How I became a social entrepreneur

Pooja Vijay

“Entrepreneurship” is a word that is being tossed around a lot these days in our college. The concept sounded exciting, so I decided to join the college E-cell. Funnily enough, the E-cell didn’t really have any entrepreneurs in it. All we did was attend a few seminars by big shots and make a few business plans. I was quite disappointed by the whole affair and was about to find more interesting things to do when I was introduced to the lovely concept of “Social Entrepreneurship”. This was something that thoroughly fascinated me. It sounded terrific to be an entrepreneur and do good for the society.

The perfect opportunity turned up, when an organisation called “Students in Free Entrepreneurship” (SIFE) approached our college looking for new ideas. I was racking my brain for effective business plans when my mother offered me a cupcake. I had a stroke of what I would like to call ‘genius’. My poor mother didn’t understand my frenzied state as I ran towards the computer. The idea was pretty simple: we would approach NGOs and schools with differently abled students, set up a bakery, teach the students, sell the goods in schools and corporates and eventually the students would become financially independent.

I was thrilled because the SIFE representatives seemed really happy with my idea. I was sure I was going to win the business plan competition! I was waiting for the results to be announced, when the SIFE representative came up to me and said, “Wow, your plan seems pretty good but do you think you can make it a reality in three months?” “Yes”, I said casually, thinking that this was just part of the decision-making process.

cake-making

“Okay, then we’ll keep in touch and see your progress in a few months”. Stunned, I nodded. A bit later, I found out that this wasn’t just one of the ordinary business plan competitions but that we would receive a grant based on the implementation of our projects. They wanted to see a pilot bakery up and running in three months. This was easier said than done!

The first step was searching for an NGO or school where I could set up my bakery. I called up a friend who worked in the Corporate Social Responsibilty sector of a company and asked him for help. He told me that I was in luck: he had just started a program that took a few underprivileged men and trained them to be professional bakers. He told me that I could use these bakers to help me train the students in the NGO. I was thrilled, this seemed like an answer to my prayers. I didn’t have to do any work! He also provided me with a list of schools to call up and I set about doing this feverishly. Surprisingly, not many schools were receptive to my idea, they seemed more interested in money or sponsors. It took me a few days to locate a school that would let me start my training, but it was worth it.

Navachetana was a small school which catered to students with all types of mild and severe disabilities. What attracted me the most to them was how the teachers were so nice to the students. They only addressed them as “Chinni” and “Sweety” and were really patient. The school even had a kitchen, so it was just perfect for me! Borrowing my mother’s old oven and a few baking trays from friends, I set up my little bakery.

Now all I had to do was wait for those bakers and everything would be perfect! I had waited for 2 weeks without any news. Finally I got a call saying that the chefs had cheated my friend and taken off with the money meant for their training. Frantically, I started to call up all my friends who knew how to bake but they were all busy. There was only one thing left to do, I needed to learn how to bake! Equipped with Sanjeev Kapoor’s cook book I made my way to the school. Sadly, my first cake was a disaster! I somehow managed to add salt instead of sugar! However much my friends tried to convince me the cake was lovely (ignoring the salty taste) I was dejected. Deciding not to give up, I begged a friend to spare a little time to teach me how to bake and I soon knew how to bake delicious biscuits, muffins, banana bread and chocolate cake! I was much more confident now!

The first day was a little intimidating, I had never dealt with people with disabilities before. I was unsure how to handle them and whether they would be difficult to train. I realized how wrong I had been. The best part about the whole project was how I totally fell in love with my students. There were four of them, two girls and two boys. Everytime they saw me, their faces lit up and they would scream “Cake akka”. They were so eager to learn and so sincere. They all had such big dreams and wanted to be successful in life.

The going was tough in the beginning. I started by teaching the students the basic operations required in baking such as whipping, beating and mixing. It was challenging for the students, but after a week of practice they grasped it. Occasionally, they got distracted and would stop working. They couldn’t move their hands in a certain way and they found beating eggs very tough. Together we managed to pass all the barriers and soon were producing yummy cakes!

The rest followed pretty smoothly. I managed to get a few more people from my college on board and with their help increased the production capacity. I started getting small orders from friends and family and we managed to sell muffins outside a few colleges. I was elated! The pilot project was a big success. We even got covered by a big newspaper!

I submitted my progress to SIFE and with my team made a presentation in Mumbai. We applied for the Rs 40,000 grant and waited for the results. Soon I found out that we got the grant! The best part is that the SIFE team was so happy with our results that they decided to give us the one lakh grant instead of Rs. 40,000. The next part of my project will involve finding more schools that are interested in setting up bakeries. Though I there will be obstacles, I am sure I can overcome them.

Amidst all the good news, I was devastated to find out that one of my student had an epileptic fit and passed away. She will surely be missed. I hope that the future bakery projects will help my students become financially independent and able to lead dignified lives.

The writer is a student from Bangalore and can be reached at [email protected].

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