"No Matter What You Do, It's the Heart That Matters" - Vardaan Shekhawat

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1. Tell us more about your company and your journey.

ProjectuP:Vishwaas is a social enterprise fundamentally rooted in the power of ‘one’ and aimed at bringing social change in the lives of children by impacting just one life at a time through its various initiatives in the dimensions of child education, entrepreneurship, sustainability, hygiene, sanitation etc. 

Driven by virtues of principled research, at uP we are focusing on conducting quality research on the aforesaid facets of development, this research is then used for our internal operations, publications and to provide strategic and recommendatory briefs to various governmental organizations to scale their policy impact.

Briefly, few of our notable on-field programs have been Project smile, that was aimed at generating as many smiles as possible in urban slums of Delhi and thereafter understanding its effects on the mental health of slum dwellers or our project called ‘tutions under tree’. 

Further our entrepreneurial empowerment programmes aimed at upliftment of the suppressed girl-child and women in Urban Slums through entrepreneurship whereby, with a minor investment of 1500Rs we could establish a sustainable chain of entrepreneur girls working on manufacturing scarves, doing pottery etc. 

And our holistic education model deals into establishing one on one education hubs around Delhi to generate quality education through our special play and learn, interactive pedagogy.
Further, we have generated large-scale events for slum dwellers that aim at delivering resources, experiences and their inclusion in the mainstream strata.

Thus, we look at a holistic model of social development which includes research, governmental consultation to follow best practices and most of all delivering on-field impact.

2. How did you come up with this idea and go about executing it?

During 2017,
I was in a big dilemma as to what I wanted to do with my life, as all my friends merely wanted better grades, to get a good job and then settle in a good house with a nice family. This idea honestly did not appeal to me as I wanted my final purpose in life to be something bigger than just having a good house and a nice car, This question persisted so much that it gave me sleepless nights. 

Then I was selected for a research project that required me to work with children suffering from distinct degrees of PTSD and chronic illnesses like cancer, tuberculosis etc. 

My work with the children changed my perspective of looking at everything and gave me a firm revelation that if I wish to bring some scaled impact it can only be done by changing the lives of children and when that project ended one of the kids with cancer gifted me with a self-made clay pot as a parting gift, soon after that child passed away. 

This was the moment I was determined that the rest of my life will be committed to caring, loving and uplifting child life. This burning sense of determination has been my greatest asset in making Project uP a reality, on ending my research project I started spending a lot of time in Urban Slums trying to understand the nuances and issues the people there face, so much so that I ended up spending a night there as well, the more I experienced their lives the harder the fire of determination burned.

And soon after I organized a team with similar ideals, we got to work, a lot of ups and downs came on the way but every time we made a child smile, heard his hopes and dreams for the future we felt as if Project uP is a huge success. While there is a long long way to go, I’m determined to be committed to the development sector specifically children.

One learning through all this has been that no matter what you do, it's the heart that matters!

3. What do you think are the most important qualities of a successful entrepreneur? 

For me it has to be a firm sense of determination, I think social entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship in itself is the most demanding job on this planet. Making something work as your brainchild you need to be completely invested in it at all points in your time and it can’t happen unless you’re determined and burning with that sense of mission for the entire 24 hours of the day.

Social entrepreneurs in specific should carry such kind of determination and passion for their work as they are harnessing change, impact and profits for their target communities. Every time I think of a suppressed girl child it drives me and pushes me an extra mile to make projects work.

After that determination, I believe the spirit to lead and leadership is a must because nothing can workout without a team, at uP our team is like a family, we eat, drink, chill and work together and I feel by establishing that kind of work culture, trust and friendship results in better productivity and outcomes. 

However, this can only happen through the efforts of a good leader. For starters, these qualities are super essential. The technical knowledge, hard work, team-building etc become important in further stages of development too. 

4. What are your tips for the first time and aspiring entrepreneurs? 

My tip would be not to get right into it and learn from entrepreneurial failures. The only reason being that the way entrepreneurship is shown to us on the screen is nothing like it. Entrepreneurship has been off late, put under a lot of glitterati, thanks to all the big dreams, the nice passionate talks, popular culture etc. 

However, something that is missed is the struggle that goes in it, the sacrifices that have to be made. Question yourself on these lines before getting started with your idea; If you’re ready to give up everything for it? How far are you willing to travel for it? Are you ready to experience multiple failures for that one instance of success? Etc.

Don’t just get on with something on a very superficial level by getting pumped up from a movie, or by listening to a friend or reading a cool success story. Look at the fundamental purpose, impact, determination and spirit behind your ideas.

5. How can one overcome a hurdle of lack of funds when starting up?

One word answer to this question is through persevering and believing in the core of one’s idea itself. Funds are necessary for everything, won’t deny that. However, in realms of development and social entrepreneurship, I feel ideas and innovation supersedes funds. 

This is precisely true when we analyse how the growth of a social enterprise is measured relative to that of a for-profit enterprise. A social enterprise’s growth is measured by the kind of impact it has generated while the latter’s growth is seen by the kind of financial growth it has experienced. 

Many times it is hard for a social entrepreneur to generate funds as the social dimension of the entrepreneurial model takes up a lot of it, but then that’s what the purpose is right? However, this problem has an inherent solution in it.

Overcoming the hurdle of funding as a social entrepreneur is to increase, invent and innovate ideas that have the maximum impact and also seek to pay you back something. I feel that persevering with impactful ideas and hustling one's way into it is the right call. Funding for a social enterprise will follow eventually due to its cause itself. 

This is true in our experience at uP, while as of now, we prefer to largely remain pocket funded, we have received a lot of requests of people wanting to help us raise funds through multiple ways such as; crowdfunding, media funding, institutional funding, impact investment, donation drives and a lot more avenues.

The bottom line being, with perseverance and impactful ideas in the development industry funding follows because a lot of people are looking at creating humanistic value out of their capital. 

Being said that, I’d say if you believe in your idea with all your might and if its creating impact, you should just persevere with it until you find the right linkages and apparatus who will assist you with the funding and trust me, it’ll happen.

Additional Information about the Project:

My team briefly compiled a few notable points:-

1. Upward linear trajectory of growth

2. Over 2k lives impacted

3. Successful internship projects running with over 500 applicants

4. Increased outreach by 200 per cent within last year

5. Nominations for multiple awards

6. Projects and sites spread throughout Delhi-NCR

7. Project uP Reached out to over 6 schools in Delhi-NCR

8. Letters of appreciation and recommendation from standing committees chairman, MPs etc.

9. Recently working with a governmental ministry on projects relating to urban employment and development

Interview by - Chaitra

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