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Irfan Alam is the founder and chairman of the SammaaN Foundation, a Bihar-based organisation that promotes the rickshaw-pulling industry. Under his leadership, SammaaN has incorporated innovations to boost operator revenues, such as advertising and music, newspapers, first aid, water, and juice for passengers.
A Three Wheeled Revolution is his interview given to Sujatha Ramprasad for India Currents in May 2010, after participating in the Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington.
Irfan Alam had this idea at the age of 17 while travelling in a rickshaw. The revolution that began with a profit of eight rupees now earns a net profit of eight lakh rupees and a revenue of 50 lakh rupees. He was keen on researching the rickshaw sector through his college days in Pondicherry, where he pursued a degree in Masters of Foreign Trade. In 2006, Business Baazigar, an Indian television show, initiated an entrepreneur hunt and invited emerging business ideas.
Alam’s plan was to systematize the rickshaw industry and turn it into a successful business. Rickshaws were to be rebuilt so that the areas on the vehicles could be sold for marketing and branding. Furthermore, he stated that additional cash may be generated by selling passengers commodities like as water, biscuits, newspapers, etc. He won the show and was given Rs. 150 lakhs in start-up capital.
He wanted to run SamaaN as a not-for-profit organization but the organizers of the TV show did not agree to this model, so he refused the seed capital. It became a social concern when he learned more about the lives of rickshaw drivers and their hardships. As a great believer of C.K. Prahalad’s theory, that firms may succeed by focusing on the bottom of the pyramid, SammaaN was formed in 2007 with family and friends being the investors. The organization helps drivers get their own rickshaws and insurance too.
Along with this, they also advertise for brands and sell simple items to passengers. The profit from their sales is split between them and SammaaN.
Children of the operators and their spouses attend free evening classes called SammaaN Gyaan. Alam envisions rickshaws as the vehicles of the future because they are environment friendly. Their RD wing is working on a solar-powered, fibreglass rickshaw. Nobel Prize Laureate Muhammed Yunus invited Irfan Alam to Bangladesh to help set up a similar organization for the rickshaw workers there.
An entrepreneur is someone who recognises a business opportunity and works hard to turn it into a business. Youth are often dissuaded from taking this route. However, it is the moment to consider entrepreneurship as a career option, as it may be a valuable instrument in the fight against unemployment in the country. It’s vital to dream, but it’s also critical to take measured risks in order to reach your goals.