2019 Young Entrepreneurs Awards winner: Sonal Kapoor

Initiative: Protsahan India Foundation

Country of impact: India

How a moment of compassion created a lifeline for some of India’s most vulnerable girls

Sonal Kapoor used to work in communications and advertising. Until one day in 2010, a chance encounter on a film shoot in the slums of New Delhi changed her life completely.

“I happened to meet a young woman who had six daughters and was heavily pregnant with her seventh child,” Sonal recalls.

“She told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that she regularly sent her eight-year-old to work at a brothel. She believed it was the only way she could make enough money to feed her family.”

Shocked, Sonal vowed to make a difference. Within an hour, her idea to help save the girl and thousands like her was taking shape. Within three weeks, after a small feasibility study in the area, her enterprise was up and running.

Encouragement and empowerment

Sonal used her experience in film-making, art and photography to open a one-room creative arts and design school in the Uttam Nagar slums. Named Protsahan – a Hindi word for encouragement – the facility provides girls at risk of abuse, neglect and forced marriage with a path back into mainstream education.

Nine years on, 828 girls have been rescued from a cycle of violence and abuse and supported in getting back to school.

Sonal has grown her team to launch a schools partnership programme too, working with teachers to reach more than 28,000 adolescent girls every year.

They deliver Protsahan’s programme, which offers counselling, personal safety education, training in film-making, performing arts and photography and, through art and technology, raises awareness about preventing sexual violence.

Families are also provided with counselling and assistance to report sexual abuse following guidelines from India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development. Sonal’s vision is to holistically transform 1 million childhoods by 2030.

“My journey has only just started”

“I had never imagined what one moment of empathy would lead to. Yet it feels like my journey has only just started,” she says.

To paraphrase one of her favourite poems, Sonal sums up her vision for every girl: “It matters not how strait the gate. How charged with punishments the scroll. She will be the master of her fate. She will be the captain of her soul.”