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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Vineet Saraiwala – A Man With An Atypical Advantage

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“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

This is what differentiates leaders from those who just exist and live life assuming they are failures.

Vineet Saraiwala

is one such person I salute. He has proved that a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Vineet Saraiwala is the founder of Atypical Advantage, which is India’s largest inclusive platform for generating livelihood for people with disabilities. Hire individuals. Book performing artists, buy artwork, avail services, shop at their store, or become a volunteer. He is also an avid trekker, marathon runner, endurance cyclist, and volunteers wherever he can add value.

His tag line- “My eyesight is weak, not my vision for myself,”

This start-up is unique because its founder, Vineet, is not only a person with a disability but is an MBA graduate from IIM Bangalore. At present, he is left with just 10 percent of his eyesight, and yet, today he is supporting thousands of disabled people, to be financially independent and get dignified jobs.

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He believes that “People with disabilities should be treated with equality. If we can cultivate empathy, I am sure most of the problems in our society would be solved.”

‘Person with a disability means a person suffering from not less than forty percent of any disability as certified by a medical authority. About 2.2% of India’s population lives with some kind of physical or mental disability, as per the National Statistics Office report. 85% of people with disabilities do not have access to permanent jobs.

But in no way, does this mean that they are not capable of living a complete and respectable life. And Vineet has proved this right.

Vineet was born in 1990 in Jamshedpur in a typical middle-class family. His father was a cloth merchant and always supportive. Twist of fate, he and his younger brother both suffered from a genetic vision problem. They have retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that causes a steady loss of vision over a period of time.

By the time Vineet was in class 11, his vision problem increased, and even after multiple surgeries, he was left with just 40% vision in one eye. It was a tremendous setback for him and he went into a hideout, living in fear of going blind.

But then, with his family’s support and change in attitude, his life took a turn around.

They did not give up. Both brothers were excellent in their studies. Credit to the parents and family who never let them feel they were less abled.

They got into college and passed out in shiny colors. Over time, his vision reduced to just 10% and reading was getting impossible.

‘I don’t need it easy. I just need it to be possible’ was his funda. He took it up as a challenge. And he got tremendous help from three teachers who gave him extra time to support his studies and finally crack the CAT exams.

He used the help of technology like screen reader/text reader software and finally, both got into IIM with excellent ranks.

Vineet says,” There is a misconception that people with a disability might be less intellectual and I was glad I could bust it at IIM”

Passing out from IIM Bangalore was not a cakewalk. He dealt with his human fears. Doing a PGP (Post Graduate Programme in Management) from the most prestigious educational institute, with the most brilliant brains around, was an extremely fearful thought. All unconscious fears gripped him like -Self-esteem issues, fear of failure, acceptance amongst others, and daily travel, especially as he had lost most of his vision by then. He was aware that he might get completely blind in the coming years, will he be able to survive then?

“Setting goals is the first step into turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins

And this is exactly what Vineet did. He passed out successfully.

After achieving the IIM degree, in 2015, he joined the Future Group, after struggling through many interviews. He and his brother moved to Mumbai, a new city, with No support. Even though they were both visually impaired, they managed.

He started as a management trainee, moved to become a deputy manager, and then headed the Big Bazaar’s team, handling logistics, operations, analytics, and the hiring process. So here he gained tremendous experience. During his journey with Future Group, he hired more than 500 people and was reporting to the CEO. He successfully converted his workplace into a disable-friendly place. He introduced and executed the concepts of accessibility and inclusivity in shopping and opened the doors for people with disabilities.

6 years in the corporate field. Positive graph. Life has settled down smoothly, but life is unpredictable. Covid hit everyone badly and lakhs were out of jobs. Especially people with disabilities were in disarray. He was flooded with resumes from PwDs who had lost their jobs but there was no platform where they could optimize their potential and get hired.

There was no agency that provided a platform for such people with disabilities.  He decided he would do something about this.

Vineet found excellent mentorship in the form of Venkat Krishnan, Founder trustee of India Welfare trust, Mohan Alexander, Co-founder of Amba & Rohan Bhansali, Chairman of Gozoop. His boss at Future Group also motivated him to work on this project. He quit his regular paying job and took the huge risk of starting his own venture. Using his work experience, professional connections, and his savings, he started building on his new start up- Atypical Advantage(AA). It offers an online database of PwDs looking for full-time/ part-time jobs, where corporates can register themselves and make recruitments.

Initially, Vineet was keen to start Atypical Advantage as a non-profit NGO but soon realized that without a financial revenue model, this initiative will not sustain itself and will get trapped in bureaucracy.

So, during two years of covid lockdown, in 2020, Vineet established his start-up and trusted that serendipity had a strong role to play. Whether it was by chance or his own decision-making process which made him land at the right time at the right place.

It was not as easy as Vineet portrays it to be, humility takes over often.  Most corporates were not confident or comfortable hiring differently-abled people in spite of them having the required qualifications or skill sets. So, this obstacle was difficult to deal with.

He set a system where corporate management was taken through sensitization workshops, testimonials from candidates who got jobs were provided, and art samples and videos of performing artists were shown to provide confidence. It was hard work to build this trust and base. Though the government has given reservations in employment schemes for PwD, yet, making this successful is a long way away.

Secondly, arranging funds was not an easy go. It took major convincing and many rounds before approvals were received. But…his confidence was always high. Finally, they managed to raise over a crore during covid through Angel investors.

‘Atypical Advantage’ was on a roll.

They established four verticals:

1. They have more than 500 registered Performing artists who they use for events for corporate shows and events.

2. They organize the complete show/ event for clients from start to finish as a turnkey project for a margin ranging from 15-30%.

3. Hundreds of artists and painters have registered with them. Art has no boundaries and the artworks of these artists with disabilities have grabbed huge commissions and projects. These paintings are now placed in strategic places and have high retail value.

4. The most important feature of this startup is generating white and blue-collar jobs for such people. There is a professional process and complete service is provided to both parties. Presently they are dealing with over 120 corporations. They are transparent in their dealings. They have a standard 8.33% placement fee on the candidates’ remuneration, provided the candidate gets hired.

In the past 2 years, Atypical Advantage has been able to provide jobs to over 1500 PwDs and some earn over a lakh through singing or painting, which is a boon for such talented but neglected people.

They are just starting with a four-month rigorous course that will cover aptitude, English communication, interview preparations, hacks on how to crack job interviews etc. It had been designed by the finest minds from IIM and XLRI, which is completely free.

And when your intentions are right, the right people automatically connect. Socially responsible companies like Amazon, Pepperfry, TCS, Great Place to work, and many others hired staff through his company. All the companies or investors he deals with, have to share the same ideologies.

Apart from starting Atypical, Vineet always wanted to push himself further. His passion for running and cycling started in his teens and continues and this is a huge inspiration for many, who are visually impaired.

He was always fond of outdoor activities.  He overcame the fears as often, but his vision issue pulled him back. This led him to participate in ten treks and seven half marathons.

vineet saraiwala

This included a premium ultra-cycling race of 643 kilometers from Pune to Goa in 32 hours.

A favorite was the Ladakh run at 11,000 feet above sea level and freezing temperatures which was a real challenge due to low oxygen levels but a real feeling of accomplishment once it was done.

One more was a cycling event from Manali to Khardung La (550 kilometers) and he was partnered by the Ex-Chief of Staff of Southern Command of the Indian Army, Lt. General Surendra Nath which was a huge learning opportunity.

Sometimes, we feel we need to prove our abilities and show the world we can achieve the impossible. But over time, he realized that there was no need to prove anything to anyone. His work will do the talking. Taking such risks will add unnecessary pressure on himself and his family. But…the obstacles he overcame will always remain an achievement and inspiration for generations to come.

“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.” – Vineet is one who has changed the perception of what disability means and to bring in a huge percentage of our population into the mainstream working force.

He is 32 at present, his dream is to provide jobs and generate livelihood to at least a million PwD by the time he is 40. 

His aspiration is to eventually be able to generate livelihoods for 10,000 PwDs monthly and mitigate the inequality completely. Vineet is a true change-maker and someone I look up to.

Contact –  Sharon – 9804896938

 [email protected]

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What is Salamat Raho

Team NomadLawyer’s ambition is to positively impact the world through the stories of HumanKind. We believe in the art of storytelling. Through “Salamat Raho ”, we are creating a database for social good in the form of “Impact Stories”, which will help us achieve our goal and reach out to the world at large. By contributing through your stories and experience you create a significant impact on the community and an exceptional experience for yourself. Visit the NomadLawyer portal at nomadlawyer.org and you can also get in touch with us at [email protected]

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