Charlie Chaplin once said, “We think too much and feel too little.” His words couldn’t be truer. Even though most people think of changing things very few actually take the plunge towards change. Yogesh Kumar is one such Charlie Chaplin fan who has taken the iconic tramp’s words to heart. He doesn’t think too much but feels a lot and his heart-felt desire is to see a society where women are safe and equal on all fronts.
“We are told that if women are to be safe then they must stay at home and not venture out but I don’t agree with that notion. I believe that if more and more women come out and own the public spaces that outdated perception will change,” Yogesh says.
“My father was in the Defense services and was posted all over the country. My mother was the one who raised me and my two younger sisters all by herself. Even though not very educated, she is the strongest and the most open-minded person I know. She never stopped us from pursuing our dreams. Although she was looking after us, she always had my father’s support in all her decisions concerning our upbringing. I did my engineering; my younger sister became a professional dancer and model. They gave all of us wings and let us fly,” says the son with great pride.
Yogesh did his engineering in Electronics and worked for a German company as production engineer for three years. But he was always restless and wanted to do something more. That something more led him to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) where he did his Masters in Social Entrepreneurship in 2015. The same year he went on to win the Young Social Entrepreneur Award given by Singapore International Foundation.
In pursuit of his dream of a society where gender equality is a given, he used his prize money to set up his logistics start-up called Even Cargo. The start-up only employs women for delivering products. Traditionally delivery services have been a male bastion but Yogesh wants to change that tradition.
“I love children and the glint of hope and endless possibilities they have in their eyes. It pains me to think that these children especially little girls will grow up in a world that restricts those possibilities and throttles that hope. So I wanted to do my bit to change that in whatever small way I could,” Yogesh ponders.
“I have always had very strong female influences in my life and that has shaped my thought process. I feel our society is churning and the youth has to be the vehicle that initiates the change that will come from the churning. Everything that was going on around me relating to disparity or unequal opportunities for women, hardened my resolve to do something worthwhile,” he reflects on his decision.
“I wanted to empower women from economically weaker sections since financial independence is the first step towards equality and empowerment. They should have the confidence that they can do things even though they have been told otherwise all their lives. The focus is to overcome the barriers of unemployment through skill development of these women,” he insists.
It was quite a challenge for him to convince the girls and their families to join his start-up. Most of these families don’t even allow their daughter’s to go out of the house, for them to allow their daughters to work outside the home was just unthinkable.
“It took a lot of work on my part to assuage their fears. I convinced them that I will take all possible measures to ensure their daughter’s safety,” he remembers.
“I make sure that the girls do not go to unsafe neighbourhoods and after dark if they have to deliver then I accompany them. The products we deliver are women apparel, so they mostly have to deal with women. The girls are given proper training in riding a two-wheeler, they are trained in soft skills, logistic skills and most importantly they are trained in self defense by the Delhi Police. But despite all these steps, even though I trained 70 girls initially only six joined me as full-time employees after the training,” he says pensively.
He not only ensures the safety of the girls but also makes sure that the people he hires are trustworthy. Background checks are carried out before hiring and police verification is mandatory for his employees.
The girls earn Rs 10,000 a month and they are putting this money to good use as one girl got her mother’s eye operation done. Another one is supporting her education from her salary and also investing in improving her language skills.
“The response we get from the people is quite encouraging. One of my staff members went to deliver at a housing complex and the security guard was an old man. He was so surprised to see a delivery girl. He said, “The world has indeed changed a lot.” He was very appreciative of her courage and went out of his way to help her,” shares Yogesh with a smile.
“In some localities when the girls stop to ask directions shopkeepers, street vendors and by-standers are pleasantly surprised and some openly applaud them for the work they are doing. They are also very inquisitive about their work and ask questions. It also gives the girls a sense of pride and purpose,” he says happily.
“Perceptions take a long while to change but we have taken a step in the right direction and with proper guidance and support we will make it work,” he further adds.
Yogesh is also being mentored by Karen Tay who is a regional marketing director at Metro Cash & Carry. She discusses growth strategy every month with him and connects him to individuals who give expert advice in areas where he needs guidance.
It is a venture with its heart in the right place but as a business is it making money? “Not really at least not right now but we hope to become self sustainable in the next few months,” says the social entrepreneur.
He plans to expand to other cities and employ 200 women in the next six months. He is in talks with many e-commerce companies for a tie-up to deliver their products both in Delhi and other metros.
As for the future he borrows a phrase from his favourite author Khaled Hosseini and says, “Hope we see Thousand Splendid Suns.”
Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.