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‘Rice may not be as much fun as ice, but it will still do well’

While the world was being consumed by a social media tsunami called ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, started to create awareness for the Lou Gregh’s disease making people pour buckets of ice water on their heads, Manju Latha Kalanidhi, a 38-year-old journalist from Hyderabad, came up with a simpler and a less wasteful solution: donating a bucket of rice instead. 

Manju says she had no idea that posting a simple picture of herself donating a bucket of rice to a needy person with the hashtag #RiceBucketChallenge would make her an internet celebrity worldwide.

With global coverage from news publications, such as The Huffington Post, Time magazine and ABC Australia, Manju Latha Kalanidhi has been overwhelmed by the response her idea received.

In an interview with Anisha Dutta, Madhu speaks about why she thought of starting the Rice Bucket Challenge. 

What prompted the idea of the Rice Bucket challenge?

Obviously, the Ice bucket Challenge. I saw a lot of these videos. It initially sounded nice. But when a lot of Indians started doing it without even thinking what exactly it was, I was angry. I spoke to a couple of people who did take this Ice bucket challenge and I asked them why they were doing it. One person said, ‘I don’t know. I just did it because it’s fun.’ I felt people were just copying the West blindly and it got me thinking.

Incidentally, I work for a rice research journal called ‘oryza.com’ and as part of a lot of my daily work I need to do a lot of research on rice. So, essentially I do a lot of stories on hunger and rice. It wasn’t like I had in mind any big campaign when I posted the message on my Facebook page. But it snowballed into something very big.

Was it entirely your initiative or was it in partnership with your company?

I just shared my idea on my Facebook wall. Later, my company joined me in the campaign and it is also working along with that right now. 

Was it in a way a marketing move for your company?

No way. We are associated with rice and I said I’m doing something for rice and they told me to go ahead. When I started, I said in connection with this: ‘Why waste water when you can donate rice. It is so much cleaner and you don’t have to get wet.’

Then somebody came and said he started this Facebook page. It was launched on a Sunday morning and the page started becoming big. I started getting calls from various websites, movie channels etc. In fact, Monday was the most hectic Monday of my life. I had to go for a live show on TV99 in Hyderabad. Someone from Chennai donated Rs 9,000. Pictures started pouring in and it was just phenomenal. Later, the international media also picked it up.

Do you agree that despite the criticism Indians faced for taking the ALS challenge just for its novelty, it actually sparked an interest in donating for charities? This trend which was never seen in the country…

Yes, I do. And I think there is a small incentive in this when you post something and get so many likes. There is definitely a small selfish motive but there is nothing wrong in it as long as you’re doing it for a  good cause. I tried to add a local flavour to this international issue, which led to the birth of the Rice Bucket Challenge.

How are you going to sustain your campaign?

The first month we ensure that the maximum number of people give away at least one bowl of rice. Later on, we will send reminders to these people on their birthdays about the campaign. I have not yet thoguht about the exact roadmap. Right now, I am a bit overwhelmed by the response to my simple social media post.

One of the biggest factors that made the ALS challenge so big was the fact it was fun to do and watch. Do you think that would be a challenge for your version of the campaign especially when it lacks the fun element?

I do agree there is no fun element to rice. But the ‘desi’ twist that we added to the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomena is our USP. I hope there will still be some genuine takers.


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