How A 91-Year Old Retired Army Veteran Has Started His New Life As A Social Entrepreneur In Organic Food
Often we see sixty as an age for retirement not only from work but also from active life and spending our time with friends and family members. Whilst there is nothing wrong with it, we also have amongst us examples of people who think of it as a time for giving back to society.
Mushroom Cultivation as a Social Enterprise
At the age of 91, Mr Lekh Raj Sharma has recently started a new enterprise for mushroom cultivation aiming to transition towards organic mushroom cultivation in his native village of Nari, which is in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. He regularly travels from his home in Chandigarh to his village to oversee the work once every week or 2 weeks, staying in the village for days at a stretch. On other days, he tracks the mushroom cultivation from Chandigarh itself. He said, “My ancestors lived in this village and I still keep an active association with the village. Whilst the producer farmer does not get much, the average still has to pay a higher price. This is because the middlemen take a big chunk of money. Whilst one cannot end the middlemen culture, it can surely be streamlined so that the producer gets a higher share of the money paid by the consumer. This is what I intend to work towards. My neighbours in the village have been asking me to set up a wider system for other crops to ensure they get a decent price for their produce.”
When asked of his motivation on why did he feel the need to take up such work he said, “I am not doing it for profit, though I intend to break even on my expenses and remain sustainable. I was not interested in sitting quietly, whilst some well-wishers warned me about the risks of undertaking such a venture, I was keen on taking this challenge. I am keen to generate and sustain dignified employment for them and set an example that one can contribute to society if one wishes even at the age of 90! If I don’t do anything and just sit at home, how will I reach 100?” smilingly. His efforts are providing livelihoods for four as well.
A New Life After Retirement
Mr Lekh Raj Sharma was born on 3rd January 1928, he retired as Honorary Captain in the Army and worked in its education department. He is the father of two accomplished gentlemen Devinder Sharma who is renowned agriculture and food policy analyst and Sudhirendar Sharma who is a water expert. Post his retirement from the Army, he worked in a college in Chandigarh in its administration department following which he worked on issues related to hospital waste management and technology access such as water seal toilets, compost tanks, solar cookers and biogas plants in rural areas through an NGO called Energy Environment Group.
My children quit cushy life to work on livelihood and environmental issues decades ago
He also speaks about how many decades ago, he faced the ‘challenge’ that some parents are facing of seeing their well-educated children quit cushy, well-paid jobs to take less-stable work on issues affecting masses such as on poverty and environment. He said, “I wanted my children to have a well-settled stable job after providing them with a good education. However they had something else on their mind and while initially, I was sceptical, later on, I was happy to see both of them making a significant impact in people’s lives and on issues related to agriculture and water – amongst the two defining challenges of our time.”
Time for India to Rethink its Retirement Policy?
A report in 2013 by a UK based institute found in its sample size of 9,000 people from 11 European Union countries that retiring from work increased the chances of depression by 40% and having at least one diagnosed physical ailment by 60%. Research from Columbia University’s dean of Public Health shows that ailments are not inevitable as previously thought with old age, rather they are preventable by being active. Another study in a German automobile factory showed that employees make lesser mistakes if production teams they work in are multi-generational. That also comes from the wealth of experience employees past traditional retirement age bring to team’s performance. Researchers in the US found some years ago that on average within 6 years of retirement people experienced some sort of ailment. A recent UN report highlighted that India’s senior citizens’ population is expected to triple from 100 million to 300 million by 2050. At such a time, it is worth debating whether a mandatory retirement age of between 58-60 needs a rethink. Whilst this debate happens, people such as Mr Lekh Raj Sharma also provide an example and insight into a nascent emerging trend of senior entrepreneurship across the world where senior citizens use their experience to take on the role of job creators in their community.
Maybe if our focus on old-age healthcare through treatment evolves to also look at prevention through mental, physical and social activity – our senior citizens would be able to have a better life post 60.
Lekh Raj Sharma ji can be reached through Mr Devinder Sharma at [email protected]