BookASmile believes in the Power of 1: Farzana Cama Balpande, Head, BookASmile

By Rusen Kumar

MUMBAI: With an aim to spark curiosity, nurture creativity and build confidence among economically disadvantaged children, BookASmile – a charity initiative of BookMyShow in collaboration with the Akshara Foundation of Arts and Learning has set up a unique Science Centre at Akshara High School located in the northern suburbs of Mumbai.

Here is Farzana Cama Balpande, Head at BookASmile (a charity initiative of BookMyShow) to share some insights about their most recent Science Centre Program along with other upcoming initiatives. Excerpts of interview: 

What does BookASmile focus on? 

BookASmile was conceptualized in 2012 with a vision to use our platform to give back to the society. We wanted to do something distinctive and revolutionary in the charity space by lending our arm to an area where we already have a strong foothold. We wanted to provide opportunities to those from the disadvantaged sections of society to experience a world of entertainment, music, theatre, arts, sports and culture, things that you and I usually take for granted. Entertainment and culture was something as important, and perhaps their importance largely undermined.

Were there any hurdles you came across both from within the system and outside while setting up BookASmile?

It’s only when you start working on-ground that you realise that most people have a charitable disposition. We have come across a lot of people who are only too happy to be associated with our initiative and support our efforts. You rarely face challenges when you enjoy and believe in the work you do. Passion towards your work definitely overcomes all related challenges.

How does your charity initiative raise funds?

BookASmile believes in the Power of One; that it just takes Re. 1 to make a difference in someone’s life. The users of BookMyShow across 400 cities have been actively contributing, anywhere from Re. 1 to Rs. 5, to BookASmile every time they transact on our platform. Alternately, if anyone wants to donate larger amounts, they can simply visit our website and make a donation. To increase the corpus, we have also begun to bring about different strategic changes to fund raising which has helped us scale vertically as well.

Can you throw some light on the upcoming initiatives BookASmile is participating in and the foundations you are associating with?

Initially, BookASmile primarily worked within Mumbai and had a few liaisons with NGO’s outside Maharashtra. Today, we are looking to grow and expand to different geographies in India and wish to impact lives and change perspectives of people residing everywhere, from big cities to towns and villages including kids, senior citizens, physically and mentally challenged individuals or even the armed forces. We work with over 170 NGOs and have successfully impacted over 1 Million lives through the medium of cinema, art, theatre, sports, music, rural development, empowerment programs, armed forces and animal welfare programs.

What are some of your campaigns and initiatives close to your heart? 

We have small think tank of individuals who are excited and passionate about creating positive, yet insightful impacts. We have done some meaningful work with all the communities that we have touched. We truly connect with all of them and really believe in those causes.

What makes BookASmile stand apart from other charity initiatives?

The most unique thing its ability to create maximum output through minimum input. We are proud of how much we are able to achieve through our Power of 1 concept. It’s amazing how much people are willing to contribute to spread happiness among the disadvantaged sections of the society. Others are continuing to work on health, nutrition, sanitation etc., we decided to be more in sync with the entertainment business and are working towards providing those opportunities to people which are taken for granted by many of us.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in Education system at present? How do you think we can overcome these challenges?

Access to education and the way education is imparted to children are two critical aspects and the roadblocks, according to me, are on both fronts. While we are making great progress in ensuring that education reaches all, the standards of education needs to move away from being just theoretical and become more practical. Even though many private schools are moving in this direction, it still leaves a large section of the population engaging in an education system that is archaic and non-progressive. As more corporates and philanthropic individuals come forward to support this cause, collectively we’d be able to make a positive impact on the education system in the country.

What kind of job opportunities will be offered to these people on completion of the Gurukul program that BookASmile supports?

The Gurukul program is a 100-day rigorous fully-residential program with an emphasis on extensive experiential learning through habit-building and repetition. On completion of the program, individuals are provided with lifelong support to prevent them from falling back into poverty. Through the skills learnt in the Gurukul such as driving course for men and beautician courses for women graduating students can be gainfully employed in the relevant field of work.

What kind of training will be provided to the people who are part of the Gurukul program?

Job skills alone are insufficient to help individuals break out of the cycle of poverty. The Gurukuls focus on the all-round development of individuals to equip them with life, literacy and livelihood skills where they learn, spoken English, everyday communication skills in English, the art of listening, reading and basic writing, basic numerical skills, personal development, financial management, social development, health and wellness and access to gainful employability to lay the foundation for economic independence.

What do you aim to achieve with this initiative?

Poverty alleviation and empowerment is big on our to-do list. Through this initiative that we support, we intend to support the youth in establishing a foundation for leading a life of dignity and confidence –at work and in the community.

We understand that you are fond of dogs, any plans towards running a campaign around animal rights and spreading awareness?

We support animal welfare programs too. We work with NGOs that engage in the well-being of not only dogs but other animals too like cats, monkeys, elephants, birds, bears and leopards. For instance, we are supporting an adoptathon initiative for Indian breeds of dogs and cats. We also support refurbishing shelter/rescue homes in cities by providing infrastructure to these helpless animals and also help them with medical services through animal ambulances.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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