When he was born, neighbours in the village suggested that his parents smother him. It was better than the pain they would have to go through their lifetime, some said. He is a “useless” baby without eyes… being born blind is a sin, others added. Today, Srikanth Bolla is standing tall living by his conviction that if the “world looks at me and says, ‘Srikanth, you can do nothing,’ I look back at the world and say I can do anything”.
He is the CEO of Hyderabad-based Bollant Industries, an organisation that employs uneducated and disabled employees to manufacture eco-friendly, disposable consumer packaging solutions, which is worth Rs 50 crores. He considers himself the luckiest man alive, not because he is now a millionaire, but because his uneducated parents, who earned Rs 20,000 a year, did not heed any of the ‘advice’ they received and raised him with love and affection.
At school, he would often be pushed to the last bench and would not be included in active sports. Yet, this didn’t deter Srikanth, who excelled in studies and topped the Class 10 board exams in his school. At the Intermediate level, when he wanted to opt for Science, the Andhra Pradesh Education Board refused to grant permission. It said that Arts was what the only stream the blind could take up. Srikanth filed a case and, after a six-month wait, the Board agreed to let him pursue Science. Srikanth topped his Class 12, securing a 98%.
The next big hurdle came when he decided he wanted to study engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He faced discrimination yet again when he was denied an admit card to the IIT entrance examination. That’s when Srikanth decided, “If IIT doesn’t want me, I don’t want IIT either!” He applied to schools in the United States for an undergraduate programme and secured admission in four of the top schools – MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon. He eventually chose MIT and became the school’s first international blind student.
After graduating from MIT, Srikanth decided to do something about the discrimination faced by the disabled in our country. Giving up corporate opportunities in America, he came back to India and started Samanvai, a non-profit organization in Hyderabad, to provide individualized, need-based and goal-oriented support services to students with multiple disabilities. He promoted Braille literacy, a digital library and a Braille printing press/library to provide tutorial services for such students.
As a next big step, he decided to look at the issue of employability of the disabled. In 2012, Srikanth started Bollant Industries Pvt. Ltd., with the aim of providing livelihood opportunities to the physically challenged. The company manufactures eco-friendly products such as areca leaf plates, cups, trays, and dinnerware, betel plates, and disposable plates, spoons, and cups. The company also manufactures adhesives and printing inks/printing products.
This 450 employees company is now worth Rs 50 crore, and recently, Ratan Tata invested in his venture. Srikanth’s story proves that for success you don’t need eyes, you need vision.
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