Rajiv Gandhi Foundation's tryst with a social entrepreneur

Vijay Mahajan says his immediate goal at the foundation is about ensuring that the foundation reaches its full potential but the long-term goal is to use RGF to establish programmes and activities built around its founding values, which are really the constitutional values of India.

twitter-logo E Kumar Sharma   New Delhi     Last Updated: June 13, 2018  | 22:28 IST
Rajiv Gandhi Foundation's tryst with a social entrepreneur
Vijay Mahajan, CEO, The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation

The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), in existence for 25 years, now has a new CEO, Vijay Mahajan. People in the financial inclusion space know him for the decades he has spent working on social impact issues, specially on livelihoods. Those who have interacted with him have usually come back with examples and anecdotes from the happenings in the field and the changes he has been involved with. For instance, he takes great pride in talking about his only BMW - Basix Municipal Waste Ventures in Indore. About a decade ago they started working with rag pickers in Indore and later got involved with the local municipal authority and today, Indore is rated as one of the cleanest cities in the country.

So, what now, at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF)? He says, his immediate goal at the foundation is about ensuring that the foundation reaches its full potential but the long-term goal is to use RGF to establish programmes and activities built around its founding values, which are really the constitutional values of India, and also try to translate social issues activities though analysis and research into policy level. He also leads the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (a policy think tank).

From 1991 to 2009, the foundation worked on several critical issues, ranging from health, literacy, science and technology, women and child development, disability support, Panchayati Raj institutions, natural resource management and libraries. In 2010, the foundation decided to focus on education apart from continuing its key flagship programs including INTERACT (providing educational support to children impacted by conflict), the Rajiv Gandhi Access to Opportunities programme (enhancing mobility of physically challenged youth), the Rajiv Gandhi Cambridge Scholarship programme (providing financial assistance to bright Indian students to study at Cambridge), Natural Resource Management. It also has its Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (a policy think tank) and Wonderoom (an innovative children's library).

With Mahajan in the current role, those who know him, say that if you look at the foundation as a stand alone trust and take the political angle away then it could be seen as a natural progression considering that he is seen as a leader who has spent years trying to create social impact and having worked in areas that use the power of capital to serve the poor and focussed on livelihoods. His friends see him as one who has made huge contribution in the financial inclusion space since the 1980s. Way back in 1983, he established an NGO, PRADAN to work with poor households, promoting livelihoods and community institutions.

In 1996, set up BASIX as a "new generation livelihood promotion institution". He is also regarded as one who played a role in pushing the government's agenda on inclusion - from pushing for growth drivers for microfinance institutions to the creation of payment banks and small finance banks. He was, among others, a member of a Raghuram Rajan-led committee on financial sector reforms that made a case for small finance banks almost a decade ago. Prior to that, he was on the Rangarajan committee on financial inclusion. Given that he has taken his experiences from the ground and pushed for newer ideas. An alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad, he has tended to take his experiences on the ground to policy making institutions. For instance, in micro insurance to the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDA), where he has served as a board member. Therefore, it may be worth looking at what he does now at the foundation.

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