WHEELS Adds Meaning to the PanIIT Global Conference

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Kolkata, India – Is the PanIIT forum all about just playing catch up and networking with long lost friends? Or is there something more substantial? The plenary on WHEELS (water, health, education, environment, lifestyle and security) showed that IITians care for the society too and it isn’t just about fat pay cheques and a comfortable lifestyle.


‘Wheels is a thought-leadership program. We want to encourage people like Madhu Pandit Dasa (an IITian who became a monk with Isckon and has launched a meal program called Akshaya Patra) and help them by providing time, money and opening our connections. Pan IIT created the platform to start Akshaya Patra in West Bengal, for instance,’ said Suresh Shenoy of Wheels.


But how do the techies do social work differently? “Technology is a big equaliser. Akshaya Patra is successful because of the use of technology. Similarly, another programme Sevak, has been possible because of application of technology. They want to train 10,000 people to become healthcare soldiers. IIT Gandhinagar is developing a programme to train those people,” he explained.  


“We are starting a new project called Wheels Foundation which has already been incorporated to raise funds for projects that are socially responsible. The goal is to spawn projects that will help the citizens of India and the US. These projects will deal with the six areas of Wheels,” said Gulab Bhavnani.


And how do they plan to get the projects? “We will encourage business plans and let people who are interested in social entrepreneurship build business plans. A committee will evaluate them and give cash awards to the winners and put them in touch with investors, venture capitalists and NGOs,” added Bhavnani.

At the plenary, Shenoy said that they would also create a database of expertise to know where the skills are and promote ideas and entrepreneurship. ‘We would encourage IIT students to come up with ideas in the sex segments,’ he said. Apart from the Wheels Foundation in the US, there will also be one in India and they will seek funding from NGOs and individual initiatives among others. The organization is also looking at signing MoUs with similar organizations.


Dr Thakore Patel, who runs the Sevak project, warned of how modern diseases like diabetes and hypertension are spreading fast even in rural India. He gave instances of how technological innovations like the Insulin cooler (two containers filled with charcoal, water and salt helps reduce temperatures by 20 degree) by IITs has helped aiding healthcare in the villages of Gujarat.


He urged the IITians to create simple cooking ovens venting outside that can be made in villages, find out new ways of water purification, chemicals to get rid of mosquitos and smell-free public toilets. “Village problems should have village solutions created in the village using IIT knowledge,” said Thakore.


Sunil Parekh, who works as a strategic advisor to business groups in Gujarat highlighted how recently two young engineers of IIT have invented a way to convert carbon emissions to carbon nanotubes. He gave examples of various ventures which are working to provide healthcare in the villages by using technology.    


“PanIIT needs to advocate at the top level and help states reengineer the health system through engineering, management and technological skills,” stressed Prof. Dileep Mavalankar, director, Public Health Foundation of India.


Madhu Pandit Dasa, who started Akshaya Patra, gave an interesting presentation on how he has used technology to feed poor kids in schools in north and south India and how that has indirectly aided in education. It is an automated kitchen devised by Dasa.


“Innovation and use of technology are the hallmarks of Akshaya Patra,” said Dasa. The machine uses gravity flow mechanism and cooks tons of food in just four hours. The roti machine he has made can make an incredible 60,000 rotis in an hour. “I got it made in Jalandhar by two sardarjis,” he said. Ten out of 17 of his kitchens are ISO certified and audited. He plans to feed 5 million schoolchildren by 2020.


But interestingly, Dasa (who falls short of Rs 3.50 per meal and is looking for corporate funding) doesn’t plan to continue this forever. “I will close the program by 2030. Given the rate at which India is growing, I am hoping that by then we will largely come out of the present poverty levels. I don’t want to encourage poverty,” he proclaimed.

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