Ever imagine giving up city life (in the heart of London!) and relocating to an isolated village deep in the hills, where even electricity and roads are a luxury? Not many people can do it. I certainly couldn’t! But one particular woman – Saritha Thomas – has made this arduous journey from London to Uttarakhand, with the sole intent of achieving independence and empowerment of rural communities! Who is this gutsy Social Entrepreneur, and what does she do? Read on to find out.
Community Radio – a quick background
Radio was a part of my childhood (and perhaps yours too?) I remember our family tuning into radio every day, even during rushed school mornings. One niche area of radio is ‘Community Radio’ – radio fully owned and managed by the local community that it serves. In cities, Community Radio (CR) might not be popular, however in villages, CR assumes great significance. Villages and less empowered areas in India and across the world obviously do not have access to the mind-boggling medium that we call the Internet. Mobile networks are more prevalent in India, even in rural areas. This is where Community Radio stations can come handy. Villagers can create programs that address issues that directly impact them, not just entertain but also educate and thereby empower.
But where do they go to build their own radio station? Radio stations cost money, licensing procedure and other long-winded formalities. But once a Community Radio station is set up and is fully operational, the benefits to the community are both immediate and enormous!
Achieving Independence at the Grassroots level 66 years later!
This is what Saritha Thomas, Founder/Director of People’s Power Collective is trying to achieve through her NGO. With a fantastic background of 13 years in Radio (including the BBC), Saritha gave up her regular industry job, undertook a program at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in London and subsequently founded People’s Power (Participatory Ownership Empowerment) Collective, a charity that works towards setting up a community owned radio station from scratch. Saritha’s aim is three-fold:
- Stay on the field (Uttarakhand being her first project) with her team, undertake extensive ground-work in order to set up the radio station from scratch (including licensing, etc)
- Train the local community in technical and functional aspects of running the radio station, including how to record and air programs, thereby helping them achieve true Independence
- Empower the community by helping them find their voice!
Saritha and team were infact on the field in Prithviraj Nagar, during the recent Uttarakhand disaster caused by unprecedented rains in June 2013. They were in the process of research and recording programs when rains battered the villages and caused massive devastation. Team PPC stayed on the field, and supported the community battle nature’s fury. One can’t help but think, if the Community Radio station was already in place, the villagers could have perhaps been forewarned about the calamity that was about to strike them. Or atleast have continuous and accurate information about the extent of damage and accessibility of relief camps!
A special salute on Independence Day
While Saritha and team help the community at Uttarakhand build their lives again, I would like to take this opportunity to salute my friend, this strong woman who has indeed sacrificed so much, so she can achieve her dreams for empowerment of communities in rural India.
Being an entrepreneur is not for the light-hearted. Being a social entrepreneur is an even bigger challenge as personal gains or profits are not the driving force here. What keeps the spirit of People’s Power Collective alive is the passion and commitment towards the cause of Empowerment and Independence itself. One can easily see how passionate Saritha is about her selfless dream to build a Community Radio station. I have worked with her closely over the last year, and can vouch for a fact she is incredibly passionate about what she is doing in Uttarakhand.
What started off as a little idea in Saritha’s mind, has now taken shape and is throbbing and pulsating in a rural village, waiting to unleash its power across the community in a way they never imagined would impact them.
To put it simply, as Saritha says, People’s Power Collective is ‘helping 150000 people find a voice’. This community radio station project will generate employment in the local villages and will help build technical skills and confidence of even the vast illiterate sections of the community. Having their own radio station would mean they connect with each other in a more structured and effective way.
To me, this voice of empowerment is the sign of real Independence.
So here’s a special salute to the woman behind this lesser known cause. Here’s to an highly talented and admirable Social Entrepreneur – Saritha Thomas. More power to you, Saritha (People’s Power Collective).