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What it is to become a Social Investor?

Atul is the CFO of Rang De. He is a Chartered Accountant and Law graduate and has worked with large multinational corporations such as IKEA and UPS for most of his three-decade-long career. Atul dreams of making a difference by contributing to the elimination of poverty in India.

“Khana banana mujhe jab aaya, Khayal kisaano ka mujhe tab aaya, Kis khet ki sabzi main khaata, Na koi puche, na koi batata, Kaisa mera kisaan se naata…”

The poem echoed in the car as my daughter held up the phone screen for me to glimpse from the corner of my eyes while I drove through the unusually sparse evening traffic. It had been a hectic day. The BIG day had arrived. It was the launch of our much-anticipated campaign – ‘Rang De India’. A national television campaign to rally people to support the small and marginal farmers of India. And here I was, driving back home after visiting a nearby medical store amid the pandemic. My daughter knew how important this campaign was for me. I had been talking about it all the while, continually voicing the need for lending a helping hand to those who do not have a voice. Times were tough. It was the start of something unimaginable. The whole world had come to a fearful halt. It was the initial days of the country-wide lockdown and a major section of people were already severely affected by the pandemic.

As I switched gears, the poem had me in its clutches. It struck the right chords and took me back to the time when I stumbled upon Rang De, the very first time.

I met Nikhil, who had recently joined IKEA Foundation in early 2016. During our conversation over lunch one afternoon, he spoke about Rang De, his former employer. There was a glint in his eyes as he talked about the work done by Rang De. I could make out clearly that he was really passionate about what Rang De did.

The way he talked about Rang De stayed with me and I remember searching for Rang De on Google that night. I found the website and read the story of their journey. I was hooked. It felt as though I had arrived home. Social investing gave a unique sense of fulfilment in my otherwise rather mundane work life. I could reach out directly to help fellow Indians in their struggle for leading their lives with dignity and self-respect. It was an amazing feeling to know that while sitting in Delhi, I could help someone located far away – a quaint village somewhere in Nagaland or Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. I started coming back regularly to the Rang De platform and every month made it a point to invest in different people. My dashboard looked increasingly colourful as the map of India got painted with different colours as I invested across different States while giving some wonderful people the hope and support they were looking for.

Four years passed by in a breeze. It was 2019 and my 14-year-long association with IKEA was coming to an end. I was seeking a break from corporate life and a new direction in my life. I had spent nearly 3 decades in the corporate world. While I cherished the time I had spent in the corporate sector, I wished to explore new possibilities and do something different but with a purpose. During that time, I chanced to come across a post on LinkedIn from Rang De looking for a CFO. I instinctively wrote back saying I was interested. There were simply no second thoughts. Prompt response and a conversation with Ram and Smita – the founders of Rang De- led me to realise that this was what I was looking for and my quest for a new beginning was answered.

That’s how the journey that started as a social investor of Rang De took a new turn and I came on board as CFO in December 2019. It has been a little over a year since I joined and this was the first big campaign we were doing during the most difficult times of our life. NDTV had supported our cause and decided to air our Telethon during their primetime slot. There was palpable excitement and some measure of anxiety. But the manner in which the show started, the poem brought the strength and the childlike enthusiasm back in me. While I was driving, the entire world ceased to exist for me. Every word of the poem filled my heart with immense pride of being a part of something so impactful and meaningful.

While the whole world outside my car was in a state of panic, I was in a most peaceful state. My daughter looked at me, she was happy. And so was I. It all came back to me. How we started this journey, the doubts, the apprehensions, the fear of failure. But everything made sense now and it was worth the effort. Rang De had finally lit a flame of hope. When the whole world was falling apart around us, Rang De stood firmly with over 10 crore small and marginal farmers of India.

These farmers account for at least 80% of the total farmers in India yet their voices were unheard during the initial stage of the pandemic. It was Rang De which attempted to give them a voice with the help of NDTV. The multitude of distinguished guests on the show vouched for us and gave our mission the much-needed credibility and gravitas. Rang De had announced to the world that it would stand with the people in times of dire need. The telethon created magic and help poured in for the farmers. With empathy, dignity and with pride. We could scarcely believe what was happening right in front of our eyes. It is the most wonderful memory I have of my tenure with Rang De.

It has been over a year now and every day has mattered for me. Every day is exciting and there is a deep sense of belonging. In the past year, I can sense that I have changed as a person. My perspective of the world has changed because of Rang De.

Social investment is the need of the hour. We need to bridge the immense empathy gap around us and support people who do not have access to formal credit. My word of advice for those who wish to invest – don’t overthink. Don’t hold yourself back. Take the first step towards social investing and start making a real impact on the lives of fellow Indians. You are never going to regret your decision of being a part of this movement. I took the first step almost five years ago when I became a social investor and I can vouch for one thing that it has given me – a sense of purpose, shared responsibility and immense fulfilment. I am reminded of some verses of the poem with which the Rang De India Telethon on NDTV ended…

Dhan daulat kuch nahi bhai, Saath hi sabse badi kamai… Saath hi sabse badi kamai…”

I hope to see many many more people join the Rang De mission soon.

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