Farzana Cama Balpande is the Head of BookASmile, a charity initiative by BookMyShow, India’s biggest digital platform that offers ticketing for cinemas, plays, concerts and live events.
She has 20 years of experience in the field of Early Childhood Care and Education and has been involved with her own Pre-schools and the Day-care space. She was the Corporate Head for the Early Childhood Department at Kwakids Learning Pvt. Ltd. Thereafter, she decided to contribute to society and wanted to create value by doing something more meaningful.
In 2011, she joined BookASmile to further her passion for philanthropy and social awareness. She has been instrumental in creating a charity model for BookMyShow consumers and has spearheaded multiple internal campaigns, where-in, employees have raised money for various causes. BookASmile has enabled Farzana to support special causes and enrich the lives of the less fortunate across India via the medium of Art, Cinema, Sports and Culture by providing them with opportunities, activities and experiences.
In her leisure time, she loves to travel with her husband and friends. She also enjoys spending quality time with her teenage daughter and a 22 month Jack Russell Terrier.
Q. What is the strategic connection between goals of BookMyShow and BookASmile?
A. BookMyShow, as India’s largest online ticketing platform gives people access to their favorite entertainment options right from movies to events. While you and I may take these for granted, there are many less fortunate who are not privy to these experiences and this is why BookASmile came into existence in 2012. We wanted to do something distinctive and revolutionary in the charity space by lending our arm to an area where we already have a strong foothold. Today we provide opportunities to those from the disadvantaged section of society to experience a world of entertainment, music, theatre, arts, sports and culture.
Q. What are the kind of projects BookASmile undertakes?
A. We wanted to provide opportunities to those from the disadvantaged sections of society to experience a world of entertainment, music, theatre, arts, sports and culture, things that you and I usually take for granted. This stemmed from the observation that there are already plenty of brilliant organizations that are working towards other critical areas such as health, nutrition, and education but we felt that entertainment and culture was something as important, and perhaps their importance largely undermined.
We work across platforms and geographies pan India, extending our services to other causes too like senior citizens, vocational & life-skill building, empowerment programs, animal welfare, rural development, natural calamities and the armed forces.
Q. Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the CSR domain.
A. For me Roles are limiting. Though officially I head and run the charity initiative of BookMyShow, I make sure I am involved in every aspect of work carried out at BookASmile right from project selection to its impact assessment.
Q. Before BookASmile, were you working in any other professional domain, if so, please describe?
A. I am a commerce graduate born and brought up in Mumbai. In my 20’s I started off my career as a preschool teacher and I remained associated with all aspects pertaining to the field of pre-school education for about two decades until BookASmile happened.
Q. Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who influenced your journey with BookASmile, and how.
A. I have known Ashish Hemrajani, the CEO and Founder of BookMyShow for many years now. We were on a flight together when he first told me about BookASmile.
He was looking for someone to run this initiative with as much passion and not treat it like another job. He seemed to think I was the right fit and that is how my journey with BookASmile began.
Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?
A. Something that resonates with me is “You are only limited by your imagination. So, Start where you are, Use what you have & Do what you can!
Q. Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of in your role at BookASmile?
A. To be entirely honest, every project, cause and initiative that we engage in is unique and impactful. It would be very difficult to pin point any one particular programme or project but I’d say that taking some projects international has definitely upped the game in the field we work in. Facilitating and being an integral influence of an individual’s life is definitely something close to my heart. In fact recently, our initiatives like Flight of Fantasy where we took over 500children to Agra for a field trip; setting up a Science Centre in Mumbai which has benefitted lives of over 4000 underprivileged children has been really appreciated and has encouraged us to come up with more similar initiatives.
Q. If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
A. We believe that every little effort counts. While organizations in their own capacities are supporting various causes and projects, the impact would definitely be manifold once employees also begin to contribute. At BookMyShow, many employees volunteer and lend support to BookASmile’s projects and we hope to involve more such people going forward.
Q. What is your level of involvement in the initiatives that BookASmile undertakes?
A. The question can be answered in two ways. One, BookASmile has its own parameters and filters basis which we decide which causes we’d like to support to create a deep impact. We are inspired by individuals who can make a difference and groups/NGOs that work on creating more sustainable impact. Two, once we take up a cause, we are highly involved in it from day one, reviewing its progress and evaluating the impact
Q. What are the future initiatives BookASmile plans on?
A. Initially, BookASmile primarily worked within Mumbai and had a few liaisons with NGO’s outside Maharashtra. Over the next one year, through research, referrals and showcasing the work that we did, we connected and liaised with many more NGO’s and organisations pan India. Today, we are looking to grow and expand to different geographies in India and wish to impact lives and change perspectives of people residing everywhere, from big cities to towns and villages including kids, senior citizens, physically/mentally challenged individuals or even the armed forces. We already actively work with over 170 NGOs across India and have successfully impacted over 1 Million lives through the medium of cinema, art, theatre, sports, music, rural development, empowerment programs, armed forces and animal welfare programs.
Currently, we are working on a wide range of programs and initiatives through our network of partner NGO’s pan India. In the education space, we have helped set up a science centre in Mumbai for experiential learning and are supporting Gurukul’s in Bangalore to empower young adults in Life skills. In the field of sports, we continue to support football programmes for girls in Ranchi, Khelo Rugby in Kolkata among others. We are also supporting numerous projects in the fields of arts, music, dance, film making etc.
Q. Describe your perfect day.
A. Well it would definitely include a few of my favorite things right from a perfect cup of team to start the day, a slight nip in the air, a productive day with the BookASmile team, quality time with my teenage daughter and my Jack Russell Terrier. Add to it good Chinese takeout for lunch, yoga and meditation and an event well spent with loved ones over interesting conversations.