IN a career spanning three decades, Shishir Joshi has worn multiple hats – journalist, anchor, lawyer, and now as the Project Mumbai’s CEO and co-founder. He was happy being a hard-nosed journalist, but he quit the profession with the aim to improve the economic and social fabric of the city.
Project Mumbai started as a model of public-private-people partnership, where people of the city remain at the centre with the purpose being to bring positive change to their lives. Project Mumbai was also busy during COVID-19 helping countless Mumbaikars. From setting up mental health helplines to providing PPE kits and cooked meals to over 55+ lakh people and grocery kits to over 30,000 families, the organisation was involved in providing several relief measures.
In this chat with GiveIndia, Joshi shares his journey with the organisation, the impact created, the secret behind the ‘Mumbai Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega’ spirit and more.
GiveIndia: How has your 20+ years in journalism helped in your venture into the social sector?
Shishir Joshi: Journalism helps you think objectively and guides your instincts to verify facts and not to take things at face value. At the same time, it also provides a wide ground reality perspective of various situations. Needless to say, an opportunity to interact and learn from people across sectors is a bonus. Lastly, to think on one’s feet even during a crisis, with speed, is what I have learned in the various management roles I have held in the second half of my career.
All these have come in handy during my journey in the social sector. Project Mumbai is also modelled itself from these learnings – being a go-to organisation and a model of collaboration for initiatives across a wide range of sectors.
GI: Tell us about your recent initiative of vaccinating imprisoned women against COVID in Byculla Jail.
SJ: They are as entitled to health as the rest of the citizens. We focused with a great zeal to vaccinate not just the inmates of Byculla Jail (which is the Central Jail for women in Mumbai) but also the Arthur Road prison (which is Mumbai’s central district prison) and the Regional Mental Hospital in Thane.
The response was overwhelming. The volunteers of Project Mumbai helped us in the registration process, and for every one call to action, ten hands would go up to provide support. What was also hugely uplifting was the support we got from the prison officials. Inmates too, not only maintained great discipline but almost every day, they too were helping out in the vaccination process and ensuring the process became seamless.
The municipal corporation teams and doctors ensured that an adequate vaccine quota is provided regularly as each of these prisons is overcrowded. The Arthur Road jail has a capacity of 800 but currently has over 3,000 inmates. What was important was that most of them do not have a verifiable document (Aadhaar or PAN) which is mandatory for registration on the vaccination app. This is where the jail officials ensured that a single number provision would help register them all. And today, Project Mumbai has the credit of ensuring every inmate in Mumbai’s two prisons is vaccinated.
GI: What are the challenges faced by children orphaned by COVID in Maharashtra? How are your initiatives geared to help them?
SJ: First and foremost are the numbers. It is extremely sad that 400+ lost both their parents and 12,000+ have lost a single parent. They are so badly impacted for no fault of theirs. So, multiple challenges have emerged, foremost being their welfare and safety. The other being identifying and verifying the cases. The data is from across Maharashtra, is dynamic and increasing by the day. In several cases, children have relocated to other relatives’ homes and thus, gathering that information is another challenge.
However, despite this, we at Project Mumbai are glad that a process has been put in place. In partnership with the officials from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of Maharashtra, we have identified officials in every district who now appoint persons to identify such families. At the same time, others can inform if they know of such cases. Project Mumbai has committed to pay the school fees of as many children as it can identify to ensure their education continues in the same school in which they are currently enrolled unless they have changed geographies.
In some cases, we are providing fixed money deposits in the child’s name which can be availed after the child turns 18. In other cases, we are providing handsets with data and uploaded curriculum to children. We are also partnering with a few private schools that are willing to offer full scholarships to such children.
GI: They say a crisis shapes a person. How true is that for Project Mumbai? To what extent has the COVID-19 pandemic shaped your journey?
SJ: Project Mumbai is a people’s organisation. A model of public-private people partnership. We believe in social transformation through initiatives of scale. Even before COVID, we remained as committed to the causes, be it mental health, environment, or governance to name a few. The cause being people. That has not changed.
COVID has allowed us to spread our work in multiple areas – food, health infrastructure, livelihood, healthcare, vulnerable communities (and then, other areas such as vaccination etc). So, have we changed our approach? No. But what we have done is spread ourselves much wider in the service of the community, creating a much faster turnaround and response time. We are now the go-to not-for-profit for most areas that require a collaborative solution.
GI: What drives your #MumbaiKeLiyeKucchBhiKarega spirit?
SJ: It is ingrained. Within me and the people, I see around me. I believe every person has a good bone in them. Mumbai, for us, is also the Kindness Capital of India which we are building as a Project Mumbai campaign.
Every time I or my team has asked others to step in, not one but a hundred hands have been raised in support. Every time we ask, “What would you like to do? If not this initiative, would you be interested in that?” The response has always been a big “YES.” Kuchh bhi is the emphatic reply.
We are proud to say that hundreds of thousands of people across Mumbai feel that trust in us to support and partner us in our journey. Project Mumbai may have been founded by me but it belongs to every citizen of Mumbai who believes in Mumbai Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega. We are a citizen-led game changer.
GI: If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to dinner who would they be and why?
SJ: What would be more exciting is to create a nice mix of people across age groups who can blend into a conversation, something that is severely lacking. So yes, three people of diverse backgrounds, three lovely storytellers, who can be introduced to each other for a lovely evening of great conversation. What I would love is not just to invite them over dinner but also to cook for them.
Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan
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