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Up-close and personal with Sonal Kapoor, a young social entrepreneur

Maria Cristina Gallegos's picture

Sonal Kapoor is a young social entrepreneur who is changing the world by using innovative ideas. Her dedication and her unbendable will led her to become the founder of Protsahan India Foundation. This foundation is a non-profit organization that encourages education and social development through art and creativity for at-risk street children. In addition, Sonal was one of the six youth delegates from South Asia selected to participate at the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Washington, D.C.

Youthink! interviewed Sonal, and asked her about the secrets of becoming a social entrepreneur. She answered.

Youthink!: What happened when you made the decision to create Protsahan?

Sonal: At first, I went against my family, and decided to quit my corporate communications job. Everyone thought I was insane. People told me, these things are done when you retire, or when you are a daughter of a millionaire. I couldn’t help but laugh at their ignorance. I just have one life, and I have to make it count. Once I made my decision, even in spite of no economic/moral support, I just went ahead. I trusted my gut feeling. That was enough for me. I really trusted my faith. 

Youthink!: When did you decide to create Protsahan?

Sonal: I created Protsahan when I turned 24.

Youthink!: How did it start?

Sonal: It started with one person in May 2010. After 13 months, there was a core team of 11 members; Indians from Norway, Singapore, New Jersey, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Indore and New Delhi. We all connected through Facebook

Youthink!: What do you want Protsahan to do?

Sonal: I want it to change the collective mindset of communities by encouraging children from the red-light districts, streets, slums, construction sites, rag-pickers and rickshaw pullers,  to study, and to empower themselves in the future, through innovative education methods by using art and creativity.

Youthink!: What made you quit your job and start a non-profit? 

Sonal : Let me tell you something. I met a woman that had 7 children (all girls), and she had to send her youngest one to a trafficking site to get enough money to feed the rest. This appalled me to such an extent that nothing else really made sense after that. I had to do something to help the youngest child.

Youthink!: Is it hard to find resources (economic and human)?

Sonal: Honestly, money was and is still is a problem, but I have never let it come in between my vision. Even now, I work for a few days, so I can continue to run Protsahan out of my salary. I also understand that I have to scale up at some point, and for that I need more resources. I have the strong belief that it will all come.

Youthink!: What were your main challenges?

Sonal:  Legal troubles came up. The organization had to deal with issues of sexual abuse. My background is in microbiology, and I had no clue how social cases were to be handled. Gradually, I set up my network of people who helped me. Also, money is always an issue, but I couldn’t let that come in the way of my dreams. So we organized innovative fundraisers: comedy shows, beer meet-ups. I wanted to connect to youth “their way” yet support a social cause. Moreover, I wanted things to be exciting. I organized cartoon, and photography workshops, and got the youth to volunteer. Because of this, we are now entirely run by youth in India. Problems came and problems went.  Standing strong is the only thing that mattered. Storms will pass, they don’t remain forever, no?

Youthink!: Do you think Protsahan is innovative?

Sonal: I think it’s important to be innovative. It’s important to do things the way you believe in them. I am a creative person… so I went ahead and made this a “creative organization” working for street kids in India through art and creativity. I can happily say, we are one of those rare non-profits in the world who are led by youth and are bringing solutions to alleviate poverty in the slums of India.

Youthink!: Why art?

Sonal: I started experimenting with art... because colors can help heal children’s fears. I had children in my school who were domestically and sexually abused by their own mothers and dads... how could I help them? I started with colors and art, then with A, B, Cs, then, gradually we got technology, computers, gadgets and worked more on the art and education curriculum.

Youthink!: Did you have to learn new skills in order to keep your initiative going? If so, what skills?

Sonal: Oh yes! I remember this. For example, I wanted to teach slum women how to make candles. I first called a few trainers who knew how to make candles and some artists to come and help me teach. Each asked for an exorbitant fee, for which I obviously had no means. So I learned how to make candles from Youtube.  I watched some videos and learned to make candles. Then, I went ahead and taught these women. It was simple! Also, my degree in management helped. I read and learn anything that I can lay my hands on.

Youthink!: Do you believe that since there aren't many job opportunities out there, that young people are creating their own dream jobs?

Sonal: I think this is the best time to become an entrepreneur. That way, not only are you creating your own dream job but also “creating jobs” for others. If you are a social entrepreneur it’s even better, because you would surprise yourself on the number and quality of lives you can impact!

Youthink!: What are the benefits of becoming a social entrepreneur?

Sonal:  Benefits… honestly, I never thought of the benefits. If I did, I don’t think I would have started Protsahan. But yes, you are right, for a young person, some extra incentive is needed. For me, it was only a matter of making things better for my country.

Youthink!: Do you want to send a message to other social entrepreneurs?

Sonal: It’s important to know that it’s not only people like Bill Gates who can afford to become philanthropists. It’s all about youngsters like you and me too. The only thing that matters is the intent.

Photo: © Protsahan 

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