The Global Alumni Movement

Anushka

The Teach For All Alumni Conference took place in July earlier this year in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The general theme of this conference was to look at Alumni movements across different networks and to understand systemic change and leadership better. The Teach For All Conference happened in conjunction with Teach For America’s Alumni Educators Conference which saw approximately 800 Alumni + Corps Members across the United States participate in sessions focused on leadership development, collective action and network building.

The conference agenda had Alumni from across the network come together to analyze their early efforts towards systemic change and examine their personal visions and reflect on their roles as Alumni leaders in the education space. Over the course of the conference, we identified ways in which we could strengthen our individual efforts as well as maximize our collective impact. I particularly enjoyed the session where we examined our personal vision; the diversity in vision statements from across the network, which included health, welfare, media etc. pushed me to think about the various factors, beyond education, that impact our students’ lives.

What struck me the most about Teach For America Alumni present at the conference was the fact that a good number of them were still teachers. There were some people who had spent more than 20 years in the classroom and I was extremely inspired to hear their stories and be a part of their discussions.

Another initiative that really stood out for me at the conference was the Alumni Awards Ceremony, an annual event where Teach For America recognizes specific Alums for their outstanding work in a number of different fields such as social innovation, civic leadership, and excellence in teaching. It was at this occasion that Kaya Henderson, a TFA Alumnus and the current Chancellor of Washington D.C Public Schools, spoke about her ambitious vision for the 44,000 students in her district and the progress they’ve made so far; it was then that I truly felt the power of the Movement and its potential to dramatically change the status quo.

mapalumniglobe

My takeaways from the conference were twofold. As an Assistant School Leader at Akanksha, I learned about a number of innovative resources related to language acquisition and assessments for primary grade students that will be useful in my current work while as a Teach For India Alumnus, the conference brought home the importance of our Alumni movement and the value of connecting with people and building networks that can have a lasting impact on education in India.

Anushka was a 2011 Teach For India Fellow in Mumbai. She is currently an Assistant School Leader at Matoshri English Medium School in Pune, a TSIF-Akanksha school run in collaboration with the Pune Municipal Corporation. You can reach out to her at anushka.pai@akanksha.org.

Of Big Hearts and Lean Business Models

In August, Adithya Narayanan (TFI 2012) and Arhan Bezbora (TFI 2010) made a trip down to Bangalore to participate in a Startup Weekend (Education), along with 7 other Alumni based in the city. Startup Weekend is a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities.

 startupweekend

In this reflection piece, Adithya describes his main learnings from the 3 days that came about from watching one of his team-mates, Gururaja at work. To learn more about the event and see the participants (including Alumni) in action, watch this video.

I watched as Gururaja stood quietly at the back of the long line that had assembled on one side of the conference room at the Thoughtworks office in Bangalore, holding the prototype he had built in his hand. Twenty-five other people stood in the line with him, waiting to present to a crowd of 70 that included educators, technicians, designers and social entrepreneurs from different parts of the country. The model that could fit perfectly in his palm accurately measured humidity, acceleration, and temperature among other elements – requiring only a connection to a smartphone to function. Gururaja had built the prototype while pursuing his PhD in Bangalore and knew that this model could be very useful to engineering students across the country since most of them pursued different engineering projects during their last year in college and a gadget that gives immediate and accurate data at a cheap rate would be a great asset to them.

Gururaja had spent months working on this model, but today like everyone else standing in the line, he had exactly one minute to pitch this product to the audience to gain their votes. If the pitch went well, members of the audience would join his team and over the next 54 hours help him turn this model into a viable product that he could potentially sell in the market.

When it was finally Gururaja’s turn, he fumbled and stuttered through his presentation and thoroughly failed to explain the workings of his prototype. By the time the one-minute alarm rung, Gururaja had only finished half of his pitch, and predictably when the results were announced, Gururaja’s model didn’t make it through to the top ten. As I watched him slowly put his model back in his backpack, I felt sympathetic but, limited by my own knowledge of business and engineering, I realized I couldn’t do much to help him.

Over the next 54 hours, I would work closely with a team of 5 (including three Alumni) to build a website that aimed to help students in India studying in the 10th and 12th grade gain more clarity regarding career opportunities post their board exams. The website would house a career aptitude test, a mentorship program and an internship program – a holistic process that we hoped would help children in India gain more clarity about the careers that lay ahead.

Over the next 2 days, I learned a lot while working on the idea  – I learned about revenue streams and measuring key metrics, I learned about the lean business model and about how to use it, I explored design thinking at a deeper level, helped my team create a strong problem statement and then helped my team go out and validate that statement. We brainstormed solutions together, talked to seasoned social entrepreneurs, worked with them to define our target audience, and the weekend finally culminated in our team being selected as one of the runners-up at this first edition of the event in Bangalore.

But none of those learnings, I realize now in retrospect, would come close to my learnings from watching Gururaja work over the weekend. After the audience in the room rejected his prototype, Gururaja didn’t leave the room to go back home. He stayed back to help other teams build on their ideas, and as luck would have it, he ended up joining our team. Before Gururaja joined, we had 3 educators, one social entrepreneur and one visual communicator, and we were looking for a software techie who could code – for the simple reason that our entire product was to be housed on a website. So when our team-leader Saahil went scouting for a techie and finally told us that he had found one we were thrilled, but the joy was short lived for Saahil had misunderstood Gururaja to be a software techie, while Gururaja was actually a hardware techie – so he had as much idea about how to build a website as all of us. Surprising me twice in the span of five minutes, Gururaja offered to spend the next day working on the website.

Over the next 15 hours while the rest of us defined and redefined out problem statement and went about creating a solution process, Gururaja sat with his laptop in a corner of the conference room, with multiple tabs open that had information on building websites. He browsed through wordpress and godaddy and finally ended up on wix, where he decided to build a website that would suit our product the best. For the first few hours, he got nowhere, but a few hours later; this is what he came up with. It was a full-fledged working front page for our website.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.18.35 pm

As I think back to the weekend, the image of Gururaja standing in the line with his prototype flashes in my mind. I think of the time when the results were announced and his idea didn’t get voted upon and I think of the time when I saw him put the prototype in his bag, expecting him to leave. I think of the time when he offered to help us do something no one else was willing to touch, and I think of the time when he finally showed us what he had built and that is when I realize that beyond business models and processes and structures and designs, what I learnt that weekend was that to really get your startup off the ground you need a great team, with great team-players.

To watch Gururaja work over the weekend was my greatest learning. Here’s to bigger hearts, leaner business models and more Startup Weekends.

Adithya was a 2012 Teach For India Fellow in Mumbai. He currently works as a Strategy and Alumni Manager with the Teach For India Mumbai team, building greater clarity around our long-term theory of change in the city and laying the foundation for Fellows and Alumni to engage with the vision and the Alumni movement. You can reach out to him at adithya.narayanan@teachforindia.org.

School Leadership by Design

In September, the team at the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) organized a workshop in Ahmedabad that brought together a range of partners and stakeholders, including a number of Teach For India Alumni. We caught up with Shrutika Jadhav (TFI 2009) to learn more about the purpose of this retreat and her learnings, please find an excerpt below.

10459059_10152245113726573_2366438661727099358_o

What was the purpose of the workshop? What did ISLI hope to get out of it?

The purpose of our innovation workshop in Ahmedabad was to use the design thinking approach to re-imagine the ISLI National Fellowship. It involved bringing together a range of school leaders from Akanksha and other partner schools as well as Teach For India Alumni to help ISLI reflect on its program and strengthen it going forward.

The design-thinking workshop was facilitated by Craig Johnson, Superintendent of the American School of Bombay, and through this process, we hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of our school leaders and gain insights on our programmatic support and curriculum.

What did the 2 days look like? What were some of the key discussion points?

On day one, Craig introduced us to the fundamentals of design thinking which was absolutely amazing; he talked a lot about the need to always start with empathy in order to understand our school leaders better which was a big takeaway. On day two, he really pushed our thinking and got us to imagine our role as educators 5 years from now; this helped us appreciate the critical role each of us at ISLI has to play in building the foundations for excellent school leadership in India.

What were some key learnings that you left with?

For me personally, the design thinking process itself as an approach to solving problems was the biggest learning and engaging in this process with like minded peers allowed me to leave with ​a renewed sense of inspiration and purpose. It made me realize how valuable it is to bring multiple people and perspectives together for such workshops where the focus is not just on meeting one another but also collectively thinking through important issues and challenges in the field of education and coming up with solutions.

Ahmedabad has played (and continues to play) such a key role in the journey and evolution of Teach For India, how did it feel to be back there with so many Alumni?

It felt absolutely amazing to be back in the city and reconnect with Alumni from different cohorts after a long time and more importantly, to engage in a deep discussion around school leadership and its impact on education.

What’s more, most Alumni present were from my cohort so it was wonderful to spend time with old friends and just catch up. It was also great to see so many of them working as school leaders and engaging with school reform in such a deep way.

Shrutika was a 2009 Teach For India Fellow in Mumbai. She currently works as a Program Manager with school leaders across India as part of the National Fellowship Program at the India School Leadership Institute. The mission of the India School Leadership Institute is to develop school leaders who drive high-performing schools that commit to academic achievement and character development of children from under-served communities. You can reach out to her at jadhav.shrutika@gmail.com.

Alumni Spotlight – Shalini Datta

??????????

Shalini, a 2010 fellow, founded AfterTaste an organization that works with unskilled women from an extremely disadvantaged community of Ambuzwadi in Malwani, Malad (West), Mumbai.

The community of Ambuzwadi is approximately home to 50000 inhabitants and is 20 years old but deprived of:
· Proper shelter
· Access to drinking water.
· Electricity (installed only now in April 2014)
· Drainage system
· Basic sanitation and hygiene

AfterTaste is a grass root level social enterprise, working from within the community. Shalini came up with the idea of a model that is self sustaining, wherein, in collaboration with the women from this community they generate revenue through sale of our handcrafted products and use that for salaries, operations etc.

img1

Since Aftertaste’s intervention, it has generated dignified livelihood opportunities for 8 families and impacted 40 direct and indirect beneficiaries. Due to consistent efforts, the women’s earning has led to an increase in the monthly income of their house-hold by 40% to 50%.

  • The women’s income directly translated to: Spending and saving for children’s education, financial inclusion, significant improvements in their lifestyle, and increased awareness and access to healthcare.
  • The women empowered with their financial independence and exposure now fight their battles against abuse and inequity with confidence.
  • The women have transformed themselves from unskilled housewives with daily existential struggles and negligible literacy to skilled artisans who now dream of educating their children and lead them to a path with opportunities.

What motivated you to start your own social enterprise?

Team_Building_WorkshopThe two years left me with a strong desire to continue to work in the social space. I had worked for 9 years before the fellowship. The two years had equipped me with strong skills for working on the field, but I lacked the knowledge of the social sector eco-system or any educational qualification like masters in social work which seemed to be a key selection criterion for many organisations.

The above did disillusion me for some time and made me question, the modus operandi of the social sector in general. However, the fellowship had helped me gain an understanding of the challenges faced by the women of the communities and that had sowed a seed in me to do something for them and with them. The stories of relentless struggle and challenges shared by the women made me realise the urgent need to empower them through economic indepIMG5endence. However the absence of dignified and sustainable livelihood opportunities was a challenge. That led me to finally start a social enterprise after 3 months of the fellowship completion.

I started AfterTaste, in October 2012 with the vision to empower women from the low income communities through creation of sustainable livelihood opportunities using art and craft thus enabling them to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

What are the challenges you faced while setting up Aftertaste?

One of the biggest challenges was to come out with a model which enabled them to work without coming in the way of their responsibilities of a caregiver and did not take them away from the community. Today every afternoon 11 women complete their domestic chores and assemble in a common place inside the community.

When we started, the skills required were completely new to the women and needed teamwork and collaboration. They were not just unskilled and with no or negligible literacy, but they had never worked before and working with others was something alien to them. The community being a bottom of the pyramid slum, made them struggle and compete for each basic necessity every single day. And at AfterTaste we expected them to work as one team. It has been a challenge to make the women overcome that mindset and collaborate with each other. To work cohesively in one team and not compete, to trust each other, and show mutual respect, continues to be a challenge even today especially when the number of women are increasing.

IMG2

It has been a steep learning curve for them from being unskilled to working as skilled artisans, making each and every product in a team, managing inventory, keeping a track of raw materials, meeting delivery deadlines and being able to retain knowledge and train new members.

 

What has been your biggest learning?

Today the women handcraft 10 niche paper products and also inspire and motivate other women to do.

My biggest learning has been perseverance and hope: Just when things seems impossible, and all doors seem to be shut, a window always opens up gives us hope and 100 reasons to continue and work relentlessly.

IMG3

One of these reasons for me was when one of the ladies said that she had given up hope for educating her children, but now with her earnings from Aftertaste she feels stronger and has the courage and determination to educate them further. Today both her daughters go to junior college and she spends her earnings from Aftertaste for their education.

Another such moment was when the women from AfterTaste traveled to a remote village in Gujarat and trained 20 other women. It was a sign that they were now sowing a seed elsewhere. That for me was the true revenue we earned at AfterTaste: empowerment.

What are some of the things you would like to share to people who are looking to start their own initiative?

Sometimes all you need is a leap of faith. If you have an idea and a vision, by all means make a start. I would say work towards making it sustainable at first and then aim for scale. Do not be disappointed if the numbers don’t grow initially. It is important to have sustained and overcome initial challenges. There will be hurdles and challenges which challenge your sense of possibility, but do not give up till you think if you have tried everything and give it more than your 100 percent. Once you are able to make an enterprise sustainable, the numbers will come, slowly but certainly.

To quote Mohd.Yunus:

Untitled

How can the Alumni Community Help?

IMG4

Being a social enterprise, with a self sustaining financial model, we are always on the lookout for points of sales for our handcrafted products at corporate organisations, educational institutes, lifestyle stores etc. It would be great if each one of you could promote AfterTaste in your organisation and networks and help us with getting orders, exhibitions opportunities etc.

You can visit AfterTaste’s facebook page here

Finding Eklavya

Lalit was born and raised in a slum community behind Blue Bells International School in New Delhi. Growing up, his father, a rickshaw-puller, could barely afford to feed Lalit and his family. However, driven by the ideals of social inclusion, Blue Bells International has, for the past decade, admitted students like Lalit into their school. Treated equally, and with great compassion and empathy by his teachers and peers from high-income backgrounds, Lalit not only topped his class at school, but also earned a scholarship to Asia Pacific University, where he currently studies robotics.

Unfortunately, Lalit is among the tiny few who won the lottery of a high-quality school education. According to UNICEF, 8 crore children in India, of the 20 crore enrolled, are likely to drop out of school before completing their elementary education. There are many possible reasons for this and gender discrimination, high opportunity cost of completing school, lack of access to secondary schooling have all been cited as playing a role. But arguably, the one most important cause of school dropout is the abysmal quality of education in schools attended by the poor and the marginalized. Indian education today is a tale of two school-systems, one for the rich where children gain access to the best teachers, a dizzying range of opportunities, and a nourishing environment and one for the poor, attended by the vast majority, where children are fortunate to have any teachers at all and inhabit a crumbling ecosystem that affords them a sliver of the choices and opportunities available to the former.


This is our nation’s greatest injustice and one that Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to RTEEducation Act (2010) attempts to fight. This progressive clause mandates that 25 percent of entering class seats in all non-minority, unaided private schools be opened up for children from economically weak and socially disadvantaged groups, unleashing the potential of putting approximately 1 crore children across India on a different life path in the next 5 years.

This is where INDUS ACTION comes in, a grassroots policy-implementation and advocacy organization based in New Delhi. Founded by Teach For India Alumni in 2013, INDUS ACTION’s Project Eklavya hopes to make Section 12(1)(c) of the RtE a reality by focusing on two key areas – awareness of the policy among eligible families in low-income communities and social inclusion and integration in private schools.

Despite being one of the largest voucher schemes in the world, our data show that only 4% of eligible families in New Delhi know about the clause and its provisions, and a tiny 1% have taken advantage of it. INDUS ACTION, in its first year running, built partnerships with the local government and a range of other civil society organizations in order to collectively work with families and communities to build awareness, helping them get their documentation in place, and enabling them to get their children enrolled in private schools under the law (you can read a detailed report about their first campaign here).

However, the challenges we faced, and families across the country continue to face, are immense. First, the policy itself is still highly contentious, and a number of private schools are trying their best to circumvent it. Second, awareness of the law continues to remain low among eligible families, in spite of several marketing and recruitment campaigns to try and change that. Third, the process of academic, social, and cultural integration in schools is incredibly complex and contextual, requiring a great deal of effort and determination on the part of school principals and teachers to adapt to the new classroom and school environments. Fourth, meaningful progress towards the vision of an equitable schooling system is impossible without the full alignment in beliefs and expectations of key stakeholders (local government officials, school administrators, teachers, parents, students) and their collective action towards a shared goal, a distant dream given our current reality.

Going forward, INDUS ACTION plans to work at two levels. At the grassroots level, we wish to collaborate with private schools, working directly with school principals and teachers to help them differentiate effectively through pre-school literacy and numeracy camps and set up inclusive structures and processes that increase the level of parent engagement in school activities. At the macro level, there is a need to foster a radical shift in mindset for society as a whole and to this end, INDUS ACTION has partnered with the Hindustan Times as well as a few cable networks to run media campaigns for citizen awareness.

Vinod Raina, a distinguished educator, architect of the RtE, and a chief proponent of this law, saw it as an opportunity for social integration at its fullest, a chance not just for students from low socio-economic backgrounds to gain access to equal schooling and life opportunities but also for students from elite backgrounds to get exposed to the realities of the other India and to empathize with the lives and circumstances of the vast majority of their peers, a “mixing of society” that is a necessary pre-condition for any democracy to function effectively. He saw it as a platform for all citizens to play a part in reversing the de-facto, perverse segregation in our schools and as a “means of preserving and strengthening the social fabric of the country”. It is precisely with this vision of a more just, humane, and inclusive society in our minds and hearts that we, at INDUS ACTION, go to work every single day to find and support more children like Lalit and give them access to the education that they deserve.

Hemakshi was a 2011 Teach For India Fellow in Mumbai. She is working with INDUS ACTION to expand the awareness campaign in low income communities across Delhi and also run pre-school camps for children admitted under Section 12(1)(c), to set them up for academic success in private schools. She is interested in social change through systemic interventions, and will be pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy starting next year. You can reach out to her at hemakshi.meghani2011@teachforindia.org.

You can learn more about INDUS ACTION’s research and approach to social integration by reading their report on social inclusion in schools as well as their handbook on best practices for educators

Groundwork

tarunV

I took up the role as the founding Alumni Chapter Head with Prashant Agarwal because Teach For India gave me an outlet to start having an impact towards a cause and country I love so much. As a young movement we need to give back in whatever little way we can (while being alive to criticism) to move our cause forward. At the end of my term, having spoken to a number of Alumni and Fellows I have a few thoughts on Teach For India.

Teach For India has simply the most diversity I have ever seen in any organization. Maybe the Indian Armed Forces come close. This is one of our biggest strengths, but, can also be a challenge. We tend to attract, in a good way, people with a powerful inner motor to seek their own path. They are keen to get to a new place and will often be self absorbed in this process.

While this means you have an incredible army of people seeking solutions everywhere it also throws up a unique set of challenges. As a collective we seek support and want to chase many options that can spread us thin. Given the demands of creating an excellent classroom, participating in ancillary activities and proving to our families that this is a new career path, we are under a significant amount of pressure. Often we act against our best judgement like a bunch of teenagers. Going back on promises, debating plans, professional conduct etc. It is a characteristic of a state of flux. It is also a case study on what pressure can do to us.

What does this mean for the Alumni Movement? I think the Alumni Movement is an outlet to lend a long term view to our “change” philosophy. We need to come together to facilitate options that create sustainable career options, show people how they can stay aligned to the cause wherever they are and whatever they choose to do. Alongside we can also articulate what exactly we are doing as an organization to continue to fix the education inequity problem so that Fellows, Alumni and Staff can participate. A strong Alumni Movement can lend sanity to the mad two years of the Fellowship.

We are young enough as a movement to shape the character of our Alumni Journey. Who will we be? Entrepreneurial: seeking innovation, disruption, taking action and getting stuff done, playing the long term game OR Supportive: putting a stake down for Alumni initiatives, collaborating beyond Teach For India with the larger world OR Geeky: being intellectually engrossed in the solutions and linking with other players to solve them. Few times we have the chance to shape character of a movement that we’ve been a part of and will continue to be.

When I matriculated from Institute, Anu Aga had said (and I paraphrase) “This is not about two years, this is a marriage for life”. I take pride in having sworn myself alongside you to think about and care for this cause. My school leader at Institute Sandeep Rai told me to prepare for a “marathon”, words that will stay with me through good and bad days.

When I got up to address the matriculating Institute Fellows back in May 2011 I used one of my favourite quotes which goes “If I have seen further, it is only, by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Sir Isaac Newton). This was in anticipation of the 40 little giants I was going to teach. This past year as President, it has been an honour to stand on the shoulders of giant Alumni and Fellows to try and pull our movement together. Thank you for the opportunity.

I will forever remain indebted to Teach For India and you for shaping my life.

Tarun was a 2011 Fellow in New Delhi. He is now a Pershing Square Scholar at the University of Oxford, UK seeking scalable and excellent models in education. If ever at Oxford please reach out at tarun.varma2011@teachforindia.org