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EduMentum, an incubation program for early-stage education-based non-profit organisations, marked its fourth graduation ceremony during eSpire ‘21, their two-day virtual conference that was conducted on August 27th and 28th, 2021. The chief guest for the ceremony was Mr. SD Shibulal, Co-founder & Former CEO, Infosys; and Permanent Trustee, Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives. Speaking to the graduating cohort, Mr. Shibulal encouraged them and other early-stage non-profit organisations to build their decision-making capabilities and opt for more challenging paths. He emphasised the importance of community as a driver of motivation. “As non-profits, you are part of a larger ecosystem of changemakers. The best way to learn is to ask your peers to constantly challenge you while encouraging yourself to be fearless when faced with failure. While you’ve committed to transforming the way children of India learn, run the marathon and stay for the long haul,” said Mr. Shibulal.
Speaking about the future of learning for children in India, Mr. Shibulal emphasised the importance of each stakeholder in the system, arguing that their combined efforts will be required to shape education moving forward. “All the players – leaders, teachers, parents, and the larger community have to work together to facilitate the education process for children. Together, they have to reimagine classrooms, take charge, and address the core issues of access while promising to evolve in this ever-changing landscape,” said Mr. Shibulal.
The two-day conference witnessed a host of speakers discussing a variety of challenges and opportunities in the primary education sector ranging from issues plaguing rural education to the struggles of social entrepreneurs during COVID-19. Many of the speakers emphasised the importance of NGOs working towards improving the quality of education in some of the most remote geographies of the country.
Decoding Education as a Societal Challenge: A Chat with Dr. Santhosh Mathew
Dr. Santhosh Mathew, who was once the Former Additional Chief Secretary of Bihar but is now the Country Lead, Social and Public Finance Policy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brings a unique perspective to education. Speaking to Chetan Kapoor, COO, Tech Mahindra Foundation, Dr. Mathew talked about how there is a general “Need for sarkaar (the government), bazaar (the private sector), and samaaj (the social sector) to create space for ordinary individuals to do extraordinary things.” The benefits of these three sectors collaborating in the education sector was clear to him. “Quality education empowers people to deal with failure and success with equanimity, to be productive citizens in economic & social situations in a sustainable fashion.”
Dr. Mathew also reiterated that it is vital that technology not be viewed as a panacea but merely an extremely useful tool. “COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that technology cannot be a substitute for the student-teacher relationship. Technology must be leveraged as an aid to normalise the distribution of talent and enable students to lead socially, economically, and ecologically productive lives.”
Panel Discussion on Safeguarding Education
During a discussion on ‘safeguarding the sector’s gains in a pandemic era’, Prof. Vikas Maniar of Azim Premji University highlighted that the biggest concern for the sector today is ensuring equity in education. “I see quality education as a means to improving the life a child leads. Access to education has improved in the last 20 years. However, we need to be grounded about how education can improve the quality of life for the children,” Prof. Maniar said. The discussion was steered by Sushanth Tharappan of the Infosys Leadership Institute.
Pradeep Nair of Ford Foundation added that crises like the pandemic expose the need to serve children better. However, the problem is that the sector is extremely under-resourced and many organisations struggle. “Concern seldom translates into resources for these organizations who are in the system and were not prepared to face this pandemic. We have to admit that change is not possible without NGOs on the ground, and their resource-crunch must be addressed,” said Pradeep.
Vaishali Samanta of LetzDream Foundation encouraged civil society organizations in the education sector to “Be open about the path you (NGOs) choose. Experiment, innovate, be present, and include the most disadvantaged in your vision. Persevere without the fear to pivot.”
About eSpire ‘21
eSpire ‘21 celebrated change leaders who are transforming education across the country. The conference highlighted the journey of nine early-stage organizations working in Odisha, Assam, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.
Mrs. Kumari Shibulal, Founder and Chairperson, Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives, announced the graduating cohort of organizations while adding, “Last year, just as we were beginning to understand the gravity of the COVID pandemic, nine organisations began their incubation journey. The experience was new for the incoming organisations and the incubation program. Yet, here we are celebrating their efforts and success in a manner that hasn’t changed since the beginning of EduMentum,” said Mrs. Shibulal.
At eSpire ‘21, these nine organizations gave us a peek into their contexts, the ground they work in, the challenges and opportunities – through a series of panel discussions moderated by the Mentors at EduMentum.
EduMentum is a Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiative in partnership with Mantra4Change, a Bengaluru-based education non-profit. Over the last four years, EduMentum has graduated 34 organizations working in 15 states and two union territories of India.
The idea behind EduMentum is to enable local change leaders across the country to improve the quality of education in their contexts. The organizations joining EduMentum’s cohorts are early-stage (0-3 years), work with multiple stakeholders, under-resourced schools, and communities that are either marginalized or come from low-income backgrounds.