“It was just a decade ago. I was young and happily pursuing classical dance as an art form,” says 34-year old Shikha Mittal, founder and director of Be.artsy, a for-profit organization that addresses workplace and social issues through art and technology.
For a Marwari woman, to even contemplate a life revolving around arts is almost a blasphemy. “It’s the activity of the elite, beti. If you want to live a decent life, forget arts and take up something that actually pays,” Mittal’s father told her.
But that was exactly the drip of morphine required by this self-made, gutsy woman to give shape to her dreams and build an organisation that commingled art with business to create a profitable, sustainable social venture.
“Though I come from a fairly middle-class background, I was so passionate about art that I became hell-bent on creating something meaningful out of it,” says Mittal. She had the idea that art has a social, political and historical function and one could change things through it.
It could be a weapon to actually impact reality. That was the starting point of everything. And there’s been no looking back since then.
That certainly doesn’t mean there have been no roadblocks. Right after dropping a career in the corporate world, she started a company called ‘Be.Cause,’ which went bankrupt in less than a year.
The intern she had hired from IIT Bombay in fact returned her Rs 40,000 that she had paid to him to start her next venture. During a walk through Delhi lanes, a street art performance instantly sowed the seed to start Be.artsy.
An exposure to theatre in her formative years convinced her that a show enacted by a passionate set of individuals, armed with powerful words to spread definite ideas certainly had an impact than anything else.
In 2011, her entrepreneurial journey gained traction through Be-artsy’s Volunteer4Volunteerism campaign, which uses Nukkad Natak (street theatre) and other forms of art to promote volunteerism among schools, colleges and corporates.
Thanks to financial support from organisations such as Vodafone, ItzCash, United Nations Volunteers and United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan, she successfully conceptualized and organized ‘Be On The Street’ (BOTS), an annual street festival under V4V over the four years through 2014 (This year, she also hosted V4V – BOTS Season 5).
Since then, armed with her on-field experience, knowledge of the power of emotions and passion for creativity, Mittal has designed and executed art-based awareness and experiential learning programmes for the employees of several leading organizations- including PepsiCo India, National Stock Exchange, Franklin Templeton and Hindustan Unilever- across India.
Currently, Mittal and her team of professional artists and industry experts are well-equipped to plan and implement effective and sustainable programmes that could connect with any audience – right from blue to white collar – in the areas of social awareness, financial literacy, corporate social responsibility, inclusion and diversity, employee engagement and prevention of sexual harassment at workplaces.
Blessed with a strong intuition and sharp perception, Mittal was upset with the entire issue of ‘sexual harassment’ at workplaces. To espouse the cause she partnered with corporates such as BT to communicate with their employees about redressal measures in such circumstances.
“We got very encouraging reviews from there. Most of them believed that only a campaign related to such issues will change things and improve mindsets. This would be a liberating move for all of us,” says Mittal.
These are powerful emotions in powerful times, Mittal realized. To culminate all these ideas and feelings into one place, she launched EQand.com — Be.artsy’s digital extension — as a platform for individuals, organizations, entrepreneurs and influencers to share their inspirational ideas and stories and help others express and use their emotions productively.
Through thought-provoking articles and compelling real-life stories, the portal also offers its readers practical and actionable advice to gauge and improve their emotional quotient (EQ).
There were challenges in the way too such as funds, lack of human resource, a patriarchal society, delay in approval of projects, lack of transparency in the system. “And there was also the issue of morals or principles that a lot of ‘backboned’ individuals face.
Business and principles are two different things. Had I not been so firm, I probably wouldn’t have taken so long to establish my business,” Mittal says.
“All said and done, a business like this gives me a great sense of freedom” says Mittal. “Because it helps me address issues that are deep within me and fight social evils — which have always sickened me — issues like ‘sexual harassment,’ inequality of women,” I was not ready to digest all these anymore, without raising my voice!”
A dog-lover, a dance and yoga enthusiast, Mittal loves meeting new people as well as exploring and engaging with different cultures. She believes she is an incurable entrepreneur but enjoys every step of the adventure — challenges and risks included.
Over the years, her vibrant personality and personal commitment towards changing lives for the better has enabled her to form long-lasting business and personal relationships across the world.
Mittal loves to talk shop but is also a delightful conversationalist on matters of the heart and relationships. She regularly travels across the country and since 2016 has successfully managed to set a life between two cities – Delhi and Mumbai.
“What you have to understand about Mittal is that she is an absolutely self-made and restless woman who works with absolute passion to what she believes in,” says her senior team-mate who has worked with her since the company’s inception in 2010.
Seeing how startups with even most safe, predictable ideas cannot sustain themselves beyond two, three years, it’s encouraging to see the way she has kept her organization alive and kicking. And she doesn’t want to stop now, for times to come.