Knowledge Is The Most Valuable Currency: Lt Gen SM Mehta, CEO, The Hans Foundation

In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, Lt Gen SM Mehta, CEO, The Hans Foundation, talked about the organization and more.

Tell us in detail about the The Hans Foundation. 

The Hans Foundation is a registered Public Charitable trust established in 2009 providing funding support to not for profit organizations for development programs in the areas of Health, Education, Water & Sanitation, Disability and Livelihood. The Foundation has actively supported more than 400 NGOs in 26 states and union territories in the past ten years benefiting more than 10 million poor in the country. Today, it is positioned as one of the leading organisations in social development across the country. It has also forged significant partnerships through MoUs with Govts. Of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan to support various developmental programs. It also supports cancer hospitals, educational institutes, residential schools, corneal eye banks, cochlear implants and congenital heart surgeries for children. The programs are aimed at improving the quality of life of the underprivileged communities. The interventions implemented by The Foundation range from grassroots level projects to national-level programs. 

When was it formed? From where did you derive the motivation and idea to start such an initiative? What is its vision? 

The Foundation was established in 2009 with an aim to provide an equal prospect to everyone, regardless of their caste, creed, race, economic status, gender, and religion. We believe that knowledge is the most valuable currency and there are stories-waiting to be told and waiting to unfold. We initially started with four focus areas – Education, Disability, Livelihood and Health and we later on added women empowerment and child development. The Foundation runs its signature programs directly implemented by the organization such as The Cochlear Implant programme, little hearts programme and Mobile Medical Units. 

For Shweta Rawat, Chairperson, The Hans Foundation, Uttarakhand always held a very special place in her heart. Manoj Bhargava, an entrepreneur who reached the peaks of fame and success in the US by creating the 2-ounce 5-hour energy shot, signed the Giving Pledge in 2012 and has committed over 90 per cent of his income to charitable causes. Thus, when Shweta’s resolute passion and Manoj’s selfless pledge combined, there came about a robust organisation, The Hans Foundation, responsible for giving facelifts to rural pockets pan India.  After completing her education, Shweta was contemplating on a career path and Manoj expressed his desire to donate. Thus, came about the idea of setting up their own foundation, so they could measure the impact and results of their efforts. 

What are the various sources of its funding? 

The Hans Foundation has trust in America named Rural India Support Trust (RIST). This trust is started by Manoj Bhargava, one of the billionaires in America. He has pledged 90% of his wealth for charity in the development of the citizens of this country.  

Which Not-for-Profit organizations have been benefited by the foundation? 

Over the years, THF has expanded its charitable activities in collaboration with State and Central Governments, institutions, corporates, academia and non-government organizations for sustainable interventions to achieve scale and economy. The interventions implemented by the Foundation range from grass root level to national level programs. The Foundation has partnered with around more than 400 organisations across the country and has impacted the lives of almost half a million beneficiaries through these tie-ups with local bodies. It has been working in collaboration with and providing funding to the organisations like CARE India, Save the Children, American India Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation, The Banyan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Tata Trusts, Apollo Hospital, Max India Foundation, Wockhardt Foundation, National Foundation of India, Helpage India, National Heart Institute, N.M Sadguru Water and Development Foundation and many others. Currently, working with more than 150 organisations (big and small). 

Vision Uttarakhand 2020, a significant MoU which was signed between the Government and The Hans Foundation in November 2014 to work together in the fields of Education, Safe Drinking Water, Agriculture, Health, Disability, and Energy. Manoj Bhargava, the founder and prime funder, announced a grant of Rs 500 crore for Uttarakhand State-wide Development Program under ‘Vision UK - 2020’.

What makes THF different than other funding organisations extending support to NGOs? 

Most of the NGOs are working majorly in metropolitan cities. However, The Hans Foundation reaches the remote and most interior parts of the country. We picked up grassroots level organisations who were directly working in these areas. To scale up, these NGOs did not have the financial capacity. The Hans Foundation then intervened and forged MOU’s with different state Govts., who have been reaching out to support the vulnerable and marginalized communities. Through these MOU’s, we were able to upscale these initiatives. We have different ways and measures in implementing the programs and look at long-term projects. We have a robust system of picking up partners and not only fund but work closely with them for the best results. Lastly, we have a diligent team who monitor and assess these ongoing projects on a timely basis. 

What is your future planning towards the social service that you have been doing so far? 

The Hans Foundation will be launching national-level programs. We have just launched a comprehensive report titled ‘National Strategy for Inclusive and Community Based Living for Persons with Mental Health Issues’ in association with the task force comprising members from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, NIMHANS, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and other civil society organisations. The study has covered 43 Mental Health Institutions spread across the country and study patients who have been in the facility for more than one year. Additionally, we are looking to work in the area of corneal blindness which needs immediate attention. Lastly, we are going to launch a new programme named IDEA – Inclusion of Divyangjan Entrepreneur Association. Under this program, we are aiming to have 5,000 disabled people starting their own jobs and become entrepreneurs in the next 5 years. We are trying to create 1,00,000 jobs for the disabled people in the country. The future is to reach millions of lives more and uplift their lives.   

Tell us a few success stories.

The Hans Foundation has always been at the forefront of uplifting lives through their various associations. Some such stories are: 

Dhiraj Mushahar, a 68-year-old resident of Koran Sarai, Bihar. His prolonged illness had barred him from working leaving the burden of income generation on his 3 daughters. Jyoti (27), Saraswati (25) and Chotti (19) are the bread-earners of the family, working as day labourers. Their mother died five years back due to cancer. The lockdown has been harsh on the family, with none of the girls having any income support, leaving them in desperate need for food. They had received around 2 kgs. of rice from the Panchayat which got over in a matter of two days. The Hans Foundation along with Caritas India provided the family with a two-square meal for the next 15 days. 

Ujaram Mushahar, a 52-year-old resident of Koran Sarai, Bihar, was provided with a ration kit at Koran Sarai High School. Affected by Polio on his left leg, Ujaram had to resort to begging to make ends meet for himself and his family. It was difficult for him to look after a family of 10 especially in the present scenario, where lockdown has restricted the movement of people on road, taking a beat on his only means of survival. He expressed his gratitude to the field team along with The Hans Foundation and Caritas India. “There are days when I can’t manage even Rs. 10”, says Ujaram, expressing the looming uncertainty over the next meal. The prevailing conditions have forced his family to take only a square meal per day.” 

Poonam Kondar, a 29-year-old resident of village Bhasuda, Ajaigarh Block & Panna District, MP lives with her Husband - Ganesh Kondar, 31 and two daughters named Kamla Kondar, 2.5 years and Akhilesh Kondar, 6 months old. Both being daily labourers were unable to feed nutritious food to their children, as their earning is insufficient. Kamla Kondar was a confirmed case of severe acute malnourishment. The Hans Foundation along with EFICOR project staff met the family during home visit counselling with AWW and ASHA in her village and counselled her parents about NRC facilities, SAM children care and treatment. But the family was not willing to take her to NRC Ajaigarh. Hence, the community mobiliser counselled the families about a healthy balanced diet and taught them to prepare homemade health mix powder. Since the families are facing challenges for daily earning, the project informed and motivated Poonam Kondar to get take-home ration from AWC. Project staff regularly followed up through visits and encouraged them to have a balanced diet as per their economic condition and keep a record of Kamala weight on a weekly basis. Poonam and her husband understood all health messages shared to them by the project staff and have practiced and started serving timely food to Kamla and started taking Take Home Ration from Anganwadi centre, prepared homemade nutritious powder for Kamal. Poonam and her husband are very glad to see this change in their baby. 

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