“A social entrepreneur should be more interested in others than himself.”
Dressed more as a student in shorts and t-shirt, Dr. Anil Prabhakar is not easily recognized as a professor who teaches classes and conducts research. Well, he is not your average person. A physicist by training and a faculty in the Department of Electrical Engineering profession, he also dabbles as a Social Entrepreneur. “Any engineer should actually try to solve societal problems. If we are aiming to live in an inclusive society, then we who have the ability to do should do something”, says Anil Prabhakar, which serves as a constant motivation for him in his social endeavors. The interview took place in his office where he talked about the three social service organizations he is a part of, among many other things that occupy his time.
‘A social entrepreneur should be more interested in other than himself,’ according to him. He serves as one of the faculties in charge at CREATE (Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology), an interdisciplinary body at IIT Madras, which strives to address the needs of differently abled people with the help of technology.
CREATE strives to connect the academia to the problems faced by Persons with disability (PWD) people in large so that they can think about ideas to solve them. The central four areas under which it develops assistive devices are namely communication, mobility, leisure, and education for the disabled people. Students and staff at the Departments of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, are trying to recognize gestures, build vision simulators, design prosthetics, and even design myDrive: a self-driven electric Vehicle for persons in a wheelchair. At the Dept. of Metallurgical Engineering, they are working on an alumni-funded project called Gait Slippers, to monitor the gait of diabetic patients.
A natural question arises here, While CREATE may build products, how does it make sure the products reach out to the general population and are used by them? This veers the talk to the partnering organizations. ‘We are partnering with Enability Foundation for Rehabilitation, Chetana Charitable Trust, and NGOs like Vidyasagar, St. Louis Institute and SPASTN.’ clarifies Dr. Anil. He also serves as a founder-director for Enability and a founder-trustee of Chetana.
“Chetana, as the name suggests, creates awareness among the targeted audiences, while Enability Foundation is a not for profit organization that intends to provide the products developed in academia at an affordable cost to the end user,” explains Anil Prabhakar. He adds that Vidyasagar is a school for students with motor impairments and multiple disabilities at Kotturpuram. Vidya Sagar previously had a vocational unit below the water tank, at the place where the NSS office is now located.
In life, every particular task we undertake has some inherent triggering point to it and it is no different in the case of projects undertaken at CREATE. “The trigger point to the whole idea of CREATE was a workshop conducted two years back called SILENT REVOLUTION by my wife Dr. Namita Jacob, a special educator, and Prof. Hema Murthy (CS Dept.). This event brought the students and faculty at IIT Madras together with persons with disability and their teachers and caregivers. In this workshop, students with disability shared the problems they faced in daily life with us. This has been and continues to be the spur behind all our projects” says Anil Prabhakar adding that all the projects like ADITI, iGest, Tactograph, HOPE (which preceded the commercial launch of AVAZ) were born out of a necessity.
Enability Foundation recently achieved another milestone by making their products available in PayTM. “We have been trying for some time now to get our products into Amazon so that people from all around India can buy our products if they need it. While the deal didn’t go through with Amazon, with a little bit of backing from IITM, we have succeeded in the case of PayTM”, adds Dr. Prabhakar with jubilation.
We wish him success and hope that his work would serve as a motivation for emerging social entrepreneurs.