It was an earnest interest to set-up a full-fledged nursing home for the locals at Moodbidri (around 45 kilometres from Karnataka’s premier coastal city and education hub, Mangaluru) that first inspired Dr M. Mohan Alva, then a 29-year old graduate in Ayurvedic medicine to make a foray into entrepreneurship. What started as a 100-bed hospital in 1981 today has evolved into a major institution imparting education from the elementary to Post-graduation in an innovative way and providing a platform for global cultural talent to perform and develop. Sandhya C D’Souza takes us through his transformative journey.
For close to four decades now, Alva’s Education Foundation’s contribution as a pioneer in the field of education in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada is undeniable. Having trained over 26,000 students and 4,500 staff spread across various education streams, the foundation’s institutions are known for providing state of the art education facilities and education itself not only to the rural masses surrounding the town of Moodbidri but from elsewhere too.
Through its mega cultural events like Virasat and Nudisiri, the foundation captured the attention of global artistes and audiences. Both of these events are conducted every year on a grand scale and have provided a platform for ace and talented performers across various cultural disciplines to display their art and craft.
The origin and exponential growth of Alva’s foundation can be traced to one man, Dr M Mohan Alva. But the 66-year-old philanthropist candidly laughs and admits that during his late 20’s all he wanted to become was a family doctor.
Born into an agrarian family in May 1952, Dr M. Mohan Alva is a native of Mijar, a small village near Moodbidri. He completed his primary education at his native village and later secured his Bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine in Udupi.
Being a resident of a small town, Dr Alva says he realized very early on the difficulty the locals faced in acquiring both professional and non-professional education. “In the very early days of my career itself, I realized two things, either start a clinic and continue with my practice which was a safe option or start a full-fledged nursing home,” he says.
Taking a calculated risk, Dr Alva decided to do the latter. Borrowing a loan of Rs. 1 lakh, he established Alva’s Health Centre in 1986, a full-fledged 100-bed nursing home. The hospital hired full-time consultants, management staff and kept its services operational 24/7.
As any start-up does, more so one in the alternative medicine space, the Health Centre initially met several road-blocks along its journey to serve society. Moreover, it was financially not stable. The Centre had procured loans for its service-oriented project and for nearly a decade struggled to meet its operational cost, and debt repayment obligations. “As we were charging a nominal fee from the people - it was a service-oriented project after all - it was difficult to meet the expenses of the project and balance the books of account. It was only in the 90’s when more people began appreciating our effort and blessed us with their patronage that we finally became stable,” he says.
Subsequently the institution started Alva’s College of Physiotherapy (1995), Alva’s College of Nursing (1996), Alva’s Ayurvedic Medical College (1996) and Alva’s College of Naturopathy and Yogic Science (1998) all affiliated to Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences with over 2,000 students enrolled in its first batches.
The foundation later decided to start a Degree College (1998) and PU College (1999) with just 46 students. The focus was on disseminating physical and cultural education embedded in academics, for instance, BA Courses with combinations like Physical Education and Bharatanatyam/Music are unique in themselves. In 2008, Alva’s also started an Institute of Engineering and Technology.
Alva’s teaching methodology is unique – It does not just revolve around the prescribed academic syllabus. It aims to build the students all round personality. Cultural activities, sports, fine arts and social training, are carefully embedded into academia by its highly trained-staff. This in itself is a major attraction for students.
Alva’s institutions imparting Medical and Para-Medical education such as Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Nursing, Physiotherapy, and Homeopathy are affiliated to the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Science, while its institutions imparting technical education such as engineering and technology are affiliated to the Vishweshwaraya Technical University, Belagavi. Alva’s state of the art colleges providing undergraduate and postgraduate education in Science, Commerce, Arts, Physical education and Social work are affiliated to Mangalore University.
Alva’s institutions have evolved in phases; from not owning a single piece of land during its initial days, to the current Alva’s campus at Moodabidri which sprawls over 100 acres and houses 26,000 students of which 24,000 stay in 49 hostel buildings spread across the campus.
Alva’s Virasat and Nudisiri
The opportunity of hosting the 71st Akhila Bharatha Kannada Sahitya Sammelan in Moodabidri back in 2003 provided the staff of Alva’s institutions unprecedented and invaluable experience in hosting a major cultural event. They received a lot of praise for their effort as they learnt a lot. “ It was then we thought, why can’t we organize the same? Why should we expect only the government to take such initiatives? If we didn’t do anything, all the experience gained organizing the Sammelan would go to waste. Hence, the thought of Nudisiri came to our mind in 2004,” Dr Alva says. The annual event hosts literary personalities and enthusiasts from different parts of the country and as of date, 14 editions of the fest have been held. The event exclusively targets the age group of participants between ages 16-24 years. It is regularly held in the last week of November every year. About 10,000 student delegates and 30,000 other delegates attend the event which provides ample scope for paper presentations by eminent scholars, writers and interaction between experts and delegates.
On the other hand, Virasat which has seen 24 annual editions, was aimed at creating awareness of art and culture among the audience which initially came from the town and its surroundings and were deprived of such opportunities. The audiences today are from all over the state and even abroad and the Virasat is the event that has single-handedly earned Moodbidri the name of the cultural capital of coastal Karnataka. The intention was to create and provide a platform for awareness and appreciation of art with performances from professional and decorated artistes, while motivating youngsters and students to become achievers in the field of art and culture themselves by giving them an opportunity to showcase their talents even though nascent. To that end, it has been highly successful.
The National Cultural Festival held in Moodbidri every year in January is a weeklong cultural fiesta, comprising music concerts in the first session and dance performances in the second. Artistes of National and International fame from all parts of India are invited to perform. Internationally renowned artists such have Sonal Mansingh, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Dr Balamuralikrishna, Padma Bhushan Hariprasad Chaurasia, Padmashree Kadri Gopalanath, Padma Bushan Padma Subramanyam, SP Balasubramanyam are some of the participants at this event.
Virasat started with an audience of 500 people and today over one lakh people visit this tiny town to view this cultural extravaganza. “Artistes of national and international fame have performed here and our students too, have been influenced. Each year the students of Alva perform at least at 70-80 cultural programmes both nationally and internationally,” Dr Alva says.
In an attempt to meet its social objectives, the institution has generously invested itself in several community welfare schemes, chief of which are:
Student Adoption Scheme: Alva’s has extended ‘Free Education’ to about 4500 ‘deserving students’ under its Student Adoption Scheme, this also covers their food, tuition and accommodation expenses. The Adoption scheme runs through to graduation and covers those who excel in academics, sports, cultural activities, differently-abled, members of seven tribal communities. For the purpose, the institution has set-aside a sum of Rs. 70,000 for each student under the scheme.
Alva’s Health Centre: Alva’s host a well-equipped Health Centre with 200 beds and a 50 beds free ward. The hospital has a team of well-trained doctors and runs multi-speciality medical services in Allopathy, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Physiotherapy, Naturopathy and Yoga. Every day around 750 patients are given treatment in the OPD section. The hospital acts as a boon to the poor and the needy who otherwise had to go to Mangaluru city which is approximately 35-40 km away. The hospital also extends free treatment, medication and counselling facility to about 300 HIV positive patients.
The Alva’s management says that being a philanthropically oriented institute, its socially-inclusive private model will take-up more such sustainable public welfare projects in the future.
Politely declined acting offer from veteran Director: Dr M Mohan Alva
Dr. M. Mohan Alva spoke to Karnataka Today’s Sandhya D’Souza about his social entrepreneurship journey. Alva says that it is not important to be an NGO or a government body to serve society, even private companies can as long as the intention is the upliftment of society.
What are the challenges for you as a social entrepreneur?
The journey has been full of risks and challenges. Though I came from an affluent family, the only thing I took from my parents was their guidance. But as a private-entrepreneur, it was all about taking and repaying all my life. However, I have never compromised on my principles. Never took shortcuts. Every time I need to think that I have a responsibility of the families of about 4500 staff on my shoulders, who trust our institutions. Yes, there are ups and downs. I too fear failures. But I strive to do my best.
How was your own performance as a student?
As a student, I was noted for excellence in the field of sports and culture. I had studied Bharathanatyam for 12 years. I always believed that learning takes place more outdoor than inside the classroom. I was not a student with great IQ but was an average student. During my student years, I gave importance to sports and culture and have represented my college at the inter-university levels. I have also trained in drawing, music. All my life, I wanted to succeed in sports and art and gain a name as an artiste. It is the same passion that encouraged me to support other young talents in their own respective field in the region. Although we initially began with medical education, we realized that it would be challenging for the students to pursue sports and culture. So we started PU Colleges and Degree Colleges and helped them to hone their skills. We also want to ensure that education is affordable to students from weaker socio-economic backgrounds. So we started adoption programmes, to encourage students who are academically good as well as have achieved in sports and culture. We also adopted children from seven Scheduled Tribes - Koraga, Malekudiya, Jenu Kurubua, Soliga, Hasalaru, Siddhi and Hakki Pikki. There are 4500 students who are studying in Alva’s institutions under the adoption programmes.
How did you manage to accommodate social development under a private model of business?
Most of the businesses or the institutions you see are private. However, many people believe social commitments are only for the government and NGOs to execute. Personally, I don’t work with such a mindset; every individual or a private institution has the capacity to contribute back to the society. Under Alva’s we started many pro-social programmes. We have a school for differently-abled children, as well as a centre to treat HIV patients. We never worked keeping profit in mind.
Are we looking at Alva’s institute seeking Autonomy soon?
If we wanted to set up an education empire, we could have started a full-fledged medical college. However, our intention was never that. We wanted everyone in my region to receive education and also bring the weaker sections of the society into the mainstream.
You may be surprised that we are not looking forward to Alva’s being a deemed or autonomous institute at all. Many private intuitions intend to be deemed or autonomous, but I am very happy that Alva’s institutions come under three different government universities and follow their guidelines. We have never tried to surpass the government nor have plans to do that.
Given your affinity to the public limelight and cultural endeavours, time and again we come across some rumours of you moving to the film industry or politics? Would you ever venture into films or politics?
Films and Politics are two streams which I have distanced myself from, though many have advised me to venture into them. I was never interested in politics. I have never even contested for the position of a class representative back in school, as personally, I feel along with leadership, a certain divide comes. People may start disliking the leader and I never wanted people to have such feelings for me. Though many say with politics one can do great things for society, I don’t believe one has to be a politician to do his part for the society.
Film is another stream I distanced myself from, though I received many offers from 1978 to 1980, to act in films. The veteran film director Aroor Pattabhi tried to convince me to join films. They were looking for a new face, a person who could act and dance and he thought I was best suited. However, I politely declined the offer as I felt that by going into the film line, a person’s entire focus changes to something different and I did not want that. I have respect for both the fields but I never intend to venture into them.
What are Alva’s immediate plans in the future?
We don’t have big future plans. Our only wish is to continue smoothly whatever we have started. Very soon my children Vivek and Vinay Alva will continue the work and participate in philanthropic activities.
Awards and honours bestowed on Dr M Mohan Alva
• Best Talented Youth in the World – by Oxford University, U.K. – 1980.
• Karnataka Natak Academy Award – 1998.
• Aryabhata Rajatha Prashasti –2000.
• Rajyotsava Prashasti by Government of Karnataka – 2005
• Sri. M. Vishweshwarayya Award-2001.
• “Kannada Shree” by All India 70th Kannada Sahithya Sammelana held at Belgaum 2002.
• In April 2008 awarded with ‘Basavashri’ Prashati by his holiness Shri Thontadarya Swamiji.
• In May 2008 ‘Vijayashri’ Prashasthi by his holiness Shri Pejawar Swamiji and in June 2008 awarded with ‘Shri Shri Vijayindra Puraskara’ by his holiness Shri Shri Raghavendra Swamiji of Mantralaya.
• Honorary Doctorate by Mangalore University in 2010.