With information just a click away, today's youngsters are becoming increasingly aware about various civic issues. Many of them have actively involved themselves in finding innovative solutions to drive social change.
One such youth is Gautham Ravindran, a 23-year-old law-graduate, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He has come up with an innovative concept of spreading social entrepreneurship among students through his Non-Government Organisation(NGO) '360 Degree'.
'360 Degree' is an NGO that focuses on the student community to bring together volunteers to tackle key social issues including women empowerment, education, and environment.
"Unlike a typical NGO, we do not focus on one particular social cause. Rather, we promote social entrepreneurship to bring together as many people as possible and inspire them to do something for the society," says Gautham Ravindran, founder of 360 Degree, while speaking to The Logical Indian.
"We believe that the youth can transform the world into a much more positive, kind and greener place. We hope to empower the youth in doing this by working with them on various causes," says Ravindran.
Each time they identify a social issue, they bring together a group of volunteers who are interested in working towards finding a solution. This approach allows the volunteers to work on an issue that they are truly passionate about, rather than working for the sake of it.
At present they have over 500 active volunteers that work with them regularly and nearly 1000 others who come to help on project basis. They have carried out 15 projects across Trivandrum, Kochi, Bengaluru, Amritsar, and Calicut and have helped over 3,600 students.
In the aftermath of the Kerala floods, the team rebuilt three libraries in the flood-affected areas, distributed uniform materials worth ₹1.3 lakhs and provided 'Back to School Kits' to 600 children.
As a school kid, Ravindran wanted to pursue photography. However, his parents were not too keen. "I then connected with a few others from different schools in Thiruvananthapuram, who was interested in photography and had photography pages on Facebook. Five of us got together and started a photography group to learn from each other. That was how 360 Degree came into being in 2014 when I was completing my 12th class," says Ravindran.
Back then, little did the youngster know that his venture would turn into an NGO that is today, driving change in the society.
After setting up, 360 Degree organised a few exhibitions through which they raised money for charity. In the first exhibition held for charity, the group was able to raise close to ₹60,000.
"This made me think if five of us following a passion could do so much for charity, how much change can be brought to our society if a larger group of the student community came together, who were passionate to work for the betterment of our society," recollects Ravindran.
They later registered as an NGO in 2016 and have been working on various social issues since.
'Gift A Story' Project
"We started this project right after the 2018 Kerala floods to rebuild the libraries in the affected areas. We have completed three libraries so far - the first in St Joseph Boys High School, Varapuzha, Kochi in August 2018 and the next two at two schools in Alappuzha - St. Mary's Boys High School and St. George High School in December 2019," says Ravindran.
During the aftermath of the flood, the organisation was involved in various activities to help those affected through their 'Fight For Kerala' project. They distributed back-to-school kits containing books and stationeries to students and school uniform materials, among other things.
"We realised that many organisations came forward to donate materials and their work stopped there. This did help, but not in the long run. During that one month, they would get the necessities - that's it. So, we wanted to do something different, something permanent, that in the long-run would create an association with us and the school," recollects Ravindran.
It is with that lingering thought that the team decided to rebuild libraries. For this, they identified those schools that did not receive much help from the government or other agencies.
"The campaign is not just to go there, set up a library, and come back. We will train a group of volunteers to conduct weekly sessions in the school to inculcate the habit of reading. The sessions will include book reading, discussions, and general debates. This way we can ensure that the library is used," he adds.
In the coming year, the organisation is planning to rebuild at least one library each month.
Recognising the widespread pollution caused by plastic straws, 360 Degree started 'The Last Straw' Project in September 2019 to reduce the menace of single-use plastics in Kerala. In collaboration with World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF), an international NGO, the organisation is running various awareness campaigns to urge people to give up plastic straws.
In addition, to deal with the issue of plastic bags, the organisation has collaborated with Don Bosco Veedu, an NGO based in Thiruvananthapuram, to set up cloth bag manufacturing units. These units will use recycled cloth materials to manufacture durable carry bags.
"We will be targeting individual residents associations and ask them to donate clothes if they can. Whatever clothes we collect, we will stitch bags for them and return to them at a nominal fee. We will use this to pay the women who will stitch the bags," explains Ravindran.
In 2017, they conducted Thiruvananthapuram's first national-level Model UN conference, which was launched by Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor. They had around 120 delegates from 20 states in India, of which, more than half were first-timers.
"We wanted to provide a platform for school and college students in Thiruvananthapuram, who had never experienced it before," says Ravindran.
They organised 'Run For Her' marathons in three cities in India in 2018, to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene, with a focus on the need for wider access for women to sanitary napkins. More than 1000 people participated in the marathons.
From finding proper financial support to convincing the parents of volunteers to send them for various projects, the journey for the youngster has been filled with hurdles. While convincing his own parents were no easy task, it is their continued support that has helped him succeed.