PODCAST: Inspired to light up rural India
13-year-old Meera Vashisht has become an unlikely fundraising symbol for the government of India’s scheme to replace 770 million incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, as a part of the Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA) scheme.
In this Resource Alliance India ‘Listen in’ podcast interview, this Indian origin 7th grader from Texas explains how research on an environmental science project turning into a fundraising mission to fund energy efficient LED bulbs for those, who could ill afford them in rural India.
Meera describes her fundraising journey as an inspiring one, where anonymous letters to potential funders resulted in support not just from individuals but also the government in India.
Meera wants to make it a larger mission and promises to return with more.
Resource Alliance India (RA India): Meera Vashisht thank you very much for speaking to Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series
Meera: Yes, thank you for having me.
RA India: Meera, what inspired you to dive into fundraising?
Meera: So, I love India. India is my home and for the longest time I’ve always wanted to do something for India, that would benefit it. So one day when I came across a news website which talked about LED bulbs, I’ve always been interested in environmental causes and I’ve always participated in environmental projects at school. I have always wanted to do something for India, but I was either too young or didn’t have the resources. One day while working on a science project I came across the UJALA (National LED programme – Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All) scheme. And basically what the UJALA scheme is, is that the government has a goal of changing 770 million incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs and they have also reduced the prices to 75 rupees for the economically disadvantaged. Now even at Rs.75 it was still out of reach for some of the people in India. So first I thought of sending my allowance money, but I realised that wouldn’t go very far. My parents encouraged me to do something bigger and that’s when the idea for fundraising started. I thought if I could get more people to contribute to this cause a lot more homes could be lit with LED bulbs. What basically happened was that I sent out 500 letters to random people and I asked them for a contribution for this cause. And I slowly sent them out from like 10 to 20 and then slowly 500 letters and by the end of the year, I had got in about 2000 dollars.
RA India: So through your fundraising, what were some of your insights and key learnings?
Meera: A very important lesson that I learnt from this journey was that every little bit counts. So no matter who participates and how much they participate, they will make an impact. So there was this one boy who sent me a letter and he contributed 1 dollar, but he sent a little piece of paper that said ‘save the planet’ and it reminded me that these are the kinds of people that I want to make an impact for, I want to change the world for. I am happy with the product. The responses I got were extremely encouraging. Although not many people responded I realised that this was part of the journey. The people that did, were extremely encouraging and I would like to do more for India and I will be back with more, with a greater contribution to help this LED cause.
RA India: When you reached out to the government of India, what sort of response did you get?
Meera: They were extremely encouraging in I am extremely grateful for the response. They organised a whole distribution outreach for me and I am extremely encouraged by the response and I would love to do more and I am working forward to do more for this cause.
RA India: And in your conversations with the government did they give you any insights or sense of how much more you could do? Where you perhaps could contribute. Were they responsive there as well?
Meera: Well I mean I can obviously contribute more because the government’s goal is to replace 770 million light bulbs by 2019. Until this, until 2019, I will do my very best to help this cause.
RA India: And finally Meera, how would you encourage people who are unsure as how to fundraise for causes close to their hearts, like your cause?
Meera: Well an idea can go a long way in creating awareness, but to make a real impact on the world you need resources. One person can only have limited resources, but all of us can convince people about the causes we deeply feel for, we can make a difference. I had no idea where this fundraiser would go. I didn’t think I would hear from anyone. I didn’t know where this fundraiser would lead me. So I was pretty surprised, I was pleasantly surprised with the impact. So if one can convince others of what you are deeply convinced about yourself, things will improve for all of us.
RA India: Meera Vashisht thank you very much for speaking to Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series
Meera: Thank you for having me.