Young Indians are not useless but they are used less. Yuva Unstoppable provides a platform for young Indians to contribute back to society in a meaningful way. The entrepreneurial streak of Amitabh Shah and his commitment to the cause, have made Yuva Unstoppable a leading enterprise which mobilizes a million plus volunteers across various cities, with an aim to provide voluntary aid to the less privileged. Applauded by the top leaders of the country, Yuva Unstoppable is transforming volunteering as fun and value driving.
IndiaSpark team interviewed Mr. Shah to know more about his initiative and his vision of bringing “change for good”.
1. Tell us about yourself, your family and background. With an ivy league degree, what instigated you to come back to India?
I grew up in the city of Gandhi, Ahmedabad. I completed my studies from States and graduated from University of Alabama. Right after my bachelors I was working with Hewitt in Atlanta, and then, my father wanted me to pursue MBA. I got through Texas A&M with full scholarship.
And here starts the story. I decided to take some time off before joining school and planned vacation to Ahemdabad, my home. On the flight, I recall watching movie Swades (my first inspiration). When I landed in Ahmedabad, I went to visit my Nanny, who raised me and whom I hadn’t seen in years. She looked weak and weighed 25 kilos. I found out that her son was not treating her well and she was unhappy. I took her to Swarn Mandir, an old age home. I used to visit her and her roommate regularly with my friends and gradually all of my friends started visiting them. It was such a great feeling. And, that is when I realized – “everyone wants to do something for the country, but, they do not have the right platform.”
I knew what I had to do. I persuaded my father and decided to stay back. I initiated this movement of providing a platform to people and facilitate the act of contributing back to the society. Like ripple effect, the movement grew. More than 150,000 volunteers signed up; they took out time, an hour or two through the week to volunteer, teach children in schools and impart good values. Quite recently, we were covered in a case study by IIM Ahmedabad, where they interviewed our volunteers and concluded that people who are kind and volunteer on a regular basis observe a boost in self-confidence by 50%. Also, their likelihood to be corrupt is 40% less and integrity, 40% high. When we help others, we help ourselves a lot more.
I went back to complete my MBA in Leadership from Yale. I had to make clear choices like one to go to Wallstreet and have a good life, but, I was clear. I decided to work on the Real Street and not Wall Street. I came back to India and like they say, rest is history.
2. Can you tell us about the business model of YUVA Unstoppable? How do you ensure sustainable growth?
The business model is quite simple. Employees at corporates like Adani, Rotary International etc., voluntarily went to schools to teach children. They identified hygiene issues like lack of utilities and basic amenities at schools.
At Yuva Unstoppable, we suggested a model where corporates can come in, adopt schools and bring a change, a change that can be measured and is sustainable in long run.
We involved the high dignitaries from corporates, government and premier educational institutions to mutually develop a blue print. This allowed corporates to commit and adopt a school for INR 5 lacs and hence bring quality education and sanitation facilities.
Hence, our revenue model is very simple. We get people together in one room, inspire them enough, so they raise their hands to adopt schools. Our vision is to transform 10,000 schools in the next three years i.e., raise about 100 million dollars in next 3 years globally. I believe, if we are doing something good, money just keeps coming in.
“It’s all about how much you can inspire someone with your story.”
3. How has been your beginner’s journey? What were the challenges you faced in setting up and scaling up your enterprise?
I don’t think I faced any challenges. I have trained myself to see good in every situation, which I think every entrepreneur should do. Like Ratan Tata says “Leaders don’t make right decisions, they make their decisions right”. For that, you cannot keep beating yourself for the mistakes you have made, you learn from it, you see the good in it and move ahead.
Every entrepreneur should write down 10 things that he is grateful for before he goes to sleep at night. At the end of 60 days, he will discover a change in him. His mind will transform him to see good in every situation. It is the most important leadership and entrepreneurial skill anyone can have or develop over time.
Right now, as we speak, I am assisting the government of Gujarat to put together Happiness Ministry, an initiative on similar lines.
4. How do you measure the impact of your activities in the society?
Abdul Kalam was our chief mentor for 4 years. He mentored us to build strong credibility. We have a reputed professor from IIM Ahmedabad, ranked as leading Google scholar in India for social impact measurement. He audits us and keeps a check on our work. He visits a school, conducts a preliminary survey to gauge conditions like health, hygiene, teacher motivation and attendance ratio.
A post evaluation is conducted by him to map the impact that Yuva Unstoppable brings about within 3 months and our transformation is measured.
5. Tell us about your interventions in government initiatives like Swachh Bharat and eradicating digital illiteracy.
One was with Microsoft; we got access to its MSP’S across 30 cities. We kicked off MSP Yuva programme where our volunteers imparted digital education to students. We also taught MSPs how they can increase the volunteer base , manage and supervise it. Our Microsoft digital literacy programme was conducted in almost all states of the country. It is important to teach people digital literacy, but at the same time, we should fully be working on MIS and data. IBM has been kind to help us on our profits on project dealings and MIS support. KPMG is assisting us in finance and audits. IIM, Ahemdabad at the same time is supporting us on measuring impact of our initiatives.
Also, Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is very good. There are 1.1 million municipal schools in the country, 47% of the schools don’t have toilets for the girls, while, more than half the schools that have access to toilets don’t have any privacy. As an intervention, we followed the model of Vibrant Gujarat. Based on the model, we launched an initiative called “evolution”, two years ago. About 100 CEOs were brought together in a municipal school and well within 5 minutes, we raised funds for 500 schools. We got 5 million dollars in pledging on that day.
6. Your work is appreciated by top leaders of our country. Who do you draw your inspiration from?
I think, I draw my inspiration from God. Why think small when you can think big. I visualize him as the one who is always happy and giving, positive, confident yet helpful. So lord Krishna it is. I am trying to live like him.
7. Can you tell us about your other founders/core team, their background and rich experience?
We have a Columbia graduate who passed out of Harvard business school and leads marketing initiatives of a global MNC. Other associate is finishing his Ph.D. in education from Harvard. In India we have Chief minister’s daughter and son-in-law Jayesh on the board of our trustees. These are all good people, that any enterprise would love to have on its side.
Beside this, interestingly, our volunteers come from different colleges. Peculiar were ones who failed in college examination and opted to volunteer teaching children. The children in turn asked them about college grades. This motivated the college students to study as they were seen as role model by children. The results were positive. The volunteers started securing good grades in college, spending time with family, celebrating their birthdays by buying ice creams for the policemen working on crossroads.
Also, we have approximately 30 people, whom we call true heroes, from the best schools of the world, who have joined us and work for us full time at one third their market value.
8. Do you plan to venture into some other areas or initiatives beside this?
Right now, my main focus is to create a revolution.
I am co-creating a comic book on gratitude in collaboration with Yale. We plan to issue copies in many regional languages in Gujarat. I plan to share it with 40 thousand school children because I feel that this should be taught like math or science at a young age. We want to take the gratitude book globally. Gratitude should be taught in schools, colleges at a young age. Students should learn about it everywhere.
Swachh Bharat is also the same. We have made a comic book, where the fourth monkey of Gandhi is a hero, who represents the principle “throw no evil”. The CM has launched my book 2 months ago and is putting it in the curriculum of about 40 thousand schools. So this is the big thing we are doing right now.
Also, we will be going to IIMs and IITs and will be training the young people there how they can be happy in life. Young people in the country shall employ a lot of people in the future; they are going to be great politicians, doctors, in business and we can bring a multiplier effect through this. So our main focus is on GRATITUDE.
Also, there are other 30 people with me who will go and train gratitude to policemen, bus conductors, IAS officers, even prisoners. Police has given us a new task; there are approximately 150 lady bootleggers in Gujarat and we have to give them gratitude training in so that they can cope up with their mental issues.
9. Anything else that you would like to do for Campuses and Schools?
What I would like to do and I have already started, I would like to involve celebrities into giving. Celebrities make an appearance and then they leave. I want to create a platform where they can contribute meaningfully and give charity in the right way to educational institutions. V.V.S. Laxman, the cricketer, started a programme and gave scholarships to underprivileged students in IITs. Students do not get a free scholarship but at the end of 6 years of graduation, they have to sponsor it further for someone. This art of payback creates a sustainable long-lasting value
We are also doing lot of programmes in top schools and colleges where we tie them up with local municipal schools nearby, where college students can go and teach. In return, the municipal schools have to do pay them back in form of paintings or thank you cards. This exchange is happening in around 300 schools in Gujarat.
10. How do you see yourself and your organization 10 years from now?
I think 10 years from now, we hopefully would have built and transformed 20 thousand schools across the country. The government has tied up with us financially. Also, we would like to train maximum people with the gratitude curriculum that we have in schools and colleges now.
“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
We certainly wish Mr. Shah All the very best in his endeavour.