People's Basic Needs

This Startup’s Battery Pack & Charging Station Will Charge Your EV in 15 Mins

Exponent Energy, a Bengaluru-based startup, has built a battery pack and charging station called E-pack and E-pump, respectively. The startup claims that together they unlock a 0 to 100% rapid charge within 15 minutes for all commercial vehicles, irrespective of the number of wheels. They’re doing this using affordable lithium-ion cells and delivering a warranty of 3,000 charging cycles.

Suffice to say, the ‘Flexible Energy Stack’ they are building could revolutionise the way Indians adopt electric vehicles (EVs). (Above image of co-founders Arun Vinayak and Sanjay Byalal alongside Exponent’s E-Pack)

It was co-founded by Arun Vinayak earlier this year, the founding partner and former Chief Product Officer at Ather Energy, and his former colleague there, Sanjay Byalal. Exponent Energy aims to bridge the relationship between battery cells and chargers to ensure there is less stress on EV batteries, while fully charging them in 15 minutes only.

To give you some context, regular charging solutions take anywhere between four to eight hours to deliver a full charge. Most batteries, meanwhile, last only three years or 1,000-1,200 charge cycles primarily because of the significant degradation they suffer during charging. Finally, the best fast-charging solutions in India are restricted to a few premium EVs, which perform a full charge within 50 minutes and have several caveats to consider.

“If you look at the energy flow in the EV sector, you have the power grid, chargers, battery, and motors. OEMs have figured out how to build great vehicles. They are able to buy batteries and motors and put all of this together and sell a vehicle. The charging partners on the other side are buying chargers and setting them up on the charging stations. But each side is working in isolation, which is why a certain battery and charger don’t seem to work very well. There is an inherent lack of coordination in the EV market today between OEMs, battery makers and charging stations,” says Arun Vinayak, in a conversation with The Better India.

Rapid charging in the current Indian space didn’t work because it was done using bulky and expensive technology like LTO (lithium-titanate-oxide) or supercapacitors. With chargers feeding regular batteries more power than they can handle, it leads to severe battery degradation.

“We’ve simplified energy flow between the battery and charger. This unlocks 15 minute ‍rapid charging on a wide range of regular lithium-ion cells, making it affordable and scalable,” he adds.

The Exponent E-Pump (Image courtesy Exponent Energy)

How Does it Work?

Until now, the general consensus has been that if you charge an EV battery faster, it will accelerate the degradation process, which is true if you’re taking the brute force approach of dumping as much energy into the battery.

In this regard, fast-charging will ruin battery life, which is why people in the EV space have taken the easy way out by saying they will charge slower and preserve the battery life.

Exponent Energy’s plan to deliver 15 minutes of rapid charging with 3,000 cycle life of affordable lithium-ion cells is made entirely possible by their ability to manage impedance or chaos within a battery cell that restricts the flow of energy. At a very basic level, charging a cell involves ions travelling from cathode to the anode. The faster you charge your batteries, more ions travel from cathode to anode, which results in greater chaos and degradation.

“For the first 800 charging cycles of testing we’ve done, we’ve only lost around 3.5% of capacity and provided a 3,000 life cycle warranty with our batteries thanks to active management of cell impedance across different charging cycles. In comparison, the EV industry in India today has an average warranty of 1,000 life cycles, and loses 20% capacity. By ensuring the charger and battery work seamlessly together, we’ve solved two hard problems, which is charge time and battery life. Most people think these are two opposing problems, but if you approach it right, this is actually just one problem to solve, which comes down to impedance,” explains Arun.

Their charging station is completely future-proofed, offering anywhere between 40 and 800 V and allowing different vehicles and form factors to charge at all sorts of voltages, he claims.

This is unlike battery swap technology, where OEMs are told that they have to only use a battery of only a certain specification and form factor. On the vehicle side, they offer a flexible energy stack. “EV manufacturers today can start working with us by configuring our BMS (battery management system) into their vehicles in the way they want or can just buy the battery pack directly from us. The quickest way is to buy our battery pack, which is modular,” he adds.

Today, they have an LFP (lithium ion phosphate) pack ready, while the NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) pack is being built for market use in three months. These are two of the most popularly used cell chemistries in India.

Thus far, the startup claims to have tested eight different types of cells in the market and successfully rapidly charged all of them from different cell suppliers. Exponent has employed one kind of cell for now, which they will launch in January 2022. This particular solution is a LFP one and it has got a 2 kWh module, but can be put into any configuration to provide any sort of battery pack on request.

“We are working with OEMs on one side and ensuring our battery packs work very well with their vehicles and setting up charging stations ourselves through charging partners. We’ve installed these charging stations in our Bengaluru office and next month we will launch our first charging station outside the office premises. Setting up a charging network is not really a problem for us given that we’ve got experience in it,” says Arun.

Testing these battery packs, meanwhile, has been extensive. Besides 800 charging cycles in lab conditions, the company claims to have also done thousands of kilometers on the road on their three and four-wheeler demo vehicles. In their laboratories, they have thermal chambers that supply rapid charge of their battery packs at 50℃ ambient temperature. They stress the battery with almost 8 years worth of testing of vibrations, heat and stress within a month. So far, they claim to have spent a lot of time and money on reliability testing.

Understanding Batteries

But how do they ensure the 3,000 charge cycles warranty? Most cell degradation happens while charging. Think of charging as rolling a boulder up the hill. You’re increasing the potential energy of the cell. It’s a very stressful process, creating a lot of heat, stress and internal damage. Discharging energy from a cell is like rolling a boulder down a hill, and thus much easier. If you give a car racer your EV, what will happen is that you’ll probably run out of battery range much sooner and your battery might heat up and de-rate, but it won’t actually damage the cell.

What damages the battery cell is charging because the internal resistance while charging (impedance) is almost four times more while charging as compared to discharging. Batteries catch fire only while charging because the battery management system (BMS) is inaccurate and is often charging the battery blind.

“In a given battery you have hundreds of cells and you need all of them to work in sync. If one cell goes kaput then your whole battery breaks down. If one cell is imbalanced and hits its limit during charging, the other cell also has to stop charging. Therefore, this results in the undercharging of the battery. On the other hand, if the BMS hasn’t sensed that a particular cell has crossed its limit and you keep charging it and overfill one cell with energy, that’s when you have fires starting. We have a BMS which is 10 times more accurate in reading what’s happening inside the battery and has one of the fastest balancing circuits,” claims Arun.

The second problem is that most chargers perform a constant current charge profile, i.e. they dump energy at a constant rate. As a result of this approach, you fundamentally spike impedance internally and this creates a lot of damage.

“What we are able to do is ensure that we slow the whole process down whenever required and speed it up whenever we can. Since we have a variable profile and can sense what’s happening inside a cell, the charger and cell can coordinate better to ensure there is less stress. When you remove that resistance, energy flows smoothly, charging time comes down, damage reduces and that’s why we are able to solve both these problems,” he adds.

For representational purposes only.

Inspiration Behind Exponent Energy

Exponent Energy’s larger problem statement is to get India to ‘go electric tomorrow’. When Arun joined Ather Energy in 2014 as a founding partner alongside Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain, no one in India believed in EVs. In 2018, Ather launched their first product (an e-scooter), which got people’s attention, but critics maintained that this was not a profitable venture. However, this has changed now.

As Sanjay says, “In India, commercial vehicles today roughly represent 10% of total vehicles sold in the country yet consume 70% of on-road energy. It’s an energy-hungry segment rushing to go electric and needs a dependable rapid charging network that helps them keep going. To fulfill this demand, we intend to actively collaborate with all major stakeholders.”

“Having built products like e-scooters and charging points, I felt that this was a problem we solved. My personal learning curve was flattening out. The second thing I noticed sometime around 2018-19 is a distinct change in the public discourse surrounding EVs from consumers, investors, battery manufacturers, the government and OEMs,” says Arun.

But most people were still buying very mediocre technology from China. A lot of people started coming to Ather and started asking for their technology. It sparked a thought with Arun that there could be an underlying technology that multiple OEMs could use.

However, Ather’s technology was built from a very vertically integrated point of view and it just didn’t make sense for anyone else to use it. Of course, there were OEMs like Hero that decided to use Ather’s charging port, but he realised that if they wanted to provide that technology, it had to be a separate company focusing on that problem.

“The 0 to 1 shift where EVs drive better than ICE vehicles has happened. However, the 1 to 100 scale is shackled by how complex and disrupted energy flow is for EVs today—specifically between chargers and batteries—leading to terrible charge times and battery life. The Indian EV space has massive potential ($206 Bn cumulatively by 2030). But to get there, we need to simplify energy for EVs by solving crucial deep tech problems. A rapid charging solution agnostic of battery capacity, cell chemistry and the number of wheels on a vehicle is the first of many innovations that will unlock exponential scale for everyone.” says Arun.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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Using Rs 80000 of Her Savings, Woman Brings Education to Disabled Tamil Nadu Kids

Suganya Kandasamy, from Triplicane in Tamil Nadu, was only a child when her father discouraged her from pursuing higher education.

“My father was a fisherman and had no financial means to fund my education. He also believed that women should not be highly educated. His words are still etched in my mind,” the 36-year-old tells The Better India.

Suganya says that it was then that she decided to study to the best of her abilities and become independent. “The hardships I experienced in my growing up years always made me feel terrible about the plight of children from financially weak families. Like me, they were also unable to get access to education,” she says.

Today, she has multiple qualifications, including graduating in Special Education and getting her Masters degree in Science, Psychology, Audiology and Speech Pathology. She has also specialised in intellectual ability, speech therapy and counselling.

“My desire to help the needy pushed me to struggle and reach the required qualification,” she says.

Teaching The Disabled For Free

 

Suganya started working with an NGO in 2010 which disabled children visited for treatment. “During my first lesson itself, I realised that I wanted to continue this for the rest of my life,” she says.

“The children from underprivileged backgrounds do not have the access and means to develop their cognitive skills. The parents are unaware of providing facilities to their children. As a result, the children suffer the most as their needs remain unaddressed,” she explains.

Suganya says that the social stigma and misconceptions about medical conditions further hinder the children’s growth in the early years. Moreover, accessing education for a child with special needs is expensive, and the underprivileged cannot afford the same, she adds.

She says that she gained the required academic skills and learned sign language during her stint at the NGO. It made her confident to start her own centre in 2014 called ‘Challenge Rehab Centre’.

“My father passed away in 2014, after which I quit my job and decided to dive into the cause. My mother was extremely against it and did not offer any support. So, I used Rs 80,000 of my savings kept aside for my wedding to start the centre,” Suganya adds.

She has been helping about 40 children with special needs through therapy classes and special education. Suganya also conducts counselling for parents and school teachers for free.

Suganya receives students mainly having Autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, hearing impairment and low vision.

“I charge Rs 200 per session unlike the fees demanded by experts in the field that range between Rs 1,000 and 1,200. Sometimes, I do not charge money from families who cannot afford it,” she says.

Watch special kids taking practical lessons at Suganya’s centre

Suganya adds that her efforts over the years have helped children enter inclusive schools and live comfortable lives. “They can speak well with improved motor skills and ability to attend classes in private schools,” she says.

Mohammed, one of the parents of an Autistic child from Chennai, says, “My son has Autism and did not speak or respond during our attempts to communicate with him or even socialise. My wife and I were desperately looking for experts to address his issues. But most of them followed a common template and charged exorbitant fees.”

He says that he learned about Suganya’s centre and approached it in 2019. “My son was 3.5 years old then. Over the months, he has improved. He now responds to our calls, understands names and recognises his parents. Suganya goes above and beyond to make sure your child improves to the best of their abilities. She also customises modules for improving skills. There is an evident improvement in our child,” Mohammed adds.

Suganya says that though improving the lives of children gives her satisfaction, her journey has been full of struggles. “Finally, my mother accepted me working for this social cause after five years. I was alone through the initial days and had no support from relatives or friends. Even carpenters and electricians refused to work while setting up the institute. I single-handedly did the minuscule and major work required when needed,” Suganya says.

Suganya says that over the years, the perception of people about her has turned positive, and they feel proud of her work.

She aims to start a vocational training centre and help as many children as possible lead a good life. “Many parents often express their concerns about their child’s future. The centre would ensure the children learn life skills for their livelihood and live an independent life,” she adds.

To know more about Suganya’s centre, you can contact her at 9884385869.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

 

Engineering Dropout’s Filter Gives Millions Worldwide Safe Water for 2 Paisa/Litre

Accessing clean water is a challenge during a natural disaster as an increased presence of bacteria, chemicals, livestock waste and other impurities may lead to contamination. Consuming impure water may cause a fast-spreading outbreak of disease and worsen the crisis by threatening human health. Apart from impurities, there may be disruptions or unavailability of potable water as well.

Hence, it becomes an utmost priority to arrange clean water as the first response to disaster management.

While many NGOs and disaster relief efforts provide packaged drinking water to those affected by disasters, the situation demands a stable and lasting solution, as it takes weeks or months to restore the water supply. Moreover, the use of package water creates the issue of plastic waste simultaneously.

And Pune-based company Aquaplus Water Purifiers (Pvt) Ltd, is serving precisely this cause through their unique water purification systems that have provided much-needed relief in over 50 natural disasters in the past 17 years.

Purifying water without power Villagers using Aquaplus purifier through hand pump to filter water.

However, the company never intended to cater the disaster relief efforts. In fact, its beginnings were quite simple, beginning when an engineering student dropped out.

Speaking with The Better India, Rahul Pathak, the founder of the company, says, “I was pursuing engineering from Pune where I realised that the field lacks the application of logic. I felt that the calculations and theories made the problems more complex with difficult solutions.”

Rahul says engineering requires 60 per cent common sense and 40 per cent technical knowledge. “I realised that the experiments and theorems would not benefit the society at large, but addressing the problem statement using a logical framework and arriving at simple solutions would serve a better purpose,” he adds.

In 1993, he quit academics and decided to market water purifiers. “My inspiration came from a business my father pursued. He used to manufacture and sell filters using ceramic technology that had industrial applications for automobile manufacturing companies. However, the recession in the 90s impacted the business, and his marketing strategies did not conceive results,” he says.

His father suggested that Rahul improve his own marketing skills, and thus he entered the business of selling the water filters.

In 1994-95, he set up the company and eventually learned to make the filters himself. “I was marketing domestic water filters and decided to scale up and enter the commercial space by selling industrial units. However, many companies were working on the same. The concept of membrane filters used in water filters was also becoming common. I had to come up with a unique product to stand out from the competition. Hence, I decided to create mobile water filters,” he recalls.

Rahul adds that the water filters have a membrane, a thin paper sheet, enabling four stages of water purification. They are microfiltration, ultra-filtration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. “These processes ensure purification of 99 per cent of water by cleaning out bacteria, viruses, germs, salinity, minerals and other unwanted products,” he says.

Earlier, the membranes were imported from China. But over the years, he learned how to produce membranes and even built a machine with scientists at The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), making it entirely indigenous.

The first opportunity to use the water filters arrived in 2005 during the Jammu-Kashmir earthquake, when Rahul and his team reached the disaster spot to assist the defence officials in relief efforts. “We offered to donate the water filters to the army as portable water filters were a new concept. The army agreed to use them and set them up in Uri and Tangdhar areas in relief camps,” he says.

It was the first time that the unique filters came to be of use in disaster relief and caught the attention of Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief (REDR), a group of engineering professionals, volunteering for the relief efforts. “They registered the filter among the list of items needed for disaster relief. Later, some experts from OXFAM, an international organisation working in Water Sanitation Hygiene (WASH), approached us and requested we develop a water filter that could purify 4,000 litres in an hour,” he adds

“The mobile water filters were useful to such an extent that they were then used in multiple flood relief efforts in the remotest parts of Bihar. Impressed by the efficiency, OXFAM started placing orders and exported it to the UK,” he says.

Aquaplus water purifier installed in a school.

Rahul says that the company worked closely with the experts to modify the water filters required according to Sphere Handbook, which came out as a collaborative effort of different NGOs advising minimum standards of supply in disaster relief. However, his efforts to upgrade and improve the portability of filters never stopped.

“After years of constant innovation and using techniques, we have created affordable, portable, low maintenance and efficient water filters that can reach remote parts of the country and purify water without the need for electricity,” he says. “The filters have a membrane of 0.01 microns, which cleans water using gravity, hand pump or fuel-driven motor depending on the availability of the resources. There are four models of water filters with different purifying capacities.”

Rahul says that the model named AP700CL was developed during Uttarakhand flash floods, making it convenient to carry in mountainous areas. It has proved to be a game-changer during multiple national disasters. “It can purify 7,000 litres of water in 10 hours and has been installed in 1,500 locations during the flash floods of Uttarakhand, Jammu, Kerala, Assam and Chennai floods,” he says.

Sarbjit Singh Sabota, an emergency specialist at United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says that the water filters have been crucial in helping people access clean drinking water. “The water filters are easy to carry due to less weight, effective in emergency cases, accessible and come with different purifying capacities,” he says.

He adds that the hand pump feature is vital in emergencies where there is no availability of electricity from fuel operated generators. “UNICEF has used about 200 water filters during the floods and cyclones in Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal and other states,” he says.

Another unique aspect of the water filter is that it costs less compared to the competitors. Rahul says that the innovative filters cost 1/3rd the amount compared to the conventional filters found with competitors. The technology developed and built by the company makes them low-cost, and we believe in making ethical profits. We want to earn money for sustenance and help the maximum number of needy,” he adds.

The unique water filters have also proven useful in other countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Lagos, Fiji islands, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and others, providing safe drinking water to millions of people during natural disasters.

Making a global mark

Watch Rahul Pathak demonstrating the functioning of the AP700 CL water purifier.

Sharing his challenges, Rahul says that reaching far off places with poor road connectivity, estimating needs and anticipating the intensity of the crisis always pose a challenge. “Besides, collaborating with the locals or organisations for the task to offer speedy help is another difficulty,” he says.

He says that running a company with no experience in business also posed a challenge for the first generation entrepreneur. “Banks are not confident to provide the loan. Moreover, my business was not a startup or an app that could lure venture capitalists,” he says.

He feels that water filters should become a part of the disaster management protocol and be installed at potential locations. “There are certain parts of the country where floods are an annual event, and pre-positioning such filters will give an edge in crisis management instead of waiting for the disaster to happen and then release the help,” Rahul says.

He says the plans are to make water filters and products competitive to global markets and ensure that an Indian product reaches most of the disaster relief works in the world.

To contact Rahul Pathak or know more about the company, click here.

Edited by Divya Sethu

Why My Husband & I Paused Our Careers to Live a Nomadic Life with Our Son for a Year

As the second wave of the pandemic receded, casual get-togethers over the weekend became a norm at the Verma household. Drinks would flow, everyone was well dressed, the conversations were eclectic, and the kids would watch an animated movie. Then, after the guests would leave, Mr and Mrs Verma would sit down with cups of coffee to revisit the evening.

This scene would repeat almost every weekend as they would discuss work, the past week, the coming week, the social commitments, the expenses, and so many other things that seasoned couples do.

What they don’t discuss anymore are their hopes, their vulnerabilities, their fears, where they see themselves in 10…15…20 years. Make no mistake — Mr and Mrs Verma are happy. They have a great future ahead of them. Aside from a catastrophe, they are well on their way towards financial independence. They have had pretty successful careers of almost 15 years. They have been married for nearly 10, with a 4-year-old kid, and don’t plan to have another. Their life is set. Or is it too predictable?

We found ourselves as members of this growing band of hole-in-the-heart happy couples. One random and fortunate conversation led us to a radical solution — a mid-career break. One year off from work, security, e-commerce, food ordering and everything we call familiar.

We have 20-25 years of productive work-life left ahead of us. So rather than thinking about how much of a career risk one year of unemployment was, we thought about how educational and therapeutic one year of relaxation, togetherness and shared experiences could be for our family, careers and lives.

My husband, Varun, quit his job. I had left work when our 4-year-old son, Atharv, was born. We sold all the old furniture and gave away our belongings that we did not need but were valuable for others. Then, we packed everything that we planned to use again and set off on an adventure. It took a few months planning and, of course, reassuring our parents — sab acha hoga (everything will be okay).

There were so many questions to be answered, things to figure out and insecurities to overcome. Many fights, soul-searching sessions, reflections and a hundred A4-sized papers later, we were ready. This was also the time when we broke the news to our son. His reaction was somewhat surprising; he ran to get his favourite paw patrol t-shirt from his cupboard and said, “Don’t forget to pack my beach clothes. I mean, just imagine, a break to have fun and learn.”

We are not pioneers of this idea, so we assumed that there would be resources we could leverage. But one thing we realised during this journey was how little support and advice is available online for couples like us who are navigating this path in life.

So, this is an attempt at compiling a few broad directions for couples. We hope to create a more detailed set of resources for such couples in the future.

The Psychological Struggles

 

As you go from discussion to decision to execution, self-doubt will grip you on every occasion. Are we doing the right thing? What will happen to our careers we have spent our lives building? Will we get bored in a month and come back? What will our friends and family say? (Please feel free to add your version of doubts and insecurities to the list.)

To make matters worse, our individual insecurities surfaced time and again. We felt like giving up and going back to the way things were at least a few times a day.

But what worked for us were our “why are we doing this” sessions. Every night, we would sit together and remind ourselves of all the reasons we had listed down when we set out on this path. We reminded ourselves that we knew it would be tough. We reminded ourselves that this is the best thing for our family right now.

In the end, there are no silver bullets. Any change brings some level of stress to the family. It is helpful to be aware that you will have differences, and the only way to deal with them is to discuss them openly.

Destinations and Journeys

Once you’ve decide to take the plunge, one of the first questions to ask yourself is – “Where should we spend this year?” Each family may have different ideas regarding this depending on their circumstances, resources and interests. Some may be fortunate enough to have a family home or farmhouse where they may want to set up a base. Some of us may have enough resources to spend a few months abroad. Some of us may be so bitten by wanderlust that we may not want to spend more than two weeks in a place. There are no right or wrong answers.

After much debate, we decided to divide the year equally into four destinations. That would give us enough time to know the place well, do some volunteer work, and give our son a semblance of stability.

We are spending the first quarter on a farm stay in the Nilgiris. I volunteer at a local NGO while also dabbling with making homemade soaps, shampoos, and cleaning liquids. My husband spends his time writing and taking long walks. Before moving to North India, we plan to head towards coastal Maharashtra/Goa to spend six months in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand. We considered the North East, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but had to park them for shorter visits or our next sabbatical.

Engaging the Children

A lot depends on the age of the children, their interests and the parental goals of the couple. Irrespective of whether or not you want to engage the children in formal education, you will spend a lot of time alone with the children. Have a plan for how you want to use this time. It is best to prepare before you start because it will be challenging to find the right tools and toys once you are on the road. Also, do not get too fixated on your learning plan for the child. They will often find ways to learn and enjoy, which you may not have anticipated earlier.

Our 4-year-old loves painting, Lego and monster trucks. We loaded up on colouring kits, Lego sets and many more toys, but once we reached Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, we saw him spending most of his time digging and building mud castles.

In short, have a plan, but go with the flow. The success of your sabbatical is directly proportional to how much fun the children are having.
We have been homeschooling our son until now, so it was natural not to admit him to any online classes or a local school. However, some parents, who are planning to spend extended time in a place, may think about a local school; otherwise, continuing with their existing online classes is always an option. Children, in general, enjoy a set routine and pattern, and their ongoing classes may be an excellent way to stay connected with a stable life once you start travelling.

Logistics

There are a few logistical points to take care of as you plan your move.

1. Existing furniture and household items – We took a hard look at all that was outdated or unnecessary and sold all of those things. The rest were packed and stored with a storage services company. In cities like Bengaluru, these are relatively economical, and you should be able to store all the things in a typical 2 BHK house for under Rs 5,000 per month.

2. Travelling – If your car is your primary mode of travel, you should get a full servicing and battery change before starting. Getting a roof carrier fixed on our car also helped us a lot for carrying the extra load. Having a car on the trip is very useful, though it is easy (and maybe more enjoyable for some folks) to do without a car altogether.

3. Electronics – Have a good look at the current electronic assets you have like phones, portable speakers, cameras, internet dongles, headphones, e-reader, etc. You will most likely use these things a lot during your trip. Based on your hobbies and requirements, make sure you plan to have good quality electronics with you when you start. It is usually expensive to buy/repair stuff when you are on the road.

Finance and Budgeting

The financial aspect of sabbaticals can be tricky. The immediate loss of income, combined with a potential slowdown in future income, needs to be dealt with diligently. It is difficult to advise people on this because everyone’s circumstances are different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that is likely to be helpful. However, here are a few tips:

1. Create a realistic estimate of your monthly expenditure while on the sabbatical. Add a 50 per cent buffer to it. Make sure you have enough liquid assets to survive at least 18 months. If you are not there yet, start saving and investing smartly.

2. Do not have any outstanding loans. If that is not possible, take the cost of EMIs into your monthly expenditure.

3. Invest in health and life insurance. Most of us are covered by our employers, but it is critical to insure yourself adequately while not employed (and even when you are).

4. Create an emergency fund. Again, there is no science behind how much would be enough.

5. Do not plan on part-time work during the sabbatical. If you earn some additional income, it is a plus, but do not count on it. The idea is to not burden yourself during your break with similar concerns that you are looking to escape.

We currently don’t follow a set schedule and plan our activities daily, based on the weather and our mood. Our only goal is to read, write, pursue our hobbies, and do silly and random dances whenever possible. Often, we just let it be and enjoy the view of the valley as the clouds roll in while our son plays games that he invented himself. On the weekends, we interact with other guests. We have had a chance to meet people as varied as nuclear scientists, environmental researchers, an athletics team on their high-altitude training, Army Officers etc. We are very excited about our next destination – a road trip through South India. Wish us luck!

If you would like to know more, please write to familialnomads@gmail.com or follow their journey here.

(Written by Ashuti Mathur; Edited by Yoshita Rao)

‘Failing IIT Pushed Me to Chase My Dreams, Bag Over Over 6M YouTube Subscribers’

For 25-year-old Shlok Srivastava, aka Tech Burner, who ranks among the fastest-growing technology influencers in India with 6.36 million subscribers on just YouTube, not securing admission into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was a “liberating experience”.

Like many children born into middle class households who have an aptitude for science, Shlok was pushed into the rat race of scoring good marks in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), which decides whether a student obtains a seat in India’s finest engineering institutions.

“Any child remotely good in academics with an interest in science is pushed into an extremely competitive environment. So, I did the whole nine yards of coaching classes, tuitions and put myself under a lot of pressure. My parents didn’t necessarily put serious pressure on me, but there is an intensely competitive environment fostered among students who study science in high schools [Class 11 and 12] and attend coaching classes. The environment, particularly in coaching centres, where they harbour that ‘rat race mentality’ for seats, creates an intensely competitive culture. Making matters worse are the expectations of people around you like your peers, relatives and family members. Therefore, when you fail the impact on your life is a lot harder than it otherwise should be,” says Shlok, speaking to The Better India.

Sholk admits he hadn’t experienced failure before.

He was a good student in school but the expectations of getting into IITs were so high that he felt that it was his destiny. When he failed, it was a blow that would take him at least three months to recover from.

“For three months after the JEE results came out, I felt like a failure. But I had to reassess whether I was really a failure or not. During this process, I had to reevaluate myself, my goals and what I wanted from this life,” he says.

“The first thing I realised is that real life isn’t as competitive as coaching centres where the student next to you wouldn’t even share their answers. You can seek and get help. Also, during this process, I researched many successful people. What I figured was that the biggest personalities suffered the biggest failures and the real winners in life are not those who have failed, but those who haven’t stopped. In my mind, I knew that I was a winner no matter what anyone else said,” he asserts.

Instead of IIT, Shlok took admission in SRM University, Chennai, in 2014. After failing to get into the IITs, he was open to starting from scratch. There was a feeling within that he could now do anything with no added pressure. As a result, he was able to explore different things in college from design, theatre and of course making videos on YouTube.

Today, the Tech Burner channel is one of the most-viewed YouTube channels in India dedicated to consumer technology with each video garnering an average of 1-2 million views. Shlok entered the influencer marketing industry sometime in 2014 when it was still in its infancy. But for him, it was all about creating content for different audiences and building human connections on a level that brands are unable to achieve through conventional forms of advertising.

Backed by a quirky and entertaining style of storytelling in colloquial Hindi interspersed with some English, Tech Burner today features the latest news on laptops, mobile phones and computers, ‘How To’ tutorials on gadgets and appliances, product reviews, and comparisons along with various life hacks making it a one-stop-shop for all things related to technology.

Shlok has leveraged the growing popularity of the Tech Burner channel, which racks up a reach of 50 million viewers a month, and launched two separate websites (techburner.in and burnerbits.com) and five online applications under another venture called Burner Media.

Both websites and the apps make revenue from advertisements and brand partnerships like the Tech Burner channel has been doing for the past few years. Meanwhile, he has recently launched a ‘premier value clothing line’ called Overlays. Combining all these ventures, he employs about 20 people full time with another 10 on a freelance basis.

Shlok Srivastava, aka Tech Burner: His YouTube channel has become an internet senseation

Evolution of a Content Creator

Before Shlok became Tech Burner, he was just a curious Class 11 child making amateur videos. But coming from a regular middle class family in Delhi, he didn’t have access to his own mobile phone, laptop or gadgets of that nature.

“The first videos I made were on my father’s laptop issued to him by his office. I started Tech Burner in college. Over the course of four years at SRM University, I was able to garner a steady following on YouTube with about 5,000 subscribers,” he recalls.

He was offered a job after graduating from college. But in a risk not many would take, he dropped the job offer and dedicated himself full time to his YouTube channel, which at the time was paying less than Rs 2,000 per month. The decision to give up the job offer wasn’t received well by his family.

“There was no doubt about what I wanted. In my mind, I knew this would work. So, I taught myself how to speak in front of a camera and make quality videos on YouTube. For a lot of YouTubers or other influencers on social media, there is one viral moment, which could include a video or a set of videos that do very well with an audience. I didn’t have that one viral video that changed the trajectory of my YouTube channel,” he explains.

His early videos on YouTube were addressing very niche tech problems.

For example, how do you install a lollipop calendar in your MotoG smartphone. He would make videos about a specific phone and small features in it that didn’t work or how you could install a particular feature. Back then, barely 1,000-2,000 viewers would watch these videos. Since Shlok couldn’t afford to buy new phones in college, he would work with mobile phones that belonged to his college friends, batchmates or mother.

“The intention was to always provide value to my audience. The objective was to make people’s lives easier when using a given gadget. Over time, I just took that objective and scaled it up. From one Motorola phone, I started talking about issues common to different mobile phones and what users could do to fix them. The channel shifted from discussing very niche technology to things that everyone was using. For example, I made a video about the Android USB OTG (adapter) hacks that users should know about, which they can deploy in every phone. Another such video we made was the five best Android apps users must try. Over time, we transitioned from addressing phone software to hardware, and began reviewing the newest phones in the market. The approach was to make content that everybody can watch and learn from,” he says.

His approach, however, has never been dull. Most people on social media want to be entertained first. To entertain people and teach them along the way is a very well crafted art. That’s what he started to learn over the course of his evolution in content creation. “If we can entertain people and in the process they learn something, it’s an extremely rewarding process. That is the approach we took to spread information and create value for our audience,” he adds.

Take the example of a video he published a week ago called ‘I Turn my Table Into a Gaming Computer’, where he teaches his audience how to assemble a computer in a manner which is both teachable and fun. Besides value in terms of knowledge, what one can see is a desire to make tech fun as well with some laughter and jokes (albeit poor ones).

His phone reviews also exhibit a similar spirit giving specific attention to consumer needs. His review of the latest Apple iPhone 13 Pro, which has garnered over 1.4 million in just five days, doesn’t go overboard with praise or criticism.

Another significant point of evolution in his content creation process was the transition from English to Hindi, which happened sometime in 2018 after he came to Delhi. He even announced it on his YouTube channel.

“That transition to Hindi happened when I left Chennai and moved to Delhi in 2018. On one particular auto rickshaw journey home in Delhi, I showed the driver one of my videos. He didn’t understand the content because it was in English. That’s when I realised that there are many others like him who wouldn’t be able to watch my videos because they’re in English. That’s when I started making videos in Hindi,” he explains.

The Business of Content Creation

At the end of the day, it’s a business. Tech Burner generated revenue through advertisements playing on the channel. As the channel expanded, there was affiliate marketing, in which a company compensates third-party publishers (like the Tech Burner YouTube channel) to generate traffic or leads to the company’s products and services.

“We work with a variety of brands. They also help us with a lot of things that we can’t do. For example, we recently visited a factory, where they gave us a behind the scenes exclusive on how they manufacture different components of smartphones that average users have never seen in their lives. Such content is valuable to our audience, but at the same time, it can deliver revenue for us. At the end of the day, branded content is another revenue stream for us,” he explains.

None of this business, however, was built overnight. It was only five years after he began running this YouTube channel that serious revenue began flowing in through content creation.

But does he believe that there is enough space for all YouTubers and social media influences to make a comfortable living through online creation?

Given the right amount of effort and creativity, he says there is space for everyone.

(You can visit his YouTube channel here.)

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: contact@thebetterindia.com, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

How to Make Pure Desi Ghee at Home in 6 Easy Steps

There was a time when the thought of ghee triggered sensory images of tarty fat being hand churned in buckets made of wood (Bilona). The fresh, sticky goodness was sure to be smeared over the morning paratha before it was stored away in a glass jar to be enjoyed for months to come.

While this clarified butter still lends a rich depth to a plethora of dishes, a progression in culture means that its production isn’t the same anymore. With tedious work schedules and the tempting availability of mass-produced goods, homemade ghee is becoming a rarer luxury by the day.

Homemade ghee is becoming a rare luxury

But during a team conversation, Manabi Katoch, editor at The Better India (Hindi) shared with us how she is one of the few who still finds the time to make the liquid gold herself.

So for those of you who wish to make homemade pure clarified butter for the best benefits as well, we distilled the process down to six simple steps with her tips:

  1. Boil about two litres of milk and separate the cream that forms on its top in a container. Do this for five to six days until the container is full. Manabi tells us that it’s important to keep the container in the freezer during this time so as to avoid fungus growth.
  2. Bring the cream to room temperature and add about two tablespoons of curd to it. Let it set overnight.
  3. Transfer this mixture into a blender, add about two glasses of cold water (until the blender is full) and churn. “The water needs to be cold for the fat to separate from the cream. This can be ensured by adding ice cubes as well,” she says.
  4. Separate the fat (which we call butter) from the buttermilk that is left behind in the blender. Make sure the milk is cleansed out completely. You may wash the butter in a bowl of water for this.
  5. Heat the clean butter on medium flame until it starts to boil. According to Manabi, it takes about 15 minutes for the butter to melt into ghee, during which one must keep stirring the pan frequently.
  6. “You will notice granules of milk solids beginning to float in the oil. Once this separation is complete, cool the liquid for a minute or two and sieve it into a fresh container for use,” Manabi says.

 

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Once A Child Labourer, Hero Helps Hundreds Of Homeless Get Care & Jobs

A few years ago, Puducherry-based Suresh (name changed) lost one eye and four fingers in a tragic accident. As a result, the 55-year-old, who was a rickshaw driver, lost his source of income, which in turn rendered him homeless. To make ends meet, he began selling paper and plastic to afford food, but when his second eye became weak as well, he was out of options. 

When Anumuthu, founder of Snehan NGO, approached Suresh for rehabilitation, the latter refused to speak. It took him about a week to open up and share his story. Meanwhile, Anumuthu arranged for funds for his eye operation. 

Six months on, Suresh’s eyesight is better and he runs his own shop to sell bags. Although he still lives on the streets, he does not have to beg or starve for food and clothing. He earns upto Rs 300 daily.

There are 1.77 million homeless people in India,  a majority of whom do not have access to shelter, sanitation, food, health and water, let alone a source of livelihood. 

The solution to this issue in India is not always appropriate, as the homeless usually end up in dingy and broken shelter homes. Instances of running away from these homes are also not uncommon. 

In a scenario where the population of the homeless has increased by 20%, the issues of shrinking spaces and increasing unemployment rate become prominent. 

However, the good news is that there are a few like Suresh who have found a life of dignity, thanks to Anumuthu and his organisation, which have touched lives of close to a thousand people, of which 50 are being helped earn a decent livelihood.

Suresh at Snehan

Anumuthu’s empathy and selflessness stem from his own traumatic past. He would often be asked to do as much work as an adult, but would be paid less. Long hours of work, unhygienic working conditions, and low wages deeply affected his childhood. Having experienced the brutality of starvation and exploitation at the hands of his superiors, he launched Snehan 10 years ago to help people going through similar problems. 

‘It’s all about trust building’  Snehan beneficiaries

He was seven when his father, a woodcutter, passed away. Left with the responsibility of feeding four mouths in the house, he started working as a farm labourer with his mother at a meagre wage of Rs 4. His mother earned Rs 6. 

“We would eat rice and water on most days. We had no properties or relatives to fall back on. On some days, my mother would skip meals to make sure we ate properly. It seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” Anumuthu tells The Better India

When a priest offered to sponsor Anumuthu’s education, he was not sure if he should accept the offer. It was hard for him to trust him, having seen the harsh realities of working with adults in unfavourable conditions. 

“The priest rescued me from the site, put me in boarding school and helped me complete my education in electrical engineering. I even did a photography course. Now that I was earning well with my photography stints, I wanted to give back to society. I volunteered with a couple of NGOs and decided to work for the welfare of the homeless. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and my process would have to be gradual if I wanted a long term solution,” says Anumuthu.

Snehan beneficiary

The 39-year-old first worked on establishing a brand under which he would sell cotton-based products like bags, aprons, and more. He would use the income to help the destitute and continue doing photography to support himself and his family.

He opened a centre in the city to train women from marginal families to make the products, hired them, and launched his project. In the initial days, he even relied on donations. 

He then formed a small team and went around the city to places like railway stations, parks, flyovers, temples, and churches, where the homeless generally live, to distribute food, tea, and biscuits. 

“I met a vast variety of people — some would pelt stones at me when I approached them, and others would break down while revealing their past. Some were only 20, while others were as old as 90. A few shared how local gangsters robbed them at night and beat them if they refused to share the money they had earned through begging. A few had been thrown out of the house by their own kids. It took weeks, sometimes months, for me to form a bond with them,” says Anumuthu.

Anumuthu and the beneficiaries with former Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi

To help such people he meets, he provides them medical care at government hospitals, haircuts and baths alongside food and clothes. 

“We also get elderly folks who have very few days left. We send them to organisations that perform last rites. People who have severe wounds or diseases that can be treated are admitted to the hospital. We conduct these visits every week so that they know someone cares about them. Living on streets can be extremely brutal, as displacement is an everyday phenomenon,” he adds. 

Snehan beneficiary

During this period, Anumuthu realised that some people prefer working to begging. So, he enrolled himself at Kanthari, a leadership programme to drive social change, in Thiruvananthapuram. The training helped him understand the fundamentals of generating employment opportunities for more than 75 people. 

Marginal women find job at Snehan

Anumuthu and his team provided skill training and employed the homeless at tea stalls, hotels, and shops. He purchased cycles for those who wanted to sell items, vegetables or fruits. Some sell the bags made by the marginal women.

While the livelihood project has been positively impacting several women and men, it has its share of challenges. There have been a couple of people who have taken the money from Snehan and ran away. Anumuthu says such instances are unfortunate, but will not diminish his trust in others. 

His next project is to build a shelter home for which he needs Rs 25,00,000. The homeless will be given food, shelter, clothing and other such amenities. 

You can reach Snehan here. 

Edited by Divya Sethu

‘I Won’t Be Pushing My Kids to Write CSE’: IRS Officer Speaks on UPSC Exams

When Sashi Wapang Lanu cracked the renowned Union Public Service Commission-Civil Services (UPSC) exams in his third attempt, it was a one-way ticket to a much coveted permanent job in the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Excise).

However, today, the 40-year-old 2009 batch officer, who currently serves as Joint Commissioner, Central GST in Dimapur, Nagaland, is quite clear that he will never push his two sons to write this or any other exam that secures them a government job.

“I will encourage whatever career path my children decide to choose. I will sit with them and help them see the pros and cons of the career paths that they are interested in. For my generation in Nagaland, we have been repeatedly pushed toward writing these exams. ‘At least write it once and see how it goes’ has been a common refrain of many Naga parents. I definitely won’t be pushing my boys to write the civil service exams (CSE) or telling them to even attempt the exams when I know they’re interested in other careers,” Sashi tells The Better India.

In a recent interaction with Asalie Peseyie, the CEO of Dimapur-based record label Infinity Inc, on the Shout Out Podcast, Sashi spoke of how after 12 years in government service, he feels that this isn’t the only way to be successful or find validation in life. He went on to say how people in Nagaland, where the premium on government jobs is high, shouldn’t glorify exams like the CSE and not think too highly of themselves for passing it.

Unfortunately, many from the frontier regions like Ladakh and Nagaland, where private sector jobs aren’t readily available, don’t have the luxury of choosing alternative career paths. They are pressured into wasting their best years preparing for exams like the UPSC or other State service exams by their families. In these parts, even larger communities create incentives for the same by glorifying these exams and those who pass them.

Although this is a similar problem in other parts of India, it’s more acute in regions where quality private sector jobs are crushingly limited. We, at The Better India, highlight some of the techniques UPSC CSE toppers employed or obstacles they overcame to pass these exams. While these articles do help aspirants in preparing for the exams, it’s imperative that alternative narratives surrounding the exams are encouraged more than the current status quo permits.

And who better to articulate one such narrative on competitive exams than a serving officer?

Seeking Validation in Life

Born in Mokokchung town, but raised in Kohima, Sashi lived in a household where both his parents worked in the government service. His father, an engineer with the State public works department, and mother, an employee of the education department, sent their son to Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling. Following school, he pursued a degree in electronics and communication from an institute in Bengaluru. Post college graduation in 2004, he worked as a lecturer in the Institute of Communications and Information Technology Mokokchung for around a year before making the pilgrimage many in India make to Delhi for UPSC exam preparations.

After clearing the exam in his third attempt, he was allotted the IRS (Customs and Excise) even though his rank was good enough to obtain a seat in the Indian Police Service (IPS). After 18 months of training at the National Academy for Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics at Faridabad, he was posted at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. In his 12-year career, Sashi has worked handling customs at the Kolkata Airport and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.

Despite a successful career in the IRS thus far, he argues, “I am privileged to have the opportunity to serve as an IRS officer. However, more than a decade into government service I’ve realised that especially in the context of Nagaland, people over glorify the civil services as a career choice. I am against glorifying any particular career as the only or best way to be successful or to find validation in life. I have often compared competitive exams to a story where all the animals of the jungle are being lined up and told that whoever climbs up the tree fastest wins. As much as the country needs to attract the best minds to join the bureaucracy, the civil services are not meant for everyone. Yet, in Nagaland, parents have placed undue pressure on a generation of children to try and fit into the UPSC/NPSC (Nagaland Public Service Commission) mould to crack these difficult exams.”

Every year, Sashi claims that not less than 15,000 Nagas appear for the NPSC for maybe around 50 to 100 vacancies. For UPSC, the numbers are even more mind boggling. “This in turn has led to frustration for many young people because your value as a person or the value of your job is always being measured by society only in terms of civil service exam success as the benchmark. This is why I made that remark in the first place,” he adds.

He continues, “No one can deny that those who crack the civil service exams have bettered lakhs of other candidates who sit for these exams. It took years of struggle, great effort and personal sacrifices for me to get through the exam. However, I don’t think one should forever bask in that glory of being successful in the exam. Instead, get on with the job at hand. Passing such a difficult exam should not be overly glorified. Passing the exam merely offers you the platform to do something. So, if you have to glorify things then shine a light on the positive changes or achievements attained as a civil servant for the public at large.”

Aspirants preparing/writing the UPSC exam. (Representational Image)

Nagaland’s Tryst With Civil Services

Clearing the UPSC and getting into the UPSC is something many families in India want for their children. In frontier regions like Nagaland and Ladakh, however, this desire seems more acute. To understand why this is the case, Sashi looks back at his own family’s past.

“As soon as my father completed his engineering degree in the late 1970s, there was a government job waiting for him in Nagaland. Back then, government service was the only available career choice for Nagas as there was hardly any presence of a private sector. Other factors such as insurgency would have also played a role in suppressing the growth of the private sector. ‘Study hard if you want to get a government job or else you will have to go back to farming in the fields’ is what many generations were often told. A government job therefore was the only kind of employment my parents’ generation have seen,” he explains.

Times have changed and career options beyond government service are now a possibility even in Nagaland, and yet the thinking has not changed with the times.

“Today, the number of college graduates has increased manifold while available government jobs have decreased. No doubt the government needs to attract talented minds but this tendency of pushing all children to go for only government service is lopsided. It’s society at large which will suffer in the long run when other career avenues don’t develop,” he adds.

So, the officer’s suggestion to lessen our collective obsession with clearing exams like the UPSC is:

“Success stories of other career choices need to be highlighted and told as loudly as civil service success stories. In Nagaland there is a tendency to have mostly civil servants as role models. Why not celebrate entrepreneurs as role models too? We need to develop appreciation for all career choices. At the same time, we also have to take into account aptitude and capability when making career choices and not simply follow the crowd. For example, I never felt I had it in me to be a police officer. I just didn’t have the temperament and capability. So, while filling out my option of choice of services, I left out the IPS. By rank I was getting IPS but I never opted for it despite the fact that it is considered a prestigious and powerful job by society. I believe one needs a certain aptitude to work in the police.”

Having said that, it’s also important to note that exams like the CSE offer many aspirants the opportunity to climb up the social ladder or break the chain of poverty that may have haunted their families for generations.

But on a parting note, Sashi says, “For our generation, many lives have already been affected by this collective obsession for the civil services. However, I am hopeful that for our children we won’t burden them with this same obsession.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: contact@thebetterindia.com, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

72-YO Shares Why She Sold Her Company to Help 40,000 Villagers Access Clean Water

Close to 15 per cent of the population living in the mountainous regions of India depend on springs for their drinking and domestic needs. However, a third of these precious water sources are drying due to climate change, rapid urbanisation and changing land use.

The villagers of Akhegani in Panchgani, Maharashtra, were in a similar situation. They relied on water tankers to meet their daily needs during the summer months. But for over a decade now, the villagers have become self-reliant, as they have now revived and protected the dying springs.

Additionally, over 60 villages in the region have followed suit, benefitting thousands of residents who no longer walk miles to fetch water.

This is all thanks to Grampari, a rural and ecological centre nestled in the laps of the Western Ghats. The NGO is teaching villagers efficient governance by implementing government policies.

However, the founding pillars of Grampari were set way back in 1967, when Jayashree Rao, the Bengaluru-based founder, was only 18 years old.

“I joined an NGO, Initiative of Change (IOC) operated by Asia Plateau — MRA Center, based in Panchgani, where I received an opportunity to meet members from the international community who were willing to bring positive change in society,” she tells The Better India.

A water conservation Springbox built at Beloshi village.

The 72-year-old says she was highly motivated to work for the social cause and decided to quit academics. “I decided not to pursue my graduation and work for the development of the rural community,” she says, adding that she even started a school for children of construction workers during her decade-long stint with the NGO.

In 1976, Jayashree quit and moved to the UK for a few years with her husband. When she returned to Bengaluru in 1982, she started a trading company, JR Rao & Co. “My father was an industrialist making engineering tools, and I decided to use the knowledge and experience from the family to launch an engineering tools trading company. We procured industrial tools and equipment from manufacturers across India and abroad, selling them to the customers,” she explains.

However, around 2006, an incident changed the course of her life. “One day, the company bagged a Rs 1 lakh profit deal by selling machinery. It was a big achievement as our years of hard work had paid off.”

Leaving work that day, Jayashree recalls bargaining with a vegetable vendor for Rs 5. “The vendor agreed as I frequently bought supplies from him, and even though the bargain gave me instant satisfaction, I started feeling ashamed and guilty about my actions. I had just earned Rs 1 lakh profit and was not willing to give away Rs 5 that could help the vendor earn more for his family,” she says.

It was then that she decided to work for a social cause that she cared about deeply.

Springing Into Action

In 2007, the entrepreneur sold her company for Rs 25,000 to the nine employees working at various administrative levels. “I decided to quit and move to Panchgani to start Grampari and empower villagers by giving them lessons on efficient governance,” she says.

“I kept the fixed deposits from the company, which was not significant, but it helped me start afresh,” she says.

Jayashree addressing villagers on governance.

She says, “When I shifted, I decided to train villagers in governance as I believed it to be the most effective path for working towards the development of the rural community. The government appoints 19 officials at various levels in a village and has issued multiple schemes for benefiting the villages. However, the village head and government officials need to make effective use of them. I read a news article about a Sarpanch in Bihar implementing government policies to create a model village and I wanted to empower such villages in the same way.”

Jayashree says she started reaching out to men and women in the area to speak about governance. “It was a terrible failure. The villagers were least interested and found excuses for not attending the meetings. They were more interested in learning something that could earn them money. To build connections with the locals and serve their monetary needs, I started inviting them to prepare clay lamps for the Diwali festival and sell them at the IOC centre,” she adds.

As they became more acquainted, the villagers shared their water woes with Jayashree. “The springs were either drying up or were contaminated. Coincidently, there was a US-based hydrologist Jared Buono at the IOC who volunteered to help. He came up with a solution to clean and protect the springs from further contamination through unique concrete covered tanks. The tanks stored spring water and prevented contamination, delivering clean water to the villagers,” she explains.

This was how their first project was initiated in Akhegani, and it improved the health of the villagers dramatically. Inspired by the results, other villagers started requesting the same.

Over 60 such spring rejuvenation and protection projects have ended up benefitting over 40,000 villagers.

She adds that water scarcity often creates conflicts among people, and it can become intense in villages. “When residents approached us, we put forth the condition that everyone had to contribute physical labour to the project. So, in this case, the water became a unifying factor. Locals readily decided to resolve conflicts for the collective good,” she says.

Jayashree says that slowly, she started other livelihood projects for women and discussed governance issues with the villagers too.

‘Would Not Trade This Life For Another’

Since then, the NGO has been actively involved in sustainable development of the villages like working on self-governance, strengthening local institutions, grooming ethical leaders and empowering women. “We facilitate leadership development through training Panchayat Raj institutions and implementing the teachings in sanitation, hygiene, organic farming, conflict resolution and others,” Jayashree says.

Citing an example, Jayashree says that one of their hand sanitisation projects — Tippy Tap, helped reduce the spread of disease among children. “We implemented the project in 162 schools and saw an increase in handwashing habits among children by 80 per cent,” Jayashree says.

The various initiatives have impacted close to 1.22 lakh residents across 200 villagers, claims the founder.

Kamal More, a villager at Godavali and part of the livelihood project, says her life changed for good after being associated with Grampari in 2016. “My husband is a daily wager, and we always face financial crunches. The condition worsened to the extent that I could not afford educating my son and daughter. To overcome our financial crisis, I joined the NGO to start earning through various livelihood projects,” she shares.

She adds that since then, she has been earning a steady income which has helped her children study and build a career. “The financial condition of the family is much better today. Like me, there are hundreds of women who had never stepped out of the house before but now have become financially independent and living a better life,” she adds.

Looking back at her achievements over the years, Jayashree says that changing the mindset of the villagers was her biggest challenge she faced. “The villagers often expect immediate change. Also, they are not always willing to work for your cause and have their pace of completing the work. Perseverance is the value I learned the most among many others,” she says.

She adds, “The donations and institutions contributing for the social cause only helped to run the NGO and serve my basic needs. I could not live the lifestyle or travel the way I followed before working for the social cause, but I would not trade my life for anything else.”

Today, her daughter Archana and two other members Prathamesh Murkute and Dipak Jadhav, run the organisation.

The new generation of leaders say they plan to extend the work of protecting springs across the Western Ghats and implementing more governance policies across villages.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

SBI Recruitment 2021: 2056 Probationary Officer Vacancies, Salary Over Rs 40,000

State Bank of India (SBI) has announced a recruitment drive to fill 2,056 vacancies of probationary officers. All applications need to be submitted online only.

Things to know:
  • Candidates should be a graduate in any discipline from a recognised university or have any equivalent qualification recognised as such by the Central Government.
  • Those who are in the final year/semester of their graduation may also apply provisionally subject to the condition that if they’re called for an interview, they will have to produce proof of having passed the graduation examination on or before 31 December 2021.
  • Chartered Accountants or cost accountants can also apply.
  • Candidates should not be below 21 years and not above 30 years as on 1 April 2021.
  • There is relaxation of age for some categories of candidates (like SC, ST, OBC, PWD etc.), which can be checked in the notification here.
  • Registrations will be accepted only online.
  • Candidates should have a valid email ID and mobile number, which should be kept active till the declaration of results. It will be essentially required for receiving any communication/call letters/advice from the bank by email/SMS.
  • No more than one application form needs to be submitted. In case of multiple application forms, the one received the last will be considered.
  • Interested and eligible candidates are required to pay Rs 750 towards the application form.
  • For details on how to upload your photograph and signature, click here.
  • Click here for more details on how to apply.
Important dates: Representational image.
  • Commencement of online registrations – 5 October 2021
  • Closure of online registrations – 25 October 2021
  • Closure of editing the online registration form – 25 October 2021
  • Last date for printing the application form – 9 November 2021
  • Online fee payment – 5 October to 25 October 2021
  • The first stage of recruitment or the online preliminary examination will be held in November/December 2021.
  • The results of the preliminary examination will be declared in December 2021.
  • The online main exam will be held in December 2021 and its result will be declared in January 2022.
  • The group exercises and interview or just the interview round will be conducted in the second or third week of February 2022 onwards. The final results will be declared in February/March 2022.
  • The preliminary exam admits cards can be downloaded in the first or second week of November 2021.
  • The call letters for Pre-Examination Training for SC/ ST/ religious minority community candidates can be downloaded from the first week of November onwards.