Nineteen years ago, a young college girl walked into Mumbai slums and expressed her desire to teach the less privileged children who roamed the streets.
Those were the baby steps towards the founding of Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit organisation working primarily in education, to impact the lives of such children.
The young girl was Shaheen Mistry, one of the six privileged Indian delegates to the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, held in Washington DC on April 26 and 27 this year. The summit brought together nearly 250 successful entrepreneurs from over 50 countries and highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship, job creation and community development.
It was addressed, among others, by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It was a huge privilege to be part of such a big and important summit full of important people and visionaries like Mr. Obama,” said Ms. Mistry at an interaction with journalists.
She said it was quite an experience to be seated among people from diverse countries and listen to them share their experiences and challenges they faced.
Ms. Mistry displayed her entrepreneurial streak at the early age of 18 by starting Akanksha.
The organisation has expanded from 15 children in one centre to more than 3,500 children across Mumbai and Pune over 19 years. Today, she is the CEO and one of the founding board members of Teach for India, a nationwide movement started a couple of years ago to build a network of leaders who will eliminate inequity in education.
Speaking of the key issues of entrepreneurship, Ms. Mistry says that in today's age of information, it is innovation and looking at things through a different lens that matters. According to her, technology has tremendous scope, and it must be harnessed to bring about innovation.
It is also important for any entrepreneur to lead from the front, and the actual process of change starts only after the delegates have returned to their respective countries at the end of summits and conferences.
Established in 2008, Teach for India is modelled on the widely acclaimed Teach for America. This organisation hires exceptionally brilliant college graduates and young professionals to teach full time for two years in under-resourced schools and become life-long leaders across sectors. In just a year, Ms. Mistry has seen the movement grow to 230 fellows teaching in more than 60 schools in Mumbai and Pune, impacting the lives of almost 7,000.
“The aim of founding Teach for India is for fellows to discover how difficult it is to turn around even a single child's life and to develop entrepreneurship skills to participate in policies for the betterment of education,” says Ms. Mistry. “No system of education in the world is ideal. A single teacher cannot change the system unless he/she has sufficient backing from leaders, policymakers, visionaries and the media.”
However, not everything worked out smooth for Teach for India. Building a good team, getting funds and lack of awareness of the movement were some of the biggest challenges that the organisation faced. More so, this success is somewhat marginalised, but a look at Ms. Mistry's agenda for the coming months and year makes one hopeful of its gradual impact on greater sections.