In the last few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to witness the changing face of India, first hand. The occasions I had to interact with budding entrepreneurs was an experience worth sharing.

It is a change that many of us, living and working in urban agglomerations, may have missed taking a note of.

I was one of those assigned the responsibility of identifying the businesses which should make it to the final round for the Sustainable Enterprises Awards, a Coca-Cola-supported Jagriti initiative. When sifting through entries that had been received from all corners of India, it was a tough time identifying which of them should make it to the next round. Having listened to the founders of small business ideas, I noticed the passion with which they spoke and presented the details about their businesses. The best entries, decided by a jury, were given a cash prize and also the opportunity to be part of Jagriti Yatra. These companies, often helping solve a business or social problem in rural and semi-urban areas, had such amazing promise that I was at a loss of words to describe them.

As I heard entrepreneurs from different areas present their case, I was very impressed with their approach. They were committed to sustainable communities and businesses around them – the perfect way to solve problems of society. I could never have imagined that entrepreneurship could contribute to society in the manner that some of them had thought about. Some of those who presented were not crowned as winners but, without an iota of doubt, I can say that they were all winners.

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Such was the competition that one of the ideas which, I thought, was among the best, could not make it to the final round. It was a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, who had mooted an idea to run a business to recycle solid waste in the Himalayas. There were many such ideas that may not have, similarly, made it to the final rounds.

The subtle messaging during their presentations was clear – businesses were not only about profit. They had to remain relevant to people and the society in which they operated. Each of the young business leaders that I heard from (who were mostly in their twenties) seemed to have a fresh spark. Their ideas had the potential to raise the bar for sustainability for society.

As part of the Jagriti Yatra initiative, for 15 days during, beginning December 24, over 500 youth travel on a train across the length and breadth of India. Entrepreneurs from non-urban areas take an 8000-kilometre train ride across the country to understand some of the issues facing the country. They get to meet mentors along the journey, along with several successful entrepreneurs as the train stops at different locations, who in turn speak with them about the issues around their area.

With my enriching experience as a jury member, I then traveled on the train as a ‘mentor’ during the 15-day Jagriti Yatra. I was amidst over 500 high-energy entrepreneurs on the train ride. As the train moved from Mumbai to Bangalore, stopping at Hubli in between, it was my privilege to interact with those who were part of the programme. I was with them for three nights and time just flew by. The entrepreneurs were nothing short of special. There were several conversations with the budding entrepreneurs- whether in the formal setting of chair-car interactions while the train chugged along, or informal late-night conversations.

As I moved ahead with my ‘yatra’ (travel) after the three days spent with them, I left with some amazing memories. All the entrepreneurs were eager to learn from each other and contribute to each other’s growth. They wanted every one of them to win.

That is the promise that India holds. These youngsters are the future of the country. With the promise and determination that I saw among them, the country is in safe hands.

(Atul Rajbhushan is Senior Manager with the Public Affairs & Communications team, India & South West Asia at Coca-Cola)