Angels of Mumbai: CEOs, entrepreneurs, other prominent Mumbaikar's nominate their favourites

Angels of Mumbai: CEOs, entrepreneurs, other prominent Mumbaikar's nominate their favourites

The Free Press Journal is back with its fourth edition of the ‘Angels of Mumbai’ initiative, but with a twist. This time around, it will be a year-long programme for 2022. We ask prominent Mumbaikars to nominate someone they are grateful to; whose small act has made a big difference in their lives in recent years. This is the third list and the final one will be out in December.

Team FPJUpdated: Sunday, October 30, 2022, 08:04 PM IST
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Angel: Chhitra Subramanian, co-founder of Pad Squad

Endorser: Vineet Saraiwala, founder and CEO of inclusive livelihoods platform Atypical Advantage

In June 2020, as they organised ration distribution drives for Mumbai’s poor, Chhitra Subramaniam and her friends noticed women’s menstrual hygiene take a backseat — with no money for food, sanitary napkins were completely expendable. What started as an online crowd-sourced request for donors to send sanitary pads for distribution is now Pad Squad, whose volunteers in 30 Indian cities continue to make available pads, reusable pads and menstrual hygiene awareness camps. Throughout the pandemic, they eventually distributed more than six lakh pads.

Her ‘vanity van’ project during the lockdown was designed for policewomen and frontline workers who needed washrooms. She set up 16 vanity vans with facilities including sanitisers, face masks, and refreshments. 

Over the last 18 months, Subramaniam has tried to focus her energies on convincing menstruators to make the transition to menstrual cups, a sustainable and environment-friendly alternative. Nearly 100 women are now “cup-verted” in the Andheri West area, and are her ambassadors for change. Subramaniam, a film producer by profession, is also a volunteer for prisoner welfare, co-founder of HOPE and co-founder of Palghar animal shelter Samovila Foundation. 

Angel: Chirag Shah, bicycle mayor of Thane

Endorser: Sandeep Malvi, additional municipal commissioner, Thane

 Thane-based entrepreneur Chirag Shah started cycling seven years ago and quickly began to organise cycling events for his club, the Wheels & Barrels Cycling Club, one of the biggest such groups of serious cyclists. Appointed Thane’s ‘bicycle mayor’ by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based non-profit that believes bicycles can transform cities and cities can transform the world. His work was welcomed and supported by former Thane mayor Naresh Mhaske of the Shiv Sena. Shah now works with other cyclists, residents, the local administration and Thane Smart City Ltd to achieve his dream of making Thane India’s cycling capital.

He has organised CPR training, basic life support training for his fellow cyclists. All the rides he organises on weekends require helmets and sharing of live location with the group. Shah is also co-founder of Mein Chalaungi, a women’s training programme along with Charvi Lodaya, through which they have trained more than 70 women. Awarded Thane’s Gunijan award 2022 by the Thane Municipal Corporation for developing a cycling community, Shah is working to improve cycling infrastructure in Thane, create awareness in large housing societies, encourage cycling to work, school and market. He also hopes to sign up stores and establishments to be ‘cyclist-friendly’ spaces.  

Angel: Pawan Sharma, animal welfare activist, founder of RAWW

Endorser: Sunil Limaye, retired chief wildlife warden of Maharashtra

Pawan Sharma was still in college in 2012 when he registered RAWW, an animal welfare organisation. Living in Mulund, not far from the periphery of the national park, Sharma grew up loving animals. After conducting several dog and cat rescues, he felt few people could rescue wild animals that strayed into suburban areas from the forest, such as snakes, pythons, leopards, jackals, and the occasional pangolin or crocodile. A recent seizure by the Directorate Of Revenue Intelligence of 600 exotic live animals smuggled from Thailand in fishing containers was among the most complex rescue efforts.

Now, a six-member strong staff and 200 volunteers, Sharma and his team have worked closely with the forest department to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals. They participate in raids by the forest department against illegal wildlife trade and poaching. They also conduct awareness campaigns about wildlife laws and false beliefs that lead people to participate in illegal wildlife trade and encourage people to apply sustainability principles in their daily life. They adopt and teach animal lovers about safe rescue practices, and sensitise people on managing human-animal conflict in Mumbai. 

Angel: Ashok Rathod, founder and executive director of Oscar Foundation

Endorser: Rajeshwari Bhattacharya, business strategist, multi-preneur, endurance runner 

As a teenager giving football training to kids from a Mumbai slum, Ashok Rathod began to follow a motto — no school, no football. Rathod’s organisation OSCAR (Organization for Social Care Awareness and Responsibility) Foundation now has several elite football teams comprising almost entirely of children from Mumbai’s poorer neighbourhoods. One girl trainee was selected to play for the women’s under-17 national side, and another for the Maharashtra under-18 side. Since its inception, OSCAR has impacted the lives of 14,000 children across India. Over 100 children from OSCAR programmes have represented the country internationally at various summits and tournaments.

The motto for OSCAR Foundation’s football training, now in 20 locations across Mumbai and 12 villages in Karnataka’s Yadgir and Gulbarga districts remains the same — no school, no football. 

Belonging to the low-income community of Ambedkar Nagar, Rathod’s work has kept hundreds of children in school and also in college. During the pandemic, the OSCAR team distributed nearly 10,000 ration kits, worked on vaccine hesitancy and distributed 2,000 footballs to encourage kids to practise while staying home. Through Asha, a new project, OSCAR Foundation is now also supporting ten children, including five with disabilities, by providing them expenses for school, college, tuition, rent and other expenses. 

Angel: Siddharth Ladsariya, angel investor, founder of Young Volunteers Organisation

Endorser: Ankita Sheth, co-founder of StayVista

Since 2015, when Siddharth Ladsariya co-founded Young Volunteers Organisation (YVO), the non-profit has donated more than Rs 5.3 crore towards 92 causes. It has impacted more than 100,000 lives in areas of women’s empowerment, education, farmers’ welfare and skill development. Ladsariya, who prefers to call himself a ‘founding volunteer’ rather than a founder, has focused YVO’s efforts on sustainable development causes. 

He started YVO with the idea that youth, if united, can achieve real change. The organisation acts as a facilitator between young working professionals who can give their time and money, and carefully selected NGOs. He also runs a ‘future leaders’ programme’ to combine leadership skills and social service, to make charity and social entrepreneurship accessible to young people. During the pandemic, YVO raised Rs 1.05 crore from over 1,000 donors, and used this money to fund initiatives by organisations Keshav Srushti (for underprivileged families in Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Palghar and Wada) and Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (for families across 12 districts of Gujarat). Other initiatives include an animal welfare programme, a mental health programme and an ongoing organ donation drive. 

Ladsariya is a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and angel investor who has invested in over 150 start-ups since 2008. 

Angel: Surya Balakrishnan, co-founder of HOPE

Endorser: Sriram Ayer, founder of Nalanda Way Foundation 

Having volunteered since her college days, Surya Balakrishnan dived into pandemic relief work, raising funds, distributing rations, organising face masks, and even volunteering with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). In 2021, around the second wave, Balakrishnan co-founded HOPE, an initiative that seeks to respond to all human tragedies with on-ground relief work and care packages. Having decided to work on urban malnutrition, their teams reached 1,500 slum children every day, alternating milk with eggs or two bananas for protein-rich meals. 

Through medical camps, Balakrishnan’s team now selects children with medical conditions that require a special focus on nutrition, such as those with tuberculosis, and provides them nutritious meals three times a week. An ad-film maker by profession and co-founder of Pad Squad for menstrual hygiene, Balakrishnan’s efforts launched six slum libraries where ‘pass-the-book’ and ‘pass-the-toy’ campaigns saw children across India donating reading and playing material. A unique back-to-school campaign targeted families of migrant workers who returned post-pandemic without the wherewithal to pay school fees. HOPE has donated laptops for a slum school’s new computer centre, besides raising funds for underprivileged families to pay fees and keep their children in school. 

Angel: Shweta Chari, Co-founder & CEO, Toybank-Development through Play, a project by The Opentree Foundation

Endorser: Ratan Batliboi, architect

Over 18 years, Shweta Chari’s non-profit has created more than 500 Play2Learn centres, impacting over 62,000 at-risk children in schools and communities across Mumbai and 12 districts of Maharashtra. Rooted in the belief that play is an essential element of early childhood development, Toybank’s Play2Learn Centres and play sessions feature games, toys, puzzles and other play material, all designed and curated with children’s developmental goals in focus.

A three-year impact study of Toybank’s play programme in the Malvani neighbourhood, where children deal with issues like domestic violence and substance abuse, has proven that curiosity levels increased tenfold and attention spans doubled with play-based intervention. Shweta’s belief in the power of play to bring transformational social change ensured that marginalised children accessed joyful childhood experiences that can usher in emotionally balanced adulthood. When Covid-19 hit, Shweta launched a phased programme to keep children mentally stimulated and engaged at home to mitigate the impacts of the lockdown. Toybank’s digital PlayAtHome kits and over 645 WhatsApp support groups kept thousands of children, teachers and parents across six states resilient through the pandemic.

Angel: Chetan Kamble, founder of Chakachak Dadar 

Endorser: Kishore Shinde, senior inspector, Mumbai Traffic Police 

Chandrakant Kamble, nicknamed Chetan, started Chakachak Dadar, a social organisation, in 2017, to help citizens of Dadar tackle municipal problems, helping them approach officials, lodging complaints and ensuring redressal of grievances. He also assists the local traffic police regularly in keeping arterial roads free of encroachments. 

Chakachak Dadar, along with sister charitable organisations, undertook a ‘Mission Zero Hunger Dadar’ during the pandemic, through which Kamble conducted food distribution drives. In June 2021, in partnership with Khana Chahiye, he organised the distribution of grocery kits. He was also part of the municipality’s Covid-19 team for data management of patients and assisted in locating hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders for patients. He connected patients directly with distributors of pharmaceutical companies and also helped arrange blood plasma through donors and blood banks. 

As youth grow more technologically savvy, Kamble would like them to not forget their elders and the less fortunate. He is now actively scouting for young volunteers to create a more inclusive Dadar through the best use of public infrastructure and citizens’ participation. Kamble’s dream is to turn his initiatives in Dadar, the heart of the city, into a role model for the rest of Mumbai.

Angel: Cassandra Nazareth, founder-trustee of Nazareth Foundation

Endorser: Samina Jawadwala of Lions Club, Juhu

In 13 hamlets of Aarey colony and four villages in Madh island, Cassandra Nazareth and her team of three volunteers has provided timely support across a range of needs. In 2022 alone, she helped distribute rations, installed a water tank in Madh Island’s Dongarpada along with the Lions Club of Juhu, raised money to pay a Covid-hit student’s pending college fees, collected and donated pre-loved gifts, books, shoes, sarees, linen; and organised tarpaulin sheets to fix a leaky roof in a balwadi.

Through a women’s empowerment initiative, the Nazareth Foundation popularises tribals’ Warli artwork and traditional cuisine. When she saw that women walk over 2 km to the nearest flour mill, they raised funds for11 domestic flour mills. She helped arrange 47 bio-toilets for these hamlets. During the lockdown, they crowd-funded to supply groceries to 4,500 Adivasi families. Recognised with a Change.Org fellowship and a recognition from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they also supply protein-rich nutrients for children and lactating women health camps and forest trails for outsiders seeking to familiarise themselves with these unique oases within Mumbai.

Angel: Bilal Khan, housing rights activist

Endorser: Sandeep Ashar, social entrepreneur and founder of 432 Hertz

Housing rights activist Bilal Khan has been involved in almost every major movement involving the financial capital’s urban poor seeking resolution to homelessness, absence of basic amenities in the city’s vast informal housing and in legal interventions seeking housing rights for all. A national organiser for the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) from 2017 to 2019, Khan’s work on housing rights dates back to 2013 when he began to work with the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Aandolan.  While much of the pandemic years were spent organising groceries and other immediate needs for slum residents, Khan has been part of several long-term initiatives to improve living conditions in these pockets. Appointed in 2020 by the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission to enquire into the healthcare facilities for residents of the M-East ward, he also led a fact-finding team’s work following the collapse of a wall in Malad in 2019 that claimed 31 lives.

A speaker at seminars and webinars on Mumbai’s unique housing crisis, Khan helped organise a public hearing for Mahul residents in 2018, has organised medical camps, and has written extensively about housing rights, basic amenities and lawful rehabilitation of slum dwellers ousted for various projects.

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