“Spending time on social networks is ordinary; Creating positive social impact is eXtraOrdinary” – Naveen Lakkur
Everyone knows that digital platforms of social networks are a new-age meeting place that can be used to engage and build relationships. It is also a platform that fosters self-development, learning, and discovery if used correctly. You can meet new people you never would have met in another part of the world without a physical presence. It has helped rekindle relationships, be it student-teacher, business relationships, family, and friends. As human beings, we are social beings and social networking is our way of life, it’s been there much before digital advancement.
Some people go the extra mile than the extensive use of social networking platforms. They either use social networking as a channel to create a social impact or venture out physically to create an acceptable social change. People talk about thinking outside the box. Some people blow it wide open. They have understood the power of social networking and dare to be a Little Extra, through innovation and creativity have created a positive social impact. Here are some stories for you.
Story 1 – A Bank for Rural Enterprise
Social activist Chetna Gala Sinha has empowered the downtrodden, especially rural women by teaching them entrepreneurial skills. She used empathy, humility, and grit to change how rural entrepreneurs do business. Her marriage to a farmer turned her towards agriculture and brought her to live in a village. Her work with marginalized rural women, some from the lower caste, started when one of them sought her help to open a bank account. Very early, she unsuccessfully tried to get women into gram panchayats.
She realized early that economic freedom is key to being empowered and represented in rural governments. She knew that lack of financial literacy and services led to crippling debt. She had to innovate to solve this problem. She then established Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd, India’s first cooperative bank for women. What started as a social platform to financially assist women and help build assets for them, became an umbrella for many services like skill upgrading, bringing products and services of these women to new markets.
Under the bank’s umbrella, she established Mann Vikas Samajik Sanstha to provide scholarships for students, conduct health education camps, and vocational skills training; and Mann Deshi Mahila Bachat Gat Federation to cater to more than 300 self-help groups comprising of self-employed women like vegetable vendors, milk sellers, and weavers. They also run business schools, a community radio, and a Chambers of Commerce supporting more than half a million women.
Initially, the RBI had rejected the application to set up the bank on the grounds of the women members being illiterate. Chetna took up the challenge, taught them to write, and took them to the bank along with a completely filled application. Today, the bank not only has a balance sheet of more than ₹150 crores, her work is recognized globally.
The bank helped Chetana be a Little Extra and her associates create a social network that has given rural women a place to learn and thrive. This social network has removed the class divide. Chetna has seen people of higher caste meet and eat at people of the lower caste, which has given rise to collaborations. She has successfully developed a culture of micro-entrepreneurship among women in drought-prone areas. She has gone so far as to start an alternative investment fund for rural women micro-entrepreneurs.
During the demonetization of banknotes in India in 2016, when rural entrepreneurs were left stranded with old ₹500 currency notes, the bank officials collected coins from the State Bank of India, went door to door and town markets to exchange their old notes with equal amounts of coins. Along with the many awards and recognitions, she won the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India’s highest civilian award for women. The icing on the cake came when she was invited along with six other women of power to Chair the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland in 2018.
Not to be done with these achievements and accolades, she helped rural women use their existing infrastructure and raw materials to turn to make masks during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown. Women who had taken orders to make school uniforms had orders cancelled in the wake of the lockdown. Street vendors and farmers shut shop. Rural women were often found not wearing masks due to acute shortages.
She arranged for virtual training of more than 350 rural women in making 15,000 quality masks a day. They helped the women with cash flow, raw materials required to make masks while adhering to guidelines. Let us hope that she empowers a lot of rural women in the country and be a role model for more people to use social networks to create a positive social impact globally. Watch a video where she tells of ordinary women achieving eXtraOrdinary things.
Story 2 – Impact of Radioactivity
In a time when the internet, let alone digital social networking platform was just a figment of imagination, French scientist Maria Salomee Skłodowska used her network of like-minded individuals to pursue her interest. She was a woman of many firsts. The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first to win two Nobel Prizes and the first to win Nobel prize in two different fields, one in chemistry and one in physics.
During her early years, the University of Warsaw in Poland did not let women study at their university. She had to improvise by using her social network to attend a ‘floating university’, an underground educational system while avoiding the watchful eyes of the authorities. When she moved to Paris to complete her studies under a French-sounding name Marie, she met her future husband Pierre Curie.
The Curies’ initial research was into magnetism. It was when Curie’s colleague Henri Becquerel discovered that Uranium salts emitted their own rays, it piqued Marie’s interest because she wanted to know the reason for the glow without a power source. The Curies and Henry Becquerel were awarded the Nobel prize for their understanding of the radiation phenomena. She discovered two elements: polonium, named after Poland, her native, and radium, named after its radioactivity.
After her husband’s passing, she took up teaching at the prestigious Sorbonne University. There she won a Nobel prize in 1911 for the discovery of the two above-mentioned elements. She could visualize how the social network of the atoms of the two elements react and produce energy. Just like how the modern social network can be used for good or bad, nuclear energy can be used either for generating power, eradicate cancer, to improve health, which is constructive or it can be used for destructive purposes.
In 1895, she had discovered electromagnetic radiation which could pass through a human body without destroying the social network of energy-producing cells. It came to be known as X-ray. Immediately after the discovery, physicians began using it to check the health of their patients’ bones. In 1914, before the German troops invaded Paris, she gathered her stock of the radium in a lead-lined container, took it on a train to Bordeaux, and left it inside a local bank’s safe deposit box.
With her radium safe, she redirected her scientific skills to the war effort, not to take lives, but to save them. However, X-ray machines were found only in city hospitals and were bulky. Curie’s innovation was to create a “radiological car”, also known as “little curies”, a vehicle with an X-ray machine and photographic darkroom equipment. While the car used petroleum to run, Marie used a dynamo, an electrical generator into the design to power the machines, which is another innovation.
The car, funded by the Union Women of France, a social network of rich women. The car could be driven straight into the battlefield where on-field medics would use it to image soldiers’ bones to find fractures and foreign objects like bullets and shrapnels and to guide army surgeons during surgeries.
She gathered more funds from her women social network to make 20 more cars, trained more than 150 women volunteers including her daughter and future Nobel prize winner Irene. Along with these mobile X-ray machines, she oversaw the construction of 200 radiological rooms at various field hospitals behind battle lines.
She discovered much later the potency of radioactivity. By then, she had already received a high dose of the radioactive poison. She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia, a blood disorder. The final resting place of the Curies became the Panthéon in Paris in 1995. Her notebooks and other belongings continue to be radioactive. People wishing to tour their lab must use protective gear.
Despite facing criticism and obstacles, she moved forward in the path of research that ultimately benefited mankind. Her discoveries and inventions still serve mankind. The X-ray is still used today central to medical practice. People not only in her own social networks were proud of her, but now we see people proudly sharing her life story on modern social networking platforms. Watch her video.
Story 3 – The Smart Rural Employer
Known as the ‘smartest unknown Indian entrepreneur’, Sridhar Vembu has dabbled in rural employment. He has built Zoho Corporation, a billion-dollar corporation with a combination of bootstrapping, innovation, and rural employment. An IITian, he studied Electrical Engineering and worked at Qualcomm in San Diego. While working there, he took a keen interest in learning about how countries like Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan succeeded. He took it upon himself to solve India’s pain points using technology.
After founding AdventNet in 1996 with Tony Thomas in California, they built and offered SaaS products to customers worldwide. He famously declined VC funding but instead turned to friends and family for funds. The two founders looked for clients in the Bay Area and won clients including Cisco. During the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Tony exited the company, while Sridhar took over as CEO, a crucial phase for the company.
They restructured their services. Their network management software became ManageEngine, a division for the Internet of Things became WebNMS and cloud-based software solutions became Zoho, under Zoho Corporation. He learned from the media that more than 75% of fresh graduates were unemployable due to lack of skills. He wanted to change that. Though headquartered in Chennai, India, he started working from an office in Tenkasi, a small town in South Tamil Nadu. He also uses downtimes and free times to engage in agriculture also.
Zoho University was started in 2005 to train fresh graduates and high school students with skills for a career in technology and coding. He took graduates from government colleges and universities in Chennai and neighbouring rural areas to get them to train for 18 months along with a six-month internship in the organization. Other than the knowledge needed to be a software engineer, they got training in real-life practical challenges as well. Rural students were taught the English language as well.
While Salesforce became synonymous with enterprise software, Zoho became known as a software solution for MSMEs. They built a cloud-based platform which is an ecosystem consisting of a network, a social network of computing devices if you will. a Little Extra in their offering is enterprise automation helping clients run an efficient and effective operation. They also set up efficient customer service and also attracted enterprise clients at a fraction of the cost of Salesforce.
Instead of VC funding, he instead opted to grow the company by building scalable global products from India, often competing with the likes of Microsoft, Google’s Cloud, and Salesforce. They recently ran a 30-second TV commercial in India with the message, “Made in India, Made for the World,” and they have leveraged the power of social networking platforms also to not only use social networks like Facebook to build their brand but also publish videos and showcase each of their services.
In 2020, when the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, most corporations saw it as a hindrance because some employees would go back to work from their village homes to adhere to social distancing and the lockdown guidelines. To be financially prudent, Sridhar went a Little Extra, followed his dream of setting up offices where these employees hail from, at smaller villages and towns, an example of operational innovation.
He engaged with rural kids to create a social network, enabled them by imparting knowledge to them, and made them successful. With a plan to create jobs in smaller clusters in rural areas with a hub in a bigger town in various Indian states, they hope to create more positive change and bring more high-tech jobs from the cities to rural areas. The company has a customer support center at Renigunta, Andhra Pradesh, he also has set up offices at Mundanthurai, Tirunelveli, and 10 other villages in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Instead of paying a premium for big city offices, they are investing money in creating social networks, investing in R&D, and innovation. Let us hope they achieve more and inspire others by showing ways to create a social impact. Watch the video.
Story 4 – The Aerial Life Saver
A 24-year old, Prathap NM from Mandya, Karnataka has built over 600 drones and is known as the ‘drone scientist.’ Having come from a family of farmers with limited or no access to resources, he used social networks to learn to access a lot of e-waste to make drones.
When floods hit major parts of North Karnataka, a couple of years ago, and people were trapped or stuck due to the floods, Prathap used his drones to provide food and relief materials to several affected areas. He has also delivered a few lectures at IIT, Bombay, and IISc on how drones can be used in times of sensitive situations like transporting organs during an organ donation, blood transfusion, and other purposes, be it medical or otherwise.
He has been invited to over 87 countries to showcase his drones and has worked in over six major projects, including one for defence purpose. Prathap feels happy that his creation saved the life of a little girl in Africa. Africa is home to many indigenous people and animal species. There is a dangerous and poisonous snake called the ‘Black Mamba.’
In one year, around 22,000 people in a particular tribal area had died to this snake’s bite. When Prathap was in Sudan for a research project, an eight-year old girl was bitten by this snake. She needed urgent medical assistance. Usually, a person can survive for only 15 minutes of being bitten by the snake.
Prathap used a done to send an anti-venom to where the girl was, a place so remote that most people express difficulty in finding it on Google Maps. It takes 10 hours by road from where he was. Instead, he used his Eagle 2.8 drone which can cover 280 KM/hour. The anti-venom was delivered within 8.5 minutes. It was a very challenging task for him. Later, the child and her mother came all the way to Sudan to meet him and thank him for saving her life.
While most of the youth would use social networks as a tool to kill time, here is a youth who saves lives and inspires all of us through social networks by creating a positive social impact. Watch his story.