ISB alumna, Purnota Dutta Bahl’s Cuddles Foundation, has been conferred with the National Award for Child Welfare, 2015 in the institution category, by the Honourable President of India, on the Children’s Day. A seasoned marketing and branding professional Purnota believes, “It is the work that we do that makes the brand”. Her journey of establishing the Cuddles Foundation started when she came across families of children undergoing cancer treatment, and the challenges they faced including lack of funds and access to nutritious meals. She decided to use her knowledge and skills to make a difference to those in need.  Read on to know her thoughts, challenges and aspirations of her entrepreneurial journey.

Q: How does it feel to be a national award winner?
A: It feels spectacular to win a national award. Four years since inception, it’s a validation of the super specialised niche area that we have chosen to address. I am hopeful that this award would bring attention to the issue of malnourishment in children with cancer. A few people know that every year we lose about 40% of all children, under cancer treatment, to malnourishment.

Q: What made you start this foundation? Was it a difficult decision to leave your well-paying job and get full-fledged into this initiative?
A: A chance visit to TATA memorial hospital was my tipping point. At that point, my husband (an ISB alumnus) and I were pledging a part of our salaries to TATA memorial hospital. I visited the hospital to meet the families we were supporting. On my way out, I saw the feet of a little baby in her mother lap, which exactly looked like my little girl’s .That was a moment of epiphany for me. I realised that my child could have been there. That was it. I had to do something.

While doing my research I found out to my horror that we were losing kids in treatment not to cancer but to malnourishment. Also, most people did not mind donating for treatment but to raise funds for nutrition of these children was hard, and Cuddles was formed.

It was not a difficult decision to leave my job since at some point all of us decide what’s important to us and how much is enough.

Q: What do you think has been your achievement/ contribution to the cause?
A: In a span of four years, Cuddles foundation now works in 10 cities, 17 hospitals and takes care of more than 18,000 children every year. We have placed more than 35 nutritionists at hospitals and provide Supplementation, meals and rations to the children under treatment.
According to a report released by TATA Memorial hospital, the treatment abandonment rate went down from 25% to 3% due to the intervention of nutrition (primarily).

Most importantly, Cuddles Foundation teaches families how to take care of the children in limited means, which is having a grassroots change.

Q: As a women entrepreneur, especially in the not for profit space, did you face any challenges?
A: I am lucky to say being a woman entrepreneur in the not for profit space actually worked to my advantage. I could connect with other compassionate, career driven women getting back from maternity who felt deeply for the cause of nutrition for cancer-afflicted children. To give you an example, it’s our ED Aparna Chand, ex I-banker Goldman (Wharton School), and our Head of Delhi, Sarah Paul, ex-Lawyer from Columbia Law school, who have actually taken Cuddles where it is.

Q: Any learnings from your one year stint at ISB that helped you in this journey?
A: ISB honestly was as much a life lesson, as an educational degree. I learnt a lot about people, motivations, hopes and dreams that helped me a lot when I was starting off as an entrepreneur. Additionally, I have reached out to many of our professors for guidance on different areas where I needed help, from structuring a research paper to structuring accounting for not for profits. The relationship with ISB is a lifelong one.

Q: Any memorable moments that you would like to share?
A: There is an abundance of memorable moments that makes all of us get up and show up to work day after day. For example, an 11-year old Chandu was abandoned at the hospital corridor in Mumbai. Earlier he used do odd jobs, along with his treatment in hospital .After being adopted by Cuddles, he now goes to school, is well nourished, and is even doing very well in his treatment. Similar is the case of Aarti (Kolkata) who came in as a 12-year-old for treatment with a weight of 12 kgs and now she is a healthy 33 kgs and is able to take the right doses of chemotherapy.

Q: How can one be a part of your foundation, or support it?
A: Here are 3 simple ways to support the cause

  • Adopt nutrition for children for 6 months or more
  • Introduce us to the CSR of your company
  • Pledge your special day, or your talent for the cause

Q: What are your plans for Cuddles foundation?
A: In the next two years we plan to expand to reach out to more than 80% of all children under treatment, in the country.  Eventually, we would like to provide nutrition to all the children under treatment.

Q: Your advice for those aspiring to work in this space?
A: My advice will be a simple one – A not for profit sector is no different than any other business. (apart from the fact that the end result is not profits but impact). So it needs to be approached the same way as one adopts to launch any start-up, in terms of planning, market test, tweaking the original plan, launch and then reaching milestones.

Q: How have you been able to build an exceptional team of talent?
A: Cuddles Foundation is a natural choice for most women returning to work, after a child. In India, unfortunately for women returning to work the common challenges are that flexi roles are not meaty enough. However, at Cuddles, being a mum to three children myself, I am committed to address the same. So here, the work quality is superior, and the team members keep their own time. Also, the access to networks that Cuddles provides is unparalleled. All these put together it becomes a fun and gratifying place to be.

We currently have offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, and are looking to expand to Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune. Anyone interested in any of these locations is welcome to apply.

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Published on November 14, 2016
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About Shreya Gupta

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