#LeadYoung - Jeroo Billimoria: a global movement that started with a simple gesture in her teens

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A social entrepreneur known for building huge, global coalitions, Jeroo first started in Mumbai, working with street children. She gave them her private phone number in case of emergencies.

Soon every night it was ringing.

From that caring and then recognition of system need came Childline. Any street child could call a free number and be answered by a trained and sympathetic street child. Shortly thereafter help would be on the way.

The consequences were profound. Services could connect with need. Bad and good performance became clear. Areas of shortage gained resources. And police exploitation fell sharply because a call to a sympathetic operator from half a block away about what an officer was doing to a friend would quickly bring trouble to that officer.

Free Childline service soon spread to over 50 Indian cities. And then to 143 countries.

More recently Jeroo has focused on helping all young people understand and have access to financial services. This makes a huge difference to their safety and ability to have a future. This work is embodied in Child & Youth Finance International, another extraordinary global coalition, which reached 36 million children and young people in 2014.

What led Jeroo to break out from being a good professional like all those around her? It was because she knew from long before that she had a far bigger power. Around age 11 she organized all the domestic workers in her apartment block to get bank accounts. She traces her interest in financial literacy and access back to this intervention.

She truly stepped out fully when she was 16. Her mother, a social worker in the schools for poor members of the Parsi community, focused on family and other non academic issues. Jeroo felt this was a mistake. Because half the students were dropping out because they were failing math or English, she felt that this is where the effort should go.

Her mother, who was brilliant at helping Jeroo become an entrepreneur, asked her daughter to design how to go after her objective and introduced her to faculty at the Tata Institute. As Jeroo inquired how to teach English and math better several faculty members suggested that she go to see Gloria de Souza, who was just then introducing “environmental education”, an alternative to rote memorization based on problem-solving in the real enviroment. Jeroo went to see Gloria; they formed an alliance; and Jeroo sold the new approach to the head of the Parsi schools, her mom encouraging her on and not stepping in for the big meeting. Gloria trained Jeroo, and they worked together on implementation. Gloria was Ashoka’s first Fellow. 

This article was originally published on 21 May 2017
Related TopicsBusiness & Social Enterprise, Financial services / markets, Social investment, Children & Youth, At risk youth, Child abuse, Child care, Child exploitation, Child labor, Girls’ development, Youth development, Youth leadership, Lead Young

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For as long as she could remember, Ara Kusuma had always loved  cows. She collected cow stuffed animals and painted her room the white-black pattern of cow hide. At age 10 she wanted a real cow and the journey began. Ara and her family traveled to a privately-owned farm in Solo, Central Java. There she saw 1,500 cows living in a clean environment. The farm owners were using integrated farming methods and nothing was wasted—everything from the milk to the urine was processed. She was amazed. Shortly after, Ara's family took her to villages in Boyolali, an area known for its milk production. There she witnessed the sickening smell of cow dung and flies swarming everywhere. Each farmer typically has three to ten cows, and one village may have around 500 farmers. The total number of cows could reach up to 5,000. The conditions of the sheds piled with cow dung made her ask, “What if we bring integrated farming to this village?” She began to build her dream, Project Moo. She worked with the community of Sukorejo Village, with the tagline “mulya sesarengan” (for the welfare of all). She finally got her own cow to serve as a sample for integrated farming management. Building such a dream was not easy for a 10-year-old, but not impossible, especially with the support of her family. Ara, now age 20 reflected, “I really like the fact that my parents were willing to listen and appreciated their children’s opinions and ideas. They responded to my idea with seriousness and then they helped me think through an action plan.” Ara's first team consisted of her family members. Her father was tasked with learning about integrated farming in a one-week training program conducted by the private farm they had visited in Solo earlier. He then shared the knowledge with village farmers. Her mother, Ashoka Fellow Septi Peni, had the role of assisting farmer’s wives with processing the milk into dairy products. Her older sister Enes, who is an Ashoka Youth Venturer, and younger brother Elan, were tasked with a village education project for the children. Ara described her own role as an integrator, who made sure that the team, villagers, cow owners, experts, customers, and village administration were all aligned. Ara introduced “Project Moo” as an effort to optimize what she described as the six golds of cow. First, the white gold (milk), not only as raw milk, but also as pudding, cake, ice cream, and other dairy products. Second, the red gold (meat), which was not the focus due to the fact that are only dealing with dairy cows. Third and fourth, the black gold (cow dung) and yellow gold (cow urine) was treated separately to produce solid and liquid fertilizer. Fifth, green gold: greening the village to create agro-tourism. The village was later turned into “Moo’s Camp,” a gathering site where urban families can experience village life in a farmer’s home. The sixth gold, biogas, has not yet been introduced due to technical issues. In  2008, this project introduced Ara to Ashoka Youth Venture at the age of 11. Ara says she learned a significant amount about the hardships and challenges from the villagers and the unrealized potential in the village. She also learned that change didn't happen until every villager bought in to the idea and started their own initiative. “The villagers, for example, excitedly decorated their home, realizing how a minor improvement could bring visitors and generate income,” she recalled. This experience led Ara to pursue a degree in marketing and management in Singapore. Later, back in Indonesia, Ara has repurposed her experience into a new venture, a travel-learning project URTravelearner (www.urtravelearner.com). Her early experience creating change gave her the confidence to know she could do it again and lead change. Ara said, “From 'Project Moo' I found my passion for being an integrator, aligning everyone’s interest for the benefit of all.” Ara’s travel-learning experience also allowed her to get involved with Spedagi Bamboo Bike, a village revitalization movement. Bamboo, abundantly available and often overlooked, is a symbol of how resources are often overlooked and taken for granted by villagers. With a bit of design, bamboo bikes aim to transform poor villages into self-sufficient communities. “Despite doing different things, I realize that basically I’m following the same process: how to communicate and encourage others, to understand the situation, to find solutions together, and to aim for the greater good," she said. "In principle, how to overcome challenges by developing local potential. And that’s what a changemaker does.”
It is not everyday you hear about young children questioning the status quo, revolutionizing the automobile industry, or filing for patents at age 13. But they’re out there, and this is the story of one. Today, Param Jaggi is a 23-year-old entrepreneur and social activist. He is the founder of Hatch, a simple and user-friendly app creation company. But to get here, his changemaker journey started when he was a teenager. Since growing up in Plano, Texas, Param was infatuated with technology. He filled his free time with taking electronics apart, exploring their construction, and rebuilding them. At just 13 years of age, he created EcoTube, an automobile attachment that reduces the carbon emissions from car exhaust. Unsatiated with discovery and innovation, Param continued his exploration in the automobile industry and sustainable development sector. For Param, these afternoon activities were just fun ways to spend his time. He didn’t start to understand the potential of his knowledge until professors and professionals in the industry began reaching out to him and offering advice and guidance. The tangible support and communication coming from the ‘adult world’ was a turning point in his Changemaker journey. Param states that this “positive affirmation” is what helped him understand the power he had to dream, lead, and take action. He then truly began to internalize that “the things I can build and create can do social good.” This realization inspired him to compete in science fairs, apply and win in a variety of competitions, and begin studying Mechanical Engineering and Economics at Vanderbilt University. As a freshman at Vanderbilt University, Param was selected as a finalist for Ashoka Youth Venture’s event Banking on Youth. Across the country, six finalists were chosen to attend a national conference in Washington, D.C. where their ideas were pitched to Ashoka Fellows and community members. “I remember that moment specifically, sitting with and listening to Bill Drayton, [CEO of Ashoka], someone I really looked up to, because that whole moment reinforced to me that more people are out there doing what I’m doing”. Param reflects that sharing his passion and innovation to a room of adults was perplexing because it was a unique experience of adults actually listening to, and not stepping on, his ideas. Even though Param did not win the event that day, the opportunity propelled his career forward. He received a $1,000 seed grant from Ashoka’s Youth Venture to continue his efforts which he remembers really got him on his feet. “Before, I was just going to Home Depot with my own money, but the grant funding really got me going”. What also fueled Param to keep leading and innovating were the connections and friendships made with like-minded changemakers. The six finalists from the Youth Venture event were chosen because of similar entrepreneurial instincts related to empathy, leadership, teamwork, and creative-problem solving. Connectedness, and creatively collaboration with others remain essential components for discovering a dream, forming a team, and leading positive change that serves the many, not the few. In order for communities to thrive, today’s world of constant change and disruption demands the cultivation of young leaders and collaborators who master empathy and changemaking early in life. Param recounts that he still keeps in touch with the other finalists, and that a changemaker community like this truly reinforces that he “was not alone”.   After two and a half more years, Param decided to leave college and explore the world by his own means. He explained that “I was already spending 90% of my time outside of the classroom learning and building,” and yearned to explore areas of the world he had never been to. After a few months of traveling, exploring his passions, Param started his next big project. Param is now the CEO of Hatch, an easily accessible program that is building online applications without coding. Using mobile technology is critical in supporting the scaling of changemaker ideas and innovations in today’s digitized world. But not all changemakers and innovators are experts at mobile tech or app development, which means there are tech barriers limiting the world from connecting with great ideas and solutions. To address this, Hatch democratizes technology by removing the barrier to app and website creation for socially driven organizations and aspiring changemakers. Through his model, Param is leveraging technology to serve and empower the many, and not the few. Alongside being the CEO of his own company and sitting on several advisory boards, Param still finds time to mentor, educate, and inspire young changemakers to follow their dreams by connecting a passion with a problem, and being resilient in their changemaker pursuits. “I want them to realize that they are not alone” and that “if you want to do something different, you have to have grit because you are going against the grain.” To learn more about Param’s work and journey, write to him here. Ways to engage further: Read more about Param’s journey. Param, in his own words, shares with Youth Venture how he overcame fear and doubt to unleash his inner changemaker to the world Share your #LeadYoung changemaker story with Ashoka’s Youth Venture, and we may publish it!  Engage with Ashoka’s Youth Venture team and #LeadYoung to explore ways for you, your school, or company to integrate changemaker skills and culture into your community! 

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