Q&A: Former TechnoServe Volunteer Launches Nonprofit in India
August 26, 2013
Aditya Gupta discusses his experience working with TechnoServe in East Africa, and how it motivated him to launch an organization that is addressing the issue of violence against women.
Photo credit: Abhinav Rai
Q: What is your background?
I was born in a tiny town in Punjab in northern India, and moved with my family to the capital city of New Delhi at the age of 10. I earned my undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, one of the most prestigious institutes for engineering education in India. Among my key experiences there was a short stint as a facilitator with a nonprofit called YP Foundation, conducting workshops with school children on peer pressure, bullying, substance abuse and relationships.
I joined a role as a consulting associate at The Parthenon Group after university, and spent two years at their Mumbai office, working on strategy projects mostly for businesses in the private education sector. I did a lot of work in South and East Asia, in the Middle East and in India. I left that job as a senior associate and went backpacking in Europe for a few months prior to landing a stint as a Volunteer Consultant at TechnoServe.
Q: How did you become involved with TechnoServe?
I was close to finishing up with Parthenon, and while planning a break, was also hunting for ways to explore my direction for the future. Management consulting was not working for me, so I felt I needed to bridge into a career that was more challenging and more meaningful.
I first heard of TechnoServe from a friend who then worked at the Boston Consulting Group. I was intrigued by the thought of combining my consulting experience with an opportunity to do development work and spend time in Africa. I decided to apply.
I was contacted for the opportunity on a program called the Connected Farmer Alliance in October, and we immediately saw the synergy with my background in technology, consulting and it was a match. I spent December 2012 to March 2013 working in East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania.
Q: What did you do for TechnoServe, and what did you learn from the experience?
I worked as a Volunteer Consultant with the Connected Farmer Alliance, which aims to enhance the incomes, productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique through mobile-based supply chain and financial products.
I spent most of my time in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, helping to partner with local agribusinesses, define the nature of mobile-based products that might help improve supply chains with smallholder farmers, and develop product design with the Vodafone team. I joined the project at an early stage, so my experience was fairly entrepreneurial. The effort opened my eyes to the potential for mobile technology to be a driver of social change.
The experience was my first as an independent consultant and it helped me make sense of my past experience in management consulting. I found myself enjoying the role of structuring and creating processes and products and learned that I enjoyed working with a diverse team. It was also my first visit to Africa, and I cherish everything I experienced in terms of its culture, the sights, and the friends and memories I made.
Q: What is the People for Parity Foundation?
The People for Parity Foundation is a nonprofit that works to curb violence against women in India. It has two major approaches – one through gender sensitization with key stakeholders and the second through creation of technology that enables key stakeholders. People for Parity is a largely youth-driven organization.
Gender sensitization is our “problem-solving,” long-term change program where we do workshop-based interventions with teenagers, youth, school counselors and corporate employees to foster better communication and understanding around gender violence.
Our technology work is our immediate-impact initiative where we are creating products that enable women in distress to reach out to the police, their trusted contacts and bystanders. The first product we’ve created, an Android app called “Pukar,” is meant to serve this purpose for smartphone users. This initiative is trying to connect with Police Control Rooms in various cities to enable them to make a more effective rescue action.
We’ve recently received a fellowship called “Change Looms,” which is targeted to young change leaders.
Photo credit: Abhinav Rai
Q: How did your experience with TechnoServe influence the direction of the foundation?
My experience with TechnoServe was my first foray in to the development sector. I joined TechnoServe as a volunteer both for the synergy with my prior experience and for the potential of a cultural exploration of Africa.
I immediately found that I liked my work at TechnoServe, I liked the people I worked with, I liked how they approached their job with passion and positivity, I liked how the work would help somebody (smallholder farmers), and I liked that there was a strong work-life balance. It helped me realize that the social/development sector is where I belong.
In December 2012, as I had started settling down in Nairobi, India witnessed the horrific brutalization of Nirbhaya, a girl in Delhi who died as a result of injuries she suffered in a gang rape. Given that I’ve spent the majority of my life in Delhi, this stirred emotions in me as it did in thousands of people back home. I started to think about ways this malaise could be addressed, not necessarily with the intention of being the agent of change myself.
I met Amanda Satterly, TechnoServe’s East Africa Gender Advisor, in February and found a great mentor and friend in her. She helped me understand the complexities of gender relations and interventions and helped define the basis of People for Parity’s planned work on the issue. Mike Elliott (Program Director), Joan Leteipa (Kenya Program Manager) and other members of my project team were also exceedingly supportive in the process of creating the framework for People for Parity.
Despite having a great life in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and being part of a fast-evolving program, I left for Delhi in March to launch People for Parity.
Q: What is your vision for the future of the foundation?
My vision for the future is to establish a sustainable and scalable change program that is able to create measurable impact on the issue. A lot of the social work initiatives in India end up working with a very tight community. While that is often amazing and intensive work, we are looking to enable key stakeholders to be able to bring change to larger target audiences.
The foundation also hopes to work with young people and enable them to be change-makers in the society. We see ourselves as a youth organization.