Ashish gets candid with Lawctopus about his and Divya’s journey into creating and nurturing Sahaj Foundation. Their unconventional way of life, career and success is sure to strike a chord in your hearts and inspire your minds, so keep reading!
All of us have that fire ignited once in life to retreat to the hills, saying “the hills are calling” ! To stay back there and never return? Not many of us act on it and never for a social cause. Ashish with his wife Divya, chose that road less travelled by, as Frost would say!
Please introduce yourself and your organization to our readers.
I am Ashish from Sahaj Foundation. I and my partner, Divya Gupta, had started this organization in 2013 when we chose to come and live with the rural communities of Bir in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.
Our intention of starting this organization was to work with local community kids in the space of Education. But eventually, we have now started many different programs for urban nationwide audience as well.
Why the name Sahaj, Ashish?
Sahaj means effortless. When we listen to our hearts, the chances are very high for us to become “Sahaj”!
Ashish, you are the leader of Rural Immersion at Sahaj Foundation. Please let our readers know what this means?
So, this is one of the vertical that we have launched for nationwide audience. In this, we basically invite urban educated/centered audience to dive deep into the social economic systems of rural communities.
Our intention is to particularly pass on the understanding of the space of self-reliance, in addition to Govts and Markets based systems, that rural communities use to take care of their daily living requirements.
The idea is to make our participants understand that all these three spaces- Community Self-reliance, Governments based systems and Markets based systems- have their own advantages and limitations. We shouldn’t blindly start favoring any one or two over the rest.
For example, in today’s economic scenario, our societies and even our governments are favoring markets based systems to an extreme level, which may turn out to be unhealthy for our villages eventually.
Hence, we bring our participants to this understanding that we actually need a balance of Community Self-reliance, Governments and Markets based systems so as to have thriving communities.
What is “The Vriksh”, lead by your teammate Ankit Shrivastava?
Through ‘The Vriksh Initiative’ (www.thevriksh.org), we aim to support the journeys of early-stage social leaders who have chosen to work full-time with urban, rural or tribal under-served communities across the country on a social cause of their choice.
Through this initiative, we are presently providing fellowship support (Rs 12,000 per month; for up to 3 years) to 9 social leaders, so that they do not need to worry about their personal living expenses while they continue to do their work on field.
We are also in the process of designing many mentorship-cum-leadership oriented programs for our network of social leaders. We may also launch ‘The Vriksh Academy for future Social Leaders’ soon 🙂
Sahaj Foundation also offers retreats in various parts of the country. Please enlighten our readers about this service of yours!
Yes! We started offering these retreats from 2014 itself. Our intention that time was to basically create spaces wherein we could invite people who were not able to listen to their heart’s calling. And our hope was that through our designed process our participants shall be able to gather courage to follow their heart’s calling, mainly in their professional lives.
Over a period of last 8 years, we have now designed many retreat formats, including Head2Heart Retreat (H2H), Peaceful Living Retreat (PL), Dealing with Negative Emotions Retreat (DNE) and Cultivating Emotional Balance Retreat (CEB). Most of these retreats are organized in offline format, while the last one CEB happens online.
We now also try to pass on our understanding of Buddhist teachings to people in practical manner through these retreats.
What was the idea or thought behind Sahaj? Who conceived this idea?
It is a difficult question for us to answer. There are many reasons for our different programs. For example, for our retreats, we had this willingness to inspire people to follow their hearts. If you notice, that is also the slogan for Sahaj Foundation mentioned in our logo (Connecting people with their hearts).
For our community programs, we intend to inspire rural kids to learn their traditional knowledge systems from their elders as well. Modern school education cuts our kids off from their own community traditional knowledge systems.
For our rural immersion programs, our intention is to make urban educated audience realize that mainstream economics does not wish to enhance community self-reliance, which is not a very healthy sign in long run.
And for ‘The Vriksh Initiative’, we simply wish to support the journeys of early-stage social leaders, as we understand that there are many challenges that people like us face in our first 2-3 years.
Who conceived these ideas- I think this is even more difficult to answer. There have been many people in our life journey who have inspired us to design these programs. It would be difficult to provide their names here.
In how much time did this idea saw its implementation? Who are the main architects?
I think I partly answered this question above. Many of our programs came up in a flow. It would be difficult to provide clear implementation timelines. Maybe I can mention the timelines when we launched these initiatives.
Rural community programs started in 2013 itself. Retreats started from 2014 onwards. Rural immersion programs came into existence in 2017. The Vriksh Fellowship is quite recent. It was piloted in 2020 (2 fellows) and launched for second time in 2021 (7 fellows) only.
In addition to all these programs, we have also now started conducting ‘Transforming Organizational Culture for Inner-Growth (CIG)’ from 2021, which is a program for working professionals and founding members of organizations.
The program intends to inspire its participants to transform their organizations so that they can create an organizational culture conducive for inner-growth for its employees/members. Our clients for this program have been Lawctopus, Lokmitra NGO, LeapClub, Solinas and Har Hath Kalam.
Building something right from scratch sees many obstacles.
Even a scratch is nothing but an act of friction. What kind of friction, implementational or other, did Team Sahaj face?
Well, there were many, particularly in the first 3-4 years. The most significant obstacle was to come up with a workable financial model. We could crack that in 2017 through our rural immersion programs.
Since then, we are now financially sustainable, and we no longer have to request our friends for their support. Up to 2017, we actually survived with the help of our friends. I would put marketing as our second obstacle.
Actually almost all of our programs are quite radical for many people. So, it becomes very difficult for us to get people interested. But once they are into our programs, most of them end up loving the experience.
What makes you keep going, Ashish? What makes you put all the effort in Sahaj, despite of the many obstacles that are thrown your way ?
What keeps me going is the growth that I am able to see within myself as a result of all these offerings. The work in Sahaj Foundation helps me to not only touch lives out there in the world, but it also helps me to become a better version of myself in the process.
This whole possibility of inner-growth for myself and for others is what keeps me going!
How many people has Sahaj Foundation served till now?
We do not actually keep a close track of numbers overall. My guess is, we would have touched around 1000+ people so far. This number is quite significant for us as most of our programs take only 10-15 people per batch.
How does Sahaj foundation maintain its expenses?
We simply cross-subsidize our programs. We invite people to contribute if they can, and we provide scholarships to the ones who cannot.
For ‘The Vriksh Initiative’, we raise the fellowship support from individual donors who feel a connect with the work of early-stage social leaders.
We do not raise any funding from institutional donors, as we do not find the process of writing proposals and attending meetings for fundraising beautiful.
Where do you see Sahaj 10 years from now?
We don’t know actually. Our work is simply a manifestation of our heart’s calling, and we shall flow where the universe wishes to take us 🙂
Which brings me to, what are your teams most immediate projects and services that can benefit our readers?
All of our projects are live. Your readers are welcome to join our retreats or our rural immersion programs. They can join ‘Culture for Inner-Growth’ program if they are leading any startup or organization.
And they can also apply for ‘The Vriksh Fellowship’ if they are working with communities in social domain. I would simply invite them to keep a track of our websites www.sahajfoundation.in and www.thevriksh.org
Ashish, if there is one thing, one idea, maybe an advice(s) or just a thought that you want to put out there in the world, what would it be?
Follow your heart. That’s the way this universe speaks to all of us!