Hi, there! I am Pranay
I want to tell a story.
It was around 11pm on a humid night in August, 2011 when I disembarked at Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. This was my first visit to the region. If I had known that what I had planned to accomplish in 1-2 years will actually take 5 years, I would have returned the very next day. What made me shift full-time to villages? What made me relinquish comfortable lifestyle in Delhi and live in difficult conditions? What made me give up a cosy & stable corporate life? Answer is – It was a strong drive to work at the grassroots – work on a large scale problem, so large that it affects millions of micro enterprises (I am referring to problems faced by small businesses in unorganized sector which comprise over 93% of businesses in India). Before moving to Kurnool, I had spent considerable time at Ministry studying national best practices w.r.t micro enterprise promotion. I soon realised that while sitting in Delhi, I would not be able to contribute much to the last mile issues faced during implementation. So I decided to take the plunge. I decided to work at the last mile. Live life at bottom of the pyramid.
Leaving behind my wife and two year old kid while spending majority of time travelling was miserable. The first six months were tough as, apart from environment being new, the language of rural folks was unknown. The village team spoke Telugu while I understood Hindi & English only (I am terrible at picking languages). The idea was to train rural youth to act as top tier MBA consultants for rural entrepreneurs. I was successful in mobilizing bright (yet underemployed) local youth whom business management training could be imparted with the help of a translator. I quickly realised that what was taught in B-schools and global finance institutes doesn’t apply to rural world. Curriculum had to be re-written from scratch. Theories had to be simplified while keeping the conceptual accuracy intact. That was the period I could never forget. Apart from battling with bloated egos, unfriendly environment, family distance and the language barrier, I also had to sustain operations without funds. I don’t know what made those village youth stick with me without any salary for initial 6-9 months. There were days when I myself didn’t know how my family would sustain financially. 😀 And then it happened. A breakdown – when nothing goes as per one’s wishes. When one surrenders to the intuition. When one matures. But one still keeps moving.
Well, seeing us deliver good results, ex-Secretary NRLM (MoRD) came forward to mentor and support us generously. Odds gradually tilted in our favour. With money flowing in, the hopes of survival swelled. Apart from getting village team on payroll, we also loosened strings to get smart & passionate professionals on board. (Since beginning we have been extremely choosy in recruitment. We have a strict policy of hiring those who are smarter and crazier than us). Over a period of time, we did numerous innovations. I remember that for two straight years, we used to wake up with certain set of challenges to which there were neither solutions nor precedents. Intuition, along with learning-through-trial & error, used to be the guiding force. That was year 2011 to 2014. Three straight years in villages. And we think it’s just a beginning. There’s an Everest yet to be conquered.
Today, we are a moderately large team. We are pioneers in what we do. More importantly, we love what we do. For us, work is fun. We work when we feel like. We let our passion drive us. Since we work in a mission mode, there is no count to the number of official hours we put in. And we generate healthy cashflows while we do meaningful work. We look forward to getting institutional funding soon to scale up operations. Idea is to work like an entrepreneur while creating social impact on the go. Nothing gives more kick than seeing thousands of poor families set up ventures, more importantly with their dignity intact.