Igniting Ideas For impact

Embarking on a transformative journey through six chapters, we traverse India's landscape, exploring pioneering startups and their revolutionary...

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The Common Man

A 16-year old who teaches 600 students in his backyard. A single man who led to an entire city being declared smoke-free, a year before the nation enforced it as

The Common Man

A 16-year old who teaches 600 students in his backyard. A single man who led to an entire city being declared smoke-free, a year before the nation enforced it as a law. The saviour of the endangered whale shark who has rescued as many as 50 so far. A former Tisco employee who gave up her secure job to help poor tribal families in a remote Maoist-infested village build a new life. And a Physics professor who learnt all there is about rain water harvesting and then made it mandatory for all official buildings in Tamil Nadu. These are just some of the everyday heroes that are doing their bit to change lives, whether they are recognized for it or not.

Babar Ali is a class XI student in Berhampore, West Bengal. Moved by the plight of poor parents who could not afford to send their children to school, this youngster has been conducting classes after his school hours since he was 11. His students come from nearby villages, some even walking four km to reach his house. In order to induce better attendance, Ali also managed to get government officials to distribute free rice at the end of the month.

Besides lessons, the children are drawn by the free rice distributed at the end of each month. “Attendance was falling drastically. That is when I hit upon this idea. As my school is not recognised by the government, I couldn’t have got free rice. But government officials helped me,” says Ali.

Ali has big dreams for the future. “I dream that my school will grow and expand to other parts of the state and country where children want to but can’t go to school.” But for now, he will be content if his students get a proper classroom.


Hemant Goswami had been committed to act against tobacco since a school project he did in 1987. In 2004 he filed a writ petition with the Chandigarh High Court, following which the government was instructed to follow the tobacco Act in letter and spirit.

In 2005 when the Right to Information Act (RTI) came into force, Hemant decided to use it to make Chandigarh the first smoke-free city. He filed over 300 RTI petitions with all government departments and offices, raising questions about their adherence to tobacco control laws. In a year, more than 1,800 signboards warning people of the health implications of smoking were up in all government offices. Educational institutes too fell in line.

Hemant’s efforts finally resulted in Chandigarh being declared smoke-free in July 2007. But he didn’t rest even after that. He continues to monitor the proper enforcement of the law, and smokes out the violators.


Dinesh Goswami is a daily wage earner in Junagadh district of Saurashtra in Gujarat. But every time he hears of the whale shark being indiscriminately hunted by fishermen on the rough and choppy sea off the coast of Saurashtra, he rushes to their rescue.

Describing his most dangerous rescue so far, Goswami recounts, “State officials called me after reports that a shark was trapped in a net. After we set off, the sea got very rough and every minute, we thought the boat would overturn. Thankfully, we managed to save the whale shark and return safely.” Goswami now runs Paryawaran Mitra, an NGO for the protection of sea animals.

Having learnt about the whale sharks and their plight in a documentary by environmentalist Mike Pandey, Goswami decided to make it his mission to save them every time they are in danger.


In Purulia, along the Bengal-Jharkhand border, Jayati Chakraborty has started a school to help a tribe called santhals build a better future. Inspired by an NGO run by Kamalesh Chakraborty for developmental work in the area, she decided to stay on and make a difference.

She quit her job, faced down appalled friends and family. “They found it hard to believe that I would be better off working with poor people in a godforsaken village.” And she tried new things — linseed and tomato farming — finally deciding the area needed a school. “We converted a hall into a classroom and started with 66 students in 2001. It seemed the school was waiting to happen,” she says. Students pay Rs 30 a month. But paid pupil or not, no one is turned away.


Chennai-based professor Sekhar Raghavan’s passion for saving and harvesting water found an outlet when he worked with the Centre for Policy Studies, which examines traditional ways of living.

He says he found “we had the complete records of Chengelpet district for 200 years and realized rain-water harvesting is not new, it’s just something we had forgotten”.

His Akash Ganga Trust eventually led to rainwater harvesting becoming compulsory for all buildings in Tamil Nadu in 2002.


Thus we see that it is possible for a single person to change the lives of many, even while performing normal duties like going to school or earning a daily wage. All our barriers are just imaginary.

Read the complete article in Times of India here.
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