Interview with Rashmi Misra, Founder of VIDYA Foundation
Tell us something about your childhood and education.
Since I grew up in an army background, I went to different schools and the last three years of my schooling were spent in Delhi. I went to Lady Sri Ram College. I was the president of Western Music club. I have a degree in German and Public Relations. I’m a trained Odissi dancer. I worked for Lufthansa airlines as ground staff. After marriage I went to the USA and in 1985 I started VIDYA at my home with five girls.
How exactly would you define social entrepreneurship? Are working women important for the country’s growth?
Bringing a change in the society for it’s betterment is entrepreneurship for me. Women should work. It’s important not only for the economic well-being, but also from the societal perspective. Women are the true source of change in any social structure, as they are likely to have the most influence on the child’s life and by extension, the next generation.
What were the initial missions of the organization and what kept you motivated?
I took up the cause for VIDYA when I realized that the children were thirsty to learn but the opportunities and means are missing. I went to slums to find children and educate them. I continued to attract volunteers and like- minded people. Educating the underprivileged kept me motivated.
What is the greatest obstacle you have faced in achieving the success you desired? How did you overcome it?
Obstacles were there at every stage and they still are. Finding a secure place to start VIDYA initially was a bit difficult because nobody wanted a school for slum children in the middle of their posh colonies. Slowly they have accepted us. Raising money was always a big challenge. I used to get embarrassed in the beginning when people refused to give. After all you are not asking for yourself, you are asking for someone else. Slowly I learnt to convince people that I’m asking money for a good cause.
How does VIDYA integrate the slum community into the learning process?
We work in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and everyday we are more convinced of their potential as the force for new India. The people you find in less privileged communities are dedicated, hardworking and hospitable beyond their means. However these communities are also often affected by the issues of substance abuse, petty crime, gender inequality, malnutrition and lack of sanitation. We find many of these problems can be solved by empowering mothers to be economically independent and educating children and youth. VIDYA’S goal is to help individuals gain control of their own lives and become social leaders in their own communities.
What are some of the best teaching strategies you use?
We expose them to ideas to make them think about the world around them, and many of our students have dreams of social change and entrepreneurship. We use creative methods in our classrooms and incorporate a system of learning values and spreading knowledge to family members and their communities.
Who has benefitted from your program and how have you made a difference?
There’s more to educating a child than academic knowledge. What a child can do with good education is limited only by opportunity, attitude and exposure. Our flagship program, the VIDYA School in Gurgaon, the Bhavishya-yaan and Beyond School Programs are at par with the private schools.
VIDYA believes that education begins at home. In less privileged communities, the mother or the girl child is typically the care giver in the family yet the most affected. This means that empowering women empowers the communities they live in. Our programs aim to enable economic independence and increase capacity, so what we teach them is holistic and practical. For instance, we have created a program to meet the increasing demand for women drivers in Bangalore. We train less privileged women to be trained to a professional level where they can expect good pay and job benefits, which ensures that they are economically independent. Besides empowering women by helping improve their self-confidence, VIDYA also helps them in learning a livelihood and provides skill training, microfinance, microcredit loans to the needy women. We also encourage social entrepreneurship in the form of making and selling the handicrafts.
What plans do you have for the future?
VIDYA now operates out of numerous government schools all over India, and is partnered with IIT Delhi, IIT Mumbai and NIIT and many other schools, universities and other NGOs all over India. Our goal is to partner with all the major institutions and we are working towards that.
What advice would you give young women who want to follow a similar path as you?
She signs off this interview with these three powerful words- Educate, Empower and Transform.
VIDYA HEAD OFFICE DELHI
Block-S, Plot no. 3126,
DLF Phase III,
Contact: 0124 4049559
LaxmiNivas, Nair Welfare Society,
Navy Compound, IIT Market,
Powai, Mumbai – 400076
Contact: 022 25787317
Kundanhalli Gate, White Field Road,