In March 2020, two 17-year-olds — Haneen Farid and Disha Panda — decided to kick-start an initiative called Project Arambha to fight gender inequality in education. The project was kickstarted in collaboration with 1 Million for 1 Billion (1M1B), a United Nations accredited non-profit organisation.
Through their fundraising programme, the two have raised about Rs 15 lakh for 44 girls over the past year to help them pay their college fees for the current academic year. “We have pledged to support them for three academic years in total for which we need another Rs 19 lakh to meet the requirements,” says Farid.
According to her, the project is divided into two parts – fundraising and a specialised career programme.
To raise the money, the founders not only conducted three online crowd-funding campaigns – one of which is on-going on Impact Guru – but also managed to acquire corporate sponsorship from Himalaya Herbals Pharmaceuticals Company which gave them a grant of Rs 8 lakh for 14 girls.
Under their specialised career programme, they conduct online workshops wherein they get onboard India’s most qualified career coaches like Debeshi Chakraborty, Parul Siddiqui, amidst others, to teach the students some basic skills that they require to ace a job interview such as resume writing, LinkedIn profile-building and goal setting.
Farid adds that they are now planning to expand their career programme by helping the students dream big. “We not only want to impart technical skills in our girls but also help them dream big as we think that’s one factor that is holding them back from succeeding and believing in themselves as they come from an underprivileged background and have been somewhat conditioned to live a mediocre life,” she says.
How did it start?
Almost a year ago, Farid says that 1M1B came to their school and introduced them to their 1M1B’s Future Leaders Programme that discovers and nurtures the world’s most promising leaders by providing more clarity over their purpose using a framework before turning them into an actionable project aligned with the UN SDGs. They train these volunteers and create one million leaders who are going to impact one billion people.
That was when they realised that it was an opportunity that could add meaning to their lives and the lives of many other women.
“As a political enthusiast with strong opinions, I have always received a lot of criticism and discouragement. People have constantly shunned my passion for politics by saying – ‘You will never be able to succeed in politics because you’re a girl!’, ‘There’s no place for girls in politics!’ It really disheartened me. I didn’t want other girls my age to go through the same and give up on their dreams. So, through this project, I wish to help them achieve their dreams and become whoever they want to be,” she said.
The two are among those chosen from over 120 students to join the 1M1B Activate Impact Summit 2021 at the UN headquarters in New York. According to Farid, on completion of one year of their project, they would get to go to the summit where they would get an opportunity to showcase their project to the UN delegates.
Challenges along the way
“It was after we had initiated the project that we realised that it wasn’t as easy, given the nationwide lockdown that followed immediately thereon,” she said.
As they were unable to conduct on-ground operations owing to the spread of coronavirus, the two co-founders resorted to alternative methods.
“We tried to get several speakers on board to interact with our girls aside from conducting online workshops. Other than that, even though we couldn’t arrange in-person meetings with the corporate, we somehow managed to acquire corporate sponsorship for our fundraiser,” she said.
One of the major challenges that they faced was that of breaking the ice with students from behind the screens. Iit took us a few weeks to know them on a personal level,” she said.
“However, it all became a little easier for us to manage since we had immense support from not only our parents and teachers, but also from Manju Balasubramanyam, our principal at Delhi Public School, Bangalore North, who brought 1M1B to our school, encouraged us at every step and, not to mention, donated to our campaigns.
“Moreover, what has always kept me going is my wish to go into politics one day as, for me, politicians are supposed to be public servants who work towards public welfare, which is what I wish to do through this project as well,” Farid says.
Having said that, the co-founder mentions that their ultimate goal is to educate 300 girls through ‘Project Arambha’. “We are trying to create a whole pool of successful women who want to do wonders in their careers,” she adds.
All images provided by Haneen Farid