Driven by Sports, Fuelled by Passion – The Inspiring Story of Priyal Keni

Startup Story - Priyal Keni

Entrepreneur: Priyal Keni

Project: Play and Shine Foundation

Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 141

In this age of uncertainty, it’s quite risky for a youngster to tread a different path. But that’s exactly what drives Priyal Keni to do more for the society and push her boundaries. A chartered accountant by qualification, she could have easily resorted to a corporate career without plunging into any challenges. But she wanted to give back to the society. That’s how she founded Play and Shine, a non-profit initiative that uses sports as a cohesive and flexible tool to foster individual and community development.

Priyal is also a rifle shooter who represented India at 12 international tournaments and she bagged 118 medals. The zest for launching Play and Shine Foundation came her from sportsman spirit. Play and Shine is now powered by 300+ volunteers and has an impactful presence across 33+ cities in India.

“We are actively working on projects with the Tata Sustainability Group, Teach for India, Unnat Bharat Abhiyan-IIT Bombay and many more. We have several flagship programs designed to achieve the SDG’s 3,5,12 and 17 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Our vision is to positively impact 1 million individuals by the end of 2022,” says Priyal. We catch up with her to unravel the complete story of Play and Shine.

1) How did you get the idea for this initiative?

As a student in school and college I was involved working as a volunteer with several NGOs and social initiatives. So after I completed my Chartered Accountancy, I was looking out for opportunities in the social impact space.

My previous social work experience was largely centred around under privileged children, so I knew the ground reality of the quality of education and other resources available to them. The curriculum designed for them lacks a holistic approach due to lack of emphasis towards non-academic activities such as engaging in sports, personal development and so on.

Being a sportsperson, I know the innumerable benefits it has and how it can be used as a tool to foster individual and cognitive development. Keeping this idea in mind and in a pursuit to merge my passion for sports, entrepreneurship and social work I started the Play and Shine foundation.

2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?

Priyal at a shooting tournament.
Priyal Keni in action at an international rifle shooting tournament.

2020 has been a challenging year and in a way it has doubled the burden of responsibility I carry as a social entrepreneur. Millions of children have lost their access to basic education and left with no option but to wait in hope for things to get better.

More than ever before we need people to come forward and do their bit to ensure that these children are back in their schools and sports fields.

The consequences associated with the Covid-19 pandemic pose a fresh set of challenges to deal with. Starting 2020 I had a very different set of projects in the pipeline, but after the coronavirus took the world by surprise as a social organization we had to widen the realm of our work beyond sports and education and implement a covid-19 health advocacy program with immediate effect.

Our latest project “Assiduity fitness” which we have started in collaboration with a Teach for India fellow, aims to educate children about physical health issues caused due to a disturbing meal cycle and mental health issues such as screen dependency disorder caused due to excessive usage of mobile phones and other electronic devices which are consequences of the lifestyle we all have been living under lockdown.

3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?

I have always been a child full of surprises. My parents honestly never expected too much out of me. They wanted me to be sincere at whatever I did and be an obedient child. But I was a curious kid who wanted to try her hands at everything.

I played chess, throwball and basketball for school, I am a trained classical singer with just one exam left to complete my graduation in singing, I played for India as a rifle shooter and adorned several other leadership roles in school and college.

So when I told my parents about this whole idea of starting my own social entrepreneurial venture they were excited and happy at the same time. They keep checking with me on how my work is going and they have understood how passionate I am about it so they extend their complete support towards it.

4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?

Every day is a learning day. For me the biggest mistake was not being able to select the right people to work with. I am a super enthusiastic self-motivated person and I prefer to closely work with people who resonate at the same frequency. But I have had to deal with people who were the very opposite and that had been quite a situation for me to deal with.

5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?

Play and Shine Foundation
Priyal Keni teaching students.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed us several steps back in time. For me, the immediate challenge as a socialpreneur would be to ensure that the level of impact we are able to create matches to the pre-covid level.

Working amidst the looming uncertainty is challenging because anytime things take an ugly turn. Though we as a team have managed to get the on-ground activities rolling there is always a lack of manpower and other logistical issues due to the lockdown restrictions applicable.

Dealing with under privileged children does not give us the luxury to easily interact with them through any of the available online modes. In addition to restoring their right to education and play, we have to also ensure they have access to other basic requirements such as healthy food, water, sanitation, medical supplies etc.

6) What habits contribute to your success?

I journalize literally everything and I have two separate diaries to compartmentalize my professional and entrepreneurial commitments. I keep making a note of things in them anytime during the day as and when they come to my mind.

The most important weekly tasks are always up on my whiteboard. As soon as a meeting is set up virtually or in-person I block my calendar. I set up reminders on my phone for even the smallest of things. I practice micromanagement and it works wonders for me. Besides, working long hours never stresses me out because I clearly know where I see myself in the next five years.

7) If you had the opportunity to start this initiative again what would you do differently?

When I stepped into the field of social entrepreneurship I had no backing. No one from my family had the relevant experience to guide me nor did I have any mentor to look up to. But all the experience I have gained over the past few years has been very useful. I took a leap of faith and I knew I had to figure my way out.

I networked with a lot of people working in the same sector and never hesitated to ask for advice. For me, constructive criticism is always welcome. So if I had to do this all over again I would make use of all this experience and save some lost time.

8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?

Team Play and Shine Foundation
Team Play and Shine Foundation with children.

“You got a dream… You got to protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.” – The Pursuit of Happyness.

9) Where do you find inspiration?

In my free time, I like reading motivational or personal development/ self-growth books. I watch a lot of Ted Talks or other relevant motivational content online. Listening to the stories of other people who have walked the same path I wish to follow and how these people overcame all odds to succeed in life profoundly inspires me.

10) What is your favourite book?

Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Just go for it! If you have a dream just take a leap of faith and chase it. Very often we tend to doubt ourselves and our abilities. We set up limitations for ourselves and our goals.

I realized my true potential only when I challenged myself. It has always worked for me and pressure situations bring out the best in me. If you are going to dream, you might as well dream big. Your 20’s is a time you can take risks. This time in your life is not going to come back and you should make the most of it.

Secondly, there is absolutely no substitute for hard work. You are going to have to put in hours of work planning your goals, executing them and building a network.

Your network is your net worth and it can open doors which your degree couldn’t. Lastly, no matter how big your goals are, always be grateful for the little things in life and learn to celebrate the little successes!

EOI Summary

Priyal Keni hit the bull’s eye in her role as a socialpreneur. She happily chose the less-travelled path to impact people’s lives in a positive way and it worked like a charm. Her discipline and perseverance have helped her tackle the hurdles seamlessly. Now Play and Shine Foundation is in the forefront to help the underprivileged student community across the country get access to education and sports.

The hard work you’re putting in now to build your dreams may not yield results soon, but it will definitely pay off one day. So if you have a dream, just go for it as Priyal says.

Priyal Keni

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