It takes guts to stand in front of a college principal, with just 37% marks in the SSC board exams and ask for admission, especially when the college is considered the Oxford of the East. It takes guts to stand in front of Dr PC Shejwalkar, Pune's management guru, with 46% marks as a BCom student and say, 'I want to study business administration in your institute.' That too, when you haven’t passed the group discussion and the viva since you don't know English well.
It takes guts to stand in front of F T Khorakiwala and tell him you want to launch Moniginis cake shop in Pune, especially when Khorakiwala explains that he will take all your money as advance, since cakes are perishable goods.
Pradeep Lokhande, founder and CEO of Rural Relations, always had guts in abundance. "There was nothing else that I had," he says as he sits in his 2,600 sq feet flat in Ghorpadi. From his village in Wai taluka of Satara, to his plush house in the Pune suburb, Lokhande has come a long way.
Alwyn Tofler in his book Future Shock has detailed how multinationals and superstores in the US use the database of their consumers to make them buy certain things. Lokhande did something similar — he created the database of rural consumers in 41,000 villages in Maharashtra.
"My wife and father wrote 20,000 postcards to school teachers, sarpanchs and postmasters in 4,700 villages. We wanted to know when the weekly bazaar happened," says Lokhande, explaning that these villages were critical for FMCG companies as they would sell their products to these rural consumers.
The first attempt yielded only 15 responses asking why he needed the information. He sent another lot and this time all 47 responses demanded to know who the hell he thought he was.
"Diwali was around the corner so we sent the last round of postcards to them, wishing them and their family. Eight hundred people wished me back. I learnt my mistake — I asked them questions, but wasn't bothered about their lives."
The next three years, Lokhande travelled to as many as 300 villages in Maharashtra, believing that the information he gathered was worth at least Rs5 lakh. So, it came as a rude shock when Tata Tea offered him only Rs 25,000. "I had sold everything and now couldn’t even face my grocer because of my bills!" He took up Tata Tea’s offer believing it would see him through six months.
It didn't end there: Tata Tea sought his help to decode the information. “I gave them a whole new plan. I showed them the possibilities of wet sampling in 100 villages. By the end of that week, I had a Rs3.75 lakh project from Tata Tea.” FMCG companies, realising the value of his data, upped the ante. P&G offered him over Rs 1 crore. “In six months, I reached where I had dreamt I would be," he says.
It was at this point Lokhande took another bold decision. He completely changed tracks — from using his database as consumer reference, he used the same to bring about the social change. Kids in the village in Satara, where he came from, didn't have computers in schools. “I appealed to friends and corporates to give me their used ones. Today, 20,000 schools in Maharashtra have computers given away through this scheme," Lokhande says.
At some point, he realised people weren’t reading. “I named my new project Gyan Key Vachanalaya. The scheme is simple — you donate Rs5,000, we buy 180 books that will interest secondary school students." In the last 600 days, Lokhande has found 1,100 donors and wants to set up 2,000 by the end of this year.
Lokhande has a very simple mantra to change India. “All you need is work on your secondary school students. Change their mindsets and India will change in five years."