The world needs many Entrepreneurs who are essential drivers of innovation and progress. Today, the media only reports about startups that raise crores of rupees in funding every year but largely ignores people who work with passion for the greater good, to make a difference. Meet Kamal Nayak, a social entrepreneur and founder of Charity Cake and Good Universe. HatkeStory had the pleasure to interview Kamal and his passion towards his cause is nothing short of an inspiration.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I am basically from Orissa. I finished BSc in Animation from Bangalore, Karnataka and Bachelors in Social Work form Osmania and I am a Gold medalist too. I came to Hyderabad to make a career in the field of film making. I joined a company but quit after 8 months when I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Many of my family members are in Govt. jobs, so given that I was a good student in school, they wanted me to follow the same legacy. However, my mind has always drifted towards the creative universe since childhood. I loved to write. I wanted to do something creative and engineering was not my forte. I used to travel all across Orissa to recite my poetry at poem stage programs.
How did you go from Digital Film making to Social work?
After quitting my job, I worked for a year at an NGO to train people on impact of chewing tobacco and alcoholism. I started to love what I was doing and decided to get better educated on social issues. I joined Osmania for a Bachelors program in Social Work in 2013. I travelled to around 25 NGOs and learnt their organization structure. My 2nd year in college was life changing. I was placed at a slum in Hyderabad for 1 year to study their lifestyle.
I still remember, the first day I entered the slum, I saw a huge stinking open drainage, right next to which a family of rag pickers was living. A small child was sitting on top of a rag and eating while the mother was cooking. They were living a very unhealthy life, totally unaware of the harmful effects of piles of trash and constant exposure to open sewage. I was disturbed and went back to college and spoke to my friends. We needed to do something about it and teach them basic hygiene like washing hands after going to the loo and before having food.
How difficult was it to reach out to these slum dwellers?
Though we took an initiative, slum people in general will not accept your presence there. So, we slowly started making contact with them and developed a rapport with the community. While visiting their houses, I discovered that the women were reusing a dirty cloth to deal with menstruation. But, talking about menstruation is a taboo and very troublesome in India. Thus, we had to take a careful approach to educate women without making them uncomfortable.
What is Charity Cake?
In 2016, we started an initiative called Charity Cake. After thorough analysis, I came to know that children in the slums go to work instead of school because monetary benefit makes more sense to them. It brings food to the table every day for the entire family. They worked for the whole day and made around 150 rupees. So I had to do something to make them self-sufficient and skilled at the same time.
The Food industry was booming in Hyderabad back then. I invested some money and hired a good Baker to teach a batch of 9 underprivileged youngsters. I was paying them 200 rupees per day to attend the classes, so they attended without complaining. I assured them they would earn 500 or more if they put their skills to use. After a month, I noticed that they were making amazing and tasty cakes. So I slowly purchased a big oven, set up a place and within no time we were selling 25 delicious cakes per day. Thanks to my social contacts, we used to sell these cakes to cafeterias in corporate companies and renowned establishments in Hyderabad. As all the money earned was going to charity, we called it Charity Cake.
Tell us about Good Universe.
Good Universe is a society of social workers, professionals, health care specialists and young likeminded people. Registered under the AP society act, we started our journey in 2014 & have been working closely with local communities in and around Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
We believe that investing in Health is essential to build viable communities. We also recognize that in order to improve the health standards, our initiatives must target both the care seekers and care providers. We empower women in informal and formal settlement communities by helping them to become a catalyst of change in their own right. We also collaborate with existing Public health systems and health care providers to create sustainable improvements in public.
My team and I started travelling across Andhra Pradesh to conduct programs on menstrual hygiene, cervical cancer and breast cancer awareness. We also started a program called “Green Talk” to help make communities sustainable and green. We also talk about domestic violence and help women in knowing their rights. Doctors are passionate, authentic and don’t take a penny for the medical camps we conduct. They help a great deal in educating the slum people.
How tough was it to talk to women on taboo topics such as menstruation?
Men ought to understand women in times of their menstrual cycle. You will develop nothing but respect for them, once you come to know what they go through every month. We are slowly encouraging men to talk about women’s health. Did you know that sanitary pads take more than 500 years to decompose? With millions of women throwing them every day, it sure is an environmental burden. We researched and found that the municipality workers segregate this waste with their bare hands without wearing gloves.
Therefore, we encourage women to use menstrual cups which are more environment friendly instead of sanitary pads. Cups can be cleaned and reused. We first tested the cups within our team and women found them comfortable. So, we started a campaign called green period and distributed 1000 menstrual cups free of cost to educate women. We even have a dedicated helpline number to ensure every question is answered. We plan to create a huge community in Hyderabad where women can learn from each other. We have reached 11,990 adolescent women across Andhra and Telangana.
I must thank my Good universe family for their dedicated effort to make things happen and create positive change in the society. Cheers to my team!
Can you share about your fellowship with United Nations?
I applied for the United Nations Local Pathway fellowship. 40 people from all over the world are selected and I was fortunately one of them. My sustainable goal through this fellowship is Goal 3, good health and wellbeing, Goal 5, Gender and Goal 11, sustainable cities. My program will go for 12 months and if they find my work on par with their expectation, they will fund future projects. I was also invited for AYESS summit in Nigeria. I am a global shaper at World economic forum.
How has your journey transformed you as an individual?
I was so conscious about my body, hair, branded apparels earlier. Now it’s so different. I consciously made some choices and life is so much better now, I don’t claim, I am living a sustainable life but yes much conscious and will achieve it soon. I don’t worry about it much. Some of my friends are uncomfortable that I work for the cause of women health and menstrual hygiene but that is the gap I want to fill.
In 2017, we were awarded the social achiever award for the work we did in the area of women’s health. Unfortunately, even today Social workers are looked down upon and people do not see the bigger picture. I am sure this will change with time. Everything we do at Good Universe is designed to deliver towards Sustainable goals. While the Goals are broad, the need is imperative and the potential for change high – provided we all play a role.
The Story of Kamal Nayak teaches us one thing:
You have to believe in yourself to make it happen!