“Journey from an employer to an entrepreneur was difficult for me,” says Neha Swain, a youth facilitator and co-founder of NGO ‘Rubaroo’, who recently bagged the prestigious ‘Queen Young Leaders Award, 2016’ at UK. The award, constituted by Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is given to young people from across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth who are taking the lead in transforming the lives of others and making a lasting difference in their communities. Only two people from India have received the award this year and Neha is one of them.
Born and brought up in Rourkela, Neha is currently settled in Hyderabad and is helping young people develop leadership skills through interactive workshops irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. Having completed her schooling in Odisha, Neha shifted to Hyderabad with family seven years back. She graduated from Christ College of Hyderabad and did her Masters from Delhi School of Social Work after which her life took an interesting turn, one that led to the welfare of many youths. My City Links caught up with the young social entrepreneur to know more about her journey even as she shared fond memories about Odisha. Excerpts:
Congratulations for the award. Only two Indians have received it, you being one. How does it feel?
The trust had received more than 2000 applications for the award this year, out of which only 60 got selected from the 53 Commonwealth countries. Kartik Shawney and I got selected from India to receive this award. I was shocked and thrilled when they called and announced the results. India is such a huge country and it was a great privilege to represent it.
How did you get into the field of social work?
After my Masters, the first thing I did was join Delhi-based Pravah and became a part of their ‘Adolescent Intervention programme’ that aims at coordinating, designing, and facilitating leadership workshops among school students. I was there for two years and then moved back to Hyderabad. My mentor inspired me to take the leap and start ‘Pravah- Change Looms’ programme in Hyderabad. Social entrepreneurship was totally a new concept for me. Initially I was a bit nervous but later I interacted with peers at a development centre and started my new journey.
What difficulties did you face in your entrepreneur journey?
When I decided to set up Pravah Pahal in Hyderabad, I was the only one handling everything. So, I had to play new roles like marketing with zero experience. It was difficult but I never lost hope and kept trying. And, the initial days were interesting. We were trying to conduct workshops and interactive sessions with students and teachers and making efforts to build partnership with other organisations as well. We also carried out a lot of campaigns during those days. Then, I also got selected as an investee of UnLTD Hyderabad Chapter, an incubator that funds social entrepreneurs. And, in 2014, we got registered, renamed our organisation as ‘Rubaroo’ and started making efforts to build a new team to meet the growing demand in Hyderabad.
Tell us more about ‘Rubaroo’.
‘Rubaroo’ is an Urdu term which means coming face to face. Monisha Vemavarapu and I co-founded it in 2013 (then we were calling it Pravah Pahal). With fund support from Pravah and UnLTD Hyderabad Chapter, we got it registered as ‘Rubaroo’ and then found our third co-founder Hema Khatri. This organisation is our way of giving back to society and living our leadership dreams. It has given us a sense of being and helps us reach out to the youth and inspire social change.
Being an Odia, what is it that you miss most about the state?
It will be my people. Though I love my work but I miss my friends and relatives a lot. I am also very fond of Odia cuisine. Chhena poda and Cuttack aloo dum dahibara are my favourite. And, yes I have to say here that my childhood days were the best part of my life. I still remember, every summer vacation, I used to visit my grandparents in Bhubaneswar. They used to teach me many things about Odia culture and tradition. My grandmother was a very good cook as well and I used to love eating everything that was cooked by her.
Apart from social work, are you interested in any other activities?
Well, as a teenager, I loved playing basketball and have also represented Odisha in many national level basketball tournaments. That gave me a lot of opportunity to stay and play in Cuttack and Berhampur and I thoroughly enjoyed that time.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
To become an entrepreneur, the support of a mentor is very essential. For me, that has been the driving force. Although my family always stood by my decision but without my mentor, I couldn’t have reached such a height. My mentor has always encouraged and supported me. So, proper guidance from a mentor is a must as starting a startup is not an easy task. Of course, to make it successful, you have to come up with the right plans. In the initial stage, lots of problems will come but if you try to act in a systematic way and follow the words of your mentor, success won’t elude you.
As a social worker, what changes do you want to bring in this society?
Our main focus is to create an inclusive space in the society. We have done lots of projects, campaigns and workshops to influence people including parents, teachers and children, not only in schools but also in various colleges. We want that our society should be free of discrimination and there should not be any stereotype thinking present within us.