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Inspirational Woman: Lakshmi Kumar | Founder Director & Inter-Cultural Consultant of The Orchid School, Pune & Sweden-India Project

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Ms. Lakshmi Kumar is the Founder Director of The Orchid School, Pune. Her expertise spans from establishing quality schools, building teams, developing educational processes and initiating best practices – for both school and higher education.

She is the Director of Pradnya Niketan Education Society, which runs  – The Orchid School in Pune and An Engineering College in Solapur, Maharashtra. As the Founder Director of Orchid School and the visionary for educational process that is meaningful and relevant, she strives to bring teaching practices, methods, and curriculum in alignment with today’s generation of learners. She specializes in Social Science through projects, connecting vision with integrated projects, Life Skill Education for young adults and mentoring and coaching leaders.

She is a Cross Cultural coach, coordinator and academic supervisor for Sweden-India Project, a field based training program for teachers and social workers from Sweden, to work with multicultural communities Ms. Kumar has Master’s Degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; Diploma in Teacher Training from Cambridge International Education; Post graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management.

Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently

I am Lakshmi Kumar, 54 years old and a passionate educator. My experience has been on parallel track of being in education from K.G. to P.G. and training intercultural workers to work with people from other cultures. I began my career as a counselor in school systems. While working with problems, I felt that we need to bring systemic reforms in the way we run schools. Schools have to have students at the centre, accommodating and addressing their realities in more supportive, respectful and empathic ways.

Thus began my journey with The Orchid School , Pune as the founder Director. Along with this, I initiated a field based training program for social workers, teachers, health service professionals for inter cultural competence so they can work with people from other cultures with respect and empathy. This project is rooted in Sweden with Swedish Universities for past 24 years. So far around 800 social work students have come on field based training in India for three months, as part of their graduate program. Social workers are the first face an immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker or any outsider meet. hence this sensitisation and skill building has been a huge advantage for students to be part of international social work, immigration integration work, refugee crisis management, social investigation of un-accompanied children from war-torn states.

This work in Sweden has now extended to educationists who believe that these skills are necessary for teachers too who meet students from multi – cultural, multi-racial context in their classrooms. Training students, social workers, policy makers, educationists, other culture workers to become globally sensitive, competent, locally rooted citizens is my mission.

I also train international assigners who relocate for employment, business or organisations that hire workers from other cultural context. While most technical matters are universal, human resource management is culturally defined. Thus learning to adapt to host culture is a highly needed skill for successful relocation.

My educational qualifications – Masters In Social Work, Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management and Diploma in Cambridge Leadership Education.

However most of valuable lessons are learnt outside classrooms, in field and in real life situations.

Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote

I wish to take this project on training students of social workers, teachers to become inter-culturally competent to other counties in Europe, US where we see fallout of cultural and racial biases and prejudices divide people rather than leveraging the differences. This working model I have developed and implemented from Swedish Universities can be a great learning model for other universities too.

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

While I can point fingers at other external forces, factors, people etc  as resisting my ideas that are probably well ahead of time, I believe my challenge is at times my own limitation and inability to negotiate, convince and take people along. This I believe is my greatest challenge and opportunity to hone my leadership skills, acknowledging that people are at different evolutionary stages in their own career path and it takes time for people to absorb new ideas to join the implementation process. I say it is an opportunity as I need to reflect on my own practices, present matters in ways the audience can understand ( in the language , style and nuances of communication ), enroll others for the philosophy and ideological framework so the idea is sustained and shared. Thus, shared vision has become a tool for my success.

What has been your greatest achievement personally?

To be able to establish educational system that is progressive and transparent; to see students benefit out of such system; to see all stakeholders’ professional growth; to walk into corridors of Universities of Sweden at the time ( 25 years ago ) when India was known for snake charmers and elephant rides to talk about how Indian social work is multi-dimensional and can be a model of International Professional social work; to have students who have done Sweden-India field practice project sitting in almost every social welfare office in all communes of Sweden spreading the message of true internationalism.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?

It is hypothetical. Since I am passionate about what I do, I would not have settled down for anything else.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My students – young and adult learners have inspired me with their engagement in learning process, trust in me, overcoming their oddities, their life journey that exemplifies will over destiny and above all their energy and enthusiasm. When you work with young children and young adults, you never grow old in your heart. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

What does the future hold for you?

To inspire students, teachers, social workers, culture workers etc. to become change agents.

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