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Teaching a man to fish

Perhaps one of the most cheerful and resilient people I have spoken to so far, Mr. Ashis Mohanty is a very good example of how you change your life when you find a higher calling. Read on to know more about his journey.

Many of us, sitting in the recliner chairs of corporate life talk to colleagues and peers about the what-ifs of entrepreneurship. Few come up with ideas that are viable and even fewer go through with them. Mr. Mohanty’s journey too started off much like this.

While at a comfortable job in the Royal Bank of Canada, Mr. Mohanty along with a few colleagues came up with an idea for providing customer analytics for brick and mortar retailers. The purpose was to allow these ‘traditional’ shops to up their game and compete with the new-age ecommerce platforms which had sophisticated analytics and customer retention activities in place.

He back from Canada in 2015 and Nexhop was born soon after. The venture grew and made its mark in the market. They also made their share of mistakes and had a variety of experiences along the way. However, the most significant setback they faced was when the funding deal they had worked out didn’t come through. They decided to work on improving their product and coming back to the market at a later stage.

This downtime is what I feel was the trigger that made Mr. Mohanty’s journey even more exciting. He went back to his native place in Odisha to see if he could help fix some problems faced by farmers there, but little did he know that entrepreneurial spirit has no ‘off’ switch.

Head over to the next page to find out what happened!

Mr. Mohanty noticed that the farmers, despite having fertile lands, were not able to sow crops for half the year. Rain water would be seasonal (obviously) and the traditional food crops that were harvested were heavily reliant on it. In addition to that, the price that farmers could get for these crops was shockingly meagre. The long-term effect of this was being noticed here as well, where farmers who owned land would never encourage their children to continue farming. They’d much rather have them work in the cities as labourers. Daily pay-outs and regular income were factors that were far too lucrative for the new generation who had seen their families suffer. This left no new labour to work the fields and many of these fertile lands were left abandoned.

Mr. Mohanty identified the ‘need’ of the market here and with the inspiration and support of his wife and social entrepreneur Mrs. Priyanka Das Mohanty, a new venture – Aam Adrak was created. It may not have been the most glamourous field, but when the backbone of the country is so heavily reliant on the farmer, it was more than just a venture for them, it became their mission to help this community.

Aam Adrak would focus on educating the farmer community about the growing of cash crops during that half of the year which would be their idle time. You’re probably wondering why the venture was called Aam Adrak – The best, most valuable crop which would grow in the conditions which that region of Odisha had to offer was a variant of Ginger (Adrak) which is closely related to the Turmeric family, but has a taste of raw Mango (Aam). This is used in several recipes including pickles, Upma and chutney.

In addition to enabling farmers to utilize the fields all around the year, Mr. Mohanty would also connect them to the end consumer, thus enabling the community to get better prices for the produce. Over the past year, Aam Adrak has improved the livelihoods of over 200 farmer families.

In addition to giving back to the farmer community, Mr. Mohanty also decided to mentor a few start-ups namely – a leading online fashion media platform, and – a platform for foodies to share recipes and earn exciting deals.  I hope to speak to the founders of those ventures as well, so you would probably hear about the companies and Mr. Mohanty on this blog again.

I took away two key learnings from this interaction. The first was a reinforcement of the popular words of Mr. Steve Jobs –

You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

I am sure that when Nexhop was facing its own setbacks, Mr. Mohanty may have had a hard time, emotionally, but without that setback, the lives of more than 200 farmers (and counting) would never have improved by Aam Adrak.

The second learning may be a little controversial, so do share your thoughts on the same – We often read about start-ups who aim to capture new markets and new technologies that can shape the future. Maybe it’s just me, but the improvements in the bleeding edge of tech always get a lot more focus, be it from media, or the public. I won’t say that this is unnecessary or invalid. These developments do take a lot of effort. However, a venture that improves the lives of the oppressed and impoverished by enabling them to work to their full potential and rewarding them fairly, might make financial losses at first, but isn’t this loss actually a gain to humanity?

Mr. Mohanty’s story is a prime example of how when one door shuts, another one opens. The trick is to keep a lookout for that door and have the courage to enter it at the right time. Aam Adrak is truly a noble initiative which allow the consumer to give back directly to the farmer, and I do wish them the very best!

– Abhishek Kaul

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