In the month of December, we started seeing the hashtag #Brownchallenge appear on our Facebook timeline. The challenge had been thrown open by the FunOKPlease team to coincide with the launch of their new book 'Brown'. That is when we learnt that FunOKPlease has hosted similar fundraisers for their launch events previously and reached out to Preeti Vyas to learn more about them.
Tell us a little about FunOkPlease and the types of books you are publishing
FunOKPlease is a publishing company founded in 2011 to create contemporary Indian content for children. To give children growing up in modern India a context they can relate to and identify with. Hence we don’t do mythology, generic nursery rhymes/fairy tales or folk tales. We have published 15 books so far including the adventures of an autorickshaw Toto, a series of non-fiction picture books about Indian cities, an A-Z which explores 26 professions, a GK book about numbers and our latest is a storybook which highlight our society’s obsession with equating beauty with fair skin.
At some point, you started connecting the launch of your books with a fundraising campaign. When did you start this and why?
For the first 11 books we didn’t really have launch events for each book or even if we did it was a regular bookstore launch. The usual drill, where the author (along with a celebrity chief guest if possible) unwraps a gift-wrapped book to applause from the audience, and then the author reads from the book. I got bored of it, kids were bored and the only people who seemed to be coming were family and friends of the author and illustrator, almost as a social obligation. I actually stopped hosting launch events for a while.
In May 2011, I lost my father, whom I was very close to. In the period after his passing, I began to visit a lot of orphanages, shelters, children’s hospitals, trying to help kids in his memory and trying to heal myself in the process. I saw with my own eyes, just how much suffering there was and how hard it was for kids being supported by these NGOS to get access to even the basic levels of nutrition, education, clothing and living.
So when we were ready to publish “Your Turn Now” (a collection of stories of real random acts of kindness) we knew we had to start off this journey with some positive action not just a reading. That was the title and message of the book, after all.
That’s when the idea occurred to us to do the launch as a fundraiser for the Vatsalya Foundation (whom I had helped in a personal capacity and hence could vouch for their authenticity). I remember thinking at the time, that even if we can raise Rs. 20000, it will mean blankets for the kids (It was an unusually cold winter
in Mumbai that year—Jan 2013). We launched the book on the 19th of Jan 2013 and ended the evening having raised Rs. 1.5 lacs for them! We were overwhelmed!
What has been the response to these campaigns?
The response has been overwhelming, inspiring and very encouraging. There are a lot of kind and generous people in the world. They have the inclination and the resources to help but often don’t have the time to find the right NGO or check authenticity. The fact that we are personally verifying all details, that all these are causes related to disadvantaged children and donors can directly see where their money is going has helped us in being able to generate funds.
After ‘Your Turn Now’ we released ‘Alphabet Dress Up’ where we raised Rs. 1.5 lacs for the NGO ‘Cuddles for Cancer babies’, our next book ‘Number March’ raised Rs. 3.5 lacs for the ‘Bal Asha Trust’, an orphanage and adoption home in Mumbai and our last book ‘Brown’ has raised Rs. 5 lacs (and counting as we still haven’t closed the fund raising!) for the ‘Apne Aap Women’s Collective’, an NGO that does outstanding work with the children of women in the red light district of Mumbai.
In addition to the fundraising, we give the NGOs space in the book itself to speak about their work and provide their contact details. Finally a percentage of sales from each copy sold goes to the NGO for as long as the book remains in print.
Tell us more about the #Brownchallenge.
Our book before ‘Brown’ was ‘Number March’ where we raised Rs. 3.5 lacs. All of us in the team felt super charged up to break this record. But deeper thought made me realize that achieving this in one evening would be difficult and might appear to be putting pressure on our guests at the launch event. Also, we felt that it was time to get kids involved in the fundraising in a bigger, more active way. Hence the campaign to raise funds for the Apne Aap Women’s Collective, had to start earlier and had to make children the champions. That’s how #brownchallenge began. We put out communication asking kids to make/sell food or craft items or put up a show in their respective communities using the theme ‘brown’.
The stories that came in were heartening: kids across India put up sales in their building with brown ‘treats’—samosas, gulab jamuns, brownies, cookies, cakes, a pair of sisters in Bangalore putting up a ‘brown photo booth’ and charged neighbours and relatives to get themselves photographed in it, kids created art ‘masterpieces’, framed by parents and sold them at Rs 500-1000 each at an exhibition. Kids formed teams across India (we got photos and mails from Goa, Coimbatore, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi) and also in London, US, Australia.
To me, the most touching story came from a group called “Social Connect” from Ashok Gardens, a residential complex in Mumbai. This group comprises a bunch of kids of domestic helpers and maintenance staff, so a relatively disadvantaged lot themselves. They put up a stage adaptation of the Brown book and sold tickets to raise Rs. 2500. This just proves that you don’t have to be at a certain stage or level in life to be able to help someone else. As I write this blog, we have already crossed Rs 5 lacs for the AAWC, a new milestone for us and a big leap from our goal of crossing Rs. 3.5 lacs.
How does FunOKPlease ensure the transparency of this process?
First up, I personally select the NGO, visit their centres, meet the founders/trustees. It’s very important that we personally see the work they are doing on the ground. Most of the times we meet 2-3 NGO’s before choosing one.
We like to support a new one each time. I have seen all kinds, the grassroots level NGOs in the thick of the action, the corporate ones with fancy conference rooms,the well-intentioned but badly organized ones—all of them!
Our readers, customers and parents trust us and it’s important for us to hold that up. At the events, the NGOs set up their own desk at the entrance and guests making donations get a receipt on the spot from the NGO directly. FunOKPlease is not involved in any way in the collection of money at the event. Furthermore, guests who wish to donate after the event are given the account details of the NGO and they deposit/transfer their contribution directly. We only ask the NGO to give us a consolidated report of funds received so that we know the total amount.
We also ask the NGO to give us a report of how the funds were used. The most satisfying incident for me was a month after our Number March launch, I was driving past the Bal Asha Trust and suddenly noticed the structures which house the kids, freshly repaired and painted. I called Sunil, the director of the NGO and
he plainly replied, “The funds from the book launch came in enabling the repairs just in time for the monsoons!”
For FunOKPlease it’s important to associate with an NGO where we can see the direct impact of our actions and all our NGO partners so far have been wonderful and so enthusiastic about partnering with us in creating beautiful, memorable launch events. We are truly grateful to them.
You can watch the Number March Launch and fundraiser for Bal Asha Trust and the Brown launch and fundraiser for the Apne Aap Women’s Collective
Visit the FunOKPlease website or their Facebook page
(Preeti Vyas is the CFO (Chief Fun Officer) and founder of FunOKPlease Publishing India (2011)Mumbai. Preeti spent most of her childhood reading books and most of her adult life reading to children along with buying, selling and publishing books for children! Preeti lives in Mumbai with husband Amish and her 5 year old dinosaur expert son Neel.)