Lavanya Garg, 22, is the co-founder of Asmat - a student run NGO addressing socio-economic challenges in rural India. She’s a graduate of Economics from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and holds an MA in International and Development Economics from Yale University, USA.
What Does It Take?
Lavanya was only nineteen when she co-founded Asmat (An NGO which mobilises young people to solve economic and social problems in rural India).
She believes that starting an NGO essentially requires a certain degree of curiosity and clarity about the ground reality and core challenges of the issues at hand and having the dedication to work towards changing that reality for the better.
Lavanya volunteered with the African Impact in Cape Town, in which, about fifteen volunteers from all over the world had come together to work in the townships.
It was an incredible experience, culturally and in terms of the diversity of work. Lavanya realised the potential impact of such initiatives which were also present in India but at a nascent stage. Asmat started as an endeavour to bridge this gap, and to create a meaningful experience for all the stakeholders involved.
Moreover, such projects provided the right opportunities to motivated young individuals to explore and work in the villages addressing the immediate socio-economic challenges while residing there.
That's when, she recalls “I decided, to organise one, over a cup of coffee with my co-founder, Kavya.”
Lavanya thinks that because of it’s not-for-profit nature, Asmat has resonated with so many people - more than 150 volunteers have joined so far, and recently they expanded to another village. It wasn't set up with any intention except a genuine belief that a rural immersive volunteering experience must be created for young people in India.
How Relevant is the Background?
She admits that any experience of studying development theory and models does help as it can make one’s efforts more impactful. Lavanya elaborates, for instance, that they barely knew how to conduct surveys or work with primary data. However, as some senior members graduated and started engaging professionally in these fields, they could contribute more to the technical aspects of Asmat’s work.
Also, Lavanya hadn't studied this area of economics until after she co-founded Asmat and started working in rural Rajasthan. However, she got to experience the practical side of development through this initiative, which in fact propelled her to pursue it at the Master's level. Currently, she’s working full-time with a firm called Good Business Lab which is involved in investing in worker welfare to build good business.
Lavanya recalls that initially everyone around them wondered if they had bitten off more than they could chew; presuming that they were being overly and needlessly ambitious. To them, setting up an NGO appeared to be a hassle to begin with, and they believed that the young team members should instead, stick to their usual college life and activities.
However, it was the spirit of the young people around them that kept them going. For example, although their first volunteer program had only fifteen spots, they received an overwhelming response of more than a hundred applicants. Such instances, time and again, reinforced their belief in the venture.
Lavanya has a salaried job, and doesn't derive any income from Asmat. She says that this is in fact, true for all of the members, and is also part of the reason why Asmat has been so successful on the ground. By virtue of being voluntary, they attract people who are genuinely passionate.
What can YOU do?
Lavanya says that for people to build a career in this field, they first need to assess if doing development work on the ground is something that gives them joy, because it can be difficult to plan and implement, both administratively and financially. It is this intrinsic joy and satisfaction, that can help them advance on this path in the long haul.
“I'm really happy to see Asmat growing everyday, as a community, as a movement.Currently, I advise the team on various aspects of operations, and will continue to do so. Everyday when I hear stories of how volunteering with Asmat has helped people make their career choices or even come to terms with the problems people in rural India face, I feel more satisfied with the passing of each day - for the choices I had made over three and a half years ago.”