It is estimated that India has about 80 lakh (8 million) deaf adults, making us one of the world’s largest deaf population. Only half of them find employment. When they do find employment, for most of them its in the informal sector where they are badly paid, only seasonally hired and treated especially bad for being deaf. Realizing the problem, in January 2009, Dhruv Lakra founded Mirakle Couriers. Mirakle Couriers is a for-profit courier service that hires only deaf workers. Organization’s aim is to bring out the true human potential of the deaf by employing them in a highly competitive and professionally demanding courier business.
Mirakle Couriers isn’t an NGO and is run by the rules of business like any other. “I think for our kind of business, a for-profit model works better. The thing is disability is closely linked with charity and we need to get that notion out. People also don’t always take NGOs seriously and since we are a client service division it helps to be a privately run company than an NGO. Moreover as an NGO you cannot become a vendor”, says Dhruv Lakra.
How it started ?
Dhruv Lakra, Founder of Mirakle Couriers, always wanted to contribute to a social cause. For this, he left his job in a private financial firm in Mumbai to join the NGO Dasra. While working for Dasra, he spent almost four months working in the tsunami affected regions of Tamil Nadu. After working for over two years with Dasra, Dhruv bagged a full scholarship to Oxford for an MBA degree in social entrepreneurship. He completed his MBA, returned to India and was certain that he wanted to start a social enterprise of his own.
The idea to help the deaf was triggered when Dhruv was sitting on a bus next to a young boy looking eagerly out the window. He was looking around anxiously, seeming slightly lost. Dhruv asked him where he was going but the boy did not respond. It took Dhruv a few seconds to realise that this boy was unable to hear or speak. He was deaf. Though the bus conductor regularly announced the stops this boy still did not know where he was. Dhruv took out a piece of paper and wrote to him in Hindi asking him where he was going. Through the back and forth pen and paper exchange, it suddenly dawned on Dhruv how difficult life was for the deaf. Something as straightforward as a bus became a struggle.
It is an invisible disability. You can not know when someone near you is deaf as there are no obvious physical attributes, and so its totally ignored. It is also a silent (voiceless) disability. There is very little public sympathy for the deaf, and by connection, a severe lack of government support for them in India. Particularly when it comes to employment there are no opportunities because no one has the patience or the foresight to learn deaf language and culture.
Over the next few months Dhruv spent time exploring the deaf culture and learning Indian Sign Language. He focused on a courier business because it requires a lot of visual skills but no verbal communication. This is how Mirakle Couriers was born.
Mirakle Couriers is currently comprised of 4 Management Staff and 64 Deaf Employees, and delivers over 65,000 shipments per month. Their back office is run by 20 hard working deaf women with learnt-by-doing knowledge in data entry and manipulation, tracking and scanning, sorting and other branch operations.On the field they have a team 44 talented male deaf courier agents that navigate the complex lanes of Mumbai. They travel on public transport, avoiding traffic and remaining conscious of the environment. The deaf are extremely good at maps reading, remembering roads and buildings because they are so visually inclined.
Business is split between the company’s two locations: Churchgate in South Mumbai and Andheri in the Western suburbs. Because of driving restrictions on the deaf, couriers depend solely on public transportation. Their list of clients includes Mahindra & Mahindra, The Aditya Birla Group, Victory Art Foundation, JSW Group, Indian Hotels Company, Godrej & Boyce and Essel Propack. “It helps to work with big names. When people realise that we work with Mahindra and Godrej, it adds to our credibility. (Also) we’re not an NGO. We are offering them a service”, says Dhruv.
Deaf employees make an average of 300% more by working at Mirakle Couriers. The result is that many of them are able to go back home and support their families rather than having to be helplessly dependent on them.
Mirakle Couriers has won several awards which includes the 2009 Hellen Keller award, Echoing Green Fellowship Award-2009 and the 2010 National Award for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities handed over by the President of India.
Dhruv Lakra’s family that has gone through a seesaw of emotions wondering where their son would land up is now not just satisfied but also quite proud of what he does.