We have created an ecosystem that supports and empowers: Urvashi Sahni, Study Hall Educational Foundation

Urvashi Sahni is a finalist of The Social Entrepreneur of the Year India 2017 Award for her venture. The Award is a joint initiative of Jubilant Bhartia Foundation and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum

NEW DELHI: The exceptional contribution of Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Study Hall Education Foundation in the field of education that includes, empowers and builds leaders among disadvantaged girls. Aided by technology, policy push and partnerships with the state governments of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. India CSR Network interacted with Dr. Sahni. Edited excerpts:

You started back in 1983 in Uttar Pradesh, what was the inspiration behind the foundation you started?

I started my work in 1983, when I founded my first organization – which was SURAKSHA – an organisation meant to help women who were victim to abusive marriages and families. That was inspired bythe shock of my young cousins untimely death by burning. She gave a dying declaration that it was suicide, but that was never clear. I was so sorry and appalled, that there was no one she could reach out to for help.

It was the beginning of my feminist thinking, though I began the organisation with the sole intention of setting up a distress call for women like my cousin, I soon began to work with school girls, having conversations around marriage and what it meant for women, leading to discussions around patriarchy and how it impacted girls and women. It is during this work that I began to understand how incomplete even the highest quality education in high quality schools was.

It gave us many academic skills but didn’t give us the important knowledge that as girls and women, we had the right to use these to construct a life of our own choosing. It didn’t teach us we were equal! I also felt education in schools was too far removed from real life and its problems and challenges.

This is what led me to the work that I presently do.  The main nudge came from one of my mentors – Ahalya Chari (now deceased) who told me that since I had so many questions about education and was so concerned, i should start a school. And that is how my journey with SHEF began in 1986.

What makes your organization different and what are the significant milestones in terms of educational reach in your operating areas?

Our organisation is unique in several ways – First of all it is a very caring, welcoming, inclusive organisation and has reached out to a diverse set of students – urban, rural, rich, poor, differently abled, young and adult. Secondly – It is a learning organisation. We are 31 years old and yet we feel like a startup. We are continuously reflecting on our work and trying to think of new ways to deal with the challenges we face. We are continuously trying to redefine education as we see it and practice it. The organisation has a culture of learning, of innovation and entrepreneurship. It is evident in all our operating areas and most of our team members. Thirdly – we have adopted a holistic life cycle and life outcome approach in our work. We have created an ecosystem that supports and empowers – students, teachers, communities and all of us who work in it. We do not think our work is done when our students graduate. We have created supportive networks which support them even beyond.

What made you participate in SEOY India 2017 award, hosted by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation & S Schwab Foundation?

I am an Asoka Fellow and several of my co-fellows have applied and won this award. So it was a nudge from Asoka and other associates that made us apply for this award.

How important it is to be the part of platforms like SEOY and what are the plans if you win the award?

Platforms like SEOY have national and international prestige, credibility and outreach. It is therefore a tremendous opportunity for small organisations like SHEF. It will give us national and international visibility, credibility and support. We hope that it will enable us to find several meaningful partnerships through its enormous networks, which will help us scale our work widely. We are at the tipping point and support like the SEOY award is just what we need to take us to the next level.

What are the plans in terms of reach and what is the way forward you are planning?

Our plan forward is to form as many strategic partnerships nationally and internationally as we can to increase our outreach, to scale our ideas and to replicate our operating models.  We also hope to increase our engagement with state level and national Governments to impact policy and implementation. SHEF is the South Asia Hub for the Girls Education Champion Network and through this we hope to be able to support other girls education leaders in the South Asian region, share our ideas and practices with them.

Through the MHRD – national teacher platform, we hope to share our best practices captured on video, with teachers throughout India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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