#9 Naresh Karmalker - For The Greater Good

Naresh Karmalker is a resource development consultant for a non-profit called Habitat For Humanity India. He's travelled to over 25 countries to help build houses and is now starting an accelerator for startups in India.

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Transcript

We come from Goa. Goa, of course. I was born and brought up in Mumbai. The family moved to Mumbai in the 50s, but two of my uncles were freedom fighters, so they were fighting in the Goa liberation struggle. One of them was in fact, he went to prison for three and a half years and go up. 

 

Another one was leading the movement. He was supposed to be deported to Africa and then he gave them the slip and he kind of led the movement from Gujarat. And he was actually the liberator and the first administrator of Dagarnagarave, which was the first Portuguese bastion, which was actually taken over. And slowly that led to the entire liberation of Goa. 

 

So this second uncle, he was living with us. He was a bachelor in the senses, rather widower, because his wife had died within six months of marriage. He never married again. So he kind of on me and my two sisters and he was like a huge influence in my life. 

 

So it was he who kind of maybe through him I had this whole thing of maybe it came through that doing something for community, being thinking beyond one's own immediate needs and stuff. 

 

That was Nareshkar Malkar, a resource development consultant for an NGO called Habitat for Humanity. India. He's also in the middle of reviving his own start up and it's pretty exciting to see what he's going to do, given that he has dedicated most of his life to notable charitable causes. This is his story.

 

Aamer: Hello there. Welcome. I'm Aamer Khan and this is a Zed Medium Podcast. A podcast that talks to people and about them too. We interview people from different walks of life, write down their life experiences and share it with you in the best possible way known to mankind. A story. We narrate people's journeys in the simplest way we can. If you're new here, well, congrats to us for finding you. Do check out the previous episode. We got Bilal Zaidi, the founder of a political crowdfunding platform that is changing the story of the Indian democracy. 

 

And it's wonderful how he went from being a journalist to being a startup founder. Let's start, shall we? Naresh was a topper in school. Let's get that out of the way. First. And that is relevant to know for two reasons, not for the flexing reason, but one is that it created a distance between him and his friends. 

 

So he ended up being lonely for the better part of his childhood. And the second reason was that when he got into engineering, finally, he didn't do that well. It was computer engineering. It took a toll on him. And that's what usually happens when you do well in school, but can't replicate the same. 

 

When you've chosen something that does not necessarily suit you, you feel like shit. You feel like a one time wonder. Ever heard of the fish on a tree story? Well, the choice here didn't match his strengths. His self confidence took a hit. There was no one around to comfort him either. His family was in Mumbai and he had moved to Pune all by himself. 

 

That was essentially one of the first setbacks he had. But he made a couple of friends while he was in college, though there was a silver lining when one of his friends introduced him to a program called the Landmark Forum. 

 

Landmark Forum offers personal development programs, and one part of the program was to start a project that was near impossible for you to do. A project that scares you a little but excites you a lot. That's when Naresh got to it and started the car Bandra youth club, traveling extensively between Pune and Mumbai. 

 

Naresh: That's why I formed a youth club in 1992. I would say like one unimaginative name called the Car Bandra Youth Club, mainly because we operated in the Car Bandra region of Mumbai. And we had about 15 odd people in ages from say, 15 to 24th or 25, something like that. And we said, what is the issue that really we would like to work on? 

 

And the issue people felt strongly about was the rampant garbage and the general lack of cleanliness. So we said, let's go and do something about it. Now, what has happened is that I've seen my dad for a number of years, pick up the phone, fire the hell out of the municipal, guy saying, what the heck is happening? This is like someone had dumped it again. So he was very conscientious that obviously, he had his work and stuff like that. 

 

All he could do was be an alert citizen. So then he said, can we do this differently? So we went across and met the complaints officer at the municipal office and said, you know what? We know that everybody must be calling you every day to abuse you thinking you're not doing your job, et cetera. We don't want to do that. We want to ask you, how can we help you in making a difference. And she was so taken aback. She said you are the first people who have ever come and spoken to us that way. 

 

Aamer: And so a bunch of young adults took to the buildings and streets and started this movement. It was not known so much back then. It never became that popular. But they didn't care. They were young, they were determined, and wanted to do something for society. And they did leave a mark. They educated people around them and did everything they could to make their surroundings a cleaner place. 

 

They eventually merged with an organization that had the same goals to operate in unison. After which Naresh left and joined another organization that helped in making then Bombay a better city. It was called Bombay first. Now obviously Mumbai First. 

 

These were essentially the organizations that paved the way for others to come in and do good work. That basic movement over garbage and getting people together over garbage paved the way for many path-breaking citizen movements in Mumbai. 

 

So there was this whole thing that came up called Agony Action for good Governance and networking in India. There was something called city space. Citizens Forum for Protection of Public Spaces, as it was called. Working against Encroachment. All of this, the database for that came from this Clean Up the World event and the workshops and garbage that we did with Bombay first, et cetera. 

 

Okay, we'll take a detour here a bit because we still don't know how Naresh earned and sustained himself at the time. Doing great work at NGOs does not necessarily pay the bills. And so Naresh put his computer engineering degree to some good use while he made the city a better place. So what had happened in the meantime?

 

Naresh: In 1992, I found my own company as well. So I started my company which was started with software programming. You can have a look at this. This whole thing has come in as an afterthought on what I'm telling you. You can imagine how many roles it played. 

 

So I started with software programming, then I took on an agency for a value-based company. So I was selling computers, setting up Lance, et cetera, et cetera. And then we went into training because the margins and all these things were going down. So it was like a mix of services being offered. I was like a one-man show.

 

But what I had done was even at that time, I decided to keep it as a lean company. So I had a lot of kinds of associations and a lot of partnerships and tie-ups. So it was very simple for me. If I sold a bunch of machines, I had a tie-up with a company that would do maintenance for them. 

 

So I worked that. So it became a pretty easy thing to do and otherwise, I wouldn't have had time to really get into all the other things I did. 

 

Aamer: Naresh's path is very different from the kids of 1992, to be honest. His passion was for helping others, to be a part of something that is actively working to help society. And his business was running successfully on the side. 

 

Surprisingly, it ran from 1992 to 2000 and many times full of 20 hours work days without experiencing burnout, which is quite impressive in this day and age. He met several people that inspired him over the course of his work on the ground. 

 

And one of them was a gentleman by the name of Raju Shete, the founder and chairman of Radhakrishna Hospitality Services RKHS, now known as Sodexo. 

 

Naresh: He had started a chain of stores called Food Land and gave it very generously to the narration team to conduct operations there for a project called Juho together. So I had to go and meet Mr. Shade. Now, one thing I like about shady is he's got till today. He had these three things. 

 

First of all, he was supremely fit, which was something I was always envious of because I was now fit as such. But he had three mantras in life health, hygiene, and safety. So he lived his life by that, and his entire business was being run that way. So you should see, it was absolutely fantastic the way they ran the company. 

 

These are three things they never compromised on until today if you see. Sodexo and whenever they were the backbone of McDonald's, they were the backbone of Subway. All the produce which they were using in this thing came from his factory and state-of-the-art plant outside of Mumbai. And he's always maintained that. 

 

So he had always been working on citizens' issues and all that, but in his own quiet way, you tend to respect people when they're doing good for something bigger than themselves, while not making any noise about it. 

 

Aamer: Mr. Shete could have had some amazing publicity given his work, but decided to dedicate those resources to the right things. And that's what Naresh loved and admired about him. Naresh eventually shut his computer business down in 2000. 

 

He had made the right connections and friends in the nonprofit sector, and so landed a job, yes, a job at Habitat for Humanity, an organization that empowers the poorest communities in the world to have a shot at decent housing. 

 

It is something that a lot of people around the world are in dire need of, and Naresh was inclined to that. He got the opportunity through a friend in the Koli, whose daughter was already volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in the US. And she was now employed with the newly formed South Asia office in Delhi, heading their youth department for South Asia, which is why the race moved to Delhi. 

 

What I got through Habitat is I could see the world. I've traveled the world. I've been to almost 25 countries, most of them at work. So I've been to like, right from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, to Papua New Guinea, and it's all been literally not the tourism circuit. Most of them have been actually in the villages and areas.

 

And that broadened my experience so much. That kind of got me to understand that poverty across the world is the same, the manifestations will be different, could be different, and the way people were affected could be slightly different. But at the end of it, at the end of it, human beings were the same, aspirations were the same, their suffering was the same, et cetera. 

 

So in other words, poverty sucked wherever you are in the world. That's right. Poverty sure is not something anyone thrives in. It was fulfilling work, and it came with a good income. I mean, the nonprofit sector has changed ever so much since the early two thousand. 

 

Today NGOs are not like what it was perhaps earlier. First of all, my dad used to tell me that, and I'm sure lots of people say that, like social service should be done after you're retired. That whole concept has gone out the window. 

 

Today, NGOs are very professional entities. They are looking for good people to come in, and they pay fairly decent salaries. They may not be paying corporate salaries, all those six, seven-figure salaries, you may not even go to that level, whatever, but they pay decent salaries. There's no reason for anyone not to make a living from an NGO. 

 

Aamer: So Naresh dedicated a good chunk of his life to Habitat for Humanity, and as luck would have it, he found something to advance Habitat that changed his life in one way, and that was BNI Business Network International. 

 

Naresh: And that for me, was transformational. I went there and I loved the whole thing. Now, the reason I liked BNI was that the philosophy of Givers Gain, it's a powerful, powerful principle. What it says is, if I help you to get business, you will want to help me get business. 

 

So it starts by giving. It was not about what can you do for me, it's what I can do for you. And that was so akin to what I was living my life with in the NGO world. So it's kind of, for me, it was a natural kind of fit. So I just joined it because funds are not coming, and let me try and use this system and see whether that would work. 

 

That's the reason I was in Vienna, and that's the reason even now, I'm in a consultancy mode with Habitat. BNI is one of the verticals that I'm there. So I was a loan person from an NGO in Vienna, Mumbai, and I dare say perhaps Vienna, India at that time. For the longest time, it's only last year that there was a kind of a Christmas kind of gift, which the global CEO V and I decided, saying, hey, any chapter can conduct an NGO, one NGO per chapter, and we'll waive the membership fees for that for one year. And that's how we managed to get about a dozen NGOs plus in Mumbai and other parts of India as well. 

 

Aamer: That's how Naresh grew his network. And he did some very great work early on in B and I that impressed a lot of people at the top, eventually making him president for a chapter in around 2013, in just one year of him being there. And the part about this that is so significant for him. Apart from becoming the president of the chapter for about 50 odd members at a critical time. 

 

Was that he rose to the head of the Mumbai West region for BNI. Growing it slightly over 1000 to 1700 plus entrepreneurs in over four years. Including two in the lockdown period. And taking it to the top three of the world out of over 1000 regions. It is significant because he never imagined that a person with an NGO background like him could be trusted to head an entire region of business entrepreneurs and succeed in taking it to the top of the global stage. 

 

But when life is going well, there has to be some turbulence, some issue that life throws at you to test you, to see if you have the strength to face that. And for Nourish, that was his marriage falling apart around the same time he was inducted as president. Failure. 

 

Naresh: Yes. The one failure which did happen, which of course is still something, is my marriage broke up after 13 years, in around 2013, 2014. So I have literally and my biggest regret is, is that I'm separated from my wife, but also my daughter. 

 

She was only five and a half years at the time. I barely get to see her today. But it's at the lowest point in your life that you get something to grapple on, to fight for. Life could have gone sideways for him at this point. 

 

Aamer: His wife, his daughter, were very important for him, and for them to not be there anymore could have a big negative effect on anyone, let alone nourish. He could have hit the bottle. He could have done something he would be regretting all these years, but he used that to do some good in BNI as a chapter president. 

 

Naresh: But then I used that position as a kind of a channel for my whatever I was feeling at that time frustration, my anger, my anger. I said, can I put that energy there instead of something else bad? We have a six month term, so from October 2013 to March 2014, when I let it. So I basically, literally did whatever I needed to. I just kind of pulled out all the stops, and I said, let there be no boundaries to what we can achieve with this chapter. 

 

And now these days, the whole ranking business is massive because numbers have grown. But we were not so much into ranking at that time. But we did so many things in those six months. I think we were 45th in the country at that time. We moved up to the 13th position in just six months. 43rd to 13th is not an easy task, which only goes on to show how much effort was put into it. 

 

Aamer: Naresh has been associated with a lot of organizations. I mean, so many that some of them were not even named in this episode, especially his editorial stint for a magazine. He's managed to earn money while continuing his work at nonprofit organizations, which is where his heart lies. That's where his passion is. He's put in long hours to make sure he got to accomplish something every day. He's made sure he was busy and contributing in the right places. 

 

But he's realized something in all the years he has put into these several organizations, and that realization mainly came about because he had seen things on the ground. He had experienced the true reality of life. He worked with people who he was helping, and that made him very sensitive to the needs of people. 

 

Success is viewed differently when you get to see the impact of what you've done firsthand and you tend to appreciate even the smallest thing in life. No one can claim that one success is only because of yourself. Even to get that cup of tea at your desk. There are 100 people who have worked together right from the cow sheds and the milk factories and the delivery boys to the people growing tea and all that. 

 

So many people have contributed to you to even get that one single cup of tea. So let that success not make you arrogant. Let it give you the scope to actually reach out to more people and spread that happiness around. And like I said, and never, ever let failure get in your way. And he's doing exactly that. 

 

He's using his success for the better of people and he's not let failure come into his way. He's now setting up his own startup, a kind of catalyst for other startups, SMEs and NGOs to be able to help them grow through either social media development, fundraising, investments, report writing, etc for. And we wish him all the very best for that. But before we get to the end of the episode, there is one thought we would like to leave you with. 

 

And this is something Naresh has introduced into his life which is so generously shared with us.

Naresh: Keep your past in the past and you can create a new future this very moment, a number of times. So irrespective of what happens in your life, however bad the situation is, whatever you think you've gone through, it's always possible to take a clean cut this very moment and create a new future the way you want it to be. 

 

Aamer: If you like that episode and want to receive latest updates, go on to Instagram and LinkedIn and follow us. Z Medium there are a lot more stories to come and one to look out for. Next up, we have Kapil Mathur, the vice President at Hallborn Assets, who talks to us about his schooling in one of the most royal schools in Ajmir, about insurance, and about the grief of losing someone without doing what he has preached all along for them. 

 

For example, I once reached late for a meeting because I got stuck in the traffic and so I had to go for a distributor conference and my supervisor, who was the general manager of the region, happened to be there at 03:00. And I walked in at three five or three or whatever, and he was already there and he looked at me and he said he looked at his watch and he started tapping his watch and he didn't say anything to me, he just tapped at his watch and I got the message and that person and we are still in touch after 20 odd years.

 

And I said his name, whatever his name was. I've learned a new tender lesson today of Punctuality. Both of us encountered similar traffic, but he used to reach 15 minutes. He used to plan for if you had a 05:00 meeting, he would plan for being there at 445. 

 

Stay tuned and goodbye for now.