India being an amalgamation of rich culture, ethnic diversity and heterogeneous traditions, is considered as one of the world’s oldest cultures. The cultural multiplicity is being celebrated in all the corners of the country and cherished by every community. Despite such richness, there are quite a few loopholes in the societal norms. Indians may have reached Mars but the traditional societal norms still cripple many parts of the country. In a small town of Odisha, generations are brought up ingrained with the belief ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which translates to ‘The world is one family’. Yet, social discriminations exist in the same vicinity. In order to overcome such social discriminations and help the underprivileged, Vat Vrikshya was formed.
Vat Vrikshya which means ‘Banyan Tree’ in Sanskrit, is a social enterprise that aims to impart positive changes in tribal people's lives by creating livelihood opportunities. Vikash Das, Founder, Vat Vrikshya, shaped the organization with the idea of a banyan tree which gives shade to everyone without any differences and hence, named it Vat Vrikshya. The organization helps the tribal communities of the region to identify and initiate development schemes.
Vat Vrikshya provides training and building support capability to tribal women by promoting tribal handicrafts in cities, market linkage to tribal artisans and nurturing entrepreneurial skills. The tribes of this town earn their bread through primary occupations which are based on simple technology such as hunting, gathering and agriculture. In agriculture, due to the uncertainty of weather conditions and lack of proper infrastructure, farmers live a destitute life and often end up, committing suicide. To overcome this issue, the organization has formulated the idea of cultivation of different ranges of crops in one patch of land. Hence, there could be an option at times, when one crop fails. The women are engaged in preparing handicrafts, pickles and medicines from wild flowers, roots and leaves. They are involved in mushroom farming at home and offered vocational training. Vikash mentions the importance of a woman’s independence and has a vision to facilitate women to play the role of a breadwinner and a homemaker simultaneously. The organization works as a mediator between villagers of the tribal communities and banks so that they could avail various facilities and subsidies provided by the government. The goods produced by these women and farmers are also supplied directly to the customers, thereby eliminating the involvement of middle-men.
Vat Vrikshya being solely a self sustaining social business, believes in empowering and infusing self-sufficiency in women by benefiting from the emerging economy of India. This is done by creating economic opportunities and driving social progress. Vat Vrikshya has developed a model called empowerment model which is a blend of coaching , mentoring, improving access to resources and networks to create new business opportunities. The model is instrumental in bridging the gap between tribal artisans and customer groups. “By fostering social business among women, we create role models in tribal community who further encourage other women belonging to the same community, thus creating chains of role models and champions,” adds Vikash.
The organization aims to preserve the beautiful tribal heritage and save it from extinction. He also states that people migrate from villages to cities and often settle in low paid jobs. This way the origin of a tribe may fade and its presence may not be recorded later in time. Thus, Vat Vrikshya takes pride in making an effort in maintaining integrity of the tribes in the region. Further, he adds that it is never too late for making a change. Empowering deprived communities in emerging economies such as India, generates activities and thrives social progress. The call for a change need not be responded by leaving one’s family or job to help the under privileged. Instead, one could begin with simple solutions to support a cause. Apart from empowerment, our country needs a lot of assistance in several ways. Thus, any act of goodwill could begin a change which might widen up bigger furnishing grounds and open up new avenues. “Even though, we underestimate ourselves in initiating an idea and formulating its action, such actions might change the lives of many under-privileged ones who are waiting as a sponge to absorb your values,” concludes Vikash. (As told to Sneha Choudhury)