"Serving People Comes From Knowing What They Want" - Shashwat Kotambkar

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     1. Tell us about yourself and what led you into social activism?

I joined IIM Indore in 2016; with a mindset to explore. I had attempted JEE twice, but I understood that there was more to do and I wanted to do all of that. I did not want to be confined in the circle of studies. I wanted to focus on my academics, but in a place that provided multiple opportunities, I wanted to focus on the extracurricular more. I had grown up in an environment where social work was celebrated. I remember getting forms from HelpAge when we were younger, where we had to collect donations from our societies and help the cause. I was always excited to do it because I felt like I was doing something for people. I went to over a hundred houses and collected eight hundred rupees without any help from my family. Kids in my class did it for different motives; either for the autograph cards or something along those lines, but I did it purely because I enjoyed doing it. I think that was where the seed was sown. However, this interest turned into something more serious in 2018 when I was looking up social internships as a part of my coursework. That was when I found an internship with the Delhi government; it was to assist people with substance abuse.

I was supposed to do market research to help develop an ad which would help people who abused various substances. It was an excellent exposure because I got an insight into many things. I interacted with drug peddlers, drug users, and others. I also got to be on a panel in a conference conducted by Chicago University in Delhi. It was after then that I decided to make a career in the development sector seriously; it gave me a sense of satisfaction. I was always into fests, drama, and similar co-curricular instead of focusing solely on academics. These activities helped me develop a better understanding of management despite never actually holding a position. 

2.What is that one cause you care deeply about and why?

There are three primary causes that I actively am interested in:  education, mental health, and agriculture. I look forward to a day when I get to work on all of them. I have reasons for being invested in all three of them as well. Education, first, because this is the root. If you educate today’s children, then your tomorrow’s problems are more or less solved. Education is the first step is moving toward an equal, equitable, and noble society. I’m not questioning the current pedagogy of education. Still, I think strengthening this system will help us a lot in the future. Next, mental health because it is very close to home for me. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of mental health issues, and I would not want more people to go through it. I am empathetic about this and want to help all those who I can—lastly, agriculture. While the development structure is booming after the 2% CSR rule, agriculture is not benefitting from it much. Not for profit investments in agriculture are very limited. This is a very vital yet underrated field. It is the backbone of our economy today, yet farmers do not have the same sense of pride as they had earlier. I want to help bring that back. My family carries a legacy of farmers, and I want agriculture to get its due.
However, if I could work on only one cause out of there three, I would choose education because I believe it is the need of the hour. We need to develop a pedagogy which helps in their personality development. We need to raise children who know how to think critically, argue rationally, and act empathetically. 

 3. If one wants to contribute and make a difference in social causes, how can one do it?

I’d like to think that humans are inherently kind and helpful. Everyone thinks about how to help someone else, and people are often pretty dedicated to causes. But I think some hesitance pulls them back. However, I think once we understand society, the needs of the society, and the people, it will reduce this hesitance. I do not believe, so people without an understanding of this will be able to make an impact they wish to make. Serving people comes from knowing what they want. So, one of the primary steps is to reach the grass root levels and interact with them. We often discount people in backward areas as someone who do not know much, but in my experience, they are some of the smartest people I have met. Their approach towards problems is very pragmatic; they know what to do and how to do it. While there are extremely rigid people, the only way to go about them is to understand how they work, and how they think. We need to adapt to the systems of the area, of their society actually to be able to do something. In my experience, people, especially from rural areas, are extremely rigid in their ways and are not very enthusiastic about any change. So there is a certain manner to convince them by developing an attitude that they understand and relate to.

All of this aside, the first step, however, is actually to go into the field and implement something. When I started Kazwa, it was simply an initiative where I had a thousand rupees from which I bought washable masks and gave it to those who needed them. They were preventive masks along with some soaps and distributed them in areas which housed labourers. I made them aware of what would happen in case they did not take care of. I then turned to social media, a tool that I think is extremely influential, to ask for support from others. You will always find people who will be invested, even if not as much as you are. The key, hence, is to reach out to such people. It is after this that you understand the process of how to go about it. This is the first door that opens. As Anand Mahindra puts it, there are 1.3 billion people and 1.3 billion problems. The development sector, hence, has no dearth of opportunities. Once you are earnest about what you want to work for, there is nothing that can stop you. We are the youth of the nation, and it is up to us to make a difference. The key to making a change is to start small, go on the field, and understand the grass root problems.

4. Who is your role model, and why?

There is no one particular person I would consider as my role model. I believe many people influence my journey. One of these would be Gandhi Ji. While I do not agree with all of his political ideologies, I’d like to believe that he is one of the most significant social leaders in the world. Another person would be Baba Amte who has served patients of leprosy and set up Anandbans since the 1950s. I’ve grown up in Wardha, Maharashtra, and these are some names I have grown up with. Wardha is a place that boasts of people like Gandhi Ji, Baba Amte

5.What are some of the challenges and roadblocks you have faced along your journey?

I began Kazwa merely a month back and yet I have faced quite a few challenges. In the past month, there have been quite a few revelations. I have worked with the system, I have worked independently, and I have worked in coordination with the system. You get a lot of insights working this way. While a lot of would like to deny it at such times, I have seen rampant corruption in the system. There is no way it can be denied. It was surprising to me to know that even in these testing times, there were people who were being picky about who should be helped. For example, when I began with the Corona relief campaign, I reached out to a few local politicians who could help me widen my reach, but all they seemed interested in was serving the people of their own interest. They were not interested in helping the migrant workers of those who were bearing the brunt of the lockdown. These were the revelations that motivated me to work harder because of the knowledge that the system is biased. However, I do not want to take any credit away from them because I have seen how efficient the administration has been in the past few days. We need to understand that there are all kinds of politicians and administrators working; those we blame and those who are actually applaud-worthy. I’ve come across both these groups, and I think. At the same time, we talk about the first group; the second group should also get attention for their dedication. 

6.Your opinion about social media activism.

What I am doing, I believe, does not come under activism. It is more under the umbrella of social work. Hence, I do not really think I am qualified enough to have an opinion yet. However, I do believe that social media is an excellent tool which makes or breaks institutions in these times. It is up to us to optimally use this tool, but not heavily rely on it. At the end of the day, there are a bunch of people who want to help people and want to get help, but they do not have access to social media. In such cases, then, social media becomes the weapon of the privileged and exclusion which further deepens the divide in the society. This limits the reach to most masses—however, those who can ensure to use this for the better.

Interview by -Anshul Chauhan

About Shashwat Kotambkar:

Shashwat Kotambkar is a final year undergraduate student at IIM Indore. Recently he started the Kazwa relief fund initiative to help the underprivileged sections of the society. He aspires to delve into social entrepreneurship and is in the process of registering his non-profit startup. 


"Serving People Comes From Knowing What They Want" - Shashwat Kotambkar "Serving People Comes From Knowing What They Want" - Shashwat Kotambkar Reviewed by Anshul Chauhan on May 04, 2020 Rating: 5

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