Vishal Vivek: A short man who took long strides towards bringing the age of hemp

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When you want to set an example of people who have made big on their own and you look around, one of them could be Vishal Vivek. A diminutive man with a big vision, he is a categorical example of a man who could not just think of something beyond what others could imagine but actually go ahead and deliver on it. Today, Vishal is Chief Executive of Hemp Foundation, a non-profit organization striving to change lives of thousands on the ground for the better. His is an organization of around 50 hard-working people who are working round-the-clock to return life in scores of abandoned villages in the remote areas of Uttarakhand and empower women who have been relegated to the margin in the last few decade. Vishal believes hemp is the perfect tool to meet these objectives with aplomb and profoundly affect the rural life in India positively.

But how come someone in Delhi thought of making a career around hemp. Odds are most people might not even be aware that a plant like hemp could have in it not to just provide employment but also improve environment and affect life in other ways in the right direction.

The formative years

Vishal was born in a middle class family in Sitamarhi,  Bihar. A blue-eyed boy to his parents and a loving sibling to his brother, Vishal’s childhood was just like any other kid – daily school trips and playing. He had a few family and school trips to pristine hills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and this instilled in him a keen interest in nature. These visits left an indelible effect on his young mind.

Chirping birds, lush green plants, huge oaks, and tiny delicate saplings – everything looked so animated and personified. He wanted to be amidst nature and do his bit to protect it. He also became a witness to the challenging life in the hilly villages where men moved to cities in search of employment and all women could do was to wait for their husbands to return. In want of economic independence, they were also marginalized in the society.

Little Vishal, conscious to all that he was watching, was keen on bringing about a positive change. He was, however, like other kids of his age, also interested in Information Technology. It was the time when computers were recently introduced in the Indian education system. The computer classes were treated by many as a ‘Free Period’ as it was an optional subject. But these classes meant a lot for Vishal. He was fascinated by the way those bulky off-white boxes sitting on the desk enabled him to play wonderful games.

SEO days

Prompted by his own interest in technology as well as the elders’ guidance to pick a safe career, Vishal decided to try and make a career in search engine optimization (SEO), a new field at the time. Rather than going for a job, Vishal decided to set up his own enterprise which would provide him the flexibility to implement his own ideas.

Flagship set afloat by Vishal was known as SEO Corporation. With sheer hard work, determination to provide clients value for their money, and desire to excel in what he was doing, SEO Corporation minted success. A fervent supporter of women’s equality, he ensured it in his own organization by not just recruiting more women staff but also giving them opportunities to flourish.

From a C-level executive to heading a no-profit organization

Vishal struck big success with SEO Corporation. He earned recognition and wealth, yet satisfaction wasn’t coming to him. Often, when he went to sleep, he would dream of working in the remote valleys of the hills. He felt his life was meant for doing something else and the hills were calling him.

Despite his obligations as the head of SEO Corporation, he began spending more time touring the corners of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, talking to the villagers, understanding their way of life, and figuring out how he could help them in the best way possible. Meanwhile, he was also preparing his team for the groundwork who would work with villagers to bring about a colossal change.

Already convinced about the potential of hemp as the harbinger of change, Vishal was working out ways to connect this native vegetation to the local economy and turn it into a regular provider of income. In other words, he was setting up the bedrock for Hemp Foundation.

The launch

The time was precise for the launch of Hemp Foundation. The Indian Government, after realizing the folly of the ban on industrial hemp, had lifted it. Government departments, however, were largely untrained to handle the new situation. Infrastructure to test various parts of hemp plant was missing as well. Farmers, after a prolonged ban and a haze of doubt around the crop, were hesitant to grow hemp.A boatload of work was needed to restore faith on hemp economy and develop a support infrastructure – meaning something like Hemp Foundation was urgently needed.

Vishal had always held that reckless consumption and endless greed had damaged our environment severely and we need to make a quick retreat before things become irreversible. Problems we have been facing – global warming, deforestation, water crisis, plastic waste, pollution, or more – have been our own making. Hemp Foundation reflected this approach of its founder.

Well aware how hemp suffered from the ignominy of a ban, Vishal stress hemp became a victim of wrong perception. However, quite unlike the public opinion, hemp has nothing to do with any intoxicating element. Presence of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in hemp is less than the permissible limit of 0.3%, making it totally harmless. Moreover, hemp is one of those rare plants which you can use as a whole. In other words, In other words, you can use seeds, leaves as well as stalk of the plant. Hemp can be used for producing an array of products such as apparel, seed oil, gloves, masks, hempcrete, and many more things. What is more, it returns the nutritional elements of the soil, improves level of groundwater, and helps in preserving our environment.

Three-pronged work approach

Under able leadership of Vishal, Hemp Foundation began working at three levels – encouraging people to produce hemp, working with government officials to broker solutions whenever required, and setting up a system to connect local economy with global one. His idea was to train people in skills which would earn them a steady employment and advise them about the right direction. He was sure hardworking people in remote Uttarakhand and Himachal villages would pick the cues.

Vishal was aware few menfolk were left in villages as the bulk had migrated to cities for work. Moreover, he was also keen on getting as many women as he could on board to create hemp economy and, in the process, make them economically independent. With his team, he toured scores of villages, talked to villagers, explaining to them how returning to hemp economy would benefit them. Though people were a bit apprehensive at the start, they began joining him gradually.

Hemp Foundation worked to formulate women’s groups in these villages. His team targeted to train at least one woman in every group in producing various products from raw hemp. This person would later train other women in the group and develop a self-dependent on unit.

State-of-the-art hemp store comes up in Delhi

At the other end, Hemp Foundation store was coming up in Delhi. Vishal’s idea was to set up a state-of-the-art store allowing anyone to simply walk in and view a gamut of products that could be created out of the plant. Anyone who walked in was simply amazed by the line-up of hemp products.

A person who was in business right from the start of his career, Vishal knew he needed to recruit the best of talent when it came to industry knowledge and product design. He secured the backing of people who had been in hemp research for years, had run NGOs (non-government organizations) in Uttarakhand for decades, possessed long administrative experience, or skills in product design. Their association with Hemp Foundation brought a diverse skill set, turning out to be a huge advantage.

As a person with an astute sense of business, Vishal is well aware that the end customer is least bothered about theory and more concerned about the quality, comfort, and the fashion quotient. To ensure that the products emerge victorious when compared by customers with other products in the market, Vishal has roped in some of the best designers around. Designers with Hemp Foundation have received training in the premiere fashion institutions of the country and have worked with a few premiere brands.

Just in a few years, Vishal has led Hemp Foundation to be the numerouno organization in the field of hemp. He takes pleasure in seeing the smiling faces of deprived villagers after a long era of poverty, thanks to re-established hemp economy.

Insight into Vishal Vivek as a person

A shy person at heart, Vishal Vivek is someone committed to his ideals, working round-the-clock to visualize his dream of making remote hilly villages, living in utter poverty till date, self-dependent. He is keen on stopping migration and replacing it with reverse-migration, meaning bringing back permanently the people who had to leave their native villages in search of employment. He also wants to see women economically independent and use hemp effectively to stem degradation of environment and pull things back to normal.

Vishal is a workaholic. You will always find him working 15-16 hours a day to realize his dreams as early as he can. Well-aware of the steep height you need to climb for reaching the goals, he is busy assembling the like-minded people and motivating them to put their best foot forward to bring prosperity to these Uttarakhand villages and make the women stand on their own feet.

What he expects in days ahead

As an optimistic yet pragmatic person, Vishal Vivekis well aware of the challenges he might face in the days ahead. Though the blanket ban on hemp has been left, the officials at the local level are still in general not sympathetic towards the cause of hemp farmers and producers. They need to be sensitized towards the role hemp could play in the causes mentioned above and Vishal wants to meet senior government officials to apprise them of his viewpoint.

Recognizing hemp could be a huge forex earner for the country, Vishal often talks how India was left behind by China in manufacturing and doesn’t want the same story to be repeated in the case of hemp. However, this won’t happen unless the majority of the country understands the role of hemp in shaping the economy. Vishal intends to spend more time in awareness campaign. He also foresees hemp play a role in reviving the handloom industry.

Vishal is also keen on doing his bit for not letting a tragedy like the one in Chamoli happen again. He believes hemp, thanks to its colossal positive impact on the environment, can help prevent such incidents in future.

According to Vishal, whatever has happened regarding hemp in the country since his organization came into being was just the foundation. A lot more needs to be done to realize the fruits of hemp farming and production. He wants to work even harder and execute the dream he has been watching all these years.

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