Erica Dhawan

BoP Career Paths: A Different Way to Educate India

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Erica Dhawan documents her experiences and the learning involved in joining an educational social venture in India.

In December 2008, I left my job at Barclays Capital to volunteer with Deepti Doshi, former Talent Manager at Acumen Fund and current CEO of an educational social venture called Ziqitza Education.

The mission pursued by Ziqitza Education is to ensure that the innovative, participative and efficient teaching methods used in some elite schools in India and internationally are made accessible to all schools and children. Ziqitza pursues its mission through two activities: managing private schools and distributing e-learning tools.

Working at the education startup has been a tough, yet very rewarding experience. Few other jobs would give me opportunity to work in as many different functions and understand how each specific area works. Working at Ziqitza Education helped me realize my hidden potential in building processes, managing resources and getting help from all possible sources. We were even incubated in the office of Dial 1298 for Ambulance – another startup – so my startup experience was enhanced by working side by side with another social enterprise that is growing and ready to scale.

As an Indian who grew up in the United States, being exposed to the cultural differences across states in India, and working directly with a team from Kerala, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra was a refreshing break from the homogeneity of corporate America.

Traveling through Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi – being in the “rural India” that I have seen, heard and read about was real eye opener. After meeting with school principals, teachers, students, and parents, I saw examples of how the education system worked and how it failed, met people from many different organizations who are trying to improve education in India, and those who are already making it happen. It helped me realize the opportunity and challenge that Ziqitza Education has to make a difference.

Recently, Ziqitza Education became a finalist at the Sankalp Social Enterprise & Investment Forum in the Emerging Growth Education for All category. This award was exciting, but more importantly the conference introduced me to a whole new world of organizations and people who believe in social enterprises and its impact. Many of the people I had a chance to meet where supportive and encouraging to the mission of Ziqitza Education.

The past three months has made me realize that the future of India lies in educating rural India. More children are enrolled in Indian schools today than at any previous time in the country’s history, but results are poor in terms of student drop-out rates and their ability to read and write. Surprisingly, it’s the younger generation that is recognizing the need and placing an importance on it. At Bhartiya Public School in Pilani, a small town in Rajasthan, we met with 3 students who shared their thoughts on education:

“Before we move to the big cities for work, we need to think about educating the kids from the villages” said a 2nd Grader. “I wish we had mentors in our local area who have pursued different types of careers” said an 8th Grader. “I want to improve my English and find people who can give me language training” said another.

Kids like these deserve a chance and hearing it firsthand from them has been the real motivating factor for me to be part of an organization that is trying to make a difference.

It has been a unique, tough & exhilarating experience, one that has made me a better human being and also open doors to new relationships, friendships and collaboration to whole set of people that I would never have otherwise had the pleasure to meet, greet and work with