The last place you would expect to find an ex-investment banker is in social entrepreneurship. However, shunning the well-worn path has not only paid off for Dhruv Lakra, but has also generated employment for one of the most marginalised groups in India, deaf adults. Lakra heads a Rs 25 lakh social enterprise, Mirakle Couriers.
After graduating from HR College, Mumbai, he joined DSP Merrill Lynch as an investment banker. Before long, dissatisfaction with the job prompted him to look at other avenues. "I worked for two years and then joined an NGO, Dasra, in January 2005," he says. Nearly two years later, he was ready to move again. Keen to explore the middle path between social work and conventional business, he opted for an MBA degree in social entrepreneurship from Said Business School, Oxford University,London.
"My agenda was clear: I wanted to start a social venture in India," says Lakra, who returned to Mumbai in 2008, and found his business idea in a local bus. "Seated a couple of seats ahead of me was a boy, who was struggling to communicate with the bus conductor about where he wanted to go. It took me time to realise that the boy was hearing impaired," he recalls. "There are hardly any opportunities for these people," he adds.
So Lakra decided to set up a courier company employing only the hearing impaired since the employee doesn't need to communicate much with customers. In January 2009, he put in nearly Rs 21,000 saved from his MBA scholarship as seed capital. "To begin with, I learnt the Indian Sign Language," he says. Next, he contacted a couple of NGOs working with the hearing impaired and asked them if they would spare a couple of students to work with him on a trial basis.
"Thermax was kind enough to give us a small place on a temporary basis. Thereafter, we hired a couple of people and started approaching companies for work," says Lakra. The money went mostly into training the staff, buying uniforms and for office use. To woo clients, he offered a 15-day trial. Before the month was over, Mirakle Couriers was open for business and their first break came from Mahindra & Mahindra.
The initial months were challenging due to the training required and the need to overcome mindsets and scepticism. "The problem was that we would never get any important cheques or documents, only bulk mailers." However, as the clients noticed the prompt and efficient service, the team started handling important documents as well, and the business broke even in the first year of operations. Today, Mirakle Couriers employs 50 people, handling around 65,000 deliveries a month for 40 companies. Apart from the four members of the managerial staff, the entire team is hearing impaired.
"We generate an annual revenue of Rs 25 lakh on an average," says Lakra. It also has offices at Churchgate, which they got free of cost from the Aditya Birla Group, and another at Andheri. Mirakle has won several awards, including the 2009 Hellen Keller award, Echoing Green Fellowship Award 2009 and, in 2010, the National Award for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities, given by the President of India.