Anurag and Shikha were graduating armed with engineering degrees from REC Kurukshetra in the year 1997, but a little differently. While their batchmates were preparing for campus jobs, they were debating about capitalism and consumerism. They were reading Marxism when their peers were throwing parties for entering into the corporate world. Corporate world was not for them and they knew it quite well, but family pressure and the need to earn their own living made them take up software jobs. Once in the jobs, they were convinced even more that it is these industries which cause environmental damage. Anurag’s first project took him to Rajasthan and there he had a close look at the “village” people, their lifestyle, vulnerability and exploitation. This was the time when he called it quits and started teaching in schools. Fortunately or unfortunately, Anurag’s radical unconventional ideas found no flavor with the management. From one school to another the journey continued, till Shikha gave him the strength to start something of their own. At that precise time, Anurag got a proposal to run a dying school at the outskirts of Jamshedpur. Anurag and Shikha revived it, rechristened it as the “Neev School” and have been working passionately since inception to provide education to children in slums and villages. Today, with their relentless efforts Neev School has 150 students enrolled.
There are people who believe, and rightly so, in the journey where there are no destinations, only milestones to achieve. Neev School was the first milestone for Anurag and Shikha and they thought of other avenues with which they could reach out to people. Running the Neev school taught them that finances play a crucial role in each sphere of life. They started thinking of products they could manufacture, the caveat being that they wanted to preserve the environment, generate profit and had practically very little to invest. In a way that almost looked like a signal from God, they got a book on “how to make soaps”. They researched thoroughly and started making soaps from essential oils and other natural ingredients. They gave the soaps to friends and got a lot of appreciation. Soaps, they surmised, had potential and so they pitched a proposal to Khadi & Village Industries Commission. It was the first break they got – Neev Soaps got a shelf in the Retail Khadi outlets.
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With the demand for soaps steadily rising, they sensed an opportunity for economic empowerment to rural women. The idea was simple: equip women with the skill, help them in the manufacturing process, market the product and slowly scale it up to involve as many people as possible. The idea took a concrete shape in the year 2007, Shikha’s home became a small manufacturing unit and Meenu her first student of the soap making process. Together, they made soaps of various sizes and useful herbs. The soaps looked fine and worked well, but they continually thought of how they could improve the product’s merit – they wanted to add beautiful natural smells. Shikha herself tried and tested atleast 50 odd fragrances to make her soaps smell nice. Her perseverance paid off and now the Neev Herbal Handmade soaps had wonderful fragrances.
At that juncture, Mr Shashidhar from NABARD discovered them, he was looking for NGOs doing work in the organic sector. He was fascinated with Neev Soaps and invited them to melas. The IAS Officers’ Mela was the first break and there was no looking back thereafter. Neev Soaps were a part of India International Trade Fair, Kala Ghoda Festival, SARAR mela, Nature Bazaar Bangalore, China import export Fair and many more. With the demand of soaps rising by the day, more and more women from rural Jharkhand were provided with the skills to make the soaps. Presently, there are 10 permanent employees and 20 wage earners.
With Neev Herbal soaps having reasonably achieved the mind and market share, Shikha is innovating continually to launch different products like creams and hair oils so that the model remains sustainable. Anurag, in the meanwhile has launched a nationwide movement on the concept of social entrepreneurship and has started partnerships with several management schools of India. Neev Soaps for him is not just their way of providing economic empowerment but a model which many others may like to replicate. Extending his own model of social entrepreneurship, Anurag has ventured into consultancy through Neev Envirotech which is a private limited company registered in the year 2010 so that there could be a proliferation of environment-friendly businesses. Anurag wants to provide momentum to each individual who has ever thought of leading a meaningful and sustainable life. Neev’s official website is: www.neev.weebly.com where the story, the developments and the future initiatives are being constantly updated.
Neev, the literal meaning of which is foundation, indeed became one with a young couple’s dream. So much and more for The Better India!