Thursday, June 1, 2017

Honouring decades of dedication to transform India’s most disadvantaged

It takes a strong soul to see overwhelming disadvantage and think, ‘I can do something’.

To then spend 30 years making that something happen, I believe that is truly extraordinary.

Yet Praveen Nair has achieved this and so much more since she began working with India’s street children, and has transformed countless lives in the process.

This week while in India, I have been privileged to confer an Honorary Doctorate of Social Innovation on Ms Nair, who founded Salaam Baalak Trust, and continues to serve as its chairperson and trustee.

The relentless work of Ms Nair and SBT to drive life-changing opportunities for street children in India has been exceptional, and recognised both in her home country, and internationally.

Ms Praveen Nair at the ceremony to accept her honorary doctorate in social innovation

Originally a social worker, Ms Nair established SBT in 1988, to rehabilitate street children who acted in Salaam Bombay, a film directed by her daughter Mira Nair.

And as Ms Nair grew her understanding of the many complex issues faced by street children across India’s cities, she expanded SBT’s mission.

Working across a range of sectors, SBT ensures street children can grow up in safe and nurturing environments, with opportunities for education, creativity, and future employment.

With many industry, business and social service partners, and innovating numerous income streams to support the not-for-profit organisation, Ms Nair has embodied the social innovation ethic, and proven it with Salaam Baalak Trust’s success.

Now, SBT employs nearly 150 staff, and has worked with more than 50,000 children. 

This visit marks the seventh year that CQUniversity has been partnering with Salaam Baalak Trust.

Incredibly, 30 SBT graduates have now achieved Engineering degrees CQUniversity.

I am particularly proud that CQUniversity also sponsors SBT’s City Walk – a guided tour through New Delhi slums, conducted by former street children who have grown up with SBT’s support.

This initiative provides fundraising for SBT, an international showcase of the not-for-profit’s work, and skill development and earning opportunity for former street children – a shining example of successful social innovation.  

As CQUni grows our social innovation agenda, it is a perfect time to reinforce our partnership with SBT, and shine a spotlight on what Ms Nair and SBT has achieved. 

Next year will see SBT celebrate its 30th birthday, and it is as innovative today, as it was when Ms Nair and her co-founders first walked New Delhi’s dark streets, to truly understand what could help its street children.

Signing a new MOU with the SBT

In those same three decades, CQUniversity has also grown, and in our own way transformed lives – not just for SBT graduates, but for thousands of our own students in Australia.

With all our differences, to my mind the Salaam Baalak Trust and CQUniversity are a perfect match. And the many benefits of our partnership go in both directions.  

While our Engineering qualification has put SBT students in control of their lives and their careers, CQUniversity Nursing and Education students on placement in India have also learnt so much from their time working with SBT staff and children.

And every member of the CQUniversity family should take inspiration from the vision and can-do attitude of Praveen Nair.

Through social innovation, we are already achieving so much in all of our communities – and the story of Salaam Baalak Trust shows us how much more is possible.

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