AROH Foundation plans to spread wings in Karnataka
On her way to school, on a cold December morning, Dr Neelam Gupta saw a poor little girl on the roadside, shivering. She was only wearing a torn cotton shirt. Moved by the girl's plight, she gave her the woolen sweater she was wearing.
Bengaluru: On her way to school, on a cold December morning, Dr Neelam Gupta saw a poor little girl on the roadside, shivering. She was only wearing a torn cotton shirt. Moved by the girl's plight, she gave her the woolen sweater she was wearing. The next day she saw the same girl sans the sweater. The girl's sweater was sold by her impoverished father.
"That day I decided to work for the uplift of the poor and underprivileged and to provide equal opportunities of growth and development to as many poor people as possible. If entrepreneurship is a difficult life, social entrepreneurship can be even more so. The first and biggest challenge came from my parents who asked me to drop the 'stupid idea' and to take up a job and get married. My parents found it absolutely stupid to think of charity when we could barely survive on my father's meager salary. I was asked to achieve financial stability and wait for the right moment to give wings to my dream," Gupta recollects.
Who knew then that she would become the founder president and CEO of AROH Foundation?
After getting married Gupta set up a business of printing and publishing and ran it for about 10 years. In 2001, she registered AROH Foundation as a charitable society.
"I took up some research studies in fields like primary and secondary education, minority education, gender parity, female feticide, girls' education, women empowerment, etc. But I was not happy with only research work. I wanted to work for people at the grassroots, which was my purpose of setting up AROH," she says.
After scraping through the tide of financial crunch the stroke of luck happened for the NGO in 2009 when it received the approval for a project under the Swarn Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna (SJGSY).
"I applied to MoRD (Ministry of Rural Development) for a project under the Swarn Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna. The project had an objective to remove poverty from 7,000 households in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. I was praying hard to get this opportunity which could be a landmark project for AROH. I was on the verge of shutting down AROH when in February 2009 I received the approval for the project. That was the beginning of the first chapter of AROH."
However, the sanction order for the project got delayed.
"We did not receive any funds till the end of 2009. With the start of the first SGSY project, AROH could establish as a social organization working towards poverty reduction through programs of skill development and job placement for rural poor. After proving ourselves with the first project, AROH got several more in the series," she says.
The NGO has its presence in Naxal hotbeds as well. Gupta states that it was a challenge to work in conflict-riddled villages. She faced threats from Naxalites.
"We took the bold decision to venture into the 'Red Corridor' villages in Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. The field staff and functionaries have gone through the threats of Naxalites. I was personally challenged and threatened. But we have bravely carried on the work in areas where most needed and come out with great impact," she says.
Talking about a few challenges faced by women both as beneficiaries or staffers in the Naxal areas she points out that due to socio-cultural barriers, women hesitated and stayed within the confines of their homes.
"If women were motivated, men restricted them to any exposure. Social sector suffers dearth of good manpower. It is difficult to find competent human resources to work in remote and backward villages which lack basic amenities. Due to the monopoly of political and social leaders, the process of development is usually slow and has a lot of barriers. Lack of regular flow of funds is another major challenge as it is difficult to sustain the good work. Government funds are often put on hold due to various local and central administrative issues. Sometimes, the projects, especially of CSR, are stopped prematurely and not given sufficient time to significantly impact the development indicators," Gupta elaborates.
The NGO has plans to spread its wings in Karnataka. Gupta quotes Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission N.K. Singh who in 2019 said Karnataka may be a high-flyer on many counts, but the irony is that the State's poverty is unacceptably high at 21%.
"Since anaemia and malnutrition is again an issue in Karnataka, AROH plans to take up few aspirational or needy districts to replicate Holistic Rural Development Project, which boasts of a holistic approach to intervene in all possible development sectors including education, health, skill, NRM, etc and mitigate all challenges of all folks including men, women, children, cattle and natural resources within a village," Gupta says.
AROH has been working extensively with government schemes in multiple development issues like Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Swachhta Abhiyaan, Poshan Abhiyaan, Jal Shakti Abhiyaan, Beti Bachaao, Beti Padhaao Abhiyaan, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan at national level.