more than 200 welfare projects on subjects such as education, healthcare, livelihood, and women empowerment across 25 states of India.

Please share details of the foundation's major programmes and initiatives.
Smile Foundation works in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Livelihood & Women Empowerment.

Mission Education: Mission Education is a national level programme of Smile Foundation which focuses on basic education and healthcare of underprivileged children. Through the programme, Smile Foundation promotes universal education and creates the process required to streamline the underprivileged children into the mainstream schools in a more sustained manner. More than 200,000 children have directly benefited from Mission Education programme since 2002 and last year 21,346 children have been benefited.

The Smile Twin e-Learning Programme: STeP is an employability programme of Smile Foundation, for the underprivileged youth living in urban slums and rural areas. The programme aims at creating a pool of young and independent people, from the marginalized section, through skill enhancement in tandem with market requirements. It is an effort towards bridging the gap between demand and supply of skilled manpower in the fast emerging services and retail sectors of modern India. So far, more than 22,600 youth have been trained and 14,500 have been placed across India.

Smile on Wheels (SoW): Smile on Wheels is a national level mobile hospital programme taking curative, preventive and promotive healthcare to the doorsteps of urban poor and underserved villagers benefitting 354,088 lives last year across India.

Swabhiman: Swabhiman is a programme focusing on girl children and women empowerment. The USP of Swabhiman is its innovative and highly effective approach named '4 S Model' which means 'Seeking Healthcare as a Behaviour', Support through Education, Support from Men through Male Involvement, and Sustaining Change in the Community. As many as 68,030 girls and women have benefited from four intensive operational projects last year.

Why Smile Foundation is the best known Indian NGO?
Smile Foundation is one of the very few Indian NGOs who are less into advocacy but more into service delivery. Currently, Smile Foundation is reaching out to more than 400,000 underprivileged children, youth and women directly every year through more than more than 200 welfare projects on subjects such as education, healthcare, livelihood, and women empowerment across 25 states of India.

" The flagship initiative of Smile Foundation has reached out to 21,346 children last year
" 22,600 underprivileged youth provided employability training, and over 14,500 have been placed last year
" Doorstep healthcare services provided to villages and urban slums across India, benefitting 354,088 lives last year
" So far, Swabhiman has successfully made a difference to the lives of over 68,030 underprivileged women and adolescent girls last year

I believe our success lies in the fact that Smile Foundation is a result of inspiring tale of civic driven change rather than an individual's story. As we move along, people came onboard.

Any major roadblocks?
A: When Smile Foundation started its journey in 2002, the initial challenges were to identify a robust working model and processes to ensure good governance and a sustainable mechanism to achieve the developmental results for the benefit of the children & their families. The absence of a dependable financial mechanism for the development sector was scary. Taking cue from the business model of 'venture capital', an innovative model called 'Social Venture Philanthropy' was evolved to empower genuine grassroots initiatives (small NGOs) by inculcating accountability, sustainability, communication and leadership.

Smile Foundation developed an understanding of how the corporate sector functioned. Over the years, a bridge was established - linking the needs of development initiatives with the business needs of corporate. And it started producing results.

What are the foundation's future plans?
We want to continue our Endeavour towards empowering underprivileged children, youth and women through relevant education, innovative healthcare and market-focused livelihood programmes.

" Keep developing and deploying the best possible methodology and technology for achieving ideal SROI (social return on investment),
" To promote our practice of good governance more widely
" To link business competitiveness of the corporate with social development initiatives
" Also to sensitize privileged children, youth and citizens in general to promote Civic Driven Change

Any other comment?
Apart from the Thematic and the Non-Thematic areas that Smile Foundation focuses, we also responds to the call of humanity in times of calamities under our Disaster Response programme, acting promptly to reach out and respond to the immediate needs of the disaster affected people, while also maintaining a sustainable approach to help them rebuild their lives by facilitating their education, healthcare and livelihood.

In the recent Assam Flood, Smile Foundation has reached out to the flood stricken areas with dry foods, bottled water, survival kits and medical facilities. The Disaster Response team of Smile Foundation actively aided the rescue and immediate relief efforts in the city.

Further need assessment is being carried out to devise short term and long term plans for rehabilitation and revival of the affected children and families in identified flood affected areas.


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