A Story from Kishanganj, Bihar

"Until the lion learns to write, the stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter"

No place I have ever been to symbolises this more than Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It's not a typhoon or a flood that happens because of nature's order. It's a man-made disease and Bihar's poverty is a direct result of horrifying Churchill-engineered genocides and the lackadaisical approach of the post-independence governments. And yet, the Biharis resisted and they are fighting back centuries of oppression. They are writing stories of how their forefathers were killed in famines engineered for the colonizers to profit. They are writing stories of the hunt so that the hunters are no longer glorified. They are building schools and cities for the future and they are arming themselves with dreams, big enough to transform their land. This is one such story. The story of the Bihari dream. We don’t hear stories like this from Bihar . But, make no mistake. There’s an insane amount of good work happening in Bihar. We just don’t get to hear about it. It’s time to right that wrong!

The Situation

In Bihar, more than 25% of college graduates are unemployed leading to the widespread belief that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be unemployed. These young people are stuck in an impossible situation — they are unwilling to do manual work or farming, and yet, there are no jobs for them in the state. Because there are no jobs locally, close to 4.5 million people migrate out of Bihar each year to try to find work, leading to brain drain and a depleted workforce.

Project Potential is solving this major problem, by building an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation in rural India. The goal is to convert millions of job seekers in Bihar to job creators . They do so by building the entrepreneurial mindset in youth, and then supporting them through training, mentorship, and incubation.

The Solution

Zubin Sharma is one of the most incredible people I have met in my travels across rural India. He moved to rural Bihar from New York, where he was born. He has been living and working in rural Bihar for the past 7 years. Zubin firmly believes in the potential of everyone to achieve extraordinary things. Along with Abodh Kumar (who grew up in Vaishali district in Bihar and has been working on community-development for years), the duo created Project Potential.

So what has Project Potential achieved so far? Let me tell you the story of Bharti Singh. Bharti is an entrepreneur who has been incubated by Project Potential. She is the founder of Manavi Natural Handicrafts, a social enterprise which seeks to help women become self-dependent by creating and selling jewellery made from natural material like bamboo and seeds. She has gone through our training programs and has sold her jewellery throughout India and to people from all over the world.

“After joining Project Potential, I realised that there is a learning in every little thing – every experience, every small conversation can teach us something valuable. In our society, girls are not allowed to go out and work. They are married off at a very young age. Before this, the thought of ‘log kya kahenge’ (what will people say?) bothered me, but it doesn't matter anymore. All I want is a better future for the girls in my society and I am not afraid!”

The video below is a heartwarming glimpse of Bharti's extraordinary work!

The goal behind Project Potential is to incubate 10,000 such entrepreneurs in 5 years , providing end-to-end support to help rural youth become entrepreneurs.

The Campus

Visiting Project Potential’s headquarters in rural Bihar feels like that scene from Black Panther, when we see Wakanda for the first time. A vision of what Bihar would have been like if it was never colonized. In the middle of tea fields, structures made out of bamboo suddenly appear. There’s a makerspace for villagers to experiment in and the walls of the buildings are filled with quotes such as “ When all else is lost, the future still remains ” and Chelsea Manning’s statement to the Guardian. Roam around the 30 villages surrounding the campus and you will see change everywhere.

This is the site of Project Potential’s eArthshala campus. A 15 acre campus, this is where Project Potential trains the trainers who lead their programs. Different livelihood and entrepreneurship opportunities are tested here and sustainable ways of living are modeled. The name comes from the English word “earth” and the Hindi word “arth” which means both economy and meaning.

Surat Singh is currently the leading bamboo artisan at Project Potential’s eArthshala campus. Surat is a local older man who has had immense experience in construction with diverse people in India. He has a commitment to learn and grow, for example you can often hear him say “every moment is an opportunity to learn.” This video describes Surat and what Project Potential is trying to do incredibly well :)

Our villages are a goldmine of wisdom and Project Potential hopes to create a new Bihar by learning from old Bihar. Much like Bunker Roy in Tilonia, Project Potential is building a new future for the locals it intends to serve using local wisdom. By empowering young Biharis with enough passion and potential to transform their land.

This article barely scratches the surface of what Zubin and his team are trying to do at Project Potential. You can learn more about their work at projectpotential.org and in the articles listed below.

We refused to tell people in this Bihar village that they need help. It worked wonders : Recommended Read



~ Manu Chopra