To make ordinary men and women do extraordinary things, is my mission in life. SRIJAN (Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action) that I founded in 1997 became the instrument for me to do so. Over 750 development professionals were groomed making SRIJAN one of the foremost non-profit organizations in India bringing sustainable livelihood opportunities to over 78,000 poor rural families in 7 Indian states.
I launched the Buddha Fellowship Program (BFP) in 2017. The Buddha Fellowship is an entrepreneurial pathway for Indian youth to serve in the social development sector. BFP attracts graduates of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs)and mentors them as development entrepreneurs to serve the bottom third of India, some 400 million Indians. Direct financial support from BFP for a defined period of time mitigates their personal risk and on-going mentoring and organizational support increase their chances of success. My target is to develop a 1,000 Buddha Fellows over the next 5 years and place them as CEOs in eminently viable development enterprises that have already been set up by our partner non-profit organizations.
Let me give you the examples of two Buddha Fellows, Kaushal Yadav and Ravi Gajraj. Kaushal has scaled the sales of Farm Veda brand of ready to cook food 5X, successfully competing against the best brands in 300 stores of Bangalore. Annual sales jumped from $12,850 USD to $64,300 USD during his first year as CEO. The profits of Farm Veda go to small farmers of Andhra Pradesh state. Kaushal graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2002, joined Infosys and even had a start-up of his own, Mantra Labs, before moving to serve small farmers with BFP backing.
While completing his Management Degree from IIM Kashipur in 2018, like most of his seniors and peers, Ravi Gajraj expected to join the corporate rat race — a multinational company, a foreign bank, a consultancy firm or the like. It wasn’t expected that he would be promoting conservation of indigenous sources of rice, by building a new brand and making it popular among residents of Pune city. But this is what he exactly did. When BFP visited his campus and exhorted students to do something for society at large with their newly acquired skills, Ravi opted to become a Development Entrepreneur in spite of the opportunity cost. As a Buddha Fellow he conceptualised and launched the ‘Farming Monk’ brand. Farming Monk today is not only a source of livelihoods for tribal farmers but also a symbol of society responding to the challenge of climate change.
Our journey of creating Development Entrepreneurs has thus begun. Buddha Fellows are making agriculture sustainable. Their enterprises are becoming part of the corporate supply chains, thus stabilizing farmers’ incomes. In turn they are creating new rural entrepreneurs’, this expanding the virtuous cycle
We have 8 Buddha Fellows in the program currently, being mentored and provided other ecosystem support.
Further stories and updates of each Buddha Fellow’s entrepreneurial journey are listed at:
Phone Number: +91 – 7568911934
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Ved Mitra Arya is the Founder and Director of the Buddha Fellowship Program. An alumnus of IIT Kanpur and IIM Ahmedabad, Ved left a career in the technology sector in pursuit of a mission to bring relief and self-reliance to the underprivileged. SRIJAN started out with small projects in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with support from donors such as Tata Trusts and The World Bank. Today SRIJAN is making a difference to the lives of over 82,215 rural families from 1,299 villages spread out in 7 Indian states with active collaboration from Government agencies, private and institutional donors.
In 2016 he founded the Buddha Fellowship Program – a unique platform offering a complete eco-system for young emerging leaders from India’s premier educational institutions such as IITs and IIMs, an opportunity to build development enterprises