While Unnati is SGBS Trust’s most successful programme today, it wasn’t a planned move. Infact, it was started by chance – to fulfill a need. Back in 1978, Mr. Rameshswamy got involved with the SGBS Trust primarily for its religious and cultural offerings – musical shows, bhajans etc. It was with a bunch of people he used to meet at these events that he got friendly. They decided that they would like to help people in need – a desire that was borne more out of doing something together, than vigorously fighting for a particular cause. Somebody in the group thought that they should offer help families carry out the last rites for their deceased members. They had noticed that in poor Hindu families, when a member passed away, there was confusion as to what exactly the protocol to be followed was. So through personal contributions, they began to support last rites for people from poor families. They found this activity extremely gratifying and hence continued to offer the same. Infact, with time, it grew into a full-fledged funeral service (which is operational even today).
Happiness from helping others combined with the success of the funeral service prompted them to do more. This led to the set up a school for slum children. It was while running this school that the need of formalizing their efforts was felt. There were a couple of instances where children were pulled out of school because of unforeseeable circumstances – death of a parent, shift of residences etc. So they stopped attending school. However, money for their books/bags/stationary for the year had already been handed over to their parents. So while these children could not complete their education, the funds could not be used for another child either. This led them to officially register SGBS Trust as a nonprofit – making it possible for the organization to collect donations and use the same as and when required.
Though officially registered, operations still continued on a small-scale. Doing good was all that mattered and that objective was clearly being achieved. It’s when they took a step back one day to assess the impact they were making, did they realize the difference they were making. And it was truly impressive! This was, as Mr. Rameshswamy says, “Unnati’s take-off point.” One thing led to another and before they knew it, their vocational training had secured 100% job placement for 320 youths in just five years.
After five years, they decided, yet again, to expand. With numerous success stories under their hat, getting funds for a new vocational training was not too difficult; especially after receiving Rs. 1 crores of the required Rs. 1.3 crores from Infosys. Sudha Murthy had been bowled over by their achievements and future plans.
Mr. Rameshswamy continues to be heavily involved with Unnati’s activities till date. He spends mornings working on personal family business (after all, he does need to pay bills and put food on the table); and afternoons dealing with Unnati’s affairs. Despite his packed schedule, he finds time to personally conduct (or be present at) sessions pertaining to values for the youth.