Dhruv Lakra has an M.B.A. from Oxford and was working with a leading investment bank. He quit the corporate world to start Mirakle Couriers, a courier company that employs deaf boys and girls. Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. talks to him about his foray into the disability sector, his trial and tribulations and plans for the future.
D.N.I.S.: With an M.B.A. from Oxford and a lucrative job, when and how did you decide to get into the disability sector?
Dhruv Lakra: Well, I have a background in the social sector and was interested in this field since college. After working with a leading investment bank, I realized how business can improve the standard of living of millions of people in India. Having a M.B.A. was a logical step but with a difference. I got interested in the disability sector as my father is now a paraplegic post a car accident. This initiated me into the disability space. I believe that the perception about disability needs to change in India.D.N.I.S.: Why a courier company for the hearing impaired?
Dhruv Lakra: Simply because most other vocations developed for them have isolated them even further. Old school jobs such as candle making shun them even more, and does not make them visible. Today, there is a need to develop vocations that empowers them economically and improves their standard of living.
At Mirakle Couriers, the pick up and drop is done by deaf boys, and back office sorting of the documents is done by deaf girls. They have no difficulties in traveling on local trains and buses for delivering documents to corporate customers and individual homes. The back office operations include sorting of the documents, data entry and documents related work. The designated boys after picking up the documents come to a central office where the girls sort the documents P.I.N. code wise, and hand them to the delivery boys who deliver them to the clients. Each and every major area or suburb is allotted to a group of deaf boys who are responsible for delivery and pick-ups in that area, thus generating tremendous employment. Through colorful t-shirts and caps, they give strong visual cues to people that they are deaf thus building a rapport with the clients slowly and steadily. The mode of communication for pick ups and confirming the deliveries with deaf delivery boys is text messaging. We take advantage of the onslaught of mobile phones in India and the cheap text messaging tariff plans.
D.N.I.S.: How were the initial days? The teething problems?
Dhruv Lakra: Initial days were really tough, and they still are. The challenges are multi fold - ranging from strong social perceptions to business related. For example, many people turn us down because companies are worried how we can deliver shipments anywhere in Mumbai the next day. Even very basic things such as ‘how do the deaf communicate’ are asked. People don’t even know there is a language called ‘Indian Sign Language.’ The isolation is so strong that non - disabled people don’t even know basic things about people with disabilities. Spreading awareness is the real key.
D.N.I.S.: What are the challenges you usually face?
Dhruv Lakra: Changing perceptions of companies and individuals, taking the family into confidence, developing skill sets for a low income community which has had no experience of working professionally - these are the challenges that we face.
There are legal and financial regulations that also make it a non - conducive environment for disability related issues to get discussed and businesses to mushroom that can employ people with disabilities.
D.N.I.S.: Your views on the common attitude of welfare and charity of the government/employers / society towards people with disability?
Dhruv Lakra: Well, the common attitude is quite sickening and pathetic. Rather than focusing on the future and investing in people with disabilities the attitude stems from the fact that disabled people are inferior to able bodied persons and hence pity is shown.
One needs soft support but the support has to be strategic and smart, and then slowly withdraw that support. Even if one is disabled, he or she can do everything but the environment in India makes that person disabled. For example, there are no ramps or speaking elevators. It is important to understand that disability has an external environment factor also which stems from charity and welfare. It is common practice to visit blind schools and distribute sweets and feel good about it.
D.N.I.S.: One incident that made you realise that this was indeed your calling?
Dhruv Lakra: My calling is the social sector, and I have other ideas which I may start sometime later. Though disability would be my focus, I am also interested in other social causes such as children, education, and health.
D.N.I.S.: What are your future plans?
Dhruv Lakra: I want to see Mirakle Couriers having an all India presence employing people with disabilities, with a strong focus on employment of deaf people.