As the name suggests, Robin Hood is a legendary outlaw hero of a series of English ballads that traces back to the early 14th century. The rebel hero used to rob the authorities and give the gains to the underprivileged. Similarly, this plot recounts the chronicle of India’s “Robin Hood Army”.
According to UN data, nearly 8.9 percent of the world’s population, or 690 million people are hungry (as measured by the prevalence of under-nourishment). The World Food Programme records show that 135 million people suffer from acute hunger due to man-made conflicts, climate change and economic downturns. In essence, a quarter of a billion people are at the potential brink of starvation.
“We once obtained extra food from a wedding in Surat, which fed 10,000 people! It is absurd how much food is wasted during weddings in India,” said Neel Ghose, the commander-in-chief of RHA.
Robinhood Army, the NGO which was founded in 2014 by Neel Ghose, Anand Sinha, and Aarushi Batra, has currently served over 40 million people worldwide within a span of nine years. In its first drive, it served 150 people with just 5 volunteers. Presently they are operational in 9 countries across the globe and have over 40,000 volunteers on-board. The Robin Hood Army (RHA) follows a “golden rule” of running with zero-funds by not accepting payment for their services, which makes them unique. RHA also runs an academy in some cities called “Robin Hood Academy,” where they tutor street kids. The organization uses a decentralized mode of working where WhatsApp is mostly used for communication within themselves. They don’t have an office or full-time staff; instead, the volunteers, known as “Robins,” work during their free time. People from diverse backgrounds, mostly young professionals and students, make up the majority of the RHA volunteer team.
In an interview, Neel Ghose, the chief robin behind RHA, said that he got this idea while he was in Portugal when he came across a similar organization named Refood.
“Our 20-kilogram happiness pack weighs a little bit more than 20 kilos because it includes 12 kilos of rice, 5 kilos of dal, 2 kilos of sugar, 1 kilos of salt, and 2 liters of oil.” said Neel Ghose.
The organization strictly follows a no-fund approach; hence the growth of the organization is mostly funneled through social media and partnerships. They routinely collaborate with companies and media houses to channel their resources meant for spreading smiles to the under privileged in the society like BookMyShow sponsors movies and entertainment for children who live on the streets, Uber helps transport the food across the city, and Viacom creates music video featuring Bollywood artists spreading the cause. Their volunteers in Pune have also collaborated with local hospitals to ensure the eye operation of 50 senior citizens, though the step didn’t prove to be much effective. RHA has been proven to be quite successful even in countries like Pakistan, where the organization was founded by an associate of Neel Ghose, Sarah. Robins in Pakistan have served over 200,000 people across Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore.
According to a comment from senior professor Brian Trelstad at Harvard Business School, “It is an interesting case study of an organization that has grown somewhat both domestically and internationally without any financial support.” After meeting Neel Ghose, the founder of RHA, Susanna Gallani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, wrote the case study in the year 2018, which was later taught in the 2019 MBA class.
The nodal factor that determines the gap between rich and poor in a developing country like India is ‘privilege’. When we order and throw excess food, to the least, we understand that someone must be crying for one piece of bread on the street. Robins have worked relentlessly to distribute food during the pandemic time. Neel Ghose’s Robin army’s umpteen effort to bridge the gap between skyscrapers to roadside slums is therefore commendable and is an inspiration for all.