Founders of change

Published: Nov 25, 2012, 11:06 IST | Preeti Khilnani |

Internationally acclaimed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) events are dedicated to ideas worth spreading. Preeti Khilnani speaks to Karthik Naralasetty and Ruma Roka, who will be at the TEDxGateway in Mumbai on December 2, about their unique businesses, backgrounds, and their entry into TEDx

At the day-long conference in Mumbai, the third of its kind, eminent speakers from different walks of life will share unique ideas from India and 14 other countries.

The work of one of the 22 speakers, Karthik Naralasetty’s stands out. The 23 year-old, who hails from the small town of Gunther in Andhra Pradesh, Naralasetty dropped out of the illustrious Rutger’s University graduate program in Computer Science. “To the greatest disappointment of my family and social circle, I returned home from what they thought would be a glamorous life in America,” he says.

Ruma Roka (centre) with the students from the Noida Deaf Society. 

Now much more successful than he may have ever been, Naralasetty is an Internet entrepreneur and the founder of the first of its kind site Socialblood (.org). “In June 2011, I heard of a rare case in a four year-old girl who had thalassemia. She needed 30 units of blood a day every day. Not knowing anything about blood banks I realised how hard it was to find blood. My obvious response in the age of Facebook, was why can’t Facebook tell me when someone needs blood,” he says animatedly over the phone.

Karthik Naralasetty

Having started eight groups for different blood types on Facebook, his idea led to people posting requests for blood on the site. “Eventually, I formed the website that can connect you to people in your locality or the city to donate and receive blood. Within six months, 20 countries approached us to create a similar model for them,” adds this winner of the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Award, 2011.

Ruma Roka has a similar, yet different success story. Roka was a homemaker until one day she caught a news broadcast on Doordarshan in sign language. That broadcast changed her life. “I wondered about the audience for this news broadcast. With some difficulty I found a school where I learnt sign language. The teachers were surprised because no one had learnt the sign language unless they had a deaf person in their family,” says the 51 year-old, now the founder of the NGO, Noida Deaf Society (NDS).

With the money from a matured insurance policy and her husband’s two-bedroom house, she started the society in 2005. NDS trains deaf people and prepares them to hold jobs. The society has employed 570 people in leading companies like Penguin, NIIT, Taj Hotels and many more in only seven years. “Now we have five centres across Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. The biggest challenge in this journey has been to overcome the unbelievable social discrimination they face,” says an emotional Roka.

The entry into TEDx for Ruma was just by chance. “Three men from Adobe came into NDS for a Desktop Publishing program. They said to me ‘Why don’t you apply for TED?’ And can you believe what I said? I said ‘Who is TED?’,” she laughs. Of course, now there is no looking back for this inspiring individual who has touched and changed so many lives.

Also at TEDx
Neil Harbisson
, Founder of Eyeborg
Steve Winter, Director of Media for Panthera and photographer with National Geographic
Cynthia Koenig, Founder of Wello, to deliver clean water to a thirsty world

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