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Full Disclosure

When SAHAS India started in 1995, the Indian NGO sector had acquired some disrepute for misallocating resources more often than not. We were starting work in an environment where a call for monetary donations was likely to be regarded with some suspicion. However, our LAN model of social development was unique. We believed in creating micro ecosystems within residential communities where those with plenty (of material resources, knowledge, or time) would share just a little to benefit those who were unequivocally considered ‘have-nots’. Even the poshest area of New Delhi has a nearby locality of poor people that supplies daily wage workers, and house maintenance staff to these areas.

There is no privileged household in the city that does not encounter poverty-stricken people on a daily basis in the form of garbage collectors, cooks, cleaners, gardeners and more. We see their plight daily, and every now and then we have a spark of a thought to help them in some meaningful way. SAHAS hoped to fan this spark into action.

We ran all our projects entirely and exclusively on donations in kind. There are some incredible stories in the history of SAHAS where we boldly reached out, not just to local shopkeepers, but also to CEOs of big manufacturing firms to get resource donations such as textbooks and pencils for our school, and reams of unstitched fabric for our tailoring programs. When we first set out to start the NEEV preschool with the idea that we would achieve this goal with zero monetary assistance, it took a fair amount of faith and patience to access willing benefactors. The school was set up in a residential apartment donated by my partner. It was converted into an ultramodern learning space at par with the best schools in the city by a top architect who provided his services pro bono. The powerful ideas presented in a document of a few pages and a phone call were enough for him to design the NEEV school for no fee, for which he would have otherwise charged a one or two hundred thousand – a princely sum for that time.

As an architect, he necessarily had to visit the space to take measurements etc. but with him, and with all in-kind donors in the future, I took multiple verbal assurances that if anyone was committing anything to SAHAS, they would regularly visit the project site, preferably unannounced, to ensure that their contributions were being rightly utilised.

When it came to the actual construction of the school our costs for building and renovation looked to be running into a few millions. Since our school was located close to a trader’s market, we reached out to nearby shops, from local brick and sand suppliers to hardware stores, for help, and the support came pouring in. All the construction material, bricks, tiles, sand, cement etc. we needed was donated. The labour costs for construction were borne by my personal savings. It is worth noting that while people were more than willing to help once they understood the LAN concept, we never asked for exorbitant contributions. On the contrary, the wall tiles supplier, for example, who was happy to be part of the movement, was asked to provide only 12 boxes of tiles for the washrooms, which comprised a fraction of his stocks. Similarly, the sand supplier provided 4 rickshaw-loads of sand, the hardware store gave 4 taps, the brick shop provided 100 bricks, and so on. When it came to equipping the school with learning material, we arranged for teaching material and stationery from the shops in the locality. Across the years, with contributors at every tiny step of the way meant that hundreds of people donated their services or material resources.

There has never been any dearth of Good Samaritans in the world but we at SAHAS made sure that the contributions we sought were small enough for the individual to easily part with.

Running social development programs brick by brick, one tiny step at time, was indeed a different way of doing things – some people took time to understand the concept, and sometimes things took a humorous turn along this path too.

In one such incident, I was looking to source 20 boxes of 10 pencils each for our classrooms, but I could not reach out to our local stationery shops since we had already taken material from them, and I did not want them to feel stretched. So, I just picked up the telephone directory and cold called the largest writing equipment company in India. By some stroke of luck, I managed to reach the regional general manager who listened to me patiently, and, inspired by my ideas, agreed to make the requisite donation, albeit after some due diligence – to explain the next steps to me, he needed to know the total pencil requirement of our organisation. I told him we were looking for twenty boxes of pencils per year. Thinking that I meant 20 cartons of pencils (with each carton containing a thousand pencils each), he told me he was happy to provide the twenty thousand pencils I needed! When I clarified to him that we only needed 200 pencils, he was both amused and astonished. He immediately connected me to the relevant supplier with a commitment that made the company one of our many regular donors.

SAHAS India was envisioned as an alternative to traditional development models, which I saw as exploitative and inefficient. The organisation emphasises shared responsibility and resource distribution across society, fostering a more just and equal world. SAHAS India strongly argues that the gap between privileged and underprivileged harms everyone, creating a fractured society. The model our organisation follows emphasises that a just and equitable society benefits all.

Almost 30 years since we started, and for the first time ever, SAHAS is seeking funding to consolidate, rebuild, and enhance its development efforts.

The raison d’etre for why we are moving away from the LAN model of only in-kind donations and creating a large crowdfunding movement is reflected in our plans and vision for the future.

 

The plan for the next phase of SAHAS is multi pronged:

SAHAS 1.0

Comprehensively document the work done at SAHAS as SAHAS 1.0 through detailed literature and documentary audio visual content all uploaded onto a free to access website, and across our socials.

This would enable awareness and advocacy of the LAN model and seek calls for ‘Start your own SAHAS’ where individuals and families from anywhere who are keen to start a SAHAS like model, would be identified, and provided comprehensive support to start their own LAN model organisation in their locality.

This would come to be known as a social franchise model, albeit with no strings attached.

The idea is to inspire individuals through the SAHAS story, and if they are interested, work with them as partners to set up their own endeavour. Though the set up and running of the organisation is a rewarding journey, it would nonetheless likely pose challenges at every step along the way. And it is here that SAHAS would provide support through its experience and network. SAHAS would provide this support for the lifetime of the new organisation and it would, of course, follow the LAN model and thus would involve no finances.

SAHAS would be an umbrella organisation supporting multiple LAN model organisations.

 

SAHAS 2.0

To undertake all the steps necessary to emerge as an umbrella organisation including consolidation of the epic 30 year journey, SAHAS envisages its own existence as a well grounded, multi-departmental, and now funded organisation with its own substantial footprint – with a campus built on its own piece of land (crowdfunded), housing within it various social entrepreneurship projects, and a dedicated department for supporting its social franchise model vision.

In line with the above plan in mind a proposal for allotment of land was submitted to the Delhi Development Authority in 2016. As of 2024 we are still awaiting the green signal from the relevant government department and are hopeful for the same to come through in the coming months. If this allotment were to come through SAHAS would be allotted land at a relatively subsidised cost.

The years 2015 and 2016 were predominantly used up to maintain the basic functioning of the SAHAS projects in my home and also draw up the application for the said land allotment. The application process required not only a comprehensive blueprint of the proposed activities with an architectural blueprint for the use of the land, it also required a functional bank account and 10 percent of the estimated land cost as funds in this bank account. So finally in 2015/16 SAHAS opened its bank account, and through the LAN network arranged for its first ever financial donation of INR 200000 (in 2016, if land were to be allotted to SAHAS, it would cost 1/5th of its market value i.e. 2 million out of 10 million – 10% of which was 200000)

The said amount sits in the SAHAS bank account to date!

The years post 2016 up to 2020 went by in a mix of waiting, watching, working from home and consolidating.

Working without formal premises, ever so hopeful that the land allotment would come through any day, every year went by in a sort of breathing space, where the frenetic activity of the past 20 years seemed well worth it, and the plan for the coming years truly one worth waiting for!

Come 2020, the COVID pandemic hit the world and we have had to further drastically alter our working model, by enabling SAHAS beneficiaries to work from their homes.

Although on the worst of days the pandemic spared no one irrespective of their socio economic strata, we all saw the plight of hundreds millions of the most marginalised suffer the most – especially for the want of the most basic sustenance. Countless people died for the want of 1 meal a day.

Amidst the grim scenario, there are countless stories of civil society members and organisations arranging free food distribution for days and months on end.

Across the various lessons learnt from the pandemic, what stood out most was the need for humanity to aspire towards a more equitable sharing of resources.

Thus, the COVID pandemic only reinforced our resolve to further SAHAS plans as the LAN model, the plan to be an umbrella organisation supporting many other LAN model initiatives, is truly in line with the world is one family philosophy which has been at the core of SAHAS since its inception.

It is with this ‘history’ in mind, that we feel the time is right to renew our efforts to move towards our planned evolution of being a catalyst for a collective courage cooperative movement.

We request and invite you to come aboard!

There is a lot more work that needs to be done to equip marginalised children and women with the resources to lead better, more economically empowered lives.

Please come forth and help SAHAS India to continue its mission of scalable development efforts at the grassroots.

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