“Age was just a number to me – the clarity of my vision and change I wanted to create made me feel that I was ready to start up,”
- Meghana Dabbara, Make the World Wonderful
Many of us want to make a difference in the world, have a positive impact on others, or help change someone’s life for the better. Meghana Dabbara, Saumya Katuri, Khyathi Chodagiri, and Pranita Garimella of Make the World Wonderful, India have created an opportunity for themselves to do all of the above every single day. About a week and a half ago, despite initial technical challenges and mean time difference, Meghana, Saumya, and I connected over Skype and had an inspiring conversation about the myth of age as a barrier to reaching one’s goals, the power of microleadership, and the daily grind of pursuing one’s dreams.
At 17 years old in 2015, Meghana turned her vision of a world where people live in harmony into reality and founded Make the World Wonderful, an NGO the backbone of which is a belief that a harmonious world is a result of how we raise our children and what values we instil in them. The four girls initiated a Child Adoption Program (CAP) with an aim to raise a generation of children with the empowering culture of harmony. Currently, the team is running a scalable pilot centre in Hyderabad, with 50 underprivileged children from rural areas. Raising each child with utmost respect, they have been creating the harmony they wish to see in the world within these children first. They may have begun small but they aim to set up 2,500 centers by 2023.
“While they have made international ripples, what is most important are the lives they are directly trying to impact.”
- Binjal Shah, Journalist at YourStory
Meghana, when did you decide harmony is what the world needs the most?
When I was about ten years old, my mom used to tell me bedtime stories about her childhood and how her village neighbours always used to help one another. I grew up believing these stories but when I actually went outside and interacted with people around me and saw how they treated others, I realized my mom’s stories did not reflect the reality. So I set out to bring more harmony into the world and turn it into one huge family.
This is truly admirable but how does a teenager go about doing that in a meaningful way?
In Grade 8, while looking to turn this abstract concept of harmony in the world into something tangible, I found the right support group of likeminded people in iB Group, who provided me with training, mentoring, and the like. When I decided to start an NGO, they realized that I would need a strong core support team, and they helped me find Khyathi, Saumya, and Pranita. Together, the four of us are the Core Team of Make The World Wonderful, and we are working dedicatedly towards our aligned vision of harmony.
Why did you decide to start the Child Adoption Program?
Child Adoption Program (CAP) was one of the first programs we initiated because we wanted to begin at the root level. Any change we bring has to start at the grassroots of society, that is, with the children. Our aim is to raise a generation of children with this culture of harmony who would represent the values necessary to bring our vision of a harmonious world to life. We can now proudly say that we are raising agents of harmony and socially responsible citizens.
How do you ensure legitimacy, especially when it comes to the school curriculum children in CAP follow? Is scalability that you aim to reach a challenging goal?
There are around 700 districts in India. Presently, we have our pilot center in Southern India with the one centre in Hyderabad, but its impact is resulting in more and more people coming forward and reaching out. Our plan is straightforward – there are around 700 districts in India. Some districts in India are huge and will need at least 4-5 centres. When you do the math, scaling to up to 2800 centres doesn’t seem so unrealistic all of a sudden. Moreover, many NGOs and other charitable organizations are requesting us to provide them our knowhow in terms of setting the curriculum and finding trainers for the children. We make sure we follow the Open Indian curriculum but essentially we are designing our own and the model is perfectly replicable. And in the future, we may collaborate with the locally connected people and help them set up this centre in their area.
You are not even 20 years old and it is so admirable what you have already accomplished. Do you have the capacity for your own studies? And what about funding?
We are still in school, pursuing business administration studies through an online college course so that we can fully focus on our passion.
As for the funds, the majority of them come from the donations from a network of like-minded people that the iB Hubs has connected us to. Additionally, our campaign Make the World Wonderful kicked off in 2015 is raising awareness about our initiative around India and the world. Its aim has been to reach out to people across the globe, to involve them to support the initiative. By 2017 we have reached 107 000+ supporters across the world, successfully surpassing our target numbers.
We’ve also been able to reach out to the international community – we are proud to have represented India in the Asia-Pacific Future Leaders Conference in November 2016. In July 2017, Meghana represented the initiative at the Global Changemakers Conference in Switzerland and in August Saumya spoke to the Youth Assembly of 1500 delegates at the United Nations.
The bottom line is that our cause truly inspires people and brings everyone together. We have also implemented our 100% transparency policy, to build trust between the public and NGOs. It has gone a long way with everyone who supports us because they know we diligently follow the principles of good governance. We disclose all of the organization’s finances, policies, and programs, including the CAP curriculum, on our website.
What is the most difficult for you in what you do?
We’d say, in the initial stages, it was getting the children to collaborate with each other. Because of the diversity of backgrounds the children come from, getting them to work together is not easy, especially when we try to develop harmony among them. In the organization, we refuse to apply any harsh methods to the way we raise them such as shouting, scolding, or even raising our voice. CAP at Make the World Wonderful is always about affection, respect, and trust.
The beginnings, the initial stages have been tough. However, we realized it is important to start small, to cultivate a sense of values in the children. But once the culture of harmony set in, it has been amazing to see the progress of the children. They’ve become a big family. We’ve seen the children grow from a position where they needed our help to a position where they now empower others around them. It is truly wonderful.
What does harmony mean to you?
Harmony is a state of the world where people live happily together like one big family, helping and supporting each other, empathizing with one another, and cooperating together. We are also working on creating metrics to quantify harmony, based on certain core qualities such as Gratitude, Sharing, Optimism, and so on.
What kind of leaders do you see yourselves as?
We believe that everyone in a society has a role as a leader. Whether you are a mother, brother, aunt, grandfather, or friend – you can be a leader in your context. And leadership is not any one quality or skill – it’s a combination of many things. In our work with children, we are bringing out the leader in each child and we are empowering him/her to reach his/her full potential. We believe that we are the kind of leaders who create more leaders, who bring out the best in people around them and who develop people around us into leaders.