[ILO 8th SSE Academy]: Micro X Foundation

Category: 
Southeast Asia
Class: 
Social enterprise

 

Mayank Jain - MicroX Foundation 

‘MicroX Foundation” was started by fellows who have experiences in community building, rural development, sustainable agriculture and technology applications in agricultural sectors.. The mission of the organization is to improving profitability of farmers by training them in sustainable farming, agricultural technologies, and assisting them to form producers’ cooperatives. To achieve these goals, there is a team comprises of highly qualified and experienced staffs in the field of soil testing, horticulture practices, vermiculture & vermi-based products, and agri-product market accesses.. The team has been trying to improve profitability of agriculture by providing end-to-end solutions (right from field to market) to farmers. For this, they have been carrying out several projects as below.

- Main source:

•PROJECT ONION: Co-run with the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR), this project is about helping people believe agriculture can be a profitable business. The foundation engaged more than 1500 farmers to produce  10,000 ton of export quality of onions. Through the projects empowering to women and training program is carrying out for farmers.

•PROJECT VERMI: The foundation installed vermi-beds (which have the capacity to process animal waste in the cattle sheds) for high-quality Vermicompost, which can be applied in agricultural fields for excellent yield. The project is helpful to look for ways of building a comprehensive business model.

•PROJECT GRIHA LAKSHMI: A program which directs women to economic empowerment and independence. MicroX Foundation currently helps more than 125 enterprising women from 7 villages to cultivate and sell papayas and pumpkins so that they can generate higher incomes.

•RAINBOW GARDENING: A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) rooftop gardening approach that can cater to basic nutritional needs of families, ensuring their well-being and also an environment that is sustainable.

GSEF interviewed Mayank Jain, the co-founder of the MicroX Foundation who participated in the GSEF’s Global Youth Camp for SSE last August in Korea as an enthusiastic participant. He has been playing a role in initiatives that are aiming to enhance the access to universal health care, sanitation and agricultural resources to those in need..

We interviewed him to find more out his activities, andorganization. Also, to discuss about the problems which are faced by young people from the perspectives of the youth, and the possibility of SSE for them.

 

Q. What is the social purpose of the agency in which you are working, and what is the business model to achieve its mission?

MicroX Foundation’s mission is to alleviate poverty in farming communities through value-added agriculture for better economic rewards. Our current aim is to devise a model that will ensure sustainable and recurring incomes (for farmers) through activities like apiculture, vermiculture and pisciculture. In other words, we want to generate a sustainable source of incomes for farming communities.

At every step of our quest, we try to ensure that farmers are earning profits, and in return we recoup some of our operating costs. We don’t envision ourselves as a grant-driven organization. Presently, we recoup 30% of our program costs through activities like rooftop farming, sales of quality products, retail marketing of farm produce, and more. And as we gradually move toward value-added agriculture, we intend to establish a profit-sharing model for stakeholders – that is, the producers, extension service providers, and market intelligence folks.

Q. What are the challenges facing young people in their region now, and what are the possibilities of SSE in dealing with the problem?

I have been quite fortunate in that I have experienced both rural and urban India (I was born in an urban region and spent the first 25 years of my life there before relocating to a completely unfamiliar place 1,000 km away, a small rural village in Bihar). The youth of both rural and urban regions face many challenges, but I feel the most common challenge is the high rate of unemployment. Mental health and well-being issues have surfaced as serious topics as well.

Agriculture makes up 76% of the economy of Bihar, which is where I work. But there is no longer hope in agriculture – it has turned into a career of despair. Those working in this industry are not guaranteed a fair standard of living; even their basic needs are not met. The average monthly income for farmers in India is less than USD 100.

For me personally, the concept of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) is quite new. Yes, the concept of social enterprise does exist in India, and it forms an important part of the SSE ecosystem. But SSE is much broader. Anyway, through reading, observing and interacting, I tried my best to know more about the SSE and now I believe it will play a key role in tackling the many problems facing us today.

Q. What is the worth and rewarding of the activities?

If we support each other and help each other to grow and share, we can also address the problem of disconnection and poor mental health in the community. And it can come back as a social reward too. So the SSE would be very relevant here.

Since starting work, my health has not been what it was before, and from this, I learnt that your health is like a glass ball: once it is gone, it never returns. As a kind of preventative healthcare, I started focusing on food. But while researching about the food system, I came to realize that our food and agriculture system has already been destroyed. The conclusion I arrived at, was that the problems of high healthcare costs, the degrading environment and social disparity can only be solved by fixing this broken system.

Through this work, I have been able to impact more than 1,000 lives, and that has been my greatest reward. My governing principles in life are to be empathetic and cherish human connections. Financial reward is important, yes. But it is secondary (though it does not mean that I necessarily ignore it). But if I can make someone smile, then I am more than contents. Looking back, it has been a rewarding journey, both personally and professionally. Giving up your privileges is the first step to a new journey, and I am proud of myself for that. Overall, it has been a journey of introspection, development as a human being, crisis management.. And there has been acknowledgements and appreciations from different corners professionally as well. We have been identified as one of the 20 fastest growing Not-For-Profits by the Nudge Foundation, and as one of the 21 Nation Builders of the Year 2016-2017 by the Vision India Foundation. I have also been invited by various organizations to speak. Some of our achievements include:

• Winner of the 2016-2017 India Youth Fund (supported by UN-Habitat)

• Selected as one of the 20 Not-for-Profit Enterprises as part of the N/Core accelerator program N/Core-alpha, April 2017

• Invited to speak at Jagriti Yatra, Nalanda phase, January 2017

• Partnership with ATMA Gaya, NHM (Government body)

Q. What are the difficulties in current activities and the points where support needed?

Personally, I still have many challenges ahead of me as well as expectations arising from them. But the most important thing is a smooth management. This starts by prioritizing. When I chose to move to a place that was completely unfamiliar, things did not go so well between me and my family. But while they worried about my financial security, they have been my greatest support and source of strength. Looking back, the journey has been filled with peer pressure of uncertainty and dynamism like a roller-coaster ride. No one talks about the emotional costs of being an entrepreneur, or the challenges and setbacks that come with it. The journey of mental agony is even less talked about. Sometimes it is even more difficult to keep yourself motivated.

While building the DNA of your organization, there are many added responsibilities that cannot be overlooked. To establish yourself, you need to create trust among the stakeholders, and handle the promises and expectations of team members. The development sector inherently has an illusion: if you make mistakes, then you may end up roaming around in a kurta with a bag on your shoulder, with no income.

Legal compliance is also very important, in building trust with your donors and other institutions. Then due to the current lack of understanding about the ecosystem of development space, government support is also needed. After all, the government has the ultimate authority when it comes to agriculture. Finally, we always need financial support to address our financial needs, as we are still setting up our system.

Q. What did you learn or earn from the camp?

During this Global Youth Camp for Social and Solidarity Economy, I came to experience a lot and felt many emotions. What I realized was that everyone everywhere is facing similar problems. Personally as well, I interacted with a lot of participants and got to learn from their perspectives, too. For example, prior to this event I had never given thoughts to housing and decent jobs. Bringing diverse people together on a single platform under limited time is a chaotic process, but the result is beautiful. And that was exactly what I experienced at this camp.

** If you want to learn more about the latest business of MicroX Foundation, please refer to the below attachment

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