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The University of Southampton

Southampton programme 'sparks' record crowd funding response in India

Published: 15 October 2014

A unique international social enterprise project involving students from the University of Southampton has made history in India by becoming the country's fastest campaign to attract 100,000 Rupees via crowd sourced funding.

'Freedom from Shame' - aimed at empowering women in rural India to become village entrepreneurs - is now on course to continue its record-breaking success by raising 200,000 Rupees via crowd sourcing, thanks to the innovative Spark India programme.

Spark India took ten Southampton students representing a range of disciplines - from Economics and Geography to Mechanical Engineering and Law - to India during the summer for a social enterprise boot camp with students from the Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM). With support from the University’s Education Ehancement Fund, the Southampton group fostered their skills in the UK as part of 30 who participated in a social enterprise module delivered through the University's 'Curriculum Innovation' initiative, aimed at bringing students with diverse talents, skills and backgrounds together to explore and help solve real world problems.

Spark India focused on three specific business challenges, in partnership with social enterprises based in India. Some of the students from Southampton and IIM were tasked with developing a crowd funding campaign and designing micro-finance solutions for Aakar Innovations, founders of the 'Freedom from Shame' campaign. The campaign empowers women in rural India as village entrepreneurs and spokespersons in their communities as 'last mile' distributors of quality, affordable sanitary pads to help overcome societal stigma associates with feminine hygiene and menstruation.

Students from Southampton and IIM were also placed with social ventures focusing on affordable roofing solutions and developing education through mobile-based technology. Dr Pathik Pathak, Lecturer in Sociology and Director of Social Enterprise in Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences for the University, sees Spark India as a 'transformative experience' involving international teams working with award-winning social entrepreneurs.

"The astounding success of the 'Freedom from Shame' campaign is a wonderful example of what our students can achieve when they're given the opportunity to apply the skills they've developed during their degree study, as well as on the University's Curriculum Innovation programme," said Dr Pathak. "Like other projects undertaken during the Spark India social enterprise camp, the crowd funding campaign for Aakar showcases our students' ability to work internationally and succeed in helping to solve real world problems.

"Spark India has also strengthened our relationship with the IIM, with whom we plan to continue to offer these kinds of learning experiences to more students in the coming years," Dr Pathak continued.

Sambodhi Ghosh, co-founder of the Aakar Foundation, also praised the contribution of the students from Southampton and IIM.

"Students from Southampton have played an integral part in the conception and design of the 'Freedom from Shame' campaign," he said. "The success of the campaign means that we can empower more women in rural India and spread the message that menstruation should not be a source of shame.

"I want to pass my thanks to the Spark India team and the students who worked so diligently on their projects," he continued. "I would highly commend the Spark India programme. While the students had a unique opportunity to work on the real issues facing social enterprise in India, we also benefitted from the opportunity to work with a group of talented, committed young people with a real understanding of our mission. I hope we can take the association forward in the future."

Yee-Ping Pang, a third-year Management student, said that being part of Spark India was “one of the best things I have done at university”.

“The skills and the contacts you develop whilst immersed in a totally different culture are second to none and it has definitely given me a taste of the social enterprise world,” she continued. “Working with Aakar on their first ever crowd funding campaign was a privilege. Crowd funding is so important to social enterprises, especially for start-ups.

“The Spark India program has let us work on real life projects which go into shaping social enterprises, and I can't wait to see the outcome of Aakar's crowd funding campaign and knowing I was part of the team which made it happen,” she concluded.

Those views were echoed by second-year Law student Victoria Akintomide-Akinwamide who described the experience as “life-changing”.

“'Freedom from Shame' is truly making a great impact in women’s lives and empowering them during times when they are considered to be the lowest in the community,” said Victoria. “The challenge set for us to was create a crowd funding campaign in order to raise funds to reach more people in the making and in the distribution of sanitary pads and educating women to dispel stigma surrounding menstruation in the community.”

“For each category of giving we wanted to thank our contributors through rewards which we decided must be intangible but effective in order to be economically viable,” she continued. “The rewards we created were a personalised Thank You Video, a Go-Pro “Life in the Village” Video, Behind-The-Scenes Footage, a Certificate of Appreciation and a social media shout out. We wanted the contributors to know that they have made a significant impact on the growth of Aakar.”

Further information regarding Spark India is available here.


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