This IIM graduate helped 35,000 farmers by selling their vegetables
When he graduated from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, in 2007, instead of going for a well-paying job abroad, 26-year-old Kaushlendra Kumar went back home to Bihar to help ameliorate the plight of farmers. With that aim, Kaushlendra started the NGO Kaushalya Foundation with his brother. Over a decade later, the duo is helping over 35,000 farmers sell their produce.
Kaushlendra grew up in Mahammadpur, Siwan district
Speaking to The Better India, Kaushlendra, now 38, revealed how the desire to help the impoverished set in early. Born in Mahammadpur, Kaushlendra was sent to school 50 kms away in Nawada, where he noticed that some of his schoolmates would stay away from their homes at school, as their families couldn't afford to feed them. Those kids relied on government-funded education and accommodation.
Kaushlendra earned gold medal in IIM-A final year
A son of government school teachers, Kaushlendra attained a B.Tech degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Junagadh, and then an MBA degree in Agri-business management from IIM-Ahmedabad, earning a gold medal in the final year.
Working with farmers, he realized government initiatives missed broad view
Notably, in 2003, when Kaushlendra briefly worked as a trainee field officer at a firm manufacturing drip irrigation systems in Andhra Pradesh, he figured out how to help farmers. He told TBI, "Several initiatives across the country are helping farmers through solar energy provision or getting the farmers' markets online. I noticed these are isolated programs but they don't make a farmer completely independent."
In 2007, Kaushlendra, his brother, founded 'Kaushalya Foundation'
Kaushlendra planned to integrate the benefits from several government schemes and in 2007, he founded the Kaushalya Foundation with his brother, Dhirendra Kumar, in a rented room. Initially, farmers were reluctant to participate, but Kaushlendra realized they'd stay hesitant until they see results. The duo took loans to purchase 30 AC Mobile Vegetable Vending Carts and partnered with vendors to sell produce.
'We ran in losses, but success was around the corner'
"It wasn't long before the farmers could see the advantages of our initiatives," he told TBI. "Although we were running in losses, success was just around the corner. It doesn't matter how many farmers we impacted. It mattered how sustainable our impact was."
Kaushalya Foundation raises Rs. 5cr annual funds
Additionally, they also started a program, Knids Green Private Limited (KGPL), to ensure farmers get their rightful income. Program Manager at Kaushalya Foundation, Avinash Kumar, told TBI that KGPL assisted with landing partnerships with vendors, negotiating deals to exclusively purchase the NGO's produce. They raised annual funds of Rs. 5cr, Kumar added. Meanwhile, Kaushalya worked towards organizing farmers and training them to be entrepreneurs.
How tractor lessons drove rural women to get an education
To highlight how their methodology differs from government schemes, Kaushlendra recalled an incident where farmers were paranoid their local banker was hoarding their money. He identified illiteracy as the problem, but since 90% of the women in the village were illiterate, they were reluctant towards education. So, the NGO started tractor lessons for women to help boost confidence, and eventually, get them to study.
Customized, long-term solutions the way to go
Kaushlendra told TBI that the NGO works towards providing customized, long-term solutions, through a grassroots-level understanding of the community. Thus far, they have managed to reach 35,000 farmer households across Bihar. The Kaushalya Foundation has helped set up five Mandis across the state where farmers directly sell their produce, eliminating middle-men. Now, they're even giving entrepreneurship training 10th/12th graduates, so local businesses could flourish.