Every month, we share stories about how successful startups have been built, how entrepreneurs have given life to their ideas, and what aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from it. This time, for a change, we decided to write a three-part series on social ventures with simple ideas that can potentially have a ton of impact. First among the series is an article on Robin Hood Army, which works towards providing food and shelter to the underprivileged community in India…
When Neel Ghosh, vice-president of International Operations at Zomato, and Anand Sinha, co-founder of PressPlay, were colleagues at Hyderabad, they used to be involved in several volunteer activities such as taking underprivileged children for movies or buying them sports equipment. But, their activities never took shape into something bigger until Ghosh, during his stay at Portugal, discovered an initiative called Re-food, conceptualised by American altruist, Hunter Halder. The initiative saw Halder and his co-volunteers collect unsold food from local cafes and restaurants and distribute it to the needy.
Ghosh bounced off this idea to Sinha, and soon enough, they decided to create an initiative called Robin Hood Army, and replicate the idea in the capital city. During the initial phase, the duo, along with a few other friends, rode around the city, identifying people who needed food. “Then, five to six of us started collecting leftover food from nearby restaurants and cafes, and distributing it to people in these areas,” recalls Sinha.
As the months passed by, they brought in several changes to make the model more impactful and sustainable. On the impact front, along with food, they started making arrangements to distribute blankets. “Delhi tends to become very cold during winter. So, we are making arrangements to ensure that warm clothing and blankets are distributed to the needy,” says Sinha. Secondly, instead of distributing food once a week (usually, Sunday), they started distributing food every day. As a third, instead of taking the whole city as one, they divided each city into different clusters, and assigned a certain number of volunteers in each cluster to hold the distribution.
On the sustainability front, they are exploring ways to make the underprivileged more self-sustainable. “We initially faced a lot of criticism from people, who believed that we were spoiling them, that we need to enable them to become more self-sustainable. But, that is the next step and we are working towards it,” indicates Sinha. Moreover, in the coming months, the Robin Hood Army plans on reaching out to companies, and seek their support in creating further momentum for its initiative. “Soon, we will be reaching out to close to 20 companies, where we know someone, and request for funding or sponsorship. Alternatively, we will also explore an option where they can arrange for food, resources, or encourage their employees to join us in our initiative,” says Sinha.
Entering a new city
Until now, to expand into new cities and create the initial traction, Sinha and Ghosh have banked on the support from friends and acquaintances. “We have been lucky that way because in case of ambiguity all we had to do was pick up the phone and talk to them,” states Sinha. But, as more and more new volunteers have started joining the initiative, they have created a SOP (Statement of Purpose), which highlights the army’s vision and objective. “We always choose volunteers who we know will be motivated and responsible. Otherwise, while people may have the drive during the initial period, they may stop pursuing it mid-way,” says Sinha. Additionally, he and Ghosh also travel frequently on work. So, when they are in a city where the initiative has been rolled out, they meet the volunteers and offer guidance on how the activities can be rolled out better.
That being said, the army does not give a strict guideline on how the process needs to be carried out in each city. “We understand that everybody has their own way of carrying out tasks. The only thing we are particular about is that the distribution should happen regularly, and meet the objective that we’ve set,” clarifies Sinha.
Today, the Robin Hood Army is 400 volunteers strong and active across five cities; Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. Sinha indicates that Jaipur is also slowly gaining traction. “Initially, we started with 50 to 60 people joining us every day. But now, we see close to 2,000 people actively participating in our initiative,” shares Sinha.PressPlay Robin Hood Army Social Impact Startup Zomato