I am starting a new series starting today that I decided to call “First Penguin”. I first heard this phrase in the famous last lecture by Dr Randy Pausch. For those that haven’t watched that video, here is the meaning of the goose bump-inducing phrase, in brief. When the ice starts to thaw after the brutal winters in the coldest regions of our planet, penguins march to the edge of the ice ready to jump into the water to catch fish. One of them jumps first, and is most often devoured by predators lying in wait. However, if that penguin survives, the others follow.
I believe it is this even-if-i-die-trying quality of the First Penguin that characterizes entrepreneurs who tackle society’s biggest problems. In this series that I plan to run every two weeks, I want to cover the work of such entrepreneurs. I look for your encouragement by way of comments, shares on social media. I also need your support in identifying First Penguin entrepreneurs across India [over time the rest of the world too ]
For the first installment, I shall cover the work of Sunil J Mathew of Cochin, whom I was fortunate to meet in person, tw0 weeks ago. The hour and a half we spent with him is one of the most inspiring 90 minutes I have spent in recent times. He started his work with the Visually Challenged at the age of 22 and has been at it for 10 years. This is his story.
India has 63 million visually challenged people – the highest in the world. Sunil began working with the Visually Challenged during his college days. He and his friends started the SRVC that trains a batch of 20-30 people and teaches them life skills to become independent, and also helps find jobs for them.
As he worked with the Visually Challenged, he realized that while many institutions focused on education, none focused on getting them jobs. He decided to address that gap.
Several years ago, he took one of his protégés to one of the biggest call-centers in Cochin run by his friend. Sunil told his friend, “This guy has a great voice, and is only partially blind. He can read if you increase the font size. Besides in a call center, customers don’t see the agent. Please give him a job”. The friend obliged with great reluctance. After a quarter, Sunil received a call from his friend asking him to come to the call center immediately. He went over, fearing the worst, but only to be proudly surprised: their customer had recognized his protégé as the Best Employee! Listening to Sunil’s narration, I couldn’t control tears welling up in my eyes.
After that Sunil cited several small victories he scored painstakingly over the last 10 years – his protégés run a music band, do reflexology, work in organizations like the Taj Group, Wipro, Cognizant, Redbus. Cognizant Admin Team in Cochin recently hired one of Sunil’s protégés and he is doing very well.
In the interest of space, I want to narrate one more vignette that shows how, with ingenuity, we can solve the toughest of problems. Sunil, a football enthusiast wanted the Visually Challenged to play football. Research led him to a sport called Blind Football and started playing that with his protégés. They enjoyed the game, but came to him with the same request about finding jobs. Further research revealed that any Indian who represents India in any sport is entitled to a government job. He then put together a Team India, tapped into his network, to get the equipment, kits for the athletes, practice facilities, money for the tickets, and competed in the International Blind Football Championship. His team came 4th in the tournament; the first time ever India has fielded. Now he is working on getting the athletes a government job.
He also talked about filing a patent for a mobile app he has developed and several other initiatives. His unbridled optimism in the face of extreme challenges is awe-inspiring.
This picture was taken at the training facility where a batch of trainees is undergoing training. The sighted person at the back is Sunil Mathew.
Hope you all liked the first installment in this series? Please let me know.
P.S. This series is featured inside Cognizant in the Cpecial newsletter Good Life Guide