Jeroo Billimoria

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1998


This profile was prepared when Jeroo Billimoria was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Since pay phones are as ubiquitous as working children in the streets of Indian cities, Jeroo Billimoria is bringing the two together in a program to provide ready communication and support linkages to the country's more than 48 million street children. Jeroo has demonstrated and refined the model in the city of Mumbai (Bombay) and now aims to replicate it nationally.

Childline can be accessed free through a toll-free number, 1098, from Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the monopoly government telecom agency. Childline divides a city into geographical zones. An incoming call is routed to the zone closest to the caller through facilities provided by MTNL. The Childline phones are located in partner service organizations' facilities. Trained volunteer street children take the calls and make the link to relevant services. The volunteer on the line meets the street child and takes the necessary follow-up steps or refers the caller to a support organization enlisted by Childline in the zone.

In two years, Childline has attended to over 10,000 calls and directly provided assistance to over 3,750 children in Mumbai. The national ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment has taken up Childline and will spread its net across the country as a government program.

For Jeroo, Childline does not stop at being an emergency helpline. "Children need systems that are inclusive and driven by them, systems that will enable them to respond to their feelings and needs at any time," she says. Childline is, therefore, sensitizing its collateral agencies – police, hospitals, city municipal corporations, and health care systems – to respond to and develop support interventions for children in difficult situations. These are official systems that themselves often bear violently on the lives of street children in India.

Childline is also documenting its experiences, monitoring its day-to-day management systems, and collating the information into a database on issues related to street children in distress. A crucial engagement of Childline in this area will be to define a best practice map of successful interventions.

Thus Jeroo is bringing together players from across sectors in a service-delivery and advocacy model that benefits all: with telephone in hand, street children can reach out and support each other and create a self-help peerage; nongovernmental organizations have access to a low-cost system that addresses one of the most frustrating aspects of their job – being at the right place at the right time; and the government partners with citizens in a consultative and collaborative process to protect the rights of the child, thus playing out an active role as signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


Featured in How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein (2007, Updated)

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