Texting, Cab-sharing and Goodwill; the 21st Century NGO

“Is it an organisation?” | “Not really” | “Is it an NGO?” | “Sure | “LOR tho miltha hoga” | “Nope. Office bhi nahi hai” | “Oh! Tho turn out tho kam hi hoga?” |
|| “Wrong again, 8870 volunteers fed 2 million people in just 3 years.” ||
 The Robin Hood Army (RHA) has redefined what an ‘NGO’ is in its short 3 years since inception. Its vision; redistribute surplus food from restaurants across to the less fortunate people. Its goal; eliminate hunger and food wastage globally.

So what is the RHA?

The Origin Story of the Robin Hood Army is astounding in its simplicity. A group of like-minded friends called on other like-minded people to spread the word on how to effectively feed the hungry at low costs, minimal efforts and high returns. What started out as a word-of-mouth initiative soon became a nation-wide phenomenon. Cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Kolkata created their own food-drives by reaching out to orphanages, old age homes and shelters galore. This practice went viral and eventually strangers started meeting and successfully running the Robin Hood Army Food-drives.

 Let’s Localizeà

The Delhi RHA is run by five different chapters of students and young working professionals hell-bent on giving back to the community. When profit-oriented talk or obsession over placements and GPAs gets to be too much, feeding a starved child her favourite aloo patty soothes the soul.

A simple Whatsapp group is each chapter’s ‘operating ground’. A text marks a meeting point, another how many restaurants to hit for the drive and a few more confirms how many cars and how many volunteers per drive. This start-up, without any stuffy ‘official’ paper-work runs smoothly on text and cab-sharing. There is no mass email, there are no meetings that plan out food-drives, no contractual obligations from restaurants, nothing. This is a non-organisation organisation run on goodwill alone.

The Inside Scoop

The MASH team interviewed a long-time member of the RHA, Ankit at the South Delhi RHA chapter. We uncovered many trade secrets that revealed the nitty-gritties of being a Robin. Ankit has been a part of the RHA for two years now. Based out of Assam, when work demanded a reallocation, Ankit reached out to the RHA Delhi team and immediately started donating his Sunday evenings. When asked if it’s easy being a Robin, we were met with a conflicted answer “It isn’t about easy or hard. All of us, we know we have to make a difference and do something. And that’s the thing, WE have to do it.”
The ‘we’ encapsulates around 20 Robins per drive (in the South Delhi chapter). This ‘we’ includes all the restaurant owners who cook separate food on Sundays especially for RHA. The ‘we’ captures all the families who cook huge amounts of food multiple times a month and drop Whatsapp texts for pick-up and distribution. When asked to describe this ‘we’ and RHA, Ankit and Arush, another long-standing member, immediately responded with the words ‘One Team’.
On a weekly basis, there are many harsh realities a Robin faces, “Yeah, there are many day to day struggles and challenges. For one, there is never enough food. It is difficult to ration out when you are always asked for more helpings of rice or one more packet of biscuit.”
When asked what motivates him to continue in the face of so many hungry, his simple answer- “Happiness.” Happiness is found in the clusters this chapter hits. From Nehru Place to AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospitals to Kushi Rainbow Orphanage, Umeed and along drop-points on the road. Each slum, each homeless and under-nourished person they feed is a source of happiness. Coming back each Sunday was never an issue.
They always ask us to come back again and again. That’s a very positive feedback. Even the common people don’t know us, the under-privileged do. Even today morning, two girls from the Orphanage called me to ask-bhaiya kab aa rahe ho, jaldi ao!”
We interviewed Arush, another long-time Robin, at the Kushi Rainbow Orphanage Cluster. A girl’s orphanage, RHA South Delhi does more than just food distribution there. The members make it a point to go to the orphanage as many Sundays as possible and spend a good two to three hours just playing with the girls. Arush himself is a major contributor to this chapter as his own restaurant cooks for the RHA every singe Sunday.
When asked about the different types of food RHA South Delhi distributes, we learnt how carefully the Robins plan this process out. At the Orphanage, Arush loves to share his own favourite food, aloo patties. “Jaise Jaise khaana kam miltha hai, ussi din mai aloo patties banna ke laata hoon”. As they have a somewhat constant source of nutrition from the orphanage kitchens, Arush enjoys serving them something tasty. The SDMA Hospital cluster receives the most parathas and sabzis as its filling and nutritious, especially for the sick. Likewise, bags of uncooked rice are given to the orphanages too- easy access to kitchens to cook and the prepared rice and dals are given to the slum areas. The biscuits, cookies and juice boxes are distributed as evenly as possible at all the clusters whenever available.

What started out as 6 volunteers in 2014 has grown to 8870 volunteers in 2017. The effort that fed 150 in one night has now fed 2 million over the past three years. Although the number of hungry in the world far surpass 2 million, the RHA is committed. The UN SDG on eradicating hunger by 2030 may seem like an impossibility in the face of these numbers. However, according to those fighting this battle at the ground-level every Sunday, according to Robins like Ankit and Arush, “ho jayega”.

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