Can one person make a difference? With six billion people on the planet, it is tempting to buy into the notion that history is shaped by movements and ideas rather than individuals. With the rise of multinational corporations and organizations that span the globe, some people feel powerless to create meaningful change, like they are tiny specks of sand on a beach that stretches for miles. Thus when such people see something wrong with the world they just shake their heads and say, “it’s a real shame,” before continuing on with their lives.
Thankfully, Ian Anand Forber-Pratt is not one of those people.
On March 24, Olin hosted a presentation by Ian Anand Forber-Pratt. Ian is the founder and CEO of Foster Care India, and he is in St. Louis this week to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Brown School of Social Work. Ian spoke with Olin students about the difficulties of forming an NGO in India, social entrepreneurship, and building a critical mass to create sustainable change. Michael McLaughlin, MBA’14, contributed this post.
With no money, no powerful backers, no organizational support, Ian sold his belongings and booked a flight to the other side of the world. His goal: to create a nationwide foster care system for a country with over one billion people. It was a Herculean task, and some wondered whether Ian was setting himself up for failure. After all, he was just a retail clerk. But Ian was driven by a powerful force. “I was adopted by parents who felt a connection to India,” he said. “I had no information about my biological family, except for what it says on my birth record: ‘born to unwed mother, father unknown.’”
What would have happened had Ian not been adopted? He needed to know. Ian typed the words “Foster Care India” into the Google search box and clicked Enter. There were no results—at least nothing relevant to foster care. One of the articles explained how to adopt a dog or cat. How could the world’s second most populous country not have a foster care system?
Ian decided to book a flight to India and find out.
Touring the country over the next few weeks, Ian witnessed orphaned and abandoned children living in deplorable conditions. He saw infants tied to cribs, malnourished toddlers, and kids wandering the streets with no place to call home. But where others saw utter hopelessness and a system resistant to change, Ian saw something else. Among the Indian people he found “a deep love of culture, spirituality, and community that unapologetically breathes through everyday actions, causing one to be forever changed just by stepping on the soil.”
After returning to the United States, Ian realized he could no longer return to his old life. That life was gone, having been swallowed up by the knowledge that millions of children were needlessly suffering. How could Ian forget what he had seen? He was overcome with a strong sense of purpose, a newfound meaning that compelled him to take action. Unwilling to turn a blind eye, Ian decided to do something. He moved to Udaipur and created Foster Care India.
It was nothing much at first; just an office and a telephone. But after years of building relationships with community leaders, after hours spent waiting for government bureaucrats who dragged their feet on paperwork because Ian refused to pay bribes, after twenty-hour work days and resisting the temptation to lose hope, Foster Care India grew into something substantial.
Within just a few years’ time, Ian had formed a board of directors, published a paper in a leading journal, and released an annual report. Soon he would be invited to his first state government meeting, build a staff of interns, practitioners, and consultants, and become a board member of the International Foster Care Organization. Working with groups such as Save the Children and UNICEF, Ian became a leading advocate for children not just in India but around the world.
But Ian isn’t resting on his laurels. His vision is for Foster Care India to become “a one-stop-shop for all things related to foster care in India. We will empower others to implement our system in their own localities, celebrating every child and caretaker’s voice as we work to protect children in India and throughout the world.” Ian is committed to seeing this vision come true as he spreads the message of Foster Care India around the world. “Every child has the right to a family.”