Shivoo: So Ramesh, how did it all start?
Ramesh: As a child I grew up listening to the story written by Bhanubhaktha, a poet and a writer who translated Sanskrit Ramayana to Nepali Language. There were many simple inspiring stories of him which inspired me
Shivoo: Any specific ones that come to your mind?
Ramesh: In a small village, he sees a farmer cutting grass.
Bhanu: What do you do with this grass?
Farmer: I will give it to my cow
Bhanu: But you have so much. What do you do with the rest?
Farmer: I will sell the rest and get the money to dig a well for the people of my village
Ramesh: As a small boy, I had realized, each one of us aspire to be of some help to others and the society we live in. I had made up my mind to retire at any cost by 40 and be of some use to the society
Shivoo: Did you do it?
Ramesh: Yes I retired from my corporate job at 40 ?
Shivoo: Usually at 40, people hit midlife crisis, but you have begun a wonderful life and a great journey …All the very best
In conversation with Ramesh Agarwal – Entrepreneur, technologist and philanthropist
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
It all started with the stories I had heard in childhood. They left an indelible on me and my outlook towards life. From young, the stories which I used to hear when I had to eat or go to bed all used to carry a strong social message. It had an impact on my development and future learning. These messages, with generosity ingrained in my DNA, got me volunteering for social causes right through my college days at BIT, Mesra, Ranchi where I was pursuing my B. Tech in Computer Science and even during my post graduate days at IIM Bangalore. I also completed a social entrepreneurship course at IIMB.
I started my career at Wipro Technologies in 1996. From early days on, I was working with multiple NGOs contributing in any way can. I feel discipline and time management play an extremely key role. I used to dedicate at least 2 hours a day working with 3 to 4 NGOs.
Mr. Premji has been a big inspiration for me. He has made great investments and also continues to invest and on primary education. Focus, precision, commitment and being result oriented is what I like in him. With this inspiration, I realized early on that I would like to stop running the rat race in the corporate world at 40 and start working towards creating change or making a difference to other people’s lives.
True to that, I quit my job when I turned 40 and started a community space called Work Adda, collaborative spaces for work/art/events. This center is in Jakkasandra, Koramangala. Currently, I have 4 companies that use this center as an incubation center, and a few individuals. If it’s a venture who is into creating social impact or disrupting area of social transformation, I give them additional discount to use this set-up.
I also work very closely with Snehadhara Foundation (an NGO focused on creating a space for children with special needs with Art as Therapy). I am one of their advisors. I help them expand their network and build sources of funding along with helping them with ideation and strategy definition.
I am an active member of BB76 (Better Bangalore 76), a neighborhood improvement community around Bannerghatta Road. I also spend time coaching and mentoring young entrepreneurs.
I am also an active member of BIT Ranchi alumni group. We are about 600 members. We actively raise funds towards philanthropy and also have 2 events a year in Bangalore. I am a part of the organizing committee.
I also work with RangDe, an innovator in the crowd financing space.
“I feel discipline and time management play an extremely key role. I used to dedicate at least 2 hours a day working with 3 to 4 NGOs.”
“Mr. Premji has been a big inspiration for me. He has made great investments and also continues to invest and on primary education. Focus, precision, commitment and being result oriented is what I like in him.”
“My belief is that, that unless people come and use a public place, they will not have a belief or stake in it. It creates a sense of ownership and pride. Hence, we invited anyone to come and spend a day at the lake, none of the people in the neighborhood would participate.”
“Using my success in raising money for campaigns that can make a difference, we are looking to raise 2.5 crore funds for Snehadhara.”
Please tell us about the successes on this journey?
For me success is all about how one can learn to be happy with what one has while they pursue all that they want. In my case, the pursuit is all about wanting to make a difference, so like the famous saying goes, I keep walking on that journey. My personal mantra is one does well, by doing good.
But to answer your question, 2 events come to my mind immediately when I think of success.
An event very close to my heart – Kere Habba. Lake Festival in Madivala. We were able to pull off a full day festival both in 2014 and 2015. My role was towards raising funds to conduct this festival. The event was targeted at bringing people to the lake. The event was organized by the Namma Bengaluru Foundation in association with Better Bangalore-76 and the Forest department to create awareness on lake preservation and foster appreciation for lakes in the City.
My belief is that, that unless people come and use a public place, they will not have a belief or stake in it. It creates a sense of ownership and pride. Hence, we invited anyone to come and spend a day at the lake, none of the people in the neighborhood would participate. If they did not participate, then how can we educate them on how our lakes serve as home to migratory birds in our country and also enhance the green lung place in today’s concrete jungle by protecting the rich flora and fauna as part of the Madiwala bio-diversity project that aims at bringing in a natural ambience of forest and lake while living in a city.
The day-long festival is includes activities like – bird watching, cycling, yoga, drawing and painting competitions. Apart from this, children have a great time with activities such as treasure hunt, clay modelling and a painting competition with a lake conservation theme.
In 2015, more than 500 people, including senior citizens and children, took part in an array of activities, which was a great improvement from what we saw in 2014 about 250 people coming for this. We have conducted 2 editions of this festival – in 2014 and 2015. We look to continuing more editions of the Lake Festival year after year with enhanced participation.
The second which is also close to my heart is – the campaign we ran for one of an alumni and professor at BITS Mesra fighting Cancer. He needed financial assistance of about 15 lakhs for his a, and I ran a campaign within our alumni network and was able to collect over 12 lakhs in 3 weeks (as time was the essence) that was handed over to the professor. This was used for bone marrow transplant, as his cancer had re-occurred.
Using my success in raising money for campaigns that can make a difference, we are looking to raise 2.5 crore funds for Snehadhara. I have promised to raise 1 crore of funds. We have 36 lakhs already committed. I am looking at both corporates, alumni network, and anyone who is willing to contribute for this fund for the additional 65 lakhs.
What are your future plans?
I am looking forward to working with people who will reach out to me and whom I can reach out to. I am not planning to start on my own. I am trying to connect people with similar taste. For example, building a community centre —get people to come together I might join some NGO at some time. Conceptualizing and running events, learning, sharing, food rescue and setting up a community kitchen are some of the areas I would like to work in the coming years.
All the initiatives I am part of, we are looking at volunteers who are willing to help us either by working with us, or financially supporting our initiatives or both. I stay around Bannerghata road in Bangalore, so any one who is in the neighborhood, and would like to volunteer you can get in touch with me through the contact page on Your Philanthropy Story or at email@example.com