MILPITAS, Calif. – People at the Line of Control border which separates Jammu and Kashmir have been in a suspended sense of shock as a several decades-long armed conflict plays out in the region, said Adhik Kadam, co-founder and director of the Borderless World Foundation, at the Indians for Collective Action annual awards gala here Oct. 9.
“People at the border are really suffering a great human tragedy. We can get into intellectual debates about the border, but that doesn’t solve the problems for humanity,” stated Kadam, who has worked in the region for more than two decades with children orphaned by the war. BWF has built schools in four villages in Kashmir, which collectively house and educate 220 girls.
The border conflict has orphaned more than 120,000 children, said the young social entrepreneur, who has continued with his work, despite being kidnapped on several occasions by militants who believed him to be a spy since he is Hindu, and also by Indian Border Security Forces.
Several of Kadam’s children have gone on to higher education after growing up at the Basera-e-Tabassum – Abode of Smiles – homes. Many of the girls are the orphans of militant fathers; many have seen their families killed, said Kadam emotionally.
“My hope is that we educate girls who then train their children not to pick up guns, so that is less conflict and no war. Children can work as peacemakers,” said Kadam.
ICA – which was founded in 1968 by young Indian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area – also honored social entrepreneurs Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj; and Radha and Dipak Basu, who have launched three non-profit organizations to help India’s youth develop IT and entrepreneurship skills, at the annual banquet.
Gupta is a Ramon Magsaysay awardee whose non-profit Goonj repurposes used cloth into new products and services such as treating sewage in waste water.
The salvaged material is also used to make quilts for the homeless, who frequently die from exposure to the cold during harsh winters in northern India. Gupta noted that homeless people often sleep on beds of dry grass and often only have dry grass to cover themselves against the cold. He related the story of Habib in Delhi, whose job was to pick up dead bodies around the city. In the winter, Habib would pick up as many as 12 bodies from the streets, people who had died from exposure to the elements.
The salvaged cloth is also used to make menstrual pads. “Women use dirty pieces of cloth for those 4-5 days per month. They cannot wash it for obvious reasons. In some families, two to three women use the same cloth or plastic sheets or even newspapers,” said Gupta, noting that such unhygienic practices leave women at a greater risk of serious infections.
Children who lack clothing cannot attend school, noted Gupta. “We are solving the small, but extremely important issues,” he said, adding that cloth was extremely useful as a sustainable development resource.
Gupta and each of the award recipients received standing ovations from the crowd gathered for the evening event at the India Community Center.
Eminent electrical engineer Thomas Kailath and his wife, economist Anuradha Luther Maitra, presented the ICA award to Radha and Dipak Basu, who are both engineers. Radha was instrumental in setting up Hewlett Packard in Bangalore in the early 1980s, well before the city became the hub of India’s tech industry. Basu started with 18 employees, which soon grew to 400.
“The work we did there in the early 80s is now a $100 billion industry. It has completely changed the face of middle India. Nobody believed you could do tech in India, but we did,” said the Indian American entrepreneur.
The Basus noted, however, that the IT revolution was not touching the Tier Three and Four cities, nor was it reaching the villages. They started their first foray into the non-profit world with NetHope, aiming to use technology to provide drinking water, consistent supplies of power and education.
But the villagers had different ambitions. “They told us, ‘we don’t want you to feed us, or give us electricity. We want jobs. If we have reasonable incomes, we can help ourselves,’” related Dipak Basu.
Radha Basu related a story of going into a village with a computer. “The women knew what it was. They said, ‘this computer is changing the face of India: why are we not good enough for it?’ They wanted technology and they wanted their children to have technology.”
The Basus launched the Anudip Foundation in 2007, with the aim of equipping 100,000 underserved children with IT and entrepreneurial skills. The Foundation works with hundreds of local employers: since its launch, 60,000 youth have been placed in good-paying jobs.
After the loss of their daughter to cancer in 2009, the couple launched the Jhumki Basu Foundation in 2009 to help underserved kids in the U.S. develop an interest in science and technology. The Foundation currently works with 100 schools in the New York area.
Radha Basu next developed iMerit in 2012, a for-profit venture owned largely by its employees, which employs youth trained by the Anudip Foundation to provide on-demand digital services such as data creation and analysis, 3-D printing, CAD, Auto CAD, and algorithms to U.S.-based companies.
iMerit’s clients include Uber, Bloomberg, Getty, and eBay, among others. The company currently employs 800 people.
“We are training marginalized youth to be part of the digital and global economy,” said the pioneer.