One Future Inspire | Abhishek Saini: A Matchmaker for Volunteers and NGOs

1

One Future Inspire is a series of interviews with young people across countries, borders, spectrums of work and being. These people share a common quality — they inspire us. Our aim is to bring their work to the fore with the hope that it might ignite a spark in someone, somewhere.

Team One Future interviewed Abhishek Saini, founder of Those in Need, an organisation which bridges the gap to connect prospective volunteers and civil society organisations.

Please tell us a little about your personal journey. What led to the establishment of Those In Need?

Disciplined and hardworking school kid’, a ‘competitive undergraduate’, ‘thinking professional’, and ‘self-motivated youth’ have been the tags that I received over the years. I did my schooling from different government schools. Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, Shankaracharya Marg would never come to your mind, otherwise. Marked with some serious indifference, it is a struggle to come out and make something worthwhile of your career. As a product of this system, it is true that coming to par with an average kid of my age group was not easy. When you’re from a humble background, and from a near non-existent education system, you have to climb up some ladders, just to be even.

But again, where there is absence, there is an urge to set things right. I became aware of the major flaws in India government-run school system. The plight of my peers touched me. I developed sensitivity towards the scarcity of resources, especially when making them available is so very possible. The young ones, like me, the future of a billion strong nation, were improperly trained and educated. The knowledge that there are enough resources, enough capital, enough infrastructure to give each and every kid in each of these government run schools a decent schooling, bothered me. From where I have come from, the school, we had nothing. Yet we could have had everything. All that was missing was an initiative, a will and a strategy to channel the initiative and the will.

By God’s good grace, I managed to get into a great college, and by his blessings I did my Master’s from the best schools in India. In Kirori Mal, my graduate college, it was a challenge for me to prove myself that a boy of limited means could climb as high as others. I also began to explore. It was not only the young kids in school, it was also the men in old age homes, the beggars on street – everyone was in need. The underprivileged, the oppressed, and the helpless – they were all around us. What shocked me the most was that we were so trained to turn a blind eye to each one of them! Be it beggars, rickshaw pullers, or the little boy in the tea stall, we had a ready-fed answer as to why to ignore them, haggle with them or shout at them. We had accepted, and learned to dodge, the sad realities of everyday life. Maybe my background did not let me bypass the difficulties of life. I became all the more sensitive to the social issues, and thus my inclination and work titled towards social equilibrium.

During my first year at the Delhi School of Economics, I chose to participate in a DSE based student-run social work society called “Prayaas-DSE” as a volunteer. I became the part of the Society’s education programme “Margdarshak Shikshya Yojana” (Education Guidance Programme). My time at DSE was a turning point. I began to coalesce my heavy tilt towards working for the betterment of the society and the affinity that I developed over 4 years for economics. I began to view my passion under the microscope of economics. I assisted one of the DSE professors in his European Union project “Dimensions and Dynamics of Indian Urban Poverty (Globally part of NOPOOR)” during my 1st year at DSE, directed towards checking the current status of poverty in India and the effectiveness of government schemes to eradicate it. Collecting primary data in different slums of Delhi and understanding their problems forced me to think more deeply about the inequity and deprivation in the society, which helped me to develop a perspective on how various forms of deprivation take root and manifest themselves. Such projects formed the basis of Those In Need.

While working in corporate sector I was looking for different NGOs to volunteer for, over weekends and I realized that there was a high search cost that many volunteers had to pay in order to connect with the right NGOs and this cost became a barrier for many volunteers and professionals who wanted to contribute to the society through their skills. I decided to solve this big information gap between the volunteers and civil society organization which was becoming a barrier for active participation in social work through our platform — Those In Need.

Does your experience in the marketing/corporate sector help with your current work?

As a senior analyst in one of India’s leading marketing companies, I have learnt a lot from understanding the mobile behaviour of subscriber segments to identify business expansion opportunities. The real time data made me think twice about why still we don’t have any such data in development sector on how volunteers are helping different NGOs, what they are doing and which NGOs need help. All these learnings from corporate sector really helped to design innovative solutions in the development sector.

What are the challenges you face at work?

During my initial time in 2014 when I started to think about creating a matchmaking platform for NGOs and volunteers, there were very few people who believed in this idea. They thought there is no future of such a platform, but there were few organisations who were working in a traditional way to connect volunteers with NGOs. My main challenge was to explain my idea to my family, friends and other people. One by one, I was able to convince them. They gradually started showing interest in my work, there were many people who thought my career would take a U-turn when I decided to work in development sector. Another major challenge for me was to raise funds for my idea, as it was not like any other organisation working on ground, but a tech platform which would help the development sector in the future. I decided to put in my Provident Fund savings to bootstrap the organisation. Another major challenge was finding a right partner to fulfil my dream. I was lucky enough to find the right one, with same dream and dedication to do something innovative in the development sector and to motivate other youngsters to join the development sector. Shreya Bhatia (our Co-founder) and I finally decided to register our organisation and pursue our dream, together. Right now, we face challenges in terms of raising funds to expand Those In Need but we both believe that in the long-run, a platform like ours will play a key role in the development sector.

Abhishek Saini.

 

Please tell us about your role in Love Matters.

I am working as a Research and Engagement Officer at Love Matters India — an online platform that provides gender-friendly SRH (Sexual Reproductive Health) information to young people in India. I lead the research which involves impact evaluation of online and offline campaigns, using quantitative and qualitative analysis. We conduct focus group discussions with different groups to gather data and incorporate these findings into our content and ideas for future campaigns. As an Engagement Officer, my main responsibility is to create strategy and new ideas to mobilise and engage the Love Matters India online communities with our themes and campaigns. As our audience mainly consists of young men, we want to engage with men on broader issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, not only to see what their views on these topics are, but also to raise awareness and increase their role in enabling gender equality and healthy, consensual relationships.

Describe a day in your life.

My day starts at 6:30am. I spend an hour and a half at the gym as I realise for good productivity you need good health. In the morning, I am working with team members, meeting potential partners and spend my nights with the tech team to understand the progress our organisation has made. During this time, I ensure that I take regular breaks by watching videos, listening to music or replying to messages. I am very responsive on Facebook, WhatsApp, calls or emails and I try to ensure to reply to whoever is trying to connect with me. I know that in the past when I used to text people who did not respond, it demotivated me a bit. It is therefore my daily goal to reply to everyone who reaches out to connect with me. You will never see any pending notifications in my mobile phone!

Why is youth activism important?

Youth activism is really important as young people have the power to make a change. With the development of technology, it has become incredibly easy for youth to spread their thoughts and opinions regarding certain issues. By a click of a button, young vloggers and bloggers are able to motivate millions of their peers to join certain  organisations, demonstrations or act in any other way in order to make the world a better place to live in. Through our platform we want to promote youth activism and incentivise their involvement.

Tell us about a book or person that has impacted your life.

Honestly, I don’t read books but try to learn from people around me — their struggles and how they are trying to solve those problems. Sometimes I get my motivation from different bollywood movies.

What is your advice to the youth?

You have the power to change the world. Do what you love. There will be difficult times but those will just test your patience. Apne sapne poore karne chahiye nahin toh woh sapne reh jaate hai (one should fulfil their dreams or else they never come true).

We’re updating our website!

Queer Infocus | July 2020

The Beginning, Middle and End: A Tryst with Depression