I am an ex-financial services professional. I spent almost 20 years building a career in financial services, with most of this time spent with Kotak and the last 10 years of my career in regional and national level roles.
I took up volunteering at a street school while on a brief sabbatical and this exercise brought me face to face with the reality of the poor quality of education that the underprivileged receive in our country. It seemed there was no way out for the millions of marginalised, first generation learners and it seemed they would be doomed to this unending cycle of poverty arising from lack of opportunities due to illiteracy for generations to come.
However soon a realisation of a different kind dawned. In January 2012 I posted a Facebook request for clothes and stationery for a few kids I was teaching. This generated 3000 calls with a variety of offers for help over the next couple of weeks. It seemed Mumbaikar’s cared and they wanted to do something for the poor children in their midst.
Suddenly the fact that slums and high-rises exist in close proximity across Mumbai became an opportunity, as did the fact that there were public areas like parks and promenades in every neighbourhood in Mumbai. I joined hands with Beenaa Advani, a business woman running Eurokids franchisees who was one of the 3000 callers, and decided to experiment with creating opportunities for Mumbai‘s educated affluent to contribute positively to the lives of children from slums who lived in their neighbourhood. Three years down the line and we are operating learning centres in six locations where, with the help of 150 volunteers and a few appointed teachers, we are providing daily lessons in English and maths to almost 700 children.
The satisfaction I have felt from doing something that is genuinely useful far outweighs any success I have achieved in my commercial career. Knowing that the path I am on will lead to better lives for many is a bigger satisfaction than any salary I could be earning.
What is the mission of the organisation?
In the short term we aim to create mentors from among the well-intentioned, educated affluent and in the process add value to the life experience of Mumbai’s underprivileged children.
In the long term we hope to attack the problem from the roots by working with the BMC system to improve the scenario in schools, even as we use available under-utilised resources in society to create social good.
Are you currently running any special initiatives?
We essentially run three programs:
1. Learning centres – 700 children are provided free tutoring in six locations around Mumbai in public parks with the help of their educated affluent neighbours.
2. In-school English program – Children studying in vernacular medium schools have little or no ability in English. Our In-school English program helps children studying in vernacular medium municipal schools with daily English lessons by AXF sponsored teachers. The number of students we reached out to under this program has risen from 1700 in 2013-14 to 2500 in 2014-15.
3. We are currently in the process of starting two new projects – AXF centres in affluent schools where students will teach children from nearby slums registered by AXF for the purpose under their social service projects. We are also in the process of starting to work with BMC in their Mumbai Public School Project.
How do you fundraise?
Besides spontaneous donors who have supported us significantly, we have applied for grants to several corporates and institutions to fund our projects. Currently our efforts are supported by a few organisations including Larsen and Toubro, Welspun Renewable Energy, LinkedIn for Good Foundation and Kangaroo Kids Education. We have recently won an institutional grant from the Millennium Alliance Foundation – a conglomerate of FICCI, ICICI Foundation, US Aid and UK Aid among others.
Getting involved with the AXF cause. Supporting our centres by volunteering, contributing snacks, celebrating special events. See below for A list of AXF centres.
You can also set up a centre for your neighbourhood. All you need is a shaded park at a walking distance from the nearest slum and 10 to 12 people willing to volunteer for two to three hours a week. We will hand hold and support you through the setting up and running the centre process.
You can also evangelise! Share on Facebook and Twitter posts, talk about us in your circles, send out messages in your groups and raise awareness for the cause.
In terms of donations, running any enterprise needs money and we are dependent upon our supporters to be able to continue to do this work. Ask us for our bank details – write to us at [email protected]
This article was provided by WeAreTheCity Delhi Committee Member Ashish Bhardwaj.