Shishir Joshi, a veteran journalist, is spearheading a consistently active initiative for the city – Project Mumbai, also an award-winning model of public private people partnership.
A recipient of the United Nations SDG award 2020, Project Mumbai has been associated with many firsts – the launch of a mental health helpline for Covid reaching out to 25 states; door-to-door vaccination for the homebound; a call centre for the home quarantined; beautification of 41 railway stations as a tribute to Covid warriors; and now vaccination of kids in the 12-14 age group at school campuses.
As the founder and chief executive of the volunteer group, Joshi says he was encouraged by the never-dying spirit of Mumbai, which is also the founding ideology of the NGO’s tagline ‘Mumbai ke liye kuchh bhi karega’.
How did you ideate and found Project Mumbai?
I had decided to set up a non-profit journalism school. During my career, I realised there are so many areas that we complain about and instead of complaining, I thought we should do something. So I began teaching in 2009 and contacted my friends like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, P Sainath, among others. I told them about starting a non-profit journalism school and I would like them to teach. Basically, that is where the non-profit started off.
And then Mumbai First, an organisation that works for the city, approached me, and I became its CEO in 2014. While working there, I realised as a city-level outfit there could be so many challenges in different areas. I wanted to do something where I could find solutions.
I also realised that the city has grown over the years but that organisation was only limited to south Bombay. So could we create an organisation that also looks at other parts, too? That was one reason for starting Project Mumbai.
Secondly, most of the organisations deal with specific issues. But what about an organisation that can give all kinds of solutions? That is when Project Mumbai became a go-to organisation for every area.
Thirdly, I wanted the organisation to deliver solutions which are slightly different, like if it’s some work in education then I wanted to also focus on mental health.
Lastly, we wanted Mumbaikars to help out in the issues that the city is facing and make Mumbai the ‘Kindness Capital of India’.
What do you mean by ‘Kindness Capital’ of India?
Mumbaikars are always helpful. Not only in crisis like a blast or some calamity, but even otherwise there’s a very strong kindness element here.
During Covid-19, I received five emails every minute from people who wanted to volunteer. So we built a large network of selfless workers to make Mumbai just that.
What are the key elements of this organisation and what are some of the issues taken up?
We make sure there is integrity and complete transparency. We also focus on end-to-end solutions and a smile on the last line beneficiary. If we are providing food for the elderly, we also make sure they learn how to use a mobile. We also conduct programmes on fire safety, we paint stations, we conduct vaccination drives, distribution of food for the needy, organ donation, tournaments for the differently abled, beach clean-ups, and much more.
How has the collaboration with the BMC and government agencies gone so far?
We never go for financial transactions between our NGO and the government. Whenever there is an issue, we share the idea for a solution with the BMC. In collaboration, we have provided food and PPE kits to hospitals, vaccination for prisoners, and now we are doing inoculation for the homebound and for the school children aged below 15 years. Gradually there has been a trust established between us and the government.
How does the funding of the organisation work? NGOs get funded by donations traditionally, and it is mandatory for many corporates to give money in the CSR but the NGO should complete three years for availing that fund. We started in 2018, so till last October we had not completed three years. Yet a large number of corporates came forward and expressed earnest desire to work with us. We raised over Rs 45 crore only in one year during Covid.
Some of the best-known corporates which have worked with us closely and continue to support our initiatives include the Tata group, State Bank of India, Asian Paints, Facebook, Uber, Unilever, Wipro and JP Morgan.
Several celebrities have voluntarily contributed to our causes. And the most recent support has been by the KKR Kolkata Knight riders Khan, which has chosen us as a SuperHero partner in their philanthropy outreach.
In close to three years, we have received 16 awards nationally, internationally and locally. We have got United Nations recognition, I think it is because we have been a very collaborative organisation.
What are the future plans for Project Mumbai?
We are setting up a volunteer network of citizens who will add to the Nirbhaya police squad. We are very soon launching an initiative called the ‘Lighthouse’ which will be a partnership between academic institutions, the BMC and Project Mumbai for creating solutions for the city’s problems. Besides launching an initiative called ‘Men for Menopause’, we are also building recycled plastic gardens across Mumbai.