Over the past six months, across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned lives upside down.

The disruption is unprecedented: hospitals are struggling to cope, people have lost jobs, businesses have shut down, and there seems to be no end in sight. 

But, as they say, the unlikeliest heroes are born in times of chaos. When the pandemic struck, frontline health workers were the first to go beyond the call of duty and support the community.

However, they’re not alone. Hundreds of ordinary people have also come forward to lend a hand in whichever way they can. They are feeding the hungry, sewing masks, collecting rations and medicines, and raising funds to help people hit by the crisis.

Riddhi Shah, a 30-year-old educationist and CSR consultant in Mumbai, is one such hero at the forefront of a community fundraising effort.

Soon after India’s first lockdown was announced, Riddhi started a small fundraiser to support daily wage workers. Her persistence and dedication helped raise Rs 15 lakhs initially. As news of her work spread, she went on to raise over Rs 5.5 crores for COVID-19 relief in just 70 days.

“Less than Rs 1 crore of the more than Rs 5.5 crores I’ve helped channel came from known or familiar sources. The rest was all just total strangers placing their trust placed in me,” says Riddhi.

And that’s why a stellar jury picked Riddhi as one of Harappa’s 10 Habit Heroes from more than 400 nominations from across the country. Harappa’s Habit Heroes went the extra mile to lend a hand during the coronavirus crisis, making people pause and take notice of their exceptional work. 

They used Harappa’s five Habits—Think, Solve, Communicate, Collaborate, and Lead—for a range of initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis, from feeding migrant workers to making face shields. 

“The Harappa Habit Heroes are people who saw the world differently, who did not act from the narrow confines of their personal gains only. What makes them different are their habits, which reflect their core beliefs and value systems,” says jury member Saurabh Mittal, who is a life coach and the founder of QYON.

“Selflessness, courage, compassion, deep desire, and motivation to make a difference stood out in all the Heroes.”

But it wasn’t easy for Riddhi. 

Riddhi remembers a neighbor’s skepticism when she began. “A neighbor in my building saw my fundraiser link on the building WhatsApp group. He met me on the staircase and asked me how much I was planning to raise,” she says.

“He scoffed when I said Rs 10 lakhs minimum for round one of relief work. He said, ‘You’ll never make it’.”

But she did. 

Riddhi began with the idea of reaching out to slums in Mumbai’s Banganga, Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Lower Parel, Colaba, and Cuffe Parade areas. Initially, she only planned to provide simple dry ration kits but the drive soon gathered momentum. 

“Prior to the lockdown, I had thought of helping communities near my house,” says Riddhi. “It snowballed and spiraled into a movement once the lockdown was announced. I reached out to ask for help on social media. It is reaching out to ask for help and collaborating with people which allowed me to raise more than Rs 5.5 crores within 70 days.”

Soon, she was speaking to frontline volunteers and workers as well as CEOs of NGOs and collectives to understand what they needed. The drive then extended to providing health supplements, PPE kits, and sanitizers to organizations such as the Dharma Bharathi Mission for women, children, taxi drivers, fisherfolk, police, health workers, and hawkers. 

Apart from providing food and medical aid, they also helped thousands of stranded workers return home by funding their bus, tempo, train, or flight travel.

As Riddhi reached out to more and more people, the initiative grew from a neighborhood fundraising drive to a wider effort spanning several parts of the country with campaigns on crowdfunding site DonateKart. She also collaborated with several like-minded individuals, organizations, and vendors on their campaigns.

Soon, she was coordinating with retail-focused organizations such as DMart and Big Bazaar as well as warehouse owners to store ration kits and set up local distribution channels. 

“I reached out to my school and college network, different social and professional circles built over time, wrote long emails, had long phone calls,” says Riddhi. 

“When he saw how hard I was working, that same neighbor contributed Rs 25,000, connected me to his IIT Alumni networks, and got his friends to support my initiative.” 

The logistical challenges of coordinating this effort may have been complex, but Riddhi’s mantra is simple: Don’t wait for invitation, validation, approval, or permission. Just do it. 

Riddhi Shah is one of 10 Harappa Habit Heroes. Meet all the Habit Heroes here and read about another inspiring Habit Hero, Dhwani Jain, here.

Sugita Katyal is an Associate Director with the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A former journalist and history major, she loves watching crime shows.

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