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Walk for health, pay for a cause
In the 1994 Hollywood classic, Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks, runs coast to coast across the US multiple times over three-and-a-half years! And that the guy just didn’t need a reason to run. "That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of the town… I just kept on going,” he says. He just ran!
However, Parul and Kaushal Mehta, owners of an IT firm located out of Ahmedabad, have been walking for a purpose. And not just walking alone. They have over last 15 years encouraged thousands in the city that at times could be a little laid back to walk along. And even pay for it! The Amdavaadis, as the residents of this 606-year-old city are called, pay and walk. Every year. Since 2003.
"Both of us have worked in Silicon Valley in the US. Parul was with Intel and I was with Sun Microsystems. There we found that IT firms encouraged their employees to give back to the community. They organise a lot of walks with kidney foundation or cancer foundation. The employees are encouraged to register by paying $10 or $20 and the company would match the amount collected. They never say that we will just write a cheque but say, you contribute and we shall match it. So when we started our firm in India, we wanted to do something for the community and also encourage people around us to join us,” Kaushal says.
They decided that instead of involving just their employees, they would extend their efforts and rope in the citizens of Ahmedabad. They decided that for every registration they get from the city, they would match it with equal amount. But they were clear that they would not write the cheque without walkers’ contribution.
But the going was not easy as getting an Amdavaadi to part with his money is no easy task. Both of them began by visiting parks early in the mornings, visiting malls and other public places to meet people and encourage them to participate. "Remember 15 years ago the idea of marathons and cyclothons was not very popular. So we approached people in the parks and talked to them about the concept. Initially they thought that we were there to collect funds. Then others somehow got this weird idea that we were T-shirt manufacturers and so were trying to sell T-shirts! And some simply asked us whether we were serious about asking them to pay and walk. It was almost a bizarre idea then,” he adds.
The other big challenge was the weather, which is a killer. It is said that Ahmedabad has only three seasons - hot, hotter and hottest! "Main thing was to get people out. The weather and the lifestyle hold many indoors. Added to this was 15 years ago there was no concept of going out. A few would venture out in parks for walks and the belief was that you do so when you grow older. Same goes with doing charity in Indian society. So we wanted to start something to get people on the roads and do something physical something that the city can look forward to,” Parul adds.
They began by encouraging their employees to invite their friends and families to walk on a Sunday morning for 5 km, where each participant would voluntarily contribute funds for a cause. The funds would go directly to the respective NGO. The NGO would be invited to talk about its activities so everyone would be aware of the good cause they would be contributing to.
Over the years, the employees and the participants started spreading the word and 15 years later, the annual Motif Charity Walk has come a long way. Beginning with 700 walkers and generating Rs 2 lakh in contribution with no sponsors, Motif has been able to attract over 230 sponsors and 5,000 walkers who have contributed over Rs 5 crore to 43 different NGOs. "Idea is we will match Rs 300 for 3,300 walkers. It is many cheques. The drive for us is that we have to register more people. If we do not have registered walkers, we cannot achieve the dream of writing that Rs 10 lakh cheque,” Kaushal adds.
The sponsors, on the other hand, write a cheque directly to the NGO. "Motif is neither a foundation nor an NGO nor a trust. We at best are a catalyst. We merely go out there and do a thorough due diligence of identifying these NGOs who could benefit,” Kaushal says.
The key criterion for an NGO selection is that the trustees of NGO cannot have Motif management on board. They begin by a short list and have 17-point financial diligence check list, which includes three-year financial audit certification, their bank passbooks, a minimum three-year history of operations and finally a grassroots visit to physically go and see the work of these NGOs.
"When we talk about bringing together, it is an experience to see 5,000 people come together on a Sunday morning and walk on the streets of the city for a cause. We have school bands, guitarists, drummers, cheer leaders, sponsors providing tea-coffee, water. It becomes a carnival atmosphere. The NGOs have stalls to share information about their work.
Once 50 physically challenged children on their hand pedal cycles participated in the charity walk to pay their condolences and respect to a social worker who had died in an accident just before that year’s walk. He used to deliver tiffin on his hand pedal cycle to make a living and many a time would even pay for those who could not afford. "The participants somehow find their own cause, which is fabulous,” Parul adds.
And in the words of Forrest, "Momma said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs and the rest is just for showing off…” Keep walking folks. For Health. For a Cause.