After working at the World Bank for more than 30 years, Dr. Narendra Sharma was ready to retire to the sandy beaches of Hilton Head Island, SC. While at the World Bank, Sharma addressed some of the most delicate development and financial issues facing developing countries . When Sharma moved to the destination beaches of SC, he realized his expertise could be used even in a tourist hotspot like Hilton Head and Beaufort County in South Carolina.
“Locally, there are a lot of underserved neighborhoods where poverty is widespread. In some cases, they have been in poverty for generations, but for others it’s just unfortunate and lack of opportunities,” Sharma explains.
Sharma felt a calling to give these underserved individuals an opportunity. With his keen expertise in economic development and unrelenting compassion, Sharma founded Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC), a 501 (c) 3 organization to empower the underserved neighborhoods.
“They need opportunities and avenues through which we can empower them. And hopefully they can achieve economic and social progress,” Sharma explains.
NOC serves to help the poor achieve “The American Dream.” The three pillars that make up NOC are education, healthcare and workforce development. Their educational flagship includes one-on-one afterschool homework support and tutoring, a summer program for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, and preschool classes for prekindergarten age children. To empower the adults of these communities NOC offers evening classes focused on Basic English, public safety, budgets and personal finance. In order to address the health needs of the underserved, NOC provides regular health screenings to help identify residents with hypertension, diabetes, HIVAIDS, breast cancer, prostate cancer, dental needs, and referring them for needed services.
“We have a unique model. We have a strong presence in the neighborhoods in that we set up our programs in the neighborhoods. We bring teachers and technology into the neighborhoods. We partner with local schools and health service providers bringing them into the neighborhoods,” Sharma explains.
Given his background, Sharma believes success is driven by results and involvement of the people. NOC screened over 300 individuals last year with their health screenings. They have enrolled nearly 380 students in their after school programs, with hopes to expand to another 100 children in the next three months. After seeing the success of micro-financing through the World Bank, Sharma hopes to expand social entrepreneurship programs within NOC.
Sharma’s success was not without struggle. “One huge challenge was to develop trust and a relationship with the people. Make them part of the solution,” Sharma explains. Another challenge is to raise capital to sustain and expand NOC’s outreach programs to benefit more children and families living in poverty.
But through the challenges, Sharma has seen great reward. It’s evident in the smiling faces of the children leaving the afterschool programs. The radiating gratitude community members have for NOC continually drives Sharma and his team. Sharma and NOC will continue to serve the needs of their communities, as long as there is a need to serve.
Sharma adds, “Society has responsibility. As individuals, we have responsibility.”
If you know someone like Dr. Narendra Sharma tackling the social issues of their community, Nominate them today for the Daily Point of Light Award.