Alumni Interview

Nitdownload (2)in Tailor, currently the CEO of Serve Happiness, graduated five years ago from IIIT-B. He won the Entrepreneurship of the Year award at the convocation last year. A multifaceted personality, he has travelled through many paths, some of which are as a Professor, software engineer, until he found his passion in serving people as a social entrepreneur. Apart from this, he has been a facilitator of JagritiYatra and YuvaPrernaYatra, which are described as life changing experience by many. Here are some excerpts from our telephonic interview with the man himself.

1. From all that we have heard of you, IIIT B had a great impact on you. You have grown personally, professionally and emotionally here. So can you tell us some specific things that you still cherish from being at IIITB?

I was born and brought up in a very small place called Bharuch, Gujarat. I studied at a municipal school. We didn’t have much knowledge or guidance as to what to do in life. It was only after I took up computer engineering did I have my first encounter with computers. Even after four years of college at Gujarat, life hadn’t changed much. I went through a huge transition, when I joined IIITB, where the environment was always buzzing with activity, which was quite a contrast to my life at Bharuch. There were people from all over India and such diversity broadened my perspective. I got myself involved in as many activities as possible, be it cultural or academics. My thinking process had changed and I gained

more confidence. Before coming to IIITB I was very poor in computer programming. Even a linked list program, I used to mug it up and write it, back in under-graduation. But after coming here I caught hold of the concepts. It’s not so much about the programming, but the confidence you gain in that process. If I remained at Bharuch as a professor, life would have been very smooth, but I wouldn’t have got a chance to experience the real world and find my place in it.

2. What are the opportunities for graduates like us, who might be interested in social entrepreneurship? Do we join an existing start up/NGO or set up your own company? Some of us will be taking up internships coming summer. If you want to see how social entrepreneurship is like, are there any particular place to take up an internship in?

Before coming directly into social entrepreneurship, I recommend that you should try taking up a corporate job. Get to know how the corporate organizations work. Even I had gained some experience at an MNC and Academia, before actually setting up an enterprise.

Of course there are plenty of opportunities when it comes to serving the society. There is this misconception among people that there is no money in the social side to make any lasting impact. But amendments to the New Company Bill, which 2% spend on social causes a must, led to a lot of corporate support. Initially, one might face some difficulties, as making an impact in the real world takes time and patience. But the central thing is that you need to have passion and great belief in yourself to cross the hurdles that you will come across. If you want to get a feel of social entrepreneurship, you can work at any of the social organizations or NGOs, maybe during the summer.

3. Any other field that you are interested in?

I love to act. I am a very good actor. So maybe I will act in short films or documentaries sometime. I also like writing. I have started writing a book about my experiences in life called ‘Life on Wheels’. I chose that title as I spend most of my time travelling. I want to write about the ups and downs I have faced. Apart from these, I am passionate about teaching. So whenever I get time I teach students.

4. You go around India and inspire students. So, any advice you would like give us?

There is only one thing I would like to tell you. It is important to think about your social career. By social career I mean, being a responsible citizen, you should start taking initiatives instead of waiting for change to happen. Despite earning a lot of money in the corporate sector, I never felt the same satisfaction or happiness, which I felt from serving people. You have only one life, so do something you and the people who care about you are proud of. There are lots of opportunities out there. Life mein pagal banna zaruri hai... (You have to be crazy sometimes).

5. Can you share withus how a day in the life of a socialentrepreneur is like…  How is it different from that of a CEO of other profit based companies.

My working day starts with discussing work related plans and strategies with my colleagues friends. Occasionally, I work with the media and interact with newspapers, tv channels, magazines. After that, we have team meetings to discuss the strategies as to what projects to do next, 5 days a week. Apart from the hectic work schedule, I make time for physical activities like cycling and exercising. I get a chance to talk to a lot of young people about their social initiatives.

Basically we are not running a company. We are just running an initiative which can bring some positivity into the world. Then I thought let’s connect more people and I started Serve Happiness as an initiative. Slowly it grew as an organization. Yet I operate from my home in a makeshift office in a small corner. Everyday is very different. Some days I used to meet with the ministers at Gujarat regarding various projects.

6. Who are the people you work with?

On a daily basis, I work with 5 to 10 people who vary a lot from presidents of the company or the ministers to NGO volunteers.

7. We know you have received the award as the Best Entrepreneur of the year. Who do you think is the best entrepreneur in India?

There are so many people working for a cause. At Jagriti Yatra itself we came across so many amazing people like Mr. Gupta, Bunker Roy. There is nothing like a single best person. Even a small person at the corner of the world is doing something good for the society with a pure heart is a social entrepreneur.

8. Do you have any mentor… If so how did you go about choosing the mentor.

I don’t have a mentor as such. I meet people from different fields and backgrounds which include people leading other NGOs and Jagritiyatri. They give me different ideas. Like I met a lady from Aurbindo ashram from Pondicherry, who gave me some ideas to start up an international centre for entrepreneurship. I take inspiration from all sources. Even small things like children playing cricket with a carefree attitude I have a lot friends and we collaborate together for different projects.

9. Do you think there need to be more start ups like the Serve Happiness? Is there a shortage of such initiatives in India?

We did a very interesting survey as a part of Openfuel. A nationwide entrepreneurship survey was conducted in 56 colleges, which included IITs and NITs. What we found out was that so many students wanted to start up, but they were not getting exposed to the right environment. Not from the college , family, society nor friends. Wehave to create right culture for entrepreneurship in our society. Entrepreneurship is about creating a community, rather than economy. When we talk about big organizations like Reliance or Birla, these organisations are building the economy of the country. But entrepreneurship is about creating a community. In India we need a culture where people come together and create something at the ground level. When I was working at a startup in Europe, I was exposed a very different culture where even the smallest of the ideas were recognised and appreciated. This environment inspires me to do something creative. There was a support system both in the company as well as the university where they encourage you to pursue your ideas. But in India, people have fears associated with start ups/entrepreneurship. We should create an environment where a normal person’s ideas should not be bogged down by the environment around you. About three or four years ago, nobody believed in my idea. They used to look down on me and asked if I didn’t have any better work to do or why didn’t I work for some company. But only after I became successful did people appreciate and encourage me. If this encouragement and support could be provided at the school level, it would lead to greater things. This is what we lack in India. The mentality of the people needs to change. Even at the family level, if the kid wants to do something for the nation them, let him do it.

10. It’s been nearly four years since you have entered the field of socialentrepreneurship. Do you think the way the environment is more conducive tostartups today than four years ago? You see many more startups today.

When you talk about entrepreneurship or start ups, the first that comes to mind is funding, business models, etc. For me entrepreneurship is ‘antar prerna’ (self-motivation), to be inspired from within. When I started Serve Happiness I started with an intention to make a difference to the society and not worrying about business models or funding. At that I never knew anything about entrepreneurship. So when we talk about entrepreneurship and all, it should not revolve around business models, but it should be more about your passion to do something. That sort of environment hasn’t yet set in…

11. Will you be conducting the Narmada PrernaYatra this year as well? Your future plans for the Yatra…

Yes, but this year we will be expanding the yatra to other parts of India. Apart from Narmada prerna yatra, there will be Tapi prerna yatra in the south along with an entrepreneurship program which will fully residential one. We are targeting this program at the corporate as well as college level. It is for people who can do something for the society, after the Yatra. We will provide all kinds of funding and support. If this yatra becomes very successful, I have plans of expanding it further into a wh11ole Gujarat yatra. We have a lot of funding to carry this out, but the main thing I am concerned about is the quality of the yatra. Apart from this, we also conduct a lot of entrepreneurship programs as a part of Openfuel at IIM Ahmedabad or DU campuses. In the future I want to hold these events at an eco-friendly place.

PERSONAL INTERESTS

Most Recent Book: Plunnge by Rakesh Godhwani.

True inspiration: Whenever I feel down, I go spend my time with the river (and meditate near river Narmada). I live close by. The whole Narmada prernayatra is tribute to the Narmada river.

Life changing experience: When I got an opportunity to go to Sweden, Malmo University. It changed my thought process. I came across a lot of changes when I went from a developing country to a developed one.

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