| Nirupam Sen (second from left) with delegates at the Round Table India booth in Milan. Telegraph picture
Milan, Sept. 27: A group of 10 businessmen and professionals from east India has come to Milan to sell greeting cards.
If this sounds like a rather bizarre career shift, there is some purposeful method to the seeming madness.
Round Table India, an organisation of young men between the ages of 18 and 40, has set out to educate one million Indian children by 2008.
With 35 per cent of the goal achieved (they have built 35 schools in West Bengal alone since the project started in 2000), the Tablers have traded their business suits for T-shirts and caps in Milan. They are on their feet the whole day at the Piazza Mercanti selling greeting cards, jute bags, Santiniketan leather bags, wallets and other products.
The display has been a definite draw. In two days, with time left till October 3, Round Table has sold half of its wares. The Santiniketan bags, which members have got custom-made for the event, have been a huge hit. 'When visitors are hearing about the cause, they are picking up more items. Many are taking Christmas cards as add-ons,' smiles Tabler and industrialist Prashant Jalan.
The idea is to tie up with government and lend muscle to mobilise funds for the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan project. Oddly enough, Milan turned out to be the venue of the meet with industry minister Nirupam Sen, who has promised the young men he will take up the issue on his return to Writers'.
'The Centre has allocated around Rs 700 crore for creation of primary education infrastructure in Bengal, on the condition that the state government add around 10 per cent of the amount to the project. The state has not done this, and the fund is now unutilised,' explains Jalan.
What the voluntary body has proposed to the minister is a tie-up by which Round Table Area 4 of East India will generate the money for the schools. 'We would help them build the schools and then hand them over to the state government to run,' adds Jalan, managing director of Bengal Nestor's Industries Ltd.
With an existing national partnership with Round Table Netherlands, which provides a matching grant for any money raised for the Freedom Through Education project nationally, the men now hope to strike a similar deal with the Italy chapter. They have already garnered support from corporates like Wipro through the Azim Premji Foundation and ITC.
The last Area 4 project was a school in Burdwan. 'Over 100 students were studying in a state-run school with no building. We built four classrooms and two bathrooms for them,' Jalan adds.
Bathrooms, they have realised, are of crucial importance, because without them, girls do not come to study. So even if it means making one less classroom, a toilet is a must.
Meetings with Round Table Italy are scheduled to start this evening. Plans of selling cards ' designed by the members themselves ' through the year to raise funds will also be presented.