Meet Gangadhar Prasad, a volunteer at Aditya Mehta Foundation, a charity cyclist and an SAP FICO Consultant, who is now trying to be a minimalist.
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
Years into my IT career, after dealing with the associated stressful lifestyle, I realized that health, truly is wealth. I was diagnosed with hypertension in 2013. That’s when I decided to do something, to try and reverse the situation if possible. I started in a small way by cycling to work. I work with Infosys and my home was 18 km away from my workplace. So, every day, I would cycle a good 36 km to and fro to keep myself fit.
The long rides paved way for fund raising initiatives that was directed to the right social cause.
The real game changer for me was during the December of the same year when I got to know of the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN). The Tour of Nilgiris is a bicycle tour organised by the RideACycle Foundation. It is an annual tour that caters to both charity riders and those looking to move into competitive cycling. Many of my fellow cyclists raised funds for various causes that year. So the following year in 2014, I took up the cause of supporting a blind school in my home town Hindupur. I cycled 700 Kms as part of the TFN tour and raised my first 90,000 rupees that was used to donate cycles and manual tread mills to the visually impaired students. I always had the feeling that these kids needed some sort of a physical activity to keep them fit all through.
That same year, I saw the birth of “Wheels of Change” an initiative started by me at Infosys Bangalore. In order to promote cycling awareness any employee staying 8 to 10 kms from the campus was given a free cycle for two days to travel to and from work. This way the employee could test the grounds before investing in a cycle of his/her own.
Thanks to this campaign, some 150-200 employees started cycling to work regularly and I too embraced by new found love – cycling. The campaign garnered more interest when I initiated the Infosys Cycling Challenge, a Premier League that awarded trophies to employees who covered the maximum distances on a cycle every week. These initiatives witnessed a sort of cascading effect, and more and more people bought into the idea of cycling for health and the environment.
I was able to build a great network of friends and biking enthusiasts, which paved the way for a good fund raise in TFN 2014. I had also built my credibility, which I believe is really the first step towards spearheading any philanthropic activity.
Simply put, I started cycling for my health, which led to cycling becoming my passion and I started doing long rides. The long rides paved way for fund raising initiatives that was directed to the right social cause. Thus, began my true calling, the philanthropy journey.
Please tell us more about your success on this journey
My passion for cycling and all the associated activities connected me with an NGO called the Aditya Mehta Foundation in Hyderabad. The foundation supports specially-abled people to take up sports as a means to sustain. They counsel, train and help them with the necessary artificial limbs. They also help provide any required sports equipment to train and send them to National or International Sports championships.
This association with Aditya Mehta Foundation made me take up my first charity ride for them in 2015, a 500 km ride from Bangalore to Hyderabad. At the end of this ride I was in the list of top 3 fund raisers wherein I raised about 2.5 lakhs for the foundation.
With this credit on my hand, the founder of the Aditya Mehta Foundation requested me to volunteer there. The organization was still in a nascent stage and needed volunteers like me to deliver the correct message to the specially-abled people, counsel them, and bring them on board. I helped gather more and more specially-abled people to come and join the foundation.
The first responsibility I took up at the foundation was to setup training camps across India like BSF Yelahanka and ITBP Panchkula to name a couple. The camps were used as a one-stop-shop to bring together all specially-abled people and get them to understand the importance of Sports in their lives in helping sustain a life free of depression, and maintaining overall good physical well-being.
This is how the idea of training camps started. What it further evolved into was something even more interesting. It struck upon us that we could extend these trainings to personnel from BSF,CRPF and other para forces who have lost their limbs in the line of duty.
Within two years and we were able to get four of our BSF brothers to win Medals in the international cycling championships. In fact, one of them even won again at the recent Asian Games para-cycling championships.
We as a foundation seem to have brought in a transformation in their lives. This to me is a great driving force to keep raising funds for the same cause. I raise close to 3 lakhs per annum for this NGO. Apart from this I also help with any IT-related backed operations for the foundation.
What have your key learnings been so far ?
An intention as humble as wanting to stay fit by cycling can get you far enough to move mountains and accomplish very arduous tasks like riding 600 kms for the Tour of Nilgiris , all for a good cause.
Over the course of my philanthropy journey I have an important learning that opportunity can truly arise out of adversity at times.
Recently, my work took me to Japan for a brief stint of about a year and when I came back I was presented with a new challenge. This was to help a my brother’s friend – both her kidneys had failed and she needed transplantation. The cost of the same was a whopping 10 lakh Rupees, and the lady coming from a very humble background in rural Karnataka was not able to afford it. After COVID-19, my cycling expeditions were down to a minimum and hence I decided to take up her cause – fund raise for transplantation. I tried a crowd sourcing campaign that did not take off too well.
I chanced upon another lady who runs a bakery called Lluvia in Sarjapur, with special gluten-free breads on the menu. I live in Electronics City, which is really the IT hub and a perfect market for Lluvia breads given the affordability index of people living there. So I struck a deal with the bakery owner to help deliver breakfast to people in Electronics City from her bakery and 25% of the sale had to go into the fund raise campaign for my ailing friend. The delivery activity took care of my cycling needs for the day too. Slowly, but steadily the campaign took off very well. I saw myself delivering about 30 orders a month.
The power of social media should never be underestimated, another key learning I had in this journey.
This particular campaign had a greater impact on my Facebook page. People realised I was actually doing this food delivery service for a cause and started donating liberally. Within a month I raised about 2.5 lakh rupees and the transplantation was successfully completed, given she was in Stage 5 of kidney failure.
My action seems to have spoken louder than words, that is, if I had asked for funds to support the ailing lady it would have been an uphill task to raise money but my act of doing breakfast delivery got the funds to flow in. The visibility that my campaign created caught the government’s attention in December 2020, and she got support from the CM’s Relief Fund.
And I received a Letter of Appreciation from the Governor of Telangana.
I learned that an intention as humble as wanting to stay fit by cycling can get you far enough to move mountains and accomplish very arduous tasks like riding 600 kms for the Tour of Nilgiris. As an experienced cyclist I know now that I can do it easily albeit over a period of 5 to 6 days. But as a novice when I started in 2013 it felt like an uphill task. Not to forget I had to do it without letting my parents know about it, an even more challenging task!
What are your future plans?
Keep Cycling, that’s exactly what my plans are for the future. I truly believe that cycling is what got me involved with Aditya Mehta Foundation, it pushed me to raise funds via campaigns, and it made me deliver breakfast to help a friend get a kidney transplantation done. So two words define the future for me, “Keep Cycling”. The only formula that works is to sit on the saddle and ideas will start pouring in.
Written by: Smitha Cavale
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna