Monday, 3 March 2014

Channelling Change

'Share' sometimes, does mean we care
In a world strewn with sites selling sensationalism, scandal and style, can three social experiments with substance make a difference? The good news is, yes they can.

Anuradha Kedia-Parekh, Aarti Mohan and Megha Ghosh show us how. Parekh runs The Better India (www.thebetterindia.com) TBI, a positive news organisation; Mohan spearheads The Alternative (thealternative.in), a media platform for “sustainable living and social impact” and; Ghosh is the sole driving force behind I See India  (http://iseeindia.com/) which aims to become a one-stop space for good news about India. All three initiatives showcase people, projects, and places across India that find no mention in mainstream media. They work in a space where collective reaction leads to positive actions, where stories are linked through social media to on-the-ground-social impact.

Trendsetting trio

Parekh and Mohan are hands-on mothers in their early thirties who juggle homework and homepages, with equal ease. They are both based in Bangalore. Ghosh is 26 and got married recently. She lives in Hyderabad. All three women are high achievers who gave up well-paying, regular jobs, to take up causes close to their heart.

Parekh started TBI with husband Dhimant in 2008. The husband-and-wife team are graduates of the Indian School of Business. Parekh is Chief Editor/Co-Founder at TBI. In 2009, Mohan co-founded Sattva (meaning 'essence' or 'balance') a social enterprise, with three BITS Pilani batchmates--Srikrishna Sridhar Murthy, Rathish Balakrishnan and Vikram Rai. The Alternative (TA), Sattva's media arm, has been online for over a year  and Mohan describes it as an “alternative living platform”. Mohan is Chief Editor, TA. Ghosh graduated as an electronics and communication engineer from Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, in 2010. She worked at a telecom major before starting I See India in 2011.

Engaging our social conscience

Of the three projects, TBI was the trailblazer. Naturally, Anuradha Kedia-Parekh and Dhimant did not have it easy when they launched TBI. “Initially, we went reporting around Bangalore city to discover and know more about individuals and organisations, doing selfless work. We put those stories and photographs on our blog, then circulated these on Facebook and e-mail. The response took us by surprise,” recalls Parekh. Now, TBI has a team of 25-30 writers who contribute articles on a voluntary basis.

The Alternative, says Aarti Mohan, has over 500 contributors across the globe who write about causes or issues they are passionate about. Also, TA runs monthly 'Green Bazaars' across Bangalore to help readers connect and become consumers of 'green' products--from organic grains and organic floor cleaners to solar/rain water harvesting solutions. “At TA, we want people to be informed--about issues surrounding the environment, human rights, gender, clean living, low-impact travel-- and associated problems and challenges,” explains Mohan.

Ghosh is a “huge fan” of TBI and TA. She admits ISI is her way of translating a childhood dream into reality. “I wanted to start a media source for only the good news of India. When I was working at my first job, I saw first-hand the high stress levels persisting in the corporate sector. Why bombard people with negativity while neglecting the contribution of grassroot changemakers? So, I quit my job and started I See India on 15th August 2011. If people are presented with more solution-based stories, they will also develop an attitude of thinking about ways to solve a given problem in society. The government and NGOs are not solely responsible for solving our problems. Citizens too can make significant contributions at the micro level,” she stresses.

Being the change
The stories on these sites are about making a difference--either individually, or through socially-minded businesses, responsible travel, innovative technologies or a sustainable way of life. But is the message getting out there?

TBI gets close to two lakh readers a month. TA attracts over a lakh unique visitors a month. Also, TBI, which Parekh and her husband self-funded initially, is now viable through advertisements. Mohan and her co-founders hope TA will become a sustainable entity, but it is now subsidised by the other work they do through Sattva (consulting, programme management services, etc. for NGOs and corporates). I See India being a solo effort is still a work-in-progress, says Ghosh. “But the present growth rate of new FB subscribers is 520% a week,” she adds proudly. And her effort is indeed admirable, because her project is also totally self-funded. “I will seek outside funding when I See India is better established,” says Ghosh.

So, all three initiatives exist, and are expanding in scope, purely through people power. Readers spread the word through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and Youtube. And this collective, proactive approach, helps raise support and funds for innumerable, impactful causes.

Parekh, Mohan and Ghosh are in every sense of the term, 'trending' --as women entrepreneurs tapping the potential of a newly emerging social media space; and for changing the India we live in, one click at a time.

www.thebetterindia.com
thealternative.in
http://iseeindia.com/

(Note: This is the original unedited version of my article which The Hindu carried in it's Sunday Magazine supplement on March 2, 2014. The published version is available here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/good-news-india/article5740112.ece)