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Mrida: A new-age startup bringing hope to India's villages

Written by: Ahamad Fuwad New Delhi 31 Aug 2017, 17:27:32 PM IST
Ahamad Fuwad

Growing urbanisation and lack of opportunities in rural parts of India has led to a consistent rise in the number of people migrating from villages to cities. While various reasons can be attributed to this large-scale migration, the lack of relative growth in rural India is surely one of them. 

With nearly 70 per cent of the country's population still living in rural areas, villages still do not get their deserved share of attention.

Despite efforts, successive governments have somewhere fallen short of expectations as far as rural growth goes. Even the corporate, that otherwise spend millions as part of the now mandatory CSR, fail to view rural India as attractive enough as a market yet.

All that and more can change, especially with the entrepreneurial wave that has hit India in recent years. New age startups, armed with innovative thinking, and a desire to bring change have the potential to fill the void that government initiatives and businesses strategies have left for the necessities of rural India. 

Once such startup is "Mrida” - a new-age entity that works only with underserved rural communities which by and large have been forgotten and neglected even as the rest of the country progresses. Mrida, Sanskrit for ‘Soil’, focuses on sustainable development, as opposed to grants or charity and partners with leading business houses to help them in their CSR initiatives.

Co-Founded by Arun Nagpal in February 2014, Mrida has worked on a variety of initiatives with individuals, village level entrepreneurs, self-help-groups, rural communities, and Corporate entities.

Nagpal says he set up the organisation after seeing extreme poverty in some remote areas of the country. The contrast in the living standards of people in those areas which he describes as “another India in India” was what he claims motivated him to work in the rural sector. 

An alumnus of the Institute of Management – IIM, Calcutta, Nagpal worked in corporate sector before taking a plunge into the social sector.

Mrida claims that it already has over 40 projects on-ground, with many in remote, difficult-to-access areas and with underserved communities. The projects, it says, provide energy access, facilitate education, and are an important tool for women empowerment and facilitating livelihood opportunities and improving agricultural yield. 

Realising the need of energy access as a tool for sustainable rural development, Mrida helps remote villages get villages not connected to the electricity grid. 

“Despite the best intention of the Government approximately 200 million people in India lack access to energy today, and depend primarily on kerosene for their lighting requirement. We decided to use energy access to be a tool for development and weave the net of our key development initiatives such as education, livelihoods, women’s empowerment, and so on around it,” Nagpal says. 

Mrida has also distributed battery operated e-Rickshaws to bring accessibility in rural areas and create livelihoods. Its awareness drives on health, hygiene and sanitation, education programme, women's self-help groups and community engagement initiatives have also made a difference in rural area, the group says. 

Through Mrida Greens & Organics Pvt. Ltd, the group supports cultivation and collection of high value crops, plants and herbs, and promotes healthy products and traditional Indian medicine to the consumer, while ensuring remunerative prices and sustainable livelihoods for small and marginal rural communities.

It has also sought to build distribution channels for products such as atta, cake mixes, cookies and healthy snacks. Through these distribution channels, Mrida aims to bring products from the heart of rural India and help create employment and means of earning livelihood for rural population.

The start-up has partnered with companies like Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS), Hero Motors Group (AG Industries and Rockman Industries), Mahindra & Mahindra, Reliance Foundation, for integrated CSR initiatives. The start-up says that it is currently engaged in active discussions with others in this regard.

Nagpal says his organization has not faced any problem in bringing on-board corporate partners for their projects.

“As an organisation we have not faced any problem whatsoever in convincing them to partner with us because we have implemented several projects on ground before we approach them or vice versa for project execution. We believe that our projects were our biggest endorsement and when the corporates saw Mrida’s work, quite a few of them were interested in deploying their CSR funds into the effort,” he told India TV.

Tahtajpur village in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh is one of the success stories of the Mrida Group. 

The organization, with the help of IL&FS, has powered the households in the village with 240 Watt DC Micro grids. The group says it has also established its first Mrida E-Hub, a package of education, entertainment and e-Commerce facilities under one roof, in Tahtajpur. 

Nagpal, however, says the challenges lie in establishing credibility with the target audience and convincing them to be a part of Mrida’s projects. 

“The most uphill task in the entire scenario was and still is that after successfully implementing so many projects, to instil the feeling among the village folks that they have to be part of this journey and they should be equal partner in this initiative.” 

Today the scenario where subsidies have often been generous it is sometimes very difficult to convince them that ‘nothing comes free’. “Some commitment – financial as well as engagement or effort-wise, must come from the beneficiaries themselves,” he concludes.