Ginny’s Planet, the Delhi-based startup by Shweta Verma, is trying to solve the problems related to disability at an early age and also at other ages. Ginny’s Planet is a social enterprise having the aim to build a world where no one feels odd-one-out on the basis of differences, and where empathy & respect for diversity is practiced as a way of life.
We TechnoVans team, interviewed Shweta Verma, the co-founder of Ginny’s Planet to know her journey about Ginny’s Planet including how it all started, what problem they are trying to solve, what change they are making in the world, what challenges they faced, and the achievements till the date along with some future plans.
Interview with Shweta Verma, the co-founder of Ginny’s Planet
Can you please introduce yourself to our audience?
Hello! I am Shweta. I am 42 years old. I live in Delhi. I am a social work professional by training and have been working in the domain of disability rights and mental health since 2002. At the age of 40, I Co-founded Ginny’s Planet to simplify and bring conversations on empathy, diversity, and disability to children and people of other ages.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Persistent. Evolving. Learner.
Tell us about your startup Ginny’s Planet. How it all started?
Ginny’s Planet started as a personal mission. In 2016 when my son was born with multiple health conditions, I realized that there were barely any products or processes to help children believe that they are OK the way they are. I wondered what toys or stories can I use to help my own son understand that being different is OK and that he is not an odd one out. I was also concerned about the fact that nobody was really preparing children when it came to the issues of disability and diversity. In fact, as a professional, I myself had focused on working with adults all these years. So, we decided to fill this gap on our own! We started Ginny’s Planet to create toys, stories, conversations, content, and workshops that bring issues of empathy diversity, and disability in everyday language to people. But becoming a social entrepreneur was not so easy.
As a social work professional working in the not-for-profit sector all these years I had to gear myself towards a for-profit venture that would mainstream products and workshops on the themes that we wanted to focus on. So, while we had the idea and the passion, the execution plan evolved when I became an SSE India fellow in 2019.
Why the name Ginny’s Planet?
Ginny is a girl with radial club hand. Her friend Sai is a child with vitiligo.
We have a vision of a world where imperfections are OK, where being different is OK, and where nobody feels like an odd-one-out.
Since we were trying to put children at the center of our work a planet, we looked for a name that was not only child friendly but also symbolized a fun and inclusive world like this. Having grown up in Delhi, Ginny was a common name that I heard in my childhood. So, Ginny’s Planet became an obvious choice.
What’s the main problem Ginny’s Planet is trying to solve?
Diversity is a fact. People are often excluded, stigmatized, ridiculed, & even forgotten because of differences & disabilities. This problem cannot be solved only by providing services to persons with disabilities [broadly 15%. of the population]. We believe that targeting the rest 85% is also important. And this should be done in a welcoming, non-stigmatizing, exploratory, & diversity respecting way. We believe that stigma, exclusion, ridicule on the basis of disability & differences is because of the lack of orientation to diversity & empathy from childhood, and lack of products & services that can help with such an orientation. Orientation on human diversity and disability from an early age has the potential to impact everyday decisions/actions of people in terms of everything they do & build. This orientation via multiple ways & streams is something that we do.
What are the challenges you faced to date and how did you overcome those?
We started in 2019 and 2020 brought a strong shock with lockdown and COVID. Just as we thought that we were getting up to get back to our initial plans, wave two of COVID hit Delhi and the country. In 2019, working with schools was an obvious choice, but 2020 and 2021 were not suitable for this. Schools, children, parents… everybody was overwhelmed with online classes and their impact on everyday routine. This had a direct impact on our activities and revenue. We launched online workshops in April 2020.
We experimented with different models of online workshops. And this has been a huge process of learning and relearning for us. We learned to plan and execute according to changing scenarios of the country. We never stopped building capacities of people on issues of empathy diversity and disability. When we were not running external workshops, we continued to run weekly workshops with our own team and interns. We kept applying for incubation support and grants while we continue to experiment with strategies for generating revenue. Support from Ginny’s Planet network has also been incredible in the last two years.
Please tell us about an achievement you are most proud of?
I am proud of what we have been able to do in spite of the shocks that we faced in 2020 and 2021. We have reached over 3000 people and have conducted almost 200 workshops by now.
The network of people who believe in what Ginny’s Planet does has grown. We have also established initiatives such as Mom Internships for the first time in the whole sector I would say.
Not just this, we have also created an inclusive, diversity respecting space in form of A Day on Ginny’s Planet – our flagship event which is coming back in its fourth edition on 2nd and 3rd October. This is fun and for all ages.
Also Read – Story of Sabhyataa Foundation – NGO by Geetika
Are you looking for any support from the audience? If yes then how can people help you with this?
Yes. You all can do so much! And definitely in these 6 ways!
First, if you are a person with a disability or a parent of one or if you are someone with vitiligo, please share your stories with us. We would like to interview you and base our future stories on you.
Second, send us questions on empathy, diversity, and disability. We run the Empathy Facts series every Thursday. This is where we spend a few minutes thinking and responding to such questions.
Third, get a flavor of all that we do through our flagship event- A Day on Ginny’s Planet! The 4th edition is coming on 2nd and 3rd October. It is all online and will include a series of 30-45 minute sessions for all age groups. We look forward to hosting you!
Fourth, when you have to think about gifts for anyone, first check out our products or ask us for customized ones for bulk orders. If you have to spend money, how about making it even more special by spreading the word about empathy & diversity.
Fifth, start challenging this myth that dolls are only for girls. Dolls can be for everyone and they can help you bring change! Bring Ginny home!
Last but not least: it will mean a lot to us if the audience follows our work through our website as well as our social media platforms. This will help in spreading the word about us, what we do, and how we do it.
What are the future goals for your startup Ginny’s Planet?
Let me share the plan for the next 12 months.
At present, we are working on the next batch of stories on Ginny and her friend- Sai. Those stories will be released in the coming months.
We are working towards bringing Ginny and Sai to people via retail stores as well. We are also working towards strengthening and expanding our team. Let’s see how that goes. We hope to help other organizations run the mom internship program successfully the way we do. Applications for the 4th batch of mom internships will open in November 2021.
Along with this, we are also looking at expanding our partnerships with NGOs. We already have eight NGO partnerships through a letter of understanding.
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