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How Living as a Tribal Forged a Social Entrepreneur

Born and raised in the Eastern Indian state of Odisha, Vikash Das grew up to earn his Master’s in Software Engineering and land a lucrative job at IBM. But he never forgot his upbringing in Odisha, particularly his memories of the Adivasi, an indigenous tribe he grew up alongside of. “My extended family used to warn me not to befriend local tribal children and not to touch and play with them, because they were born as Adivasis,” he recalls.

This never sat well with him, and after four years as a successful IT consultant, he found himself dissatisfied. In 2013, he quit his job, and dedicated himself to understanding the life of a tribal. “That’s when I decided to live like them for two months in their village,” he explains. “I wanted to do something meaningful in my life. These Adivasis have lost their land and livelihood. They are physically isolated from mainstream society and have no access to markets to sell their products,” Vikash says. Now, only two years later, his nonprofit Vat Vrikshya works to counsel the Adivasi, provide seed funding, and create market channels for their goods.

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“When I quit my job and decided to settle down in a remote village, my family and friends were upset. They thought I had some psychological issue because I wanted to live like a poor to help the poor,” he recalls. “At the end of the day, it was their son’s emotions which won [my] parents over.” Meanwhile, his startup’s success has brought with it a keener sense of connectedness and responsibility. He explains: “Tribal culture is rich and unique but is facing serious threat of extinction, and must be preserved. Vat Vrikshya is strengthening their roots, and their unique culture of living in harmony with nature, which has sustained them for 3,500 years on this land.”

You can read Vikash’s interview with Inspired Startups here.

 

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