Story of AROH Foundation: A child’s dream empowering the nation
“AROH, an acronym for ‘A Ray of Hope’, is the fulfillment of a dream which I saw when I was just a child studying in school” – these are the words of Dr Neelam Gupta, the current president and CEO of AROH Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation working towards empowering poor and marginalized communities.
On a cold December morning, on my way to school, I saw a poor little girl on the roadside, shivering in the cold, wearing a torn, thin cotton shirt.
Moved by her condition, I gave her the woollen sweater I was wearing.
On my way to school the next day, I met the same girl again, without the sweater and shivering in the cold. When I asked her about the sweater, she said that her father took it away to sell it off for some money, as they had nothing to eat.
This very incident triggered Dr Neelam Gupta to set up a social venture to help the poor and needy how to ‘fish and fend for themselves’.
Neelam is currently the president and CEO of AROH Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation working towards empowering poor and marginalised communities through well-designed programmes in the area of education, skill development, sustainable livelihood, health and sanitation in India.
The fight for others
Entrepreneurship is difficult, but social entrepreneurship is more challenging.
As per Neelam, the first and biggest challenge came from her parents, who asked her to drop the ‘stupid idea’, take up a job, and get married.
Despite all odds, she started AROH, an acronym for ‘A Ray of Hope’. The organisation aims to uplift the country’s poor and underprivileged people and provide equal opportunities for growth and development to as many poor people as possible.
“My parents found it absolutely stupid to think of charity when we could barely survive with my father’s meagre salary. I was asked to achieve financial stability and wait for the right moment to give wings to my dream,” said Neelam.
Being a woman can be doubly challenging in our society. “I also passed through several challenging phases before I could start AROH Foundation. I got married, and my career took a back seat. My family was sceptical about the scope and future of an NGO,” she added.
Neelam decided to become financially independent, set up a printing and publishing business, and ran it for about ten years.
She said, “However, I felt that time was running out. The new millennium had started. I could wait no longer and registered AROH Foundation as a charitable society in 2001. I took up some research studies in fields like Primary and Secondary Education, Minority Education, Gender Parity, Female Feticide, Girls’ Education, Women Empowerment, etc.
“But I was not happy with only the research work. I wanted to work for people at the grassroots, which was my purpose in setting up AROH,” she added.
Ups and lows
Back in February 2009, Neelam applied to MoRD (Ministry of Rural Development) for a project under the Swarn Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna. The project had an objective to remove poverty from 7000 households in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. I was praying hard to get this opportunity which could be a landmark project for AROH.
“I was on the verge of shutting down AROH when in February 2009, I received the approval for the project. That was the beginning of the first chapter of AROH,” Neelam said.
“While we thought our days of struggle were over, other challenges were waiting in the pipeline. The sanction order for the project got delayed. Without money, it was becoming impossible to survive. We did not receive any funds till the end of 2009,” she added.
With the start of the first SGSY project, AROH could establish itself as a social organization working towards poverty reduction through skill development programs and job placement for the rural poor. After proving ourselves with the first project, AROH got several more in the series.
During its journey, AROH Foundation has touched millions of lives through its various programs. Women’s empowerment has been a cross-cutting theme and focuses in all its endeavours. The Foundation has impacted the lives of more than one lakh women through various interventions.
Economic empowerment of India’s youth is a must to reap our rich demographic dividend. AROH Foundation has trained and employed youth and engaged them in jobs and self-employment.
AROH Foundation has been recognized nationally and internationally for its significant contribution to the social sector in India.
The future of the AROH Foundation is no more just what I dream and plan, but it now carries the dreams of all the employees and beneficiaries of the Foundation. The future plan also comprises issues which need immediate thought and action for the wholesome development of the marginalized sections of society.
“With its experience, expertise and learning of nearly two decades, AROH has a robust roadmap to establish itself as the largest NGO in its outreach nationally and internationally. I feel proud to establish AROH as a creditable institution scaling new heights and working for the empowerment of the poor,” Neelam concluded.