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Taking From the Rich, Feeding the Poor: The Robin Hood Army

We got a chance to have a chat with Neel Ghose, corporate hot-shot by day, and by night, the leader of a merry band of men and women who look to tackle India’s hunger problem in their own little way.

Despite the emerging role of India in the world economy, some very basic issues still persist within the country today. Alongside the expanding market and increasing instances of entrepreneurship, there is the ubiquitous presence of poverty. This glaring and perhaps endemic issue in a country of over a billion people leads on to a host of other problems - homelessness, lack of education, and at a base level, hunger. 

However, a heartening development in the country is the emergence of a ‘social conscience’ that has now taken its place right next to the ever-growing prosperity. More and more individuals and groups have now taken it upon themselves to do what they can to help tackle some of India’s problems. This has taken the form of Corporate Social Responsibility and the growth of large and foreign-aided NGOs, but also in the emergence of volunteer groups like the Robin Hood Army - a small but ever growing group of young people whose mission it is to tackle hunger in India. 

the Scribbler got a chance to have a conversation with Neel Ghose, VP of International Operations at Zomato, and also one of the founders of the Robin Hood Army. The following are excerpts from the interview:

1. So how did the idea of the Robin Hood Army come about?

Well, it’s a story that started when the company I work for (Zomato) sent me to Portugal for 6—7 months to establish our operations there. In the midst of this, we began to interact not just with restaurants but also with journalists, food-bloggers and other restaurant portals. It was through this that we managed to discover this organization called ‘Re-food’, which basically had a network across Portugal that would distribute leftover food from restaurants to the hungry and destitute. That was really where the idea started. 

After coming back to India, it wasn’t difficult to realize that the problem of hunger was probably much more stark and glaring in this country than in Europe, so it would make sense to use a similar model to that of “Re-food”. My friend Anand (Sinha) and I essentially got to work after that. We got together with some friends and began to use our contacts in the restaurant industry to procure food, and the most heartening thing was that not a single restaurant refused our request! 

2. It’s great to hear that restaurants were so receptive to your idea! But moving on from food to people, what was it like actually getting out there and finding those who needed your help?

It started off in Delhi, which has no shortage of needy individuals. In fact, on our ride home from work every night, Anand and I would actively look out for places where more of the hungry and the homeless would congregate. We found that perhaps the highest congregation outside of slums was under flyovers. After that it became about really engaging with them. Sure, there were definitely some problems we had to tackle. One was that we were always carrying limited food, and we didn’t ever want to turn anyone away or tell them that the food has run out. So we focussed on these flyovers and smaller clusters rather than slums, as we also found that these were the people who had a harder time feeding themselves. 

Another aspect was that we definitely needed manpower, but it never really came as a problem. We started out with a few friends who would go on Sundays to distribute food in certain neighbourhoods. Subsequently, it went beyond just a few friends, and more and more people began to join in and help out with the project. 

3. The idea’s obviously resonated with quite a few people, considering we now have the RHA coming up in almost all major cities across the country. How are you and your team managing, considering most of you are working?

It comes down to two things. The first is that we’re following a ‘decentralized model’, which means that every chapter in every city is autonomous. So while Anand and I have had a hand in setting them up in different cities, they are eventually handed over to another person who takes charge. That way we aren’t overstretching ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s a community effort. We’re not asking people to travel across the country to feed the hungry necessarily. Instead, we’re looking at a smaller level, where you go our and distribute within your own neighbourhoods or adjacent areas.

The second thing is that time is always a constraint for a lot of people. I myself wish I could devote a lot more time to the initiative, but the nature of work in this day and age just does not permit it. But what we do ask for is about 2 hours a week, which I think everyone can spare at some level. 

4. So we saw the Robin Hood Army has started a new campaign – Be Robins This Diwali – which has a really catchy poster as well. Tell us more about it. 

#BeRobinsThisDiwali

Now that’s a kind of social experiment we’re trying to undertake. The idea is pretty simple – this Diwali week, apart from going to all your cards parties and get-togethers, take some time out and go and distribute to the needy. And we don’t just mean food. It can be anything. Once you do that, just post an image of it on social media with the hashtag #berobinsthisdiwali and we’ll repost it on the Robin Hood Army page. At the end of the day, the Robin Hood Army is not just looking to be an organization that distributes food to the hungry. That’s just one of our missions. It’s meant to mobilize communities into giving to those who are less fortunate. Many people, for example, have enough food to eat, but when winter sets in, a large number die due to the cold. So distribute warm clothes or blankets. Food can fill up stomachs for a day, but these things can last them a good deal of time. 

5. It sounds like an amazing campaign, and we’re sure it’ll get a great response! Finally, how can people get involved with what the Robin Hood Army is doing?

We’re always looking for more and more people to join the ranks and help us in our distribution drives. You can help us in the drives, get us in touch with restaurants in your neighbourhoods and even help spread the word. But most importantly, we would love it if everyone could just go ahead and do their part in whatever way possible. This Diwali campaign of ours is meant to urge people to go out into their communities and help those less fortunate, and we hope to get a response. We hope you will all #BeRobinsThis Diwali.

Thank you Neel, and we wish you and the Robin Hood Army all the very best for your current and future endeavours! 

Follow the Robin Hood Army on Facebook and lend your support!

the Scribbler Staff

the Scribbler Staff