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IIM-A Alumni Shocked Everyone By Starting Offbeat Business, Now Owns 5 Lakh Rickshaws

On one hand modernism and technology in the country is booming while on the other, manual labour is still accepted even by the new generation. There are a few visionaries who have started endeavours that juxtapose manual labour to modern expertise. Such is the story of an entrepreneur ‘Sammaan Foundation’ founder Irfan Alam.

Alam, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, was always sensitive to the needs of poor. To satisfy his heart’s desire, he toiled and brainstormed to find an occupation for them which could serve as their bread earner. In this quest, he realized the need to form an organisation that would offer jobs to rickshaw pullers.

Irfan, who also has a master’s degree in foreign trade and is a graduate in economics, believes in ‘never say never’ attitude. He could sharply see through how the business needed to bloom and how would he find himself digging out jobs for the rickshaw pullers exponentially. He decided to start this venture from his homeland Bihar.

The business started off from Patna in 2007 with a chain of 300 rickshaws at grass root level. The rickshaws were equipped with music, magazines, newspaper, first-aid kits, refreshments and advertisements, to help rickshaw-pullers. His vision was one of its kind and he was given the title – “rickshaw man from Bihar.” He entitled the rickshaw pullers with an innovative idea and modern design for their rickshaws.

He gained recognition across the globe for his idea of re-designed rickshaws and making the life of rickshaw pullers life easier.

Started off at a low scale, today there are 5,00,000 rickshaws registered with his firm all across the country. His achievement didn’t go unnoticed even by Barack Obama, the former President of United States in 2010. Irfan was among the few people who were selected to attend young entrepreneurs’ summit at White House the same year.

Everything was going fine until Irfan was arrested by the police charging him for kidnapping Navendu. The incident came to light when a website developer, who took advance from Irfan for designing his website, went missing. Soon after, his father accompanied ASP Sarbir Singh of Shastrinagar police station and landed at Irfan’s office. He was arrested along with his colleagues Govind Jha, Yuvraj and Rohit alias Raj Kumar on May 13, 2011 on charges of kidnapping Navendu.

“We were put in a dirty lock-up room of the police station where we spent the whole night without a drop of water in heat wave conditions,” Irfan said.

They were released on May 14, 2011 when Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, intervened in the matter.  After this incident there has been constant pressure on Irfan to leave the state but he was determined he would find the guilty.

“Pressure is building on me to leave Bihar. I have been advised by my friends and well wishers to leave this place. It is sad that the situation has come to such a point.”

Irfan pleaded Nitish Kumar to look in the matter and acquit him. “I was being treated like a criminal on baseless charges. The whole incident should be probed by an independent agency and the policemen involved should be punished,” he says.

Alam has written to Nitish Kumar seeking justice and punishment to the guilty.

Crossing this adversity, Irfan has still held his ground. He has won many awards till now. He is the winner of Business World’s “Most Promising Entrepreneur Award.” He has been selected among “40 Youth icons of India” by India Today, “24 Youth icons of India” by India Today Aspire and “India’s Best 30 Youths” by The Times of India. Featured in the The Guardian, London and The Economist, he is a finalist of TATA NEN “Hottest Startups Awards” and winner of World Bank Innovation Award. His case has been shared in the major universities across the globe. Irfan was selected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2010.

Even in the face of adversity Irfan has always managed to come out with flying colours. Passing out from a prestigious college Alam has chosen his path to serve the poor. Thus we can see it hardly matters which direction you headed in, it is all about how much conviction and determination you have.

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