An Entrepreneur is Born: Neha Swain

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Neha Swain – Changeloomer and Founder of Pravah Pahal

The leap from employee to entrepreneur is not an easy one.   In fact, as 25-year old Neha Swain discovered, entrepreneurship is a totally different ball game. 

After graduating with a Masters in Social Work, Neha spent two years with Pravah’s Adolescent Interventions, coordinating, designing and facilitating leadership workshops with school students.  When she decided to move to Hyderabad to be with her parents, her mentor, Ishani, asked a seemingly innocent question, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to build a space in Hyderabad where young people can develop their leadership capacities and become change makers?”  In other words, wouldn’t Neha like to take the leap and start a Pravah incubation in Hyderabad?

Although Neha was initially hesitant, she found herself considering this option.   “The idea of social entrepreneurship was new to me.  It was only at the Development Centre where I met and interacted with peers who were part of the same Change Looms journey that I started to understand the journey that lay before me.”   The first Development Centre  – a 5 day residential learning workshop – helped Neha in more ways than one.   It enabled her to develop clarity about the organization’s key elements.   What had been a vague concept till then took shape and gave birth to Pravah Pahal.   According to Neha such spaces are critical for start-ups or else it is easy to succumb to the many challenges that come your way. 

As an employee with Pravah, Neha was accountable to the organization but remained in a safe space that already had a structure and systems in place, credibility and strong relationships with schools and other partners.   Delhi was also a city that she knew well.    Entrepreneurship, however, is about risk taking and the Change Looms journey pushed Neha out of her comfort zone.  All of a sudden, Neha found herself in a new city and in charge.  She had to take on new roles, such as marketing, that she had never done before.  “Here I was the only person and had to do everything.”   She was overcome with fear and doubts about her ability to persevere.   But Neha surprised herself with her entrepreneurial qualities – “It was overwhelming but also a great leadership opportunity.” 

The last six months have been primarily a start up phase for Pravah Pahal – a phase filled with learning and action during which Neha has worked hard to build the foundation of the organization and a visible presence in Hyderabad.    She has conducted workshops and sessions with 350 students and teachers.    She has also built partnerships and collaborations with other organizations that have opened up exciting learning opportunities.    Pravah Pahal now has an office space in the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM).  Neha has also been selected as an investee of the Unlimited Hyderabad Chapter.    She has also set up a Pravah Pahal Facebook page to build visibility and connect with young people.   A database of various youth spaces and organisations has also been developed which can be used for marketing programs for adolescents.

One of the key factors contributing to Neha’s success has been her ability to seek support and work with her mentor, Ishani Sen.   This relationship has built her self confidence and given her the encouragement and focus she needed. 

According to Neha the past six months have been the “most crucial phase of my life” because she has confronted so many challenges and each one brought a new learning.  Most importantly, Neha has gained many new insights about her self as a social entrepreneur. The Change Looms journey gave Neha an opportunity to reflect on her strengths and fears and to understand herself better.   As Neha says,   “Social entrepreneurship is not an easy path and one faces many challenges.   Self-reflection is a very important key for leaders to be able to recognize their own strength and challenge areas  so that they can make better decisions.”  

Thanks to the diversity of this group,  Neha has also been able to explore differences and develop friendships with peers  with different identities.   Until Change Looms she had never had the time or opportunity to question her own boundaries.   It was at the Development Centre that Neha found a mirror “to reflect my dilemmas and blind spots: I realized that, without trying, I had set a boundary when it came to choosing friends. It took me a lot of time to first identify this pattern and then break it open and expand my horizon. While I know many people who have different identities, I realized those relationships … were transactional. It was at the Development Centre that I really challenged myself to form friendships with people from various backgrounds.”

 Reflecting on her journey as a leader, Neha feels that her experience of becoming an “entrepreneur” along with the accompanying challenges, responsibilities and excitement of being the lone leader, driving oneself, balancing family and work, connecting with her mentor and maintaining a discipline were all key to her growth.

 Going forward, Neha wants to get Pravah Pal registered and also to build a team to meet the growing demand in Hyderabad.   Currently she has only one volunteer assisting her.  She would like to build at least 2 strong partnerships with schools and take 100 students on a leadership journey.

Time has flown by.   As Neha says …  “it’s amazing that it’s already been 6 months since Pravah Pahal started and to think that I was scared to take even the first step.”   Congratulations Neha!  Hats off to you!

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