Avneesh Chhabra is a changemaker and technology enthusiast, who always wanted to give back to society while serving his passion. He aims to bridge the gap between donors and NGOs, to build a community that has its foundations on aspirations, positivity, and compassion, and to create a platform for less – fortunate kids to upskill their talent. Avneesh is not only demanding the upliftment of marginalised communities but also dedicatedly working for it by creating the awareness of digitisation. Being intricately connected with NGOs, Avneesh realised that due to lack of resources the talented kids were losing on hopes, and PassionGuru, an initiative by Qause has enabled them to pursue what they love! In an interaction with Higher Education Digest, Avneesh talks about his vision of creating an inspiring platform for the underprivileged kids who rarely get a chance to pursue what they love doing by getting them access to passion mentors. He also talks about his journey as a social entrepreneur, his plans for Qause and PassionGuru, and many more.
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on digitally deprived children? What should we do to support people on the wrong side of the digital divide?
With the emergence of COVID-19, NGO closures have disrupted education for most of the kids in rural areas. Many kids are stuck in domestic violence households, all their ways to escape have been shut, and all ties with the outside world are disconnected for them. To maintain the engagement of children is quite critical now, and technology can be the saviour here. It is not known how long children will remain stuck at home, but one thing that we are sure of, children need to keep learning. This whole COVID-19 situation changed the digital divide from a problem to an emergency. Even when things were normal, these kids from low-income communities continued to fight for access to academic resources. Pursuing their passion seemed like a dream.
We all have witnessed an exponential pace of technological change in the last few years, and the internet has entered all possible dimensions of human existence. However, still, the marginalised sections of the society are unable to stay in the tech curve mainly because of lack of awareness. If we make technology available to them, it might change things, not just for now but even when things get normal. This will not only enable them to stay connected with their passion but also explore other dimensions of their interests. It’s time that we understand that internet access is not a luxury. They are already fighting in this dire situation, let us make it a little easier for them. What we can least do is help them nurture their passion and introduce them to the world of opportunities.
What is the reason behind launching PassionGuru? How are you helping NGO kids and less- fortunate teens across India to pursue what they love?
In a world that is driven by technology, it is debatable whether the adequate priority is given to the marginalised sections of the society. While we marvel over the human ingenuity that has given us a way to reach out to the world, it warms our heart, even more, when we hear about the usage of technology by the less fortunate ones. PassionGuru is one project that was launched to make the kids from low-income communities believe in their passion and pursue what they love!
On our frequent visits to the NGOs, we interacted with the kids and asked one simple question “What do you want to become?” and we got some expected answers like ‘Doctors’, ‘Engineers’ or ‘Lawyers’, but when we twisted our question a little, they all stood up starry-eyed. The question was “What do you love to do?” and we got answers like “I love to paint”, “I love dancing”, they started opening up their artbooks, and we were amazed by the response. That’s when we realised that passion is what makes people happy.
And this is how PassionGuru came into the picture! PassionGuru is conducting free online passion-nurturing classes for less-fortunate kids by collaborating with experienced mentors in different art forms like martial arts, freestyle dance, kathak, sketching & painting, rhythm, yoga, singing, and sign language.
Most of the households, even in slum areas, got hold of at least one smartphone and if we can make them use it wisely then that small screen can do wonders! We recharge their data packs and teach them step-by-step to get into our passion-centric classes. So, if you know a kid who possesses some talent, enrol them in these online passion classes and give them their chance that they deserve!
These kids are throwing away their bags of doubts about earning money by following their passions with PassionGuru. The initiative is showing them the path that will groom them to enter a world where turning passion into a profession is possible. The advanced levels of PassionGuru are guiding these less-fortunate kids to reach their full potential and opportunities awaiting them.
Tell us about your journey so far as a social entrepreneur. What are the problems you try to solve through your social enterprises over the years?
My journey as a social entrepreneur has been evolving and much more than just about philanthropy, it is about making an impact on the upliftment of the society. All these years I’ve met inspiring people who gave up everything to bring in social change, the people who are dedicatedly working towards various social causes and witnessed stories of change; all they lack is the desired support and a way to reach out to the world.
Digitisation is pervading across society, but still, some sectors need a surge, and one of them is NGOs. The conventional operation systems of the non-profits are building a gap between the causes and the changemakers. It is now essential that the causes meet the changemakers and the best way to do so is to bring them close to the NGOs working towards making a positive impact on society. Qause is that platform which tends to make a significant impact on the way NGOs operate and how people collaborate with them on various levels. We are not only building the trust of the donors but also connecting reliable volunteers to these NGOs.
My idea is to bridge the gap between donors and NGOs, to build a community which has its foundations on aspirations, positivity, and compassion and bring the passion back into learning for less-fortunate kids with our initiative PassionGuru.
My intention has always been not just to pin out the issues prevailing in the society but also find innovative and progressive solutions for it.
Tell us about the founding story of the Qause. What are the significant challenges you faced in the beginning, and how did you overcome those challenges?
The striving story that led to the advent of ‘Qause’ is nothing extraordinary! The whole idea emerged with a simple question “How To Give Back To The Society using Technology?”
I’ve been visiting various NGOs for the past few years now. After delving deeper into the different operational platforms of a myriad of NGOs and understanding the limitations that they face, I decided to add the crucial part that has been missing in the world of NGOs, i.e., Technology/Web Presence. Realising the pivotal role of NGOs in elevating the socio-economic status of the country, Qause stood up as a catalyst to strengthen the foundations of NGOs across India. Enabling a proactive platform for NGOs to adopt the highest standards of governance and bringing a sustainable change in the lives of people who deserve better, Qause aims to create an equitable relationship of trust, strength, and empathy between NGOs and the contributors.
In the initial stage, when you reach out to people with intent to help them without expecting something in return, they tend to doubt you. You are not readily accepted, but you have to stay still and make them believe that you are there for a purpose, and there is no fine print. That’s what we did, and now we have more than 300 NGOs registered with us. We trained our on-ground team for face-to-face interaction with the NGOs to explain the step-by-step process of using our Qause App and avail the services for free. This was all new to them, so it was highly important to make them understand how it is going to benefit their operations. Consistency and selfless service were key to building this trust.
What are the services that Qause offer today, which makes it unique?
To survive in today’s rapidly changing world, digitalisation has become an integral part and to help the NGOs remove redundancies and get the desired support from the world, integration of the conventional records into a digitised system is highly essential. Because of the lack of technological awareness, NGOs are unable to get the desired community engagement and support. To be positioned well in the tech curve, NGOs need to adapt to this digital transformation, and that’s what Qause is there for!
Through our network, organisations are building their online presence, increasing their credibility and sharing their mission strongly with the digitally active world effortlessly. With our ever-growing team of motivated volunteers, Qause is providing the NGOs required assistance in the field of content, design, social media marketing, and translations, all in their preferred languages. Not only the aspiring volunteers but also the interested donors now find it easy to support the causes of NGOs. This is much different from other Donation platforms because we sell smiles and happiness, not sadness and pity! That is what makes us unique in this space.
Our project Qause abides “Inspire Change, Upliftment Humanity”. It is a blended form of social service and enterprise that serves the requirements of NGOs and brings them to the tech curve, which is the need of the hour.
What are the difficulties in setting up a social entrepreneurship venture in India?
Not much. It is like registering any other Private limited company. No difficulties.
In your opinion, what are the significant challenges young social entrepreneurs in India face?
I believe India is one of the best countries for social entrepreneurs as it not only provides exposure, capacity building but also a trusting community of social-change leaders. There is so much that needs to be done, and there is a myriad of opportunities to use innovative ideas to solve problems on a communal scale.
What are some initiatives that the policymakers should implement to promote the development of sustainable social enterprises?
Monthly/quarterly panels should be organised to create collaborative action between the government and social entrepreneurs. The big companies can consider donating their old technology to the NGOs. Another major implementation that can contribute to the development of non-profits is mandatory hours of contribution or donation per year for each individual in India, earning above 6 lacs p.a.
What advice would you give to the social entrepreneurs who are starting?
To create social change, you must become strong enough to shake up the existing system. It’s about standing against the norm, believing in your vision and trusting your ability to make that change.
Tell us about your plans for the Qause and PassionGuru. What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Driven by collaborative action to accelerate social change, Qause is actively building a digitised community of NGOs and serving their digital needs for free. We are aiming to register more than 500 NGOs by December 2020 and get them free presentable web profiles with the ability to take online donations. Our long term goal is to shape a global community of committed leaders who share and support the idea of bringing the change with the help of digitisation while unleashing their potential as changemakers. We aim to create a liaison with over 5000 NGOs and an exponential no. of volunteers to create an ecosystem of giving back using their time and skills.
Our nation-wide project PassionGuru aims to nurture the unexplored talents of the kids. We have been giving mentoring sessions in various artforms like Kathak, sketching & painting, freestyle dance, rhythm, yoga, singing and other art forms. We are not only giving these kids hope but also making them believe in their passion. The long term idea of the project is to create an employment ecosystem for these kids and get paid assignments. To facilitate our very own mentorship program that identifies a handful of students from the basic PassionGuru program and takes them towards building a sustainable career with a new generation skill like graphic design, video editing or similar that the student is passionate about. These skills have no entry barriers and don’t require years of studying. We have already impacted the lives of more than 1000 kids across 14 states, and we aren’t stopping yet! We are aiming to impact the lives of 5000 students by December 2020.
More About Avneesh Chhabra
Even while handling his family business, a legacy of dealing in Saffron, Avneesh never gave up on business. In his initial days of joining the firm, he single-handedly upscaled ‘Baby Saffron’, the 180-year-old enterprise by seamlessly integrating technology with the traditional methods and automating the production unit. Avneesh has been continuously working towards creating a wider platform and expanding team of change-makers and onboarding more volunteers to support various causes. Giving back to the society in enormous innovative ways possible is what he finds joy and satisfaction in.
The emergence of a pandemic and announcement of the new education policy gave Avneesh a fresh perspective to make the young generation more imaginative and future-ready via vocational education. In May 2020, he launched PassionGuru, a free platform offering online passion-based classes for NGO kids and less-fortunate teens across India. In a short period, PassionGuru has gone beyond the boundaries and is now successfully training more than 1000 kids in 13 states united by 8 different artforms.