India – Incredible lesson from the “poor”

Social innovation is an important policy dimension in addressing unmet social needs, with poverty alleviation being one of the focused areas in many parts of the world. In 2011, I went to India with a group of volunteers from Hong Kong and learned an incredible lesson from the people we met in one of the poorest areas of Mumbai.

Like many international volunteers, we had prepared many “gifts” to share with the children there. Our main purpose was to visit a community organization called the OSCAR Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering children and youth in low-income communities in India using football as a tool.

Located in one of the slums of Mumbai, the children from the OSCAR Foundation were friendly, passionate, and inspiring. They also taught us an important lesson when we chatted with them, which reshaped my understanding of poverty alleviation works and inspired me to work on my later initiatives on youth development.

“Despite the fact that you might think we are poor, we are happy with what we have. You don’t need to think about what you can give us, but just treat us as your new friend, then it is already good enough.”

While many of us might think that “volunteering” is about giving out, these Indian children inspired me to rethink the values of international volunteerism. It is not just about what we can give them temporarily, but about building a friendship in the first place. From there, we might be able to contribute more, but it is okay to end there, instead of creating unnecessary expectations and false hopes for the children.

It also made me reflect on the ways of poverty alleviation. Instead of telling the children what to do to escape the poverty cycle, perhaps the most important thing is to give them hope, the hope that a better condition would be achieved with their efforts. In this regard, the founder of OSCAR Foundation – Ashok Shankar Rathod, was a role model and an inspiring case.

Like the children, Ashok was born and raised in one of the slums of Mumbai, but this didn’t stop him from dreaming big. His work at the OSCAR Foundation has not only changed the lives of other children but also won him several significant awards, including being invited as a TEDx speaker and other international conferences, as well as other recognitions and partnerships that further levelled up his work.

Over the past decade, they have trained more than 12,000 children and youth in India, impacting many lives by setting up a role model and sharing a sense of hope.

The inspiring story of Ashok Shankar Rathod and the OSCAR Foundation demonstrates that with the right approach and vision, it is possible to tackle poverty and empower communities. To make a sustainable and lasting impact, we need more leaders like Ashok who are passionate, dedicated, and committed to social innovation. It is crucial to support and empower these leaders by providing them with the necessary resources, skills, and networks to scale up their initiatives and create even greater social impact. By working together and supporting social innovators like Ashok, we can create a more equitable and inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.