An alumnus of ISB, one of the best B-Schools in India, Purnota Dutta Bahl, was expected to be the marketing head or the chief of a large firm in India.
She did take up a corporate job; she did head the marketing team of one of India’s largest online platforms only to tread the path of entrepreneurship but with a difference.
“My case is a bit unique because I was not moving from a corporate job to an entrepreneurial role. I was moving into a not-for-profit,” says Bahl who founded the Cuddles Foundation, a one-of-its-kind in the world in 2013.
The Foundation, which focuses on holistic nutrition intervention for children with cancer, now works out of 17 hospitals in 9 cities and has roughly 25,000 child interactions a year.
An Act of Charity was Life-Changing
A passive donor towards treatment of cancer in children, Bahl’s calling came during a visit to the Tata Memorial Hospital.
“Once I walked into the hospital, there were little kids who had cancer. What really changed my life is when I was walking out, I saw a little girl. I felt my daughter could have been there instead of this girl. And nothing moves you to action as much as empathy,” says Bahl.
Just a feeling that the person you love the most can also be in that situation of duress is sure to change your thinking completely believes Bahl.
A conversation with one of the social services staff at Tata Memorial revealed to her that cancer patients get money for treatment very easily but no one gives money for their nutrition.
“It didn’t make sense to me because these are children who have cancer. My marketing brain started to work and we diverted all our money towards nutrition,” says Bahl.
A bit of research revealed India was losing 40 percent of its child patients with cancer because of malnourishment. An estimated 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer, about 10,000 of these children reach the hospital, and nearly 4,000 children can’t take chemotherapy due to malnourishment.
The first year Bahl worked on Cuddles Foundation was in a personal capacity. “As and when the hospital had requirement, we serviced.”
As Cuddles started, social venture capitalist, Unlimited India came on board. “In our first year when we were formed, we were chosen as Unlimited India’s investee. In terms of hand holding, what kind of goals are not-for-profits, what were our social impact goals were also helped out by Unlimited.”
A Social Venture in a Startup Mode
We are just 4 years old and our growth was exponential says Bahl.
“Once we get the SCRA certificate that makes a Foundation eligible for foreign funding, we’ll be able to tie up with large international bodies that work towards child malnourishment.”
Bahl believes her corporate background really helped her. “I didn’t have any limitation because I came from a corporate background. I approached it like a startup. We did a blueprint, we did a market test.”
Cuddle Foundation’s 60 per cent of revenue comes from individuals, about 15 per cent from corporate and the rest from events. In 2017, the Foundation has a funding requirement of INR 4.5 crore and is aiming to push for Cuddles Foundation with corporates.
Not Attracting CSR Interest is a Challenge
Before last year, we did not even qualify for Corporate Social Responsibility says Bahl.
The minute you say cancer, people think it is for treatment. A lot of work is around evangelism. You can have all the funding for a child’s treatment but as long as the child is not able to take it, there is no use of that money.
“The reason no one was doing nutrition before us is because it is an extremely fund-intensive programme to do. For example, the cost of each child is about INR 2,500 per month. If we were to add a ration basket to end abandonment, then the cost of each child goes up to about INR 4,500 per month.
One of the challenges Cuddles Foundation is facing is that malnutrition is not in the mandate of most of the corporate. “If you look at the large banks, MNCs are either education or they are doing girl child and environment,” says Bahl.