Social innovator from India awarded honorary doctorate

Published:09 June 2017

Salaam Balaak Trust founder Praveen Nair was awarded an Honorary Doctor in Social Innovation by CQUniversity.

CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman has awarded Salaam Baalak Trust founder Ms Praveen Nair with an Honorary Doctor in Social Innovation during his recent visit to India.

“It takes a strong soul to see overwhelming disadvantage and think, ‘I can do something’. To then spend 30 years making that something happen, I believe that is truly extraordinary,” explains Professor Bowman.

“Yet, Praveen Nair has achieved this and so much more since she began working with India’s street children, and has transformed countless lives in the process.”

Ms Praveen Nair, 86 years old, is the Chairperson and Founding Trustee of Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) in New Delhi.

The University this week recognised her commitment to driving life-changing opportunities for street children in India.

The trust was initially established in 1988, to rehabilitate street children who acted in Salaam Bombay, a film directed by Ms Nair’s daughter Mira Nair.

However, as Ms Nair became aware of the many complex issues faced by street children across India’s cities, she worked tirelessly across a range of sectors to ensure street children could grow up in safe and nurturing environments, with opportunities for education, creativity, and future employment.

The opportunity to found SBT was built on Ms Nair’s considerable experience as a social worker, in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, and later in New Delhi. With a diploma in child development, Ms Nair headed various development-related committees for Red Cross, DAV Public School and India’s Deaf and Dumb Association.

Her early days establishing SBT involved developing vital relationships with street children themselves, to understand their most important needs. This human-centred approach epitomises social innovation practice, and was key to the success of SBT.

Under the leadership of Ms Nair, SBT has grown to five shelter homes and 19 contact points for street children. The Trust employs nearly 150 staff and has worked with more than 50,000 children.

SBT provides safe shelter, a healthy and happy environment, nutritious food, clothes, education, health care, counselling, and recreational facilities for children, and also offers vocational arts training, and opportunities to achieve university educations, including 30 graduates with CQUniversity to date.

“Incredibly, 30 SBT graduates have now achieved Engineering degrees with CQUniversity. This qualification has put SBT students in control of their lives and their careers,” Professor Bowman said.

Since 2011, CQUniversity has also sponsored SBT’s City Walk – a guided tour through New Delhi slums, conducted by former street children who have grown up with SBT’s support.

“I am particularly proud that CQUniversity sponsors SBT’s City Walk. This initiative provides fundraising for SBT, an international showcase of the not-for-profit’s work, and skill development and earning opportunities for former street children – a shining example of successful social innovation.

“As CQUni grows our social innovation agenda, it is a perfect time to reinforce our partnership with SBT, and shine a spotlight on what Ms Nair and SBT has achieved.

“Through social innovation, we are already achieving so much in all of our communities – and the story of Salaam Baalak Trust shows us how much more is possible.”