Roshni Nadar Malhotra: Building Poor Man’s Doon School in UP to Help Build Future Leaders

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It has reported that a scion who chose the road less travelled, Roshni Nadar believes she can do to UP’s bottom of the pyramid students what schools like Doon or Lawrence do to India’s elite.

roshni-nadar-malhotra-building-poor-mans-doon-school-in-up-to-help-build-future-leadersDriving out of the Delhi National Capital Region on a spanking new highway to Agra, glitzy hotels, fancy apartments and fountains quickly give way to a narrow, four-meter wide road, heading into Bulandshahr, a district in Uttar Pradesh. There are mounds of drying cow dung, haystacks and open fields on both sides of the road.

An hour’s drive into the countryside and you won’t miss the distinct two storey brick building on a 30 acre plot. It’s the VidyaGyan School, one of the two free schools that the Shiv Nadar Foundation has set up. The building has been deliberately kept low rise to merge with the surrounding fields and villages.

Inside, the school could be mistaken for one in any big city. Sprawling sports grounds, neat assembly areas, boys and girls hostels and residences for teachers are part of this boarding school. Thirty-one-year old Roshni Nadar Malhotra set it up three years ago to help build future leaders from among India’s bottom of the pyramid population.

She believes this could do to poor students in UP what Doon school and the like do to India’s elite. Daughter of technology czar Shiv Nadar, Roshni oversees one of the three areas in which her father’s philanthropic foundation plans to spend a billion dollars in the next five years.

The other two are museums, looked after by mother Kiran, and the eponymous Shiv Nadar University, where the founder himself is hands-on. “This (the school) is my baby,” declares Roshni, a mother of two.

Her second child, Aarman, is two months old. The foundation is spending Rs 1.5 lakh per child and offers free education from class six to the 12th standard. The spend covers student stay, uniforms, books et al. “We take the brightest lot from the bottom of the pyramid and want to give them the best education that any child in India can get,” says Roshni.

Fifth grade toppers across UP, among the underprivileged, can get admission to VidyaGyan. The school has 703 students (will scale up to 1,400) and 39 teachers and gets students mainly from western UP.

The other school in Sitapur, near Lucknow, attracts students from central UP. The Foundation is planning a third school, to be located in east UP, and thus cover the whole state. This is Shiv Nadar’s way of giving back to the state where the $6.2 billion in revenues HCL group was birthed.

The Road Less Travelled

Roshni came back from the US three years ago after a management degree in social enterprise from Kellogg Graduate School and brief stints at SkyNews and CNN as a news producer. She got busy in her father’s companies with stints in treasury, finance, brand and corporate strategy. Then, she decided to take the road less travelled.

“I am not interested in the technology business, at least not getting hands on. My involvement will be at the corporation level, in the preservation of wealth rather than direct involvement in HCL,” says Roshni, executive director & CEO, HCL Corporation and trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation.

It’s VidyaGyan that excites her now. Her plan is to pick up the brightest among the underprivileged at the bottom of the pyramid and give them the right environment and training to mould them into future leaders.

“Schools like Doon or Lawrence in Sanawar didn’t decide to create leaders when they started. Look at their alumni list today and you have former a prime minister, Olympic gold medallist, army generals, cabinet ministers and leaders in different spheres. Some kind of training started at the school level itself that helped create leaders. We have just started that journey,” says Roshni.

“VidyaGyan is a radical concept, yet to be tested and proven. We have to create a replicable model that will be an example of philanthropy both within and outside the country.” “This (the philanthropic initiatives) is creative entrepreneurship for us. To make a difference you have to have large aspirations,” she explains.

“I expect a future prime minister and future leaders out of VidyaGyan. These things don’t happen over night, but over three-four decades.” “She brings in lot of passion to any activity she takes up and is also hard working. That should help her see the dream come true,” says Roshini Vadehra, director Vadehra Art Gallery.

She has known Roshni Nadar for 12 years. Roshni visits the school at least once a week and gets updates on progress on mails and phone. She knows the faculty by name and interacts frequently with students. The school has already made an impact in the region, with kids aspiring to study there.

Says Biswajit Banerjee, principal, VidyaGyan, Bulandshahr: “Coaching schools have come up to train kids for admission to VidyaGyan. Roshni has the perseverance and patience to see results.”

Banerjee, an academician with 25 years of experience was previously principal of DPS Lucknow and head of Physics department at DPS Noida. Roshni’s plan is not to take philanthropy to the masses, but rather focus on the brighter students among the poor.

“At present we are serving 1,400 students through the two VidyaGyan schools and that’s really a drop in the ocean. We can’t do and don’t want to do everything,” says Roshni. Could collaborations, perhaps with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, help? “Philanthropy is all about sharing if there’s an opportunity to collaborate, we will.

Collaborating just for finance is pointless. It has to be like a business collaboration. As for the Gates Foundation, their focus is healthcare and we focus on education. There’s no common ground at present,” says Roshni. What about taking her father’s business legacy forward – he built the HCL Group from scratch.

“I have given him a grandchild, and that’s taking forward the legacy at the moment,” says Roshni, looking at two-month old Aarman’s picture on her iPhone.

(Sourced Article First Published in Economic Times, 18 December 2012)

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