“I don't like doing things that are simple to do.”
In the midst of India’s nationwide lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dhwani Jain did three hard things. She did these things at a time when most of us were too stupefied to do anything. All of her efforts were directed towards countless strangers who were finding it particularly challenging to cope with the changed reality of their personal and economic lives.
Dhwani, a Delhi-based engineer-turned-social entrepreneur, is a Harappa Habit Hero, an initiative that recognizes the can-do spirit of people whose attitude during these challenging few pandemic months has made us pause and take notice.
An experienced social entrepreneur and founder-president of the Karma Foundation, Dhwani saw the pandemic through the eyes and lives of three vulnerable groups: unorganized sector workers, women, and handloom workers. She decided to create initiatives to help each of these groups—not just in her immediate vicinity but as far away from her home as Odisha. At last count, Dhwani’s ‘heroism’ has touched the lives of over 10,000 individuals.
India’s strict lockdown had a particularly harsh impact on daily wage earners and construction workers. Almost overnight, their already precarious existence turned into a battle for survival. Their needs were basic—cooked food, dry rations, sanitary products, and basic medicines. Dhwani’s essential items distribution program delivered all this to nearly 3,000 Delhi-NCR families that had lost their meager livelihoods.
“It is a satisfying thought to have ensured that some people did not have to sleep on an empty stomach. but I remain haunted by the heartbreaking sight and plight of hungry children,” she says. “I only wish I could have reached more people.”
The lockdown meant that most people were confined to their homes. This led to a spurt in domestic violence cases, which the United Nations calls the ‘shadow pandemic’. This prompted Dhwani to open up a helpline for women in distress in Delhi-NCR with a pool of psychologists and lawyers providing emotional support and counseling.
“A lot of us cannot even imagine the plight of a woman facing abuse at home, which ought to be her safest haven. Through the helpline, I could at least share in the pain of these silent victims. I now plan to support these women in becoming financially independent,” she says. Next, Dhwani plans to broaden the scope of this helpline to provide mental health support.
As the country came to grips with the extended lockdown, Dhwani realized that it was impossible for many to stand up on their feet unless they restarted earning. She came up with the idea of supporting a weaving community in Odisha to manufacture cloth masks.
Dhwani led the fundraising and advocacy effort for her initiatives. She credits her team of volunteers for giving each of these initiatives the energy and focus they demanded.
“A lot of us cannot even imagine the plight of a woman facing abuse at home, which ought to be her safest haven. Through the helpline, I could at least share in the pain of these silent victims. I now plan to support these women in becoming financially independent,” Dhwani says.
Dhwani made the Habit Heroes list because she immersed herself in challenges to provide quick and workable solutions. She didn’t restrict herself to a single initiative or community or geography—she adapted to the changed reality and provided help wherever she perceived distress.
"During the lockdown, India came together like never before to show its caring face. The 10 Habit Heroes are a great snapshot view of this from across the country,” says jury member Srikant Sastri, who is chairman of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, co-founder of Crayon Data, and chairman of I3G Advisory Network.
Dhwani embraced change with grit, utilizing her support system, and seeking opportunity at a time when all looked bleak. She built resilience not just for herself but also for countless others who were looking for a ray of hope.
Not all heroes wear capes—Dhwani Jain, a Harappa Habit Hero, certainly doesn’t.
Indu Anand is an Associate Director with the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A career corporate communicator and content creator, she is enjoying finding her Hero Habit.
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