FOR Ajai Kumar Mishra, running a crowdfunding campaign for Tarai Environment Awareness Samiti (TEAS), the organisation he co-founded 25 years ago, taught him two things. One, the ability to connect with supporters and generate instant funds; and two, build a strong peer to peer network and understand other social development projects.

TEAS focusses on fighting social evils like female illiteracy, child marriage and lack of access to government programmes and overall backwardness in the Balrampur district of Uttar Pradesh. But its agenda has expanded over the years, and it works for the underprivileged who are often untouched by government projects, promotes health and education among the poor, provides livelihood training, fights gender discrimination and environmental degradation.

Give speaks to Ajai Kumar Mishra about his journey as an NGO leader, the importance of crowdfunding for organisations like TEAS and much more.

Give: Tell us about the state of the district of Balrampur that forced you and your associate Kasim Ali to start Tarai Environment Awareness Samiti.

Ajai Kumar Mishra: Balrampur is one of the aspirational districts of India. It is located in the Tarai belt (known as foothills of the Himalayas) of Uttar Pradesh. When my associate Kasim Ali and I founded TEAS,  there were many factors on the ground that required urgent action. There were social issues, the literacy rate was very low, child marriages were rampant and the infant mortality rate was very high. And the government reach was minimal.

We incorporated TEAS to bring social change by creating awareness and joining hands with government and institutional partners. Involving communities to create a social development model was our main focus area.

Give: Over the years, how has TEAS affected the lives of people in the region and beyond. Can you throw some light on a few initiatives that had the maximum impact on the ground and the reach of TEAS now?

AKM: Being a grassroots level organisation, we have implemented more than 250+ projects with the support of the government, institutional and corporate partners, and individual support in the fields of education, health, livelihood, disaster relief and social inclusion. We have reached out to more than five lakh beneficiaries in more than two decades.

One of the most appreciated and recognised projects of TEAS is the “Accelerated Female Literacy Program” for adolescent girls and women in the  age group 15-35 years. The project aims to increase the female literacy rate in the 55 gram panchayats (with over 27,000 women) of Sriduttganj Block in Balrampur district.

A survey by government officials found that the female literacy rate was around 17%. After implementation of the programme, a survey by State Resource Centre – Indore found that the literacy rate was increased to 53%.

Even the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development recognised our work in increasing the literacy rate from 17% to 53% in the women of the region.

Give: For some of its projects, TEAS has gone for online crowdfunding through the Give platform. Tell us about them. And going forward, do you think crowdfunding will become one of the most important sources for funding social development projects?

AKM: TEAS has raised more than ₹20 lakh using crowdfunding in the past six months through Give for various projects like TEAS Gaushala, Project SANGH, and Project RAHAT response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have also used the funds raised from crowdfunding for our livelihood awareness programmes for farmers and Annapurna Hunger Feed Program and Project Jagriti.

We got a great response from the people to our crowdfunding programmes, both from our existing and new donors. Give provided us with the right communication tools and a dedicated campaign manager which helped us a lot in donor retention as well as in building relations with new ones.

Crowdfunding TEAS

We have no doubt that crowdfunding is going to see a big upswing in India. It was crowdfunding that helped us generate funds during Covid-19 when the country was in a lockdown and thanks to it we could carry out so many relief programmes during the pandemic. When we come on a platform like Give, we also build a strong peer to peer network and understand other social development projects.

Give: TEAS is 25 years old.  Can you share with us any TEAS related heart-touching story that has stayed with you?

AKM: In this long journey, the most heart touching moment for me was when I came to know about the success of a girl named Arti Tiwari. Her journey began in our Kasturba Gandhi Awasiya Balika Vidyalaya, a project by TEAS where we provide free accommodation and education to 100 girls who have dropped out of school. Her parents were not able to afford her education and she dropped out in 4th standard. We convinced her parents to let her join Kasturba Gandhi Awasiya Balika Vidhyalay in the 4th standard. She always dreamt of becoming a successful politician so that she can do something better for society.

With her efforts and hard work she realised her dream in 2021 when she was elected to the District Development Council. She is just 21 years old. It was hard to believe that TEAS could help a girl from such a poor background achieve her dream.

Give: If life had not led you into co-founding TEAS, what would you rather have done?

AKM: I am a businessman and an Ayurvedic consultant by profession. I am also a yoga instructor. Had I not co-founded TEAS, I would have been involved in the social development at least as a part-time volunteer with some other nonprofit, and contributed my bit for society.

Give: You have been forced to eat only four things for the rest of your life. Which four items would you choose? And why? Are there any memorable associations with it?

AKM: The four items I would select for the rest of my life would be chapati and green chilli chutney, guava, potato, and puffed rice. The reason behind choosing these food items is that they are easily available and are associated with my childhood. When I was a kid living in my village, my mother used to wrap these things in my lunch box for school.

Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan

Established in 2000, Give is the largest and most trusted giving platform in India. Our community of 2.6M+ donors have supported 2,800+ nonprofits, impacting 15M+ lives across India.

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