A unique contest in the social sector shows the potential of good storytelling in philanthropy.

Kaarigar Clinic is a business doctor for those who never would have the opportunity to see such a doctor. The first patient that would tell its co-founder Nilesh Priyadarshi whether the concept had a future was Pabiben, an embroidery artisan from the nomadic Rabari community in Kutch. Modern market culture is faceless. Go to a mall and see any product, the consumer doesn’t know who made them and the artisan does not know who is using his or her creation. “We came to the conclusion that if brands are created out of names of the artisans, then they will get an identity in the market and connect to it.

Artisans don’t have formal education or skills of business, design and management to start their own business. We developed a model,” he says. Pabiben was their first test case. They worked for three years on setting up her business and a brand called pabiben.com. “Pabiben’s journey started with ₹ 1,500. Now, she has a turnover of ₹ 40 lakh. In her village, she gives work to 300 women.

When the model became successful, we realised that India could have thousands of Pabibens. We started Kaarigar Clinic. We will give them a platform and business ecosystem. Work with them for two to three years creating a brand in their name and slowly make them able to independently run the business. We have developed four artisan brands and are associated with more than a thousand artisans,” says Priyadarshi. But Kaarigar Clinic, based out of Gujarat, was itself a small outfit and could use resources and recognition. That was how Priyadarshi found himself in February making a pitch in a unique online competition before hundreds of potential donors, mostly from the corporate world.

Another person doing a pitch on the same day there was Nilesh Borde. Just a year back, he had been an introvert spending most of his time inside his home, earning a livelihood giving tuitions. That day, even though he had the jitters before the presentation began, once the camera got rolling, the words came easy and confident.

Borde is physically disabled, unable to walk with cerebral palsy. He was representing Maya CARE Foundation, an NGO started by Manjiri Gokhale Joshi and her husband Abhay Joshi. Their idea was to bring together the disabled and very aged, so that the former could help out with the latter’s needs. For the first 11 years, the Joshis, professionals with daily jobs, ran the organisation from personal funds garnered through their salaries. “In 2020, we were at a crossroads. I had quit my job and we couldn’t run it like earlier. We decided to change strategy, to build a team and look for external funds. We never had a steady team until then.

Now, we have 100 persons with disabilities working with us. Out of 100, we identified 15 as leaders and critical talent. They are on their way to lead the functions and take the organisation forward.” When Borde got in touch with them, they sensed his potential and put him in charge of fundraising. “If you had met me a year back, you would never think I would be someone given such responsibilities. Right now, I have a team under me. My work is to deal with corporates, to find them on LinkedIn, take a meeting, explain about Maya CARE and raise funds. We don’t just get a livelihood, but also the blessings of the elderly whom we assist,” he says.

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The organisation that brought Maya CARE and Kaarigar Clinic on the same platform was Social Ventures Partners (SVP), which itself is unusual in many ways. SVP predominantly comprises people from the corporate world who felt a need to do something beyond the daily grind that they were so successful at. Engaged philanthropy, their philosophy, insists on them not just giving money, but also time, in bringing their corporate skills to mentor those engaged in social causes. For example, Sanjay Parikh, co-founder of Indigene Lifesystems, a health tech services and solutions provider to the global pharmaceutical industry. He had called up Govind Iyer, a partner at Egon Zehnder, a global management consultancy and leadership advisory firm, for a professional reason. Iyer is also the chairperson of SVP India, and during the conversation, told Parikh about it. It piqued his interest. Parikh said, “It was at a time when I was coming fresh off a pretty large fundraising event that we had done, stepping back to look at what I wanted to kind of tee up for the next several years of my life as well. This really resonated.”

SVP is a global organisation. Its India chapter first started in Bengaluru and at the time Iyer, who is based in Mumbai, used to fly down for the monthly meetings. Since then, they have expanded across the country. Iyer says their approach is simple. “It’s bringing people like Sanjay and myself together and sitting together around the table, deciding what causes we can support in our city. We identify NGOs that make a difference, talk to and understand them, see whether we want to invest time and money.

Besides funds, over a year, we spend about 100 to 200 hours with the NGOs, help them grow and scale.” SVP had a version of Fast Pitch abroad, and Iyer decided that it was time to have an Indian edition. “About four years ago, I heard about Fast Pitch. It was happening in the US, and it’s kind of been my dream to make this happen here.”

The first fast pitch in India was organised over an evening in the beginning of February. From 61 applications that they received, 12 had been shortlisted. They had deliberately only called for small and medium NGOs who needed the funds and exposure more. The selected NGOs spent over two months preparing their five-minute pitch. They were assisted in this by SVP which brought in a storytelling coach plus mentors from the corporate world.

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Priyadarshi says, “Until then, our perception had been to explain about our organisation in detail, and in as many words as possible. The storytelling coach told us to do it in as little time as possible to make an impression on the person in front of you. Once we made a draft pitch, we would then show it to our mentors who would give suggestions on making it better.” So it was with Borde too. He said, “When I got training from my three coaches, my confidence kept developing.”

Sanjay Parikh was one of those SVP Partners who coached a participant. He says, “Our role was to cut out the fat from their presentations. Their stories were compelling but when they started talking, they were trying to mix in many things. Whereas in a five-minute pitch, you’ve to build that emotional connect with your audience first. It’s what we do even internally in my organisation. If I’m head of sales, what I’m telling my sales guys is ‘Don’t complicate the message’. As coaches, our point was number one: What is important? Number two: What is the key message you want to highlight? Call that out.”

The winners were announced after the last pitch was made. Kaarigar Clinic won the first prize of ₹ 15 lakh. That was not all. While the pitches were happening, SVP had created a fundraiser profile for the NGOs on Giveindia, from where Kaarigar also got ₹ 10 lakh as donations. “What we got in total was more than our annual budget. We are going to introduce a digital marketplace called kaarigar ki dukaan, where we will have a zero per cent commission platform. All kaarigars will have their individual digital store there. These funds will help in that,” says Pryadarshi.

Maya CARE shared the second prize. They got ₹ 10 lakh, and it couldn’t have been more timely. A few months ago, they had been on the verge of running out of funds. Manjiri Gokhale Joshi says, “On average, we spend about ₹ 4 lakh a month in paying the people who work for us to serve the elderly. We have 120 people who are disabled, and we support them. We are now in 31 cities. So, there is a lot of money involved because everybody is dependent on us. Not once have we not paid.

Recently, we had just ₹  4,000 in the bank and soon had to pay salaries. And then we got a grant, and then the Fast Pitch prize. It is a welcome breather and will carry us for two months. There was also a crowdfunding done by SVP during the event, and the amount we got from that was ₹ 12 lakh. It is such a huge relief.”

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The other second prize was won by Stonesoup, a Bengaluru-based organisation that also works on a unique concept. Stonesoup was founded by a group of women residing in the same housing society who wanted to do something about waste segregation there. The success and spread of that eventually led to a trust that now has its primary focus on something no one really thinks about—how exactly do disposable sanitary pads get disposed? Their answer is that it doesn’t.

In her Fast Pitch presentation, Padma Subramanian, the head of Stonesoup Trust, said that the pads can’t be dumped in landfills because the plastic lasts thousands of years; they can’t be flushed because the line will get clogged; if you burn them, they release toxins into the air. India, with 335 million menstruating women, becomes home to 12 billion non-disposable sanitary pads every year.

Stonesoup’s solution is to promote the use of menstrual cups. They last a decade and just one of them prevents the use of as many as 1,800 disposable pads. Subramanian says that the experience of Fast Pitch has changed their perspective on how to present themselves. “All of us like stories, and learning how to make content out of our own work was very interesting.” Stonesoup won ₹ 10 lakh as a prize and got an additional ₹ 4.5 lakh from the Giveindia platform.

The funds will help in an ambitious pilot programme to create a zero-sanitary waste municipal ward. Says Stonesoup trustee Malini Parmar, “It’s not been done anywhere in the world. We were apprehensive of asking the government for the money because the payments often don’t come. And we don’t have deep enough pockets to fund it ourselves. So, these funds are going to cover almost 50 per cent cost of that pilot.”

SVP India is keen on doing Fast Pitch as at least an annual event from now on. Iyer says, “The Indian social sector is at a cottage industry stage. There are lots of good people doing lots of amazing stuff, but they’ve all not come together yet to create a glue to make it from a small-scale to a mid-scale enterprise. We need a body that will work with all NGOs.

Fast Pitch was a first step, to curate 12 NGOs, tell people out there these 12 do amazing work. There are very few platforms that give space for an NGO to really scream loud. I’m hoping that many others will do Fast Pitch-type events. This is the way to get the sector going.” #KhabarLive #hydnews

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A senior journalist having 25 years of experience in national and international publications and media houses across the globe in various positions. A multi-lingual personality with desk multi-tasking skills. He belongs to Hyderabad in India. Ahssanuddin's work is driven by his desire to create clarity, connection, and a shared sense of purpose through the power of the written word. His background as an writer informs his approach to writing. Years of analyzing text and building news means that adapting to a reporting voice, tone, and unique needs comes as second nature.