I am Shantanu Naidu, founder of Motopaws, an initiative to make the streets safer for dogs as well as us, and the vision is to eventually eradicate the issue of dog road kills and other such accidents caused by their low visibility. A simple idea which started with a humble motive of saving lives, mushroomed under the guidance of Mr. Ratan Tata.
Back in 2014, I was an automotive design engineer at Tata. I was the 4th generation of my family working for the Tatas. Every day when I rode to my morning shifts at Tata, I used to see a lot of dog carcasses on the highway. Initially, I cringed and looked away disturbed and heartbroken, but days went by and weeks, and I realized this is a regular occurrence. I did surveys and some primary research talking to people who had been involved in a driving incident concerning dogs on the street. And the general consensus was that the dogs were not visible soon enough to avoid them on the roads at high speeds. I found the problem. Dogs weren’t visible. I just had to make them visible, and visible from a distance.
Being in the automotive industry, I had access to the automotive reflective tape we used on cars. I made a prototype collar by stitching that on a piece of denim we cut from some old jeans. To test this out we made about a 100 and collared dogs across the city for a beta run. Within a day social media was flooded with people reporting these collars and how they helped them in different areas to spot the dogs. It worked! But the success was pretty short-lived. The reflective tape was made for flat car surfaces. When bent into a collar they started cracking and eventually the reflective part fell off. This had to be fixed.
During the second design, I took the time and effort to redesign this collar from all aspects for a sustainable long-lasting project. We came upon an industrial grade reflective fabric designed to endure street wear and tear. We retained the denim in the design because I believed people always have denim lying around so the material cost for the base would essentially be free. But we did not compromise on the quality of the reflective to be stitched on the pieces of denim. We did not want to wonder, if this failed again, whether it would have worked if we used the best reflective or not. Quality was important.
The design was ready, waterproofed, and the next beta tests showed no wear and tear. So, we manufactured by the thousands. I put together a very small dedicated team in Pune. All of us, mostly students, put in money from our own pockets to fund this. Every month on a Sunday, we went across the city collaring dogs. Being a designer at Tata, my firm was pretty proud of this project. They featured it in the Tata newsletters.And then I got a letter from Bombay, it was Mr. Tata. Mr. Tata’s love for animals is well known. He had seen the project, read about it, and wanted to see me. The last of the house of Tatas, a house we have worshipped for generations in my family, finally called. Mr. Tata helped fund the whole project for a short time. With the funds he gave us, we spread across the country and created chapters in 15 cities where Motopaws operates. I was excited about this, but there was something else that developed, a deep friendship with Mr. Tata. It took some time for me to convey to him that I was not as concerned about funds, as I was about carrying forward the Tata legacy of social welfare. Then one fine day I told him, I wanted to work at the Tata Trusts. I believed I could contribute a lot to the organization’s large-scale social impact projects. But I told him something else also. I wanted to be more than eligible to work at the Trusts. I wanted to know how a high-level social impact business with such a strong heritage operates and should operate. So, I decided to get my MBA.
I got into the humblest of the Ivy leagues, Cornell University. And on the last night in Bombay at a dinner with him, I promised him that no matter what happens over the next 2 years, I will come back to India, and I will keep my promise to work at the Tata Trusts. He told me I was free to change my mind if I wanted to when I went or got into to Cornell, and that I’m always welcome back home.
I left. Over the summer, I found out that the Tata Trusts was working with the Cornell University to build a state of the art veterinary hospital in Bombay.
Animal welfare + Cornell + Tata. This was a dream project. I chose to work on it while at Cornell for my internship and try and prove I could help to further it. For three months, strategy after strategy, and with an amazing team at the Trusts, we went to hospitals in New York for best practice research.
Present day, there are about 50 days left for graduation. I still want to come back to the Trusts. I still want to further the Tata legacy. I still want to help build that hospital. I have been assigned as the assistant manager on this very project and will be joining as soon as I’m back. This project has been Mr. Tata’s dream. It will benefit thousands of animals in India and raise the benchmark for animal welfare in India, just like the Tata Cancer Hospital did.
Motopaws keeps scaling up and we have our next innovation conference in Bombay in July.I am often frowned upon to leave the opportunities here in the US. There have been times when I was made to doubt myself.But if I have to use the education I was blessed enough to receive, I want to use it to fix my home.And what better way to do it with the house that has helped build the country, the house my family has worshipped, and the house that now holds a very dear friend of mine.
To all those who fear coming back to India from abroad, for fear of shame and ridicule or being tagged as “not a success”, I will say this:
The country really needs you. It really does.
Shantanu Naidu| Founder- Motopaws