The current generation, in spite of reaping the benefits of technological advancements, still grapples with violence of the worst kind, acid attacks. 

Mohammed Sandeed, Young Changemaker, Co-Founder of Flawless Flaws, aims at spreading awareness about acid violence and skin donation, and raising funds for the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors.

Sandeed, tell us about your background?

I was born in Kashmir and grew up in Delhi. My father, Farooq Ahmed built his empire from ground-up, starting his own business in the capital city, without the support of anyone. My mother, Tabasum Arshid, completed her post-graduation during the militancy in Kashmir, which in itself was a feat, not to forget pursuing education at a time, when there were few hands that held books. I learnt a lot about the world, through the experiences of my parents, and they have been the most important motivators through my journey in changemaking. My brother, Faiq Faizan’s active involvement in social work also drove me to believe I could make a difference too.

I completed my schooling in the Commerce stream. Throughout my school years, I took part in oration competitions, theatre and towards the end, even in business related competitions. Even though I wasn’t very good at sports, I also played basketball, perhaps because I was one of the taller kids. 

My childhood ambition was to become a scientist, but I grew both farther and closer to that dream, as I grew up, and saw my science and mathematics books grow fatter. While I chose to study commerce, I realized that my dream didn’t arise out of love for science, but my love for problem solving. 

I am currently pursuing bachelors in management studies from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business studies, University of Delhi

Why did you choose to work on a social initiative?

The inspiration behind Flawless Flaws came from a workshop conducted by Chhanv, where an acid attack survivor called Ms. Sonia said and I quote “If you kill someone with a bullet, they die once, but if you throw acid on someone, they die everyday.” This stuck with my friends Sakshi Agarwal, Neha Thadani and I, and we decided to take action to help acid survivors. From contacting organizations to getting volunteers on-board, to preparing street plays and informative presentations, we took one step at a time towards sensitization and funds generation, with our student volunteers and Acid Survivors Foundation India by our side.

Through Ashoka Innovators for the Public, we learnt how to go beyond Direct service and look at competitors as partners.

How did you feel when you just started off working on your initiative? Did you face any resistance from society/ parents/ friends/ family/ teachers?

When we started, we were a little skeptical as to how we as students would be able to create a difference, and work for a largely unaddressed issue. 

However, we were very lucky to have the support of our friends, family and teachers. We actively engaged with them and that process helped refine our ideas and give us testing ground.

What are the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

  • Gaining the confidence of stakeholders – It is a little difficult to convince organizations of your ability to create impact when you start out. But as you gain traction and have meaningful partnerships on your side, it becomes easier.
  • Managing academics with a student venture – Sometimes you may have to prioritise between academics and the venture and in that case, you should have had consistently managed time in the past. 
  • Motivating your peers – When working with your friends, it’s sometimes a challenge to motivate them because in other social circles you’re at par with them. You can tackle this by making them realise that the work you’re doing is for a greater good and beyond friendship.
  • Sometimes the partners we approach may have the prejudices that we have to tackle before we can get to a solution – We had approached a school in Bangalore once for a collaboration and the principal replied to us by saying that we would promote violence amongst the school students. We tried to reason with her that violence was what we were tackling, not promoting, but she wouldn’t listen. We had to use the help of her school’s students to get our point across.

Tell us more about your work 

Flawless Flaws aims at spreading awareness about acid violence and skin donation, and raise funds for the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors.

Except for empathy, perseverance and an ability to solve problems, no other skills are required to start a venture, in my opinion. When you start assembling your team, you meet people that possess all kinds of skills, both personal and technical, and when you interact with them, you pick something up from everyone. That way, you learn a little bit of all the skills that you require!

A typical day involves a lot of brainstorming about how to reach out to a larger audience, finding new partners, identifying acid attack survivors, and keeping in touch with our previously contacted acid attack survivors. On other days, brainstormed ideas come into action!

The most rewarding part about being a part of any social enterprise is knowing that your actions have the power to transform the lives of others (and also your own!). You get to meet so many different people from all walks of life, and that gives you knowledge that can only be learnt by experience. 

You get a sense of achievement like no other, knowing that those you’re trying to help see you as their family. Moments when you’re working towards your cause, don’t feel like work, but end up becoming memories. And these memories are the fuel that pushes you when you meet hurdles in the future.

How does your work benefit society? 

We have a two-fold approach to solving acid violence:

  • Raising funds – Along with collaborating with a medicine store that sells medicine to acid survivors at discounted rates, we also raise funds for them so they can undergo surgery.
  • Spreading awareness — We spread awareness about acid violence, first-aid, governance, and rates of acid violence incidence across the world and India.
  • We also advocate implementation of the ban on sale of acid.
  • We also encourage people to sign up for skin donation

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

During one of our donation activities, we were having a chat with a survivor and when we asked her how she felt, she said she felt like home around us. It is milestones and memories like these that remain ingrained in our entire team’s minds and push us to strive towards our goal.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to students would be very simple. If you see a problem around you that you feel very passionately about, then think of ways you can tackle it. We all are problem solvers and changemakers, we just need a little push to go from dreams to action. Take steps yourself and with those around you, lead by example, and soon a lot more people than you expected will join hands with you. 

I also warn you that changemaking is not a cakewalk, and it will come with it’s fair share of obstacles, but if you set your mind on doing something that affects someone beyond you, you will soon find that obstacles that earlier seemed like mountains, turn into grains of sand.

I can also assure you that you wouldn’t have to search far to find motivation. It’s all around you. If you ever stumble on “failure”, remember that I’ve failed more times than I’ve tried (and It probably will continue to be that way), but it should take more than a set-back to slow you down, leave alone stop you.

Future Plans?

My future plans include continuing to work towards causes that excite me. I expect new adventures, opportunities (and some roadblocks) on the way, but I look forward to keep going. 

I also want to meet new people and share with them the most important lesson from my journey with Ashoka: Everyone a Changemaker!