Obama invites Bihari to entrepreneur summit

At the Entrepreneurship Summit called by US president Barack Obama, India will be represented by a man from a state which is hardly known for

“That is the fun part of it,” quipped Irfan Alam, chairman of SammaaN Foundation which works for socio-economic uplift of rickshaw-pullers and their families. Irfan, like 79 others across the globe, has got an invitation from Obama to attend the summit in Washington DC in April this year.

US envoy to India Timothy J Roemer is to visit Irfan’s office at Patna on Friday to have a first-hand feel of his organization’s activities. SammaaN has been active in states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Jharkhand. “The Madhya Pradesh government has made a special task force to implement our special rickshaw project in the state,” said Irfan, a graduate from Bihar’s Begusarai district and MBA from the prestigious IIM-Ahmedabad.

Irfan’s enterprise is not hardcore business. “There are around 10 million rickshaw-pullers across the country. Most of them are illiterate and poor. Over 90% of them are farm workers who migrate to cities for want of employment at home. They hire rickshaws for which they pay owners Rs 30 to Rs 40 per day and end up with a pittance for themselves,” he said.

Irfan, who is in his thirties, got banks to finance rickshaw-pullers. “We designed rickshaws which can shelve newspapers, mineral water bottles and other such small items for sale if the passenger needs them,” he said. These rickshaws also carry advertisements and the pullers get 50% of the ad revenue, the remainder going to SammaaN.

Thus apart from the fare, the rickshaw-puller also earns from the ads and the sales. They end up as owners of the rickshaw after re-paying the bank loan in instalments.

Irfan started off with 100 such rickshaws in 2007. Today, over three lakh rickshaw-pullers from across the country are registered with SammaaN. While 10,000 and odd are pedalling the special rickshaws, the process is underway to benefit others.

Irfan’s organization also provides books to rickshaw-pullers’ children and imparts training in occupational skills to their wives.

“Ambanis and Birlas have visited Bihar, but it is Bihari entrepreneurs on whom Bihar has to bank upon for enterprise in the state,” Irfan said.


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