Concerned by the plight of poverty in his community in India, Aviral Gupta decided to take action.
Inspired by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus' work in Bangladesh, Aviral recognised the power of micro-financing to help those on or below the poverty line. Micro-financing is one of the biggest success stories in the developing world in the last 30 years. After a bit of research and a little financial help from one of his university lecturers, Aviral was able to get his project off the ground, supporting women in a small community in Makkawala; his research had revealed that it was the women in these communities who were more responsible when offered small loans and that the men tended to squander the money on alcohol or gambling.
His first loan went to a group of women who used the money to manufacture cloth bags. "The bags became a big hit at my school," says Aviral. "But I realised that the women would need to widen their market if the business was to succeed."
What he hadn't anticipated was the age discrimination he would face along the way. Having visited more than a hundred shops in Dehradun to market the bags not one shop keeper was willing to buy. "They said they didn't feel comfortable buying from someone half their age," Aviral explains.
Surprised but not deterred by this, he set about changing his product to something new that would still be appealing to the students who had already bought the bags. He figured he could find other ways to utilise his existing market whilst trying to overcome this apparent age barrier. "I bought some wool for the women, so they could make mufflers for the students," says Aviral. Like the bags, the mufflers were a big hit with his 500-strong student market.
Aviral has been working on the project for over a year now, and with great results. The women now feel a sense of hope about their future, says Aviral. "I feel so happy that I have been able to help these women and I know I have made a positive difference to their lives."
His enterprising skills have also left a positive impact on the school and the community; many of the students are interested in taking part in the project and schools in other communities have expressed interest in collaborating with Aviral and his team.
"The lessons learnt from this project are lessons for life," he says. "I have learnt things that you cannot learn from a classroom, like how to gain people's trust and also to live up to it and respect it."
Talking to people outside of his 'privileged' community has made him a better person, he says. "Seeing people's reactions, anticipating their replies and facing failures at times has made me more worldly-wise. Above all, though, this project has taught me to believe in myself and to see that anything is possible in this world."