The last decade and a half saw a rapid rise in the social development sector of India, with many NGOs coming up in the spaces of health, education, youth leadership, sanitation etc. Many of these organizations are doing absolutely brilliant work in their areas of expertise but in silos. They were becoming individual islands of excellence.
Nitesh Sachan, a youth, then in his late 20s, identified this issue and endeavoured to do something about it, especially in the rural context. “After working for around 3 years in a corporate culture and 7 years at the grassroots level, I feel I have been introduced to both worlds and felt a sense of inequity”, says Nitesh. He further adds, “Last few decades have been an age of hyper-individualism where following narrow self-interest and personal desires has led to many conflicts everywhere. Inequality and empathy deficits have never been as stark as they are today. People are unwilling to face reality and pretend problems don’t exist. In the face of these social and environmental injustices, some of us feel raged, some impotent and others to turn a blind eye. Right now, we have an extraordinary capacity for interconnectedness but lack interdependence.”
Nitesh deeply feels that empathic actions force us to confront the social injustices not as spectators but as fully committed participants. Empathy is the social glue that can hold the society together. And with this intent and spirit, Nitesh founded Empathy Connects which strives towards leveraging the power of empathy to create this social, cultural and more importantly individual transformation.
Empathy Connects is trying to solve a problem of “Perception Vs Reality”. They feel that youth must play a key role by being involved in the development sector, policy-making and civil services and directly contribute to decision making with respect to the grassroots issues. These solutions often fail to make a sustainable impact because of a lack of complete understanding of grassroots problems. Not employing an empathic approach to solve the problems result in a waste of already scarce resources.
When Nitesh was introspecting on the need for a space like Empathy Connects, he felt that there was an absence of a platform that could provide and arrange a channel for a global community of concerned and motivated individuals to reach and experience ground realities.
He felt that the solution is to design and implement experiential learning toolkits, activities and modules in the context of the local environment. Being aware of the local context and respecting it is something Empathy Connects espouses as its core value. In action, it means connecting and engaging motivated individuals with social organizations, enterprises and development movements across India through experiential travel, volunteering, internship, and cultural immersion programs.
“Our mission is to make experiential learning programs an integral part of the curriculum of educational institutes. We envision a society more equal, just and deeply connected through empathy,” says Nitesh.
After starting his journey in the social sector, Nitesh got a lot of enquiries from his friends and acquaintances to suggest them credible grassroots organization for volunteering. It led him to a realization that there was no platform which either creates or helps in expediting such experiences.
With this need in mind and a forever burning passion to stay close to the grassroots and help others do the same, in March 2017, Empathy Connects launched its first Yatra in rural Madhya Pradesh with a bunch of 35 enthusiasts. With the success of Yatra, Empathy Connects started building a community of socially aware and motivated citizens which grew over the time creating a synergy. It helped in networking among the like-minded people.
One of the yatris, Deepak who was working on e-learning got connected to a professor in the same field. Post the yatra, Empathy Connects and their yatris were able to contribute a significant financial amount to the organisation as well.
He narrates his experience; “I got to know about Empathy Connects from a friend and I went for the first Halma Yatra where I met a lot of people. The best part of it was that in Jharkhand, where I am working for the under-resourced children, I got to meet a lot of role models in different organisations, one of them being Goonj and other being Shiv Ganga, where I got a perspective on how to make the education a transformative experience for them.”
Deepak further adds, “I want to send a message to the rural youth that they should also travel all over the country, witness the transformative work that is being done and thereby process the transformation in their lives as well. And to the urban youth, they should take part in the Empathy Connects, get out of their comfort zones and understand the rural landscape.”
Empathy Connects has been creating highly immersive and curated learning experiences for the youth and the enthusiasts willing to dedicate their time and energy to the social sector. One such program was Halma Yatra in February 2018 in Jhabua, hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh with participants from diverse backgrounds such as students from IITs and IIMs, working professionals from Samsung, Cisco, doctors, journalists, architects, teachers from all over India.
The participants went back with loads of learning about the Bhil tradition of Halma, understanding of the tribal landscape and life in general in villages and the challenges faced by the people. Through the activities conducted by Empathy Connects, the participants went back to the greater level of sensitization and self-awareness.
Nitesh (Below, second from left) with Yatris visiting a water body created by locals of different villages by selflessly contributing just a day of their time.
Empathy Connects also focuses on having thorough activities on self-awareness, understanding self better because he feels that the depth of the learning in retreat will be directly proportional to the depth of their dive into their own lives. This is done by paying special attention in selecting a limited number of participants for each retreat.
In Uttarakhand, in 2013 the yatris got an opportunity to meet Goonj’s founder Mr Anshu Gupta and witness Goonj’s wonderful efforts to lift up people’s spirit in the spiritual lands of Uttarakhand.
During the Yatra, Empathy Connects organized a keynote session by Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj, took part in a session on Menstrual Hygiene and visited the Sukhasan Bridge, the first bridge made by Goonj among many other activities conducted during the Yatra.
Empathy Connects conducted a “Rural Dialogue and Immersion ” at Deer Park, Bir, Himachal Pradesh in collaboration with Sahaj Foundation during the last week of May 2018. By the end of the 6-day workshop, the participants went through a wide array of activities like meditation, field visits, simulations, reflections and loads of sharing.
While Nitesh has been successfully able to create an empathetic platform for so many youths and social sector enthusiasts, creating life-transforming experiences for the participants, however, his journey has not been a smooth and comfortable one.
When Nitesh was starting out on his journey of Empathy Connects, a very few other than him were invested in the idea. The only starting point or a thread he held onto was a deep belief in his vision and its potential impact.
For a very long time, Nitesh had to pour in all his savings for fulfilling the expenses of Empathy Connects. With minimal funding from friends and family, he conducted his first Yatra, till now he has not been able to draw a salary for himself, but any of these challenges did not stop him from giving a scholarship to the applicants of Empathy Connects yatras who were not able to come only because of financial constraints.
At one point of his entrepreneurial journey Rs. 84 was all he had left with, surviving two days at Chennai railway station without any food, water and proper place to sleep, he worked at a local eatery in Hyderabad to survive. “However, all this struggle further strengthened my belief in what I was working on,” remarks Nitesh.
Though his personal journey was a tough one, Nitesh says that “All the struggles helped him cultivating empathy for those who are suffering and has made him humble and understanding of people’s circumstances.” And he also adds with a smile that it was worth it.
Appeal to The Logical Indian community
The first appeal that Nitesh would like to make is that “As Changemakers let us cultivate boundless empathy for the people who are suffering, the people we are working with, our societies and communities. Let us seek to understand and then aspire to be understood. Let us listen to understand and not listen to reply/ argue. Rather than getting into dichotomies of right and wrong, let us figure out a WIN-WIN arrangement for all.”
Empathy Connects is a youthful organization, always seeking collaboration with grassroots organisations. If you are a grassroots organization willing to collaborate with this organisation for creating meaningful experiences for the youth and social sector enthusiasts or attend one of the Yatras, contact Nitesh on [email protected]
Website – Empathy Connects
Facebook Page – Empathy Connects/FB
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