Two graduate students in the Ross School of Business, Sneha Venkatachalam and Preetha Lakshmi Narayanan, are working to raise money for Chennai, India, a city facing the highest rainfall it has seen in 114 years.

After the flooding started a few days ago, Venkatachalam and Lakshmi Narayanan brainstormed ways they could help the people of Chennai. The pair both wanted to provide immediate assistance to those affected by the heavy rainfall as well as find resources to help with the aftermath and damages of the resulting flooding.

Chennai is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is located in southeast India. Since heavy rains began in the state, the army has needed to rescue 5,000 people, and many lack food and drinking water. Cell service and electricity have also been knocked out by storms, backing rescue efforts particularly difficult.

“Something needs to be done, firstly because it’s raining now and it’s getting worse,” Lakshmi Narayanan said. “But then the rains will stop, and the floods will drain, what are people going to do about the damage?”

Venkatachalam and Lakshmi Narayanan said many of their Indian classmates in the Business School call Chennai their home, and still have direct or extended family living there. The pair has been working with other students to contact family and friends.

“We couldn’t reach people because the phone lines were down, there was no power and the ground floor and first stories of houses were submerged,” Venkatachalam said. “We had no idea if people were actually OK, including our own family members.”

The two Business students attended high school together in Chennai, and have retained connections with the city.

“The estimate of damages right now is about $3 billion,” Lakshmi Narayanan said. “We asked ourselves if there was anything we could do through Ross. This is a place that encourages collaboration, this is a place that has impacts in other parts of the world — the outreach is huge.”

They set a goal of raising $5,000 for the cause, which will be distributed by an organization working on the ground in India. In one day, they had already raised half that amount, in part by contacting the Ross School of Business Student Government Association and other associations on campus to spread the word.

“We thought, ‘Hey, we should do something about this,’ and we felt that the Ross Student Government Association has the maximum reach,” Lakshmi Narayanan said.

The Ross SGA distributed an e-mail to all Business students, faculty and staff Thursday urging people to donate.

After Venkatachalam and Lakshmi Narayanan surpassed $5,000, they increased their goal to $10,000.

The two partnered with an organization called Milaap. Similar to GoFundMe, provides a forum for donors to make contributions.

“The site was started by one of our classmates in undergrad,” Lakshmi Narayanan said. “We knew it was an authentic institution and there’s a lot of accountability in where the money gets dispensed and how it’s used.”

The website will also include campaign updates throughout the process.

“The link has updates about how well we are doing, where the money is going and showing the receipts of the money being transferred,” Venkatachalam said.

Lakshmi Narayanan said the money will be spread across different causes.

“The initial money is going towards helping people find water and food,” she said. “People have lost all their clothes, all their food, all their money. We want to also provide that rehabilitation support.”

Business Prof. Puneet Manchanda, who studies emerging markets, particularly business in India, said the recent floods are destroying Chennai’s infrastructure.

“The effects are truly devastating, both from a human capital and a business point of view,” he said. “A lot of people are stranded, a lot of people are stuck, and there’s a big economic impact of a shutdown of all the services.”

Manchanda noted that by channeling the money through a local organization, the students are making sure the funds go to a good use.

“There’s always a need for money to make things happen,” Manchanda said. “The students are doing an awesome job at collecting money.”

Both Venkatachalam and Lakshmi Narayanan emphasized the importance of student contributions.

“As a community, we should be proud of ourselves,” Lakshmi Narayanan said. “We all are students and faculty contributing, and for us to be able to say, ‘This is a meal for me, but instead I’m going to give it to the people who need it,’ that’s just phenomenal. To see it in our community at the University says we should be really proud about it.” 

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