WATCH NOW: 5 Thoughts on Developing and Using Online Influence to Facilitate Change and Impact by Simran

I realized that in the truest sense everyone actually wants to help. They only need an avenue or channel to do that. I involved a lot of volunteer bakers to bake for various causes thereon. Whether it was baking for a cause and raising funds, or direct distribution or teaching underprivileged women – our theme of healthy baking remained the same even when it came to social impact work. Because I was clear that what we bake for our families to keep them healthy, is what we will share even with those who we distribute to. I think that led to a connection with the concept not just from a knowledge perspective but emotionally too.

What started in 2014 as a platform for discussing healthy baking recipes, has today grown to a close-knit online community of 30,000+ members with a focus on healthy baking for community causes. The Founder of Ovenderful Mom Bakers Community, Simran Oberoi Multani, describes her initiative as a healthy baking social enterprise with a focus on simplicity, focus, and wellness. Her community has members from across India and even from the US, UK, UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. She has undertaken more than 50 social impact activities in the last few years and impacted 5000-10000 children each year since 2016 through healthy bake distributions. She has been lauded by Facebook Global as one of the top community influencing leaders in Asia and she has shared her passion for Veganism on the TedX Platform. The Government of Karnataka, too, collaborated with her to raise awareness for their International Millets Fair in 2018. She recollects her journey, shares her passions and future plans with Samira Pillai.

From a healthy baking venture to a healthy baking online community on Facebook and a social enterprise. Please take us through your journey.

Ovenderful started in 2011 as a baking blog. I started actively baking when I began voluntary vocational skills classes at an NGO Search Years in Gurgaon. Here I was teaching the skill of baking to girls in the rural areas. Then it transitioned into a healthy baking venture because I was keen to give my toddler healthy biscuits and bakes, without maida and refined white sugar, in 2013-2014.

Online research and seeing the blogs that existed in India as well as globally made me realize that there was a huge gap of information related to healthy baking. I was already doing my own trials and experiments so I thought it might be a good idea to share those as well as recipes that worked out, with a broader audience such as other parents like me who wanted access to quick, healthy and tested recipes in baking.  I realized the need to address the gap related issue on an immediate basis, considering how much children love snacking on things like biscuits and cakes, and our regular consumption includes breads too.

I also felt that it was important to simplify and demystify the aura around baking, as well as healthy baking – since many bakers tended to make it seem too complicated. Healthy baking is complex but certainly not difficult to do. That also prompted me to set up the community on FB in November 2014. I was already doing social impact work through my healthy baking in Gurgaon for some NGOs and after I moved to Bangalore in 2012. When I set up OMBC, I simply extended my thought process on the community and the overwhelming response from the bakers enabled me to continue sharing community causes that we could work on as a collective.

Food, children, baking are some of the popular subjects and target groups on the internet. How do you stay relatable and relevant in the chaos?

I think these are also areas that come naturally to me to observe, explore and write more about. That helps me to stay relatable. I don’t have to make a different kind of effort to talk about these or share things related to it. Also in my case they are integrated well into my life and also with each other. So those interdependencies are what make my content relevant in the chaos.

A lot of parents are in the same phase as me – they have little children in different age groups and are working on finding the balance to keep them busy, manage their anxiety or restlessness and also continue to make the life at home remain calm. I don’t just see that, I can actually empathize with that because I am walking the same path.

Similarly for baking – while I have already made the transition to healthy baking many years ago, I am continuing to learn about new ingredients, better ways of including flavours and so on every single day. So while we might be in different phases of the journey, the journey in essence is the same. These factors help me to remain relatable.

It is one thing when you do take up social causes on a personal level.  But rallying an entire community of bakers through a social media platform would come with its own challenges. Please tell us how you do this.

For bringing fundraising and baking together, I had started working voluntarily as the Bangalore Coordinator for The Bake Collective, which is an initiative that plans and organizes bake sales to raise funds for social causes and has done so for Milaap, Goonj, and The Voice of Stray Dogs and so on in the past. So through both – Ovenderful and Ovenderful Mom Bakers Community, there are a whole lot of initiatives that have happened through the past few years. I took a chance in terms of extending my own thought process of using healthy baking as a social impact tool. It was an idea I floated and the kind of response it got was overwhelming.

I realized that in the truest sense everyone actually wants to help. They only need an avenue or channel to do that. I involved a lot of volunteer bakers to bake for various causes thereon. Whether it was baking for a cause and raising funds, or direct distribution or teaching underprivileged women – our theme of healthy baking remained the same even when it came to social impact work. Because I was clear that what we bake for our families to keep them healthy, is what we will share even with those who we distribute to. I think that led to a connection with the concept not just from a knowledge perspective but emotionally too.

What makes people come back to the OMBC online community? How does the ecosystem of your online presence contribute to the larger picture?

Despite being virtual, I sense the huge sense of pride, warmth and vibrancy that the members bring to it.  In addition to that to some extent I think my own self-motivation and the desire to build a community as well as engaging with it has rubbed off in a bigger way than I imagined. OMBC has given the opportunity to many bakers to discover their true potential whether it is in terms of baking in such a different way for their homes or creating their own blogs or ventures, and also connecting these to social causes. Many of the bakers can now envision that it can have long term effect on healthy living and compassionate thinking, for our next generation. That is why they keep coming back to it.

I ensure that the group stays on topic by going through each and every post as well as the comments in them very closely. It is important to be able to spend time and do that if one wants to retain its essence and not dilute its purpose. Also the knowledge sharing that takes place is not generic in nature – it is entirely centered around healthy baking fundamentals.

The blog, website, Facebook Online group, Instagram and Twitter pages have the same goal and support each other. Healthy Baking and Social Impact are the broad pillars under which all these lie. All these platforms are focused on creating awareness about both as well as sharing opportunities to be able to transition to both. 

I noticed on your blog that each of your posts starts with a personal story before going into the recipe. Please share your thoughts behind this approach.

Yes, actually the blog is my source of communicating life stories and also what I am trying to share through healthy bakes. I try to encapsulate my daily exchanges or incidents through the blog. And baking too has always been a personal journey for me. I truly discovered my calling when I started baking healthy, its connection to my child who was the reason for the same. All of that combined is what I focus on when I write my blog posts. A bit of sneak peek into my life, my opinions sometimes and baked recipes.

Facebook has taken notice of your work and even supported you. Please share a few more details of how this happened, and how Facebook supported you.

Simran with Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Yes, that is right. Facebook recognized our work and effort way back in April 2017 and Nov 2017, when we were much smaller at around 12k members. We were already doing social impact work and they evaluated women-founded groups which were doing special work through the FB platform. First the Community has been recognized by the Global COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg in April 2017 through a by-invite event by Facebook India and then I was invited as one of the influential community leaders across Asia, in an event conducted by Facebook Asia, for 8 such communities from across the region. Sheryl was present to recognize and understand the work being done, there as well, in November 2017. The Facebook Global team then came to Bangalore to create a short-film documentary about the work I was doing through OMBC

What are some of the things that have become possible for you to do since you started the website and the OMBC community on Facebook which may not have been possible otherwise?

Since I founded Ovenderful and then OMBC, there are many things that I started doing which I think would have been very difficult to do without strong community support. Many things have been possible due to these two aspects of my life.

I delivered a TEDx talk that helped me to raise awareness about veganism because I was doing a lot of vegan baking even in 2015-16 through Ovenderful. The Bakestreat Program helped us on OMBC cover 10,000 at least, in 2016 within a span of 6 months from July to December, through our healthy bakes. We have taken healthy bakes to elder care homes as well as children’s homes such as Vishwas Home, MathrushreeManovikas Kendra, Shiv Shakthi and Cheshire Old Age home. Bakers have managed distribution for the pourakarmikas who clean our streets. Covered street children and Homeless people at RainBasera – Night Shelter in Delhi.

Bakers who could not do it collectively distributed healthy bakes to anyone around them who needed a bit of joy or holiday cheer – house help, security guards, housekeeping staff, vegetable vendors, auto drivers and even our streeties! Infact we even covered shelter homes, centres for the homeless and elder care in US and the UK too through our Bake a Sunshine Cake initiative.

In 2018, the Government of Karnataka chose to collaborate with the community, for a key online contest run-up event as part of the International Millets Fair 2018 to promote use of healthy millets in bakes.

One of the most significant achievements would be our training of the girls who were rescued by The Freedom Project India, from sex trade and human trafficking. We helped the NGO through training these girls on healthy baking and they are now on their feet in terms of running it as a baking cooperative which supports them in their decision to start their lives afresh.

What is next on the horizon for Ovenderful and OMBC?

For Ovenderful, I want to keep focusing on increasing my own expertise in Healthy Baking and sharing that knowledge. As of now through my weekly Instagram Lives and paid /customized workshops on healthy baking mainly for schools and corporates, I plan to step this up further.

For OMBC, I want to continue to impact a larger part of the community by creating awareness towards healthy baking and social impact. There are many knowledge sharing sessions being done by various OMBC Mentors. I am looking to expand the virtual OMBC community within and outside India, and transform the 1st Healthy Baking Conference into a globally recognized one that is done every year. We have had a very successful first edition of that in November 2019. The second one is scheduled for December 2020.

Also with the Bakestreat program – I want to expand it to cover more cities (and eventually more countries), but also go deeper into these current cities to reach out to more and more children. More importantly, I want to add to the pool of volunteer bakers since there is a need for consistent distribution and with a pool of bakers, it eases the pressure on a single baker for a specific area plus improves the regularity of the program.