(March 3, 2022) Social entrepreneur Akshai Sarin’s website opens into a little blitzkrieg of photos – you see him chatting casually with Paris Hilton and standing with an arm around Amitabh Bachchan.
The social entrepreneur took to enhancing the lives of marginalised and differently-abled with e-commerce platform BlessdBuy.com. This social entrepreneur has also taken his experience across diverse tech identities – be it as the founder of ttogether.in, where changemakers work on innovation, sustainability and inclusivity or as an advisory board member at UK-based Vault Hill, a first of its kind human-centric, blockchain-based metaverse.
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A multi-faceted career, spanning music management to disruptive marketing, creative entrepreneurship and social impact work, it’s hard to see how it all ties together for the social entrepreneur, who speaks to Global Indian from Singapore where he is in talks with investors. To him, the common thread is fairly clear – the desire to change the way we function as a society – to go from a mindset of scarcity and competition to one that is introspective and generous. All stemming from a spiritual bent developed early on, which led him to meditation, yoga and healing.
Interestingly, his career began in music management (2004), when he stumbled upon an advert on Craigslist in London – the chance to manage Surinder Sandhu, creator of the Saurang Orchestra. The prolific musician who studied at London School of Music, also has an impressive music verse as a Universal and Sony artist. And wait for this, he has also performed alongside icons like Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Deadmau5, etc.
Yet, it was going beyond mere accomplishments that saw the social entrepreneur explore a deeper philosophy. It led him to IIM, to learn about creative entrepreneurship, and to THNK School of Creative Leadership, Amsterdam.
Today, as the founder of BlessdBuy.com, which he affectionately calls his “Trojan Horse,” his aim is to empower marginalised artisans and enable consumers to make responsible choices.
From Philippines to a meditative being
Having grown up “eating crab for breakfast” in the Philippines, Akshai’s parents were surprised when one day, at the age of seven, the social entrepreneur announced he was vegetarian. “I came across a reference to the Buddha, and knew instantly that I didn’t want to perpetuate violence anymore,” he says. His parents dismissed it as a phase but 10 years later, he was still going strong. “Along the way, when I went to the United States to study, I realised I had been vegetarian for 14 years. I didn’t want to reduce my diet to a mindless ritual so I will try a piece of chicken once in a while,” he says wryly. This spiritual bent of mind would go on to shape Akshai’s life and the choices he made.
A fairly conventional upbringing, expected to take the MBA route, his career choices did involve a fair amount of negotiation. “My spiritual practice sets the tone for everything,” he remarks. Sent to boarding school at a young age where bullying was commonplace and extreme, he needed a spiritual “out.” “I had a lot of anger in me. Meditation fascinated me because I wanted to know more about existence and as I practiced it, I found I could watch my anger, that there was more peace. It is the root of everything,” explains Akshai, who doubles as a yoga and meditation instructor, certified by Art of Living. “I also have my own methods, like sound therapy,” he adds.
When an idea blossomed
The idea for BlessdBuy.com, an e-commerce site that works with marginalised or challenged communities, began in 2014. Yet, it took a few years to materialise and was developed at the THNK programme, which was supported by Tata Trusts. “Getting it off the ground meant dealing with my own mental blocks – the demonising of money. I realised that the answer is not in fighting materialism or consumerism, it’s about using these things to create a new perspective,” says the social entrepreneur. Consumers who become more aware of what they’re buying, and seek ethically-sourced, responsibly-made products, supporting artisans – that was the foundation of his idea. “As a society, we’re trained to turn on each other. We prioritise material well-being and have created a scarcity mindset. To me, that is not a healthy way to live as a species,” says the founder.
The bulk of artisans brought in are Indian, with some from Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, etc. “We try to involve the differently-abled, visually-impaired and survivors of human trafficking,” Akshai explains. It’s a cause that has always been close to his heart as his aunt was differently-abled, “She was the embodiment of the basic human qualities we stop paying attention to – she lived in the moment, she was joyful, compassionate and forgiving.” It got him thinking – most spiritual traditions emphasise the importance of being childlike, “of getting rid of all the layers we have built up over the years.”
When the pandemic created a space to grow
The pandemic brought out this philanthropic side even more. In early 2020, he and the BlessdBuy team began training people from NGOs across India to make cotton masks, donated to migrant workers, people in slums and to hospitals, and the Bengaluru police. “What started small snowballed into a big campaign,” recalls the Bengaluru-based social entrepreneur.
An active part of covid-19 WhatsApp groups, Akshai was sharing information on the availability of food and funding for migrant workers. He was involved with the Startups vs Covid movement, whose #ApnaDeshApnaMask quickly went viral, with celebrities like actor Vidya Balan showing support. It reached 100 million people across digital platforms.
Akshai has been recognised as a Young Indian Music Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 (runner up) by Rolling Stone Magazine & British Council. He also received CII & Ministry of Commerce ‘GES Award of Recognition’ for ‘Developing and Growing the Market for Indian Content through Global Collaborations and Disruptive Marketing (Top Under the Age of 35)’.