Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them.
Kanthari– The name itself sends a spicy tinge down the oesophagus of all the Malayalis. Why? It’s because ‘kanthari’ is a plant that grows in almost every backyard of Kerala, a small but very spicy chilli, spicier than a jalapeno pepper, with a number of medicinal values.
And being a Malayali myself, this particular name intrigued me. When my friend told me about them, I decided to find out more and it led to a revelation of sorts. An apt name for a team with the potential to create a fire with a little matchstick called adverse experiences of life.
And that’s when this definition enlightened me more- A ‘kanthari’ is also a symbol for those who have the guts to challenge harmful traditions and the status quo, who have fire in their belly and a lot of innovative ideas to make a positive difference.
For their team, a Kanthari will become the symbol of a new type of leader, a leader from the margins of society.
With a passion running down their nerves, Team Startoholics got in touch with the Founders of this start-up, Mr. Paul Kronenberg and Ms Sabriye Tenberken.
An insightful interview is what followed. Here are few excerpts-
Describe your start-up to someone who has just heard about it.
Kanthari is a leadership training institute for visionaries who carry a plan for a better society. For individuals who themselves come from the margins of society or who are affected by social ill and have ideas on how to create a positive change.
Could you shed light on your life before this? What motivated the idea of Kanthari?
The idea of Kanthari was born in the Tibetan autonomous region. Sabriye, being blind herself had developed the Tibetan Braille script for her study Central Asian science. In 1998 we started an empowerment program for blind children in Tibet, opening doors for them to dream. Before we started our work most of them were locked away in dark rooms as blindness is believed to be a punishment for something bad that someone has done in a previous life.
We wanted to create a mindset shift, we wanted to show the blind that there is nothing wrong with being blind and we wanted the sighted society to understand that blind people are capable of doing many skills.
We set up four projects:
• A preparatory school for blind children,
• A vocational training centre for adolescents and adults,
• A Braille printing press and
• A so called self-integration program.
The success of the projects in Tibet led us to start a unique leadership training program which we named Kanthari, a dream factory where we train those who want to make a difference. We were looking for people who think out of the box and challenge the status quo; hence we chose this name.
Tell us something about the first step towards Kanthari. Did you receive any funding from angel investors?
The first step we took was to create a network of well-wishers, to whom we could narrate our vision. We registered our organization in Kerala with the intention of setting up this leadership training institute.
The Infosys foundation and some of the other well wishers supported us to set up our campus.
How do you train a visionary to become a leader, a Kanthari?
We have a designed a curriculum which is called “a journey in five acts”. This Curriculum provides a unique experiential learning experience. The participants learn in a very interactive environment and gain practical hands on skills that prepare them to start their own social projects and initiatives.
How do you stand apart from other grooming schools? In other words, how do you distinguish kanthari from the rest?
Kanthari’s curriculum is designed with a very practical approach. We don’t work with teachers but with so called catalysts. We also don’t have students but participants.
Basically this is a platform where learning goes both ways. As most of our participants have gone through extreme adversity but had the strength to become forces of good instead of victims of circumstance, our catalysts learn a lot from them as well.
This is not a school but a place where like minded people from across the world regardless of caste, creed, race or nationality get-together to share their experiences and move forward to realize a better society.
How has the response been from the candidates?
The response has been overwhelming. We’ve collected some quotes from our participants:
“Kanthari has helped me to see my project very clearly, I want to improve quality of education among blind youth”
– Tousif, India (Blind) –
“Kanthari has helped me to find my public speaking abilities, I never knew I had it in me”.
-Mulenga from Zambia-
“Kanthari has helped me to refocus my perception on world issues to become a world social change maker”
– Steve from Kenya-
“Kanthari helped me develop my independence, I got more confidence, Kanthari is able to encourage me to pursue any dream I have”
– Loren, Philippines (blind)
Tell us something about the background of the applicants who wish to be a part of Kanthari.
Over the past 4 years we have trained 77 participants from 30 countries. This has resulted in more than 42 new social projects and initiatives already. We work with a variety of people such as blind and/or partially sighted, differently-abled people, ex-child soldiers, street children, social workers, women who fight female circumcision, Albinos etc.
What challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey? What has been the toughest decision you have had to make lately, if any?
The major challenges we have faced since the start of the project is a general mistrust of society in someone’s dream. Most people don’t believe in dreams. Mostly, it is a projection of personal limitations. We, however, believe that dreaming should be promoted and that instead of finding reasons why something would not work, energy should be invested in finding solutions!
Finding like minded people who share a dream, ideas and solutions is an important step in reaching any goal, no matter how small or big.
Of course, we are confronted with tough decisions on a regular base; making decisions about who to select for the training course is one of them. We only have limited space and we want to work with the best. We hope that our intake process filters out the best possible candidates but of course we do have to say no to some and that is not an easy task.
What are your plans for promoting Kanthari? Also, do you have any tie-ups?
Kanthari is only a few years old and of course the news of its existence has not spread around the entire world yet. We have a website www.kanthari.org and we provide daily posts on our facebook page: facebook.com/kantharis and twitter @kantharis.
We would like to request to anyone who reads this article to spread these three links within their network so more and more people will get to know about us. We hope this will lead to more people applying, catalysts who want to share their experiences with our participants and of course to those who are willing to financially support our work.
Where do you see Kanthari in the next 5 years?
Over the next five years we wish to see a network of Kanthari organizations across the world helping the underprivileged to be the front runners of our societies. We also wish to see our unique curriculum being acknowledged and copied to regular schools so children are encouraged to dream and are supported in the realization of the same.
What more do you wish to include to take Kanthari to the next level?
Currently we can only cater to participants in English. To take it to the next level, we would need to find participants who want to start Kanthari leadership training courses on local levels adapted to languages spoken in these areas. They could use the same curriculum and empower many more ‘potential Kantharis’.
Would you like to give any piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs?
In the words of Farrah Gray : ‘Build your own dream, otherwise someone will hire you to build theirs!’
Ouch! Definitely spicy.
Here’s wishing that many more minds be ignited and many more dreams may be realized.