Sunaayy Is Changing The Lives Of Street Children: Richa Prasant - The Daily Guardian
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Sunaayy Is Changing The Lives Of Street Children: Richa Prasant

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Richa Prasant is the founder of Sunaayy Foundation. She has an experience with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry. In 2009, Richa started Sunaayy Foundation she wants to set up a support system for children at Sunaayy ensuring their enrollment in regular schools, so that their parents are not burdened with accompanying costs while the children retain their love for learning. Sunaayy is collaborating with various vocational centres for older children who cannot be enrolled in schools to acquire set skills which helps them find employment and eventually, financial freedom.

Richa Prasant changed lives of street children by helping them enrol in schools.

Q: Tell us why you decided to start the foundation in 2009. Before that, where did you work in the corporate world?

A: It wasn’t like anything happened out of nowhere that made me feel compelled to form an NGO. But I believe that empathy was ingrained in my DNA, my thinking, and the way I saw the world as a result of my upbringing and the home environment in which I grew up. My house was usually buzzing with activity. We never ate a meal alone, and we always included people who worked in our house. My father, who worked for the government, was always willing to go out of his way to assist individuals in need. That’s how we were raised to believe: life has to be lived. My life began to develop in a predictable pattern as I grew older. I graduated from Kolkata’s Institute of Advanced Management with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management. Hewlett-Packard, an American global information technology business, was my previous employer. I was well established in my corporate job. At the same time, I never felt as if I had not yet arrived at my destination. I’ve always felt that I wasn’t exactly living up to my potential in my position.

Q: What does Sunaayy Foundation do?

A: Sunaayy Foundation is a philanthropic organisation that works in the fields of education and human rights. It aims to give hope to underserved children, women, and communities by assisting them in developing skills and resources that will help them lessen their vulnerability in the long run. It all began with six schoolchildren whom they tutored. Sunaayy Foundation began as a small, improvised operation serving out-of-school children in the Vasant Kunj neighbourhood of New Delhi. They became increasingly resolute as the days passed. Winds of will, hard effort, and, of course, a lot of support from their kind friends and well-wishers brought down the hurdles that felt like dunes in the desert.

Q: How does the idea of an outside makeshift school for slum children for a few hours work?

A: Sunaayy began with the notion of volunteering, in which people may come out and join hands with their collective thoughts to address larger challenges that the country and the globe confront. So, instead of lamenting and complaining about what the government and others around us are doing, we all want to do something but don’t. Sunaayy is an effort where we can all do our part to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others who don’t have access to the same things that we do as affluent Indians. So, because these children’s parents both work and there is no one to look after them, the older sibling takes on the primary responsibility of the household, which includes cleaning, cooking, washing, and filling up water. Looking up to the children, we tell them to finish their work, bring your sibling along, and come spend four hours learning with us. That is the major goal of the job we are attempting.

Q: What is your foundation’s primary source of funding? What is the most significant cost you have?

A: It all began with my own money. Then I turned to my friends and family for help. More people stepped in from all around the world as word of my efforts spread and my aim became obvious and powerful. The number of volunteers and helping hands continued to rise. Some organised school supplies such as backpacks and crayons, while others were in charge of fetching them their meals. Many friends offered to design, arrange, gather, and fundraise from all around the world. Sunaayy now has around 100 volunteers and has had a ten-year influence on thousands of lives. It has used a multi-intervention method to increase programme quality and outreach with the help of several funders. We now have FCRA accreditation, which will allow us to reach out to more individuals for resources, even across nations, to keep our effort going. Our mechanisms are also being put in place and adjusted to guarantee that working and handling resources is as efficient as possible. Overall, we’re headed in the right way.

Q: In the last 11 years, how many children have benefited?

A: When I started Sunaayy in 2009, we started with 10 children and over the years it became 20 to 50 to 200 and we currently have more than 500 children with us. The plan is to return these students to their regular schooling. As a result, the informal learning environment that we have developed assists children in transitioning to the official school system, while also attracting a large number of children who are new to the area and enrolling them in our programme.

Q: Education has had a difficult time in the previous two years. How did you pull it off?

A: The years 2020-2021 will be ones that we will not soon forget. Not in the near future. Perhaps never. These years exposed the weakness and vulnerability that had previously been covered behind carpets of supposed wealth and growth, kicked undercover by feet racing about their daily chores. These hurried feet came to a halt in the year 2020. And as the stillness became louder in 2021, we began to hear the screams of people who had been forgotten by civilization. Daily wage earners, basti residents, and labourers. Since physical schools have closed, instructors have had to figure out how to keep the children’s education going. Thus, teachers were given training in online teaching methods, and in leadership development, and the English language.

Teachers felt secure enough after this training to return to the communities they had been working with, with all safety precautions in place, to engage with parents and persuade them to allow their children to join online classes. They went from home to house, interacting with parents, persuading them, assisting them in downloading the necessary platform for the courses, educating and training them on how to access online teaching and training, and so on. Aside from that, the teachers handed out sanitary napkins and other hygiene goods, as well as food ingredients and rationed, prepared food. Sunaayy Foundation also held an old gadgets drive to collect outdated electronics and donate them to kids in need. Similar activities continued through the rage of the pandemic through 2020 and 2021.

Q: How do you ensure that these youngsters are appropriately cared for, and how do you gain their trust?

A: Our instructors keep in regular contact with the families to keep them informed about their children’s growth. Every day, the youngsters are led by their instructors and securely returned home.”

Sunaayy is a support system for children designed to guarantee that they are enrolled in normal schools and that their desire to pursue their education is not limited by the associated fees that their parents must bear. The children’s lives have been intertwined for ten years, and I consider myself privileged to be so closely involved with their lives. While we cannot guarantee that every kid will return to mainstream school, we can guarantee that for those four hours each day, the children will be safe and well-cared for.

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Kapila Vatsyayan: Of dance, space and time

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It is said that dance emerged as a fully formed art by the mere wish of Lord Shiva. Dance, if not seen as a spontaneous creation can be understood as a curious mixture of several art forms such as music, drama, acting, movement projected upon its chief instrument of expression: human figure. Dance is not a simple synthesis of all arts but a heightened and intense expression of the combination. Dance is also a composition of movements that issue from various parts of the human form: shoulder, hip and knee joints being the key points. Natyashastra, the great treatise on drama and dance, categorizes human body into two parts: major limbs and minor limbs. According to this classification, head, hands, breast (chest), sides (waist), hips, and feet constitute the major limbs. Minor limbs include eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, chin, mouth etc. Interestingly it does not analyze the role of toes of the feet, belly, knees and ankles in the dance movement and only alludes to the wrist.

The sage Bharata is assigned the authorship of Natyashastra. Its dates are in between 200 BCE or 200 CE and is lost in the mists of time. It is our good fortune that a large part of it is still available for us to learn and enjoy. As is the tradition in India, a major text is continuously worked upon by subsequent generations thus developing it continuously, making additions as the time demands and circumstances dictate. Natyashastra was also subjected to this process. One of the major contributors to this process was Kapila Vatsyayan, who by her translation and understanding illuminated and contemporized Natyashastra and its understanding. In this sense, she stood as tall as other commentators on Indian art as Abhinavagupta and Sarangadeva. Kapila Vatsyayan was born in 1928 in Delhi, pursued English literature in her undergraduate studies from Delhi University and PhD from Banaras Hindu University. At the age of ten while she was performing a dance titled, ardhanarishwara, she was identified by the great Kathak guru, Acchan Maharaj who told her “You dance beautifully but you need training”.

She kept her interest in dance away from her college life and learnt other dance forms: Bharatanatyam from Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and Manipuri from Guru Amobi Singh. She was simultaneously involved in running a dance school and gathering teachers of dance from across the country to Delhi, which included Pt Birju Maharaj and Lalitha of Kalakshetra. She considered her mother and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the founder of National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Academy as her guru.

Later she went to America, where she conducted movement analysis with the help of Laban’s tools and Hanya Holm’s movement systems. She learnt from them, how self-awareness can be achieved through the movement of the body. She said in one of her interviews, “In the west we try to know our body whereas in India we use our body to transcend it, two completely different ways of looking at the same thing”.

Kapila Vatsyayan was at home with both Indian and Western traditions of dance and was therefore able to isolate that which is different and unique in each. In her analysis of the body movement within nrtta, as opposed to nrtya and natya, she elucidated the difference that is fundamental. Indian classical dance has three categories, nrtta, nrtya and natya. Nrtta is pure dance without meaning, where movements of body do not indicate towards any mood. Nrtya is body movements performed to musical notes whereas Natya is drama. She wrote that Indian dance conceives itself as the relationship between body movement and its response to the pull of gravity. It seeks to first arrive at the perfect position of balance, at a specific point of time and space along the vertical median also called the brahma sutra. She equated it to the idea of sama-bhanga in sculpture that places equal weight on both sides of the sculpture. This position is so important that all other dance movement springs forth from this original position and returns to this. A western dancer especially in ballet, leaps and glides in space and tries to free herself from gravity, even if for a few moments. She tried to eliminate or reduce space by covering as much of it as possible, by flinging oneself away from it and freeing oneself, by reaching out into space in both horizontal and vertical direction, trying to grasp and master space at the same time.

The Indian dance tradition looks at space, gravity and time differently. Here the preoccupation is with time. The striving is always for the perfect pose that conveys timelessness. The nrtta technique therefore depends on making intricate movements with body parts by manipulating time also called tala and achieve a series of poses with the perfect pose being a moment of arrested time.

Kapila Vatsyayan experienced in the sculptures of Khajuraho, the primal sources of Indian dance. To understand this experience, she began her doctoral studies at Banaras Hindu University, and analysed related manuscripts, photographs, artifacts, and sculptures. She thus began her journey of understanding human body as it moves in dance forms and composed her doctoral thesis as ‘Classical Indian Dance in Literature’ which she soon consigned to flames, realizing the audacity of her ambition reflected in the topic.

The author is Associate Professor and Director, Staff Training and Development, Anant National University

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A MUSSOURIE-LANDOUR DIARY

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THE NAME IS BOND, RUSKIN BOND

At the foot of the climb from Landour Bazaar to Char Dukan, the unpretentious residence of author Ruskin Bond sits atop a popular restaurant. Until a few years back, it also existed anonymously. Not so, now.

The octogenarian Bond’s lifetime of quiet dedication to his craft has exploded into a celebration of his existence. At any time of the day, his fans can be seen on the road outside his home, hoping for a glimpse of Mr Bond through the window he has made famous via his writing. Some are clicking selfies at various levels of the painted red staircase that leads to his apartment. Others throng the lone bench under a tree at the nearby entrance to the restaurant. They wait, hoping to see their favourite author climbing down the stairway. Prior to the pandemic, Mr Bond did so often.

St Paul’s Church, Landour

A street in LandourThe staircase to Ruskin Bond’s flatView from Ruskin Bond’s window

Both the restaurant at Rokeby Manor in Landour and the bar at The Savoy in Mussourie had arrangements for his fans to drink and dine with the writer, albeit for a fee. On Saturday mornings, he graced the Cambridge Book Stall on the Mall in Mussourie. Here, he would autograph his books and graciously chat with his readers. This chance to interact has alas, all but evaporated since COVID 19 struck.

Perhaps it is this that has led people to besiege his residence in the manner they do. Yet while they stare at his window, none looks in the direction of where the fenestration opens to. Nor, as they tip toe up his stairway, do they venture too far to where the steps lead to outside. The view from Ruskin Bond’s window is as magnanimous as is his writing and the passage beyond the stairs leads into the lush forests of Mussourie-Landour where his intrepid explorations have inspired much of his work.

Ruskin Bond has unquestionably lent life to his surroundings and long after he is gone, the locale shall be enlivened by the imagination and descriptions of Mussourie’s most famous resident. Like him, visitors will be rewarded by widening the scope of their sightseeing and seeking out unique and less well-known aspects of this popular hill station.

DEMOLITION OF HOUSES

The quaint town of Landour, perched just above Mussourie and nostalgically named after a Welsh village by a colonial administrator is largely within a cantonment precinct. Most of the cottages that line the ‘chakkar’ here retain their original British names fondly harking back on a bygone era. Ownership though has since mostly shifted to well-heeled north Indians.

This was amply evident in the recent demolitions that shook the placid hill-town.

The popular Indian subscription to build what you want, where you want and when you want wasn’t acceptable to the Cantonment Board that governs the town and sits amidst the high-security Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) campus. It is the DRDO that occupies much of what is present-day Landour.

Evidently, money could not buy a ‘blind-eye’ and consequently, four or five properties that had violated the building regulations in varying degrees were subjected to demolition. The most visibly affected were the opulent residences of a banker and a hospitality tycoon.

This brings into the spotlight rampant construction in the entire belt. The haphazard manner in which the same is being affected has assumed disturbing proportions. The entire route from Dehradun to Mussourie is pockmarked by eateries that have sprung up at virtually every bend. Within the towns rampant construction, often of monstrous proportions, is indicative a lack of ecologically sensitive planning.

Given this scenario, the oasis that is Landour reminds us of how colonial planning and architecture of hill stations was different from that in the plains. The sensitivity and sense of aesthetics at work when Dehradun and Mussourie were planned and built are, alas, a lost consideration now.

AND AT THE END ARE THE CLOUDS …..

The cynical would shake off present-day Mussourie as a hill-top Chandni Chowk.

Crowded, chaotic and cumbersome.

While this assessment may wholesomely apply to parts of the city, there is redemption at hand when one veers off further from Landour Bazaar and the Mall towards the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Charleville. Here one enters a comparatively unhurried vicinity where a number of princely palaces are located. In their day, some Maharajas and Nawabs preferred Mussorie to Simla as absence of the Viceregal firmament here meant they weren’t subjected to a stringent colonial hierarchy.

Many of these palaces speak of neglect over time. Others have been effectively converted into heritage hospitality ventures catering to an ever-burgeoning domestic tourist circuit. A new relevance has crept in through past decades. Once beyond the colonial edifices, private forests round off the further edge of Mussourie here. The most visible of them is Lyndale Estate that curves along the Hathipaon Road and sinks all the way to the valley beneath. Enveloping an abandoned beer factory that sits perched on the edge of a hill outcrop, this property spread over hundreds of acres belongs to the owners of DLF, India’s largest real estate company.

Further along the same road is Cloud End, another expansive private forest. Unlike the other estates, this one is accessible to public. For a fee, one can walk through parts of the estate although this only allows a limited sojourn and hardly does justice to the captivating landscape.

If you are willing to make the effort a more rewarding experience is to walk along the road leading to Cloud End which offers stupendous views through gaps in the foliage and a distant peek at the cottage of the famed geographer Sir George Everest. This building has since been converted into a museum.

A TRAIN TO MUSSOURIE

Numerous schools dot the Mussourie-Landour landscape. The Doon valley and it’s surrounding hills are a cottage industry in education.

Some of the older institutions are Woodstock, which is possibly the largest land-owner in Landour, St George’s College, Oak Grove and Wynberg Allen.

All of these schools trace their inception to the nineteenth century. Oak Grove School in Jharipani, run by the Indian Railways, was founded in 1888. Apart from claiming an alumni as distinguished as that of the others, it is a part of a curious tale that lies buried in the forested hills below it, for over a century.

In 1920 the British Government made a second attempt to build a railroad from Dehradun to Mussourie. A site within the Oak Grove School was ear-marked for the penultimate station with the Himalayan Club as the last station on the route. The precise location considered for the station, a rare patch of levelled ground, now serves as a sports field.

The rail line had progressed in parts when an accident occurred during the construction of a tunnel between the town of Rajpur and Mussourie. There were casualties and the project was abandoned.

What may have also been a factor of discouragement to recommence work was a vehement agitation against the rail line by the traders in Dehradun. These merchants were apprehensive of losing the business of the well-heeled and ruling classes who flocked to Mussourie every summer. The railway track would have diminished if not eliminated their usual stop-over at Dehradun.

A walk to one edge of Oak Grove School near the building housing the middle classes treats one to a panoramic view of Dehradun. Below a sheer drop are the extensive forested undulations of Jharipani. Approachable from Rajpur, amidst this forest lie the rail tracks abandoned since a century and now obscured by foliage.

Upon exiting the sylvan ambience of a hill station school and driving into the chaotic traffic of Mussourie, one would ask oneself why a railway line here wasn’t a possibility today if it was a consideration over one hundred years back.

Contrarily, given the environmental damage inflicted by the daily movement of hundreds of petrol and diesel vehicles, an electrically operated train service would be a godsend in this fragile ecology.

Residents of Mussourie, riled by daily traffic jams along the approach to and within the city have taken to questioning the intentions of their government. The fact that recently a train service has been provided along a stretch to Srinagar in Kashmir makes a rail track to Mussourie seem eminently feasible, to their minds.

In absence of a state response, the rail tracks hidden in the forests of Jharipani shall serve to remind of braver and more adventurous times.

Rajesh Luthra is an architect in independent practice. Having graduated from Columbia University in New York City, he designs, writes and teaches in New Delhi.

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Bihar, UNICEF learn Delhi model to boost child protection

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The Government of Bihar is committed to strengthening its child protection mechanisms and towards this; it is open to learning the good practices in other states. A delegation of nine child protection functionaries that include members of the Child Welfare Committee, District Child Protection Unit, State Child Protection Society, Social Welfare Department, and Child Protection Officer from UNICEF Bihar visited Delhi over 3 days (18-21 May 2022). The learning visit was facilitated by Delhi-based NGO, Udayan Care which runs Udayan Ghars, a unique model of child and youth care with aftercare being integrated into its design and implementation.

During the visit, the delegates were given exposure to the Udayan Ghar unique model, they also visited the aftercare homes for boys and girls, being managed by the Govt of Delhi and had an interaction with the officers of the Delhi government’s State Child Protection Society. The delegates also met the key officials at institutes such as Aurobindo Ashram and GMR, which provides skilling and employability opportunities to the youth.

Aftercare is a critical yet unaddressed area of child protection in India. This is evident from the findings of the “Beyond 18” research study that was conducted by Udayan Care in 2019. There is enough evidence globally and nationally that children growing up in care institutions are not adequately prepared to leave care and are not ready for independent living. Their transition planning and training, during their last years in the Child Care Institutions (CCIs), are often lacking due to the lack of knowledge of the provisions in the existing juvenile laws as well as skills in addressing transition requirements of youth leaving care among child protection functionaries. Often children have turned away on turning 18 without guidance and support or continue to extend their stay in such institutions without any rehabilitation plan. Children nearing adulthood have expressed their feelings by saying, “I felt like a plant being uprooted” to “it’s my life but for social workers, it’s just their job”.

Udayan Care has been working to change the way we care for our children and ensure that they receive continued support and their transition from childcare institutions to independent living is smooth and such young people, also known as care leavers, feel they have a strong ecosystem around them till they get reintegrated as contributing citizens of society. Towards this, it is being supported by UNICEF to work closely in partnership with the Government of Bihar to improve the Aftercare work in the state.

Since 2019, several child protection functionaries have been trained in transition planning and aftercare and have enhanced their skills in the rehabilitation of such youth. Individual Care Plans (ICP), assessments of disability, mapping of the competencies, skills, and interests of children and youth, and life skills workshops have been imparted in two districts, Patna and Gaya. Stitching centres have been opened in the CCIs in Patna and Gaya to provide skilling to children and they have been engaged in learning several arts and crafts that enhance their skills. Partnerships with Upendra Maharathi Anusandhan Sansthan (UMAS) institute and Lemon Tree Hotel in Patna have led to young persons being placed for jobs.

It is hoped that this interaction will be mutually beneficial for officers of both states and will reinforce their conviction to work with children and youth in more non-institutional approaches.

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WHY IMMIGRANTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BECOME ENTREPRENEURS

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What do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jan Koum, Sergey Brin, Arianna Huffington, and Elon Musk have in common? They all are immigrants who despite cultural differences and language barriers, succeeded and established their names in a foreign land.

Such success stories lay the foundation of the idea that you too can similarly succeed. Recent trends suggest that in the United States, immigrants are almost twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as U.S.-born citizens. Out of the total 44.9 million immigrants in the U.S., which is 13 percent of the total population, more than 12 million people are entrepreneurs. This shows that immigrants not only have higher chances of success but, essentially, are driven to take the risk.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES

In past decades, the rise in immigrant contributions to entrepreneurship in such developed nations is unprecedented. There are multiple reasons for this change. This includes the fact that their talents and skills are appreciated and recognized more in foreign countries compared to their own. Developed countries also serve as a solid platform for globalized industries and societies, acting as a meeting point for people of varied cultural backgrounds and migrant origins. The past two decades have witnessed the highest number of migrants living thousands of miles away from their homes, from 173 million in 2000 to 281 million in 2020. Furthermore, about one-fourth of all technology companies or startups established in the U.S. or Canada have at least one founder who is an immigrant.

THE GROWING CONSCIOUSNESS

Access to world-class education, ease of doing business, advanced infrastructure, global mobility, and a better quality of life has always been the key reasons behind immigration. The Covid-19 pandemic and the uncertainty brought by it have further made people realize the importance of living in a safe and economically stable country.

Countries such as the U.S., Canada, the U.K, and the EU are among the most popular destinations for immigrant entrepreneurs. A recent study by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs study showed that two-thirds of the world’s immigrant population is concentrated in 20 countries.

CHANGING IMMIGRATION LANDSCAPE

Immigrant entrepreneurs looking for a permanent residency in Canada do so through three critical pathways – Canada Startup Visa, Intra-Company Transfer (C-11) visa, and Canada Provincial Entrepreneur Visa.

The U.S. offers an E-2 visa that allows foreign nationals to invest and carry out business activities in America. Though it is important to note that Indians cannot directly apply for the E-2 visa. They first have to obtain Grenada Citizenship by doing an investment to be eligible for the route. Further, the EB-5 Program permits the applicants to apply for US Green Card via investment.

The current Biden administration considered more welcoming towards immigrants than the Trump administration, has introduced the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) Programme. The Program will allow DHS to exercise its parole authority and issue a temporary visa to foreign entrepreneurs coming to the United States to launch innovative startups with solid job-creation potential.

Similarly, the EU Golden Visa Programs have also been around for less than a decade and doing well in attracting foreign nationals seeking to invest in Europe. Europe Startups and Entrepreneur Visa programs are making a significant impact on foreign nationals, whether they are just looking for a business expansion or have a business idea.

Golden Visa programs also have a lower minimum investment amount than other countries.

The United Kingdom is also changing its immigration landscape by inviting more foreign entrepreneurs in the post-Brexit era. It may present more opportunities in the coming times for Indians planning to relocate to the United Kingdom.

Australia is also attracting immigrant entrepreneurs through investment programs like the Business Innovation and Investment Programme, Global Talent Programme, and Employer-Sponsored Programme.

THE BOTTOM LINE

One of the most compelling reasons for these entrepreneurs’ rise in developed nations is their Cross-Culture experience. It helps them identify better business opportunities and draft competitive business plans. Their various businesses and cultural expertise help them launch new products, be more creative, offer better services, and prioritize customer preferences. The exposure also allows them to efficiently transfer their knowledge related to customer issues. Many successful immigrant entrepreneurs show similar traits.

The author is President and Founder-Abhinav Immigration Services Private Limited

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HOW THIS BRAND OFFERS ONE-STOP SHOP SOLUTION FOR CLEAN BEAUTY PRODUCTS

In an interaction with The Daily Guardian Review, Naina Ruhail, CIO & Co-founder, Vanity Wagon, shares that they are aligned to offering the best in class to their consumers. As of 2022, they have launched their scratch-built mobile native app, thus making shopping seamless and more convenient for users.

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Q: How has your journey been so far as an entrepreneur? What compelled you to get into the clean beauty space?

A: So far, my journey as an entrepreneur has been that of learning and evolution. At every step, the immense response that the brand has received from its consumers has helped us understand the purchasing outlook of consumers much better along with consumer preference for brands & specific ingredients.

The idea of a clean beauty marketplace was conceived in 2017, a year before the actual work started. It stemmed from my learning’s of the Clean Beauty Industry in the UK and the exponential growth the clean beauty industry was experiencing. With the rapid growth in the Clean Beauty space in India as well, existing e-tailers were unable to offer the right push to these new generation beauty brands and that created a void, where the number of brands and products in the space continued to grow but they didn’t capture relevant market share. Indian Clean Beauty Market was in a nascent stage with no clear market leader for such products and that’s when Vanity Wagon was born.

Q: Vanity Wagon is the first-ever clean beauty marketplace. What challenges did you face setting up this marketplace? How has Covid-19 impacted the business? What are your strategies to navigate through this and what’s working best for you?

A: Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, be it getting the right resources, partnering with suitable brands, or something as simple as building customer trust. From building a stable high performing team to also streamlining our marketing systems, Vanity has gone through its fair share of challenges. One of the toughest challenges is to make customers understand Clean Beauty and convince them to switch to healthier and safer alternatives and also that every product they purchase is genuine and directly sourced from brands. This is due to the influx of duplicate products online, on several top portals too. Having said that, with the right kind of content, information, and persistence, we have aimed for and are on a continuous path upwards.

In the last couple of years, a lot of B2C buyers and sellers have gone digital colossally. Even though the brands and business owners are trying to eke out, Vanity Wagon- India’s first and largest direct-to-consumer e-commerce clean beauty marketplace, proved relatively resilient. With the safety of shopping in the comfort of one’s home, the online retail industry has seen multi-fold growth in the last couple of years, especially during the pandemic, the brand withstood the storm and came out stronger with an ever-growing team and ever-evolving strategies to cater the consumer better through experiential marketing. Challenges came in the form of, disruption of the supply chain (upstream mostly) and also managing a company that thrives on its people through work-from-home modules. But thankfully it is a young and resilient team that helped us evolve and adapt to situations faster.

Q: What is the future for clean beauty in India? What are your thoughts on the evolving sustainability beauty trend in India?

A: Consumers, these days, are taking a much closer look at what they put in and on their bodies which has pushed the brands to remove perceived harmful ingredients from their products. This beauty trend is seeing elevated growth rates over conventional beauty. Looking ahead, we are expecting more brands to become plastic neutral, vegan, and cruelty-free to make them more sustainable and eco-conscious. We see a skyrocketing increase in online search terms and the popularity of sustainable beauty. Cruelty-Free has also been driving the conversation and has immense gains during past years. Hence, it is safe to say that the clean beauty trend is more than skin deep.

Q: How are you planning to expand yourselves? Where do you see yourselves in the next 5 years?

A: The 5-years horizon for Vanity Wagon should put us in contention as one of the leading beauty marketplaces in India and APAC. We have already started our operations in Singapore. The next 2 years should see us covering 2 more major destinations in APAC and 2 in the Middle East. Further, once our base is solidified in these regions, we would look to launch in the European and American Markets.

We are also targeting to open offline stores in the next few years and strategically acquire 10-15 brands by 2024.

At Vanity Wagon, we are aligned to offering the best in class to our consumers. As of 2022, we have launched our scratch-built mobile native app, thus making shopping seamless and more convenient for users. Further, we are in motion of developing an AI engine that enables users to digitally try and understand products, the same should be deployed by late 2022.

Q: What is the skin care regime you follow in your daily routine? Any tips or quick beauty hacks you would like to share?

A: For me, less is more. I believe a skincare routine should be minimal yet effective. Instead of incorporating a wide range of products and steps to skincare, I stick to the basics to keep my skin healthy. Apart from a daily CTM routine, serums and sunscreens are what I cannot do without.

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Workforce diversity: A key to improve productivity

A diverse workforce helps an organization bring more creativity and innovations. Diversity practice is not only a leveller. It is also an immense possibility for an organization’s growth

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“Diversity” is about embracing the full range of differences that make each unique. Much of the discussion in the public sphere often revolves around gender diversity but as you can see from the graphic below, it is about so much more than that. Beyond the physical, it is also about embracing cognitive, occupational, values, relational and societal aspects of humans as individual beings. It’s pointless to have a diverse workforce without fully including and maximising such diversity. Here are some ways diversity will make your business a better one. 

1. PERSPECTIVE

Teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, and work styles are more representative of the customers that companies serve. They offer a variety of viewpoints, they have a wider range of experiences and they produce more innovation. Simply put: A diverse workplace can capture a greater share of the consumer market.

2. PERFORMANCE

In an increasingly global economy, where the best companies hire only the best people, it makes logical business sense to hire from the widest pool of talent. Access to the largest and most diverse set of candidates eventually makes for a truly qualified workforce — talent is borderless, color, and gender-blind!

3. PROFITABILITY

Be aware that your customers are watching and acting with their wallets. With social media and an active citizenry, businesses are being held accountable for their every action. To be a responsible business, actions speak far louder than words. 

4. EMPLOYER BRANDING

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a key talent attraction and retention strategy. In today’s intense battle for talent, having a strong employer branding proposition is key to business success. Not only does it make your company more attractive to work for, but a diverse and inclusive workforce can also help reduce costly employee turnovers. 

At the basic level, build awareness and consciousness about how everyone is different and celebrate that individuality. Diversity education and bias training could be part of onboarding. The next step up would be to have action and alignment around diversity and inclusion policies. Implement formal processes, systems, and policies around diversity and inclusion and keep everyone (all ranks and levels) accountable. Simple examples include allowing flexible schedules for parents.

The author Senior Managing Director, Michael Page India & Thailand

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