Creating our small ‘Big Bangs’
Our universe expanded to its current unimaginable size from a point of singularity. I am no cosmologist, so I can’t possibly go into the mind-boggling details of this process. However, it strikes me that something so very small turned out to be an all-encompassing universe with our unique planet, circling a beautiful star, clustered together with several hundred billion other stars in a galaxy…that is some massive change!
Change continues to be the only constant and several of us are hoping to drive some change in our own small ways in our smaller worlds. VidyaGyan is our effort in this direction to drive change in rural India by creating leaders from the ‘top-of-the-bottom-of-the-pyramid’.
India has steadily progressed over the last fifty years; but the fruits of this change are clearly more visible in urban areas than in rural India, because most high achievers and leaders are still from urban India; while 26% of the rural population still lives under the poverty line. The vision behind establishing VidyaGyan was to encourage strong leaders from the most underprivileged communities of rural India, in the spheres of government and administrative services, business, education, politics, medicine, arts and beyond. Imagine the potential change these future leaders can drive across the 70% of the country that is still rural.
We established the first VidyaGyan campus in 2009 in Uttar Pradesh (UP), one of the most populous Indian states. With a population of 200 million, UP would have been the fifth most populated country in the whole world, if it was an independent nation. This offered us a huge canvas to identify potential change agents. As soon as we had laid the groundwork, we were faced with our first challenge. We had to go beyond the school curriculum and create a module for leadership development – one that would encourage the students to accelerate innovation, think out-of-the box, and create a coherent team spirit towards realising an overarching vision.
The first year at VidyaGyan we received around 10,000 applications. It has been seven years since and today we receive close to 250,000 applications each year, out of which 200 students are finally selected to join VidyaGyan. Once a child steps into VidyaGyan, we provide him/her with all facilities such as hostels, academic material, computer labs, food, uniform, etc. free of charge. Approximately $60 million has been invested so far towards setting up and sustaining the academy.
Over the seven years that the students spend at VidyaGyan, we endeavor to improve their discipline, communication and problem-solving skills and social empathy beyond just focusing on academics, hands-on research, sports and arts. We also provide the students global exposure through international exchange and internship programs to help them develop a more rounded outlook.
This year, 190 students from VidyaGyan’s founding batch appeared for their school graduating exams. Approximately 30% of the batch scored over 90% and almost three-quarters scored over 80% marks. Four students have been accepted at the London College of Fashion and another has been accepted at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Austin College.
Today, Yashi, who had dropped out of school to work at a tea stall aspires to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. Pankaj, who had never seen a computer till a year before, confidently uses technology to study English and Math, wanting to be a doctor and changing the state of healthcare in his village. There are 1,900 such small ‘Big Bangs’ at VidyaGyan and the change they drive will be visible and all-encompassing just like the original Big Bang!