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HBS Students Make a Difference in the World with the India Schoolhouse Fund

In 2005 and 2006, approximately 100 HBS students visited the Rajugella village in India as part of the India trek. They quickly recognized there was a great opportunity to live the HBS dream and truly make a difference in the world. Five of them took that concept to heart and founded the India Schoolhouse Fund (ISF).

The need for education is great, with illiteracy rates ranging from 70-90% and nearly 75% of fifth graders unable to solve a simple division problem. Education is a first step to combat poverty and the ISF seeks to improve access to education by building an education center to not only provide primary level education but also to train public school teachers of surrounding villages. Their mission is to “ensure effective delivery of community-based education to break the vicious cycle of poverty in rural areas of India.”

To date, they have made significant process. They formed an executive board, which includes HBS professor Stacey Childress with input from Krishna Palepu. In addition to raising substantial funds (including $37,000 to set up the education center), the team developed partnerships with local experts in the school construction industry (Round Table India) and in rural education (Rishi Valley Institute for Education Resources). They are close to completing the education center, which should secure high quality education to 1,200 children from five to 10 villages. The educational program should be implemented in early 2007. Through the process, the founders have discovered there is a great deal that goes into creating a new non-profit organization and making it successful. Building the education center was just the beginning.

First, they needed to find an educational program that addresses the issues of student drop-out, teacher absenteeism in rural areas and low enrollment rates. Second, they needed to define a plan that will ensure quality over time, given the resource constrained environment and distance from the board. Third, they needed to secure commitment from the community and integrate the educational program to the mainstream system to avoid parallel efforts to that of government. After a year of research and discussion with experts in the field, the ISF team is confident in its ability to truly affect change in that poor region of the world.

However, sustaining the organization to fund on-going operations is a challenge that they hope to tackle with the support of current and future HBS students, including the leaders of the South Asian Business Student Association (SABA). If RCs agree to give a percentage of the money raised during their section auction in April, and if SABA continues to support the ISF through fundraising activities and the annual visit to the ISF education center during the India Trek, they will have secured the funds required to educate +1,200 poor children every year and to develop a large market at the base of the pyramid for the corporations they will lead in the near future.

The ISF is also planning for future improvements by developing a network of experts in rural education and community development not only at HBS but also at the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Through relationships with student clubs, they secured an R&D arm that will enable integration of innovation with immediate social and economic benefits such as microfinance, english, agriculture efficiency, health, etc. They also plan to establish relationships with undergrad schools in India to provide practical learning opportunities in teaching, similar to the Teach for America model.

I talked to Annie Bertrand (OD), one of the co-founders, to discuss how they came up with the idea and where they would like to see the organization in the future.

“To me, the most amazing thing is that HBS students don’t just talk about problems and solutions, they act on them,” said Annie. “With little effort from many of us, we will educate those who may not have the chance to get out of poverty otherwise. When you don’t know how to count or divide, how can you think about economic development?”

She continued, “What I would like to see in the future is a transformation of a poor village into a town with people capable of leveraging the amazing resources surrounding them. I want to see the 4 million children currently out of school in UP state getting the education they deserve to integrate the global economy we are benefiting from. Given our relationship with the local community and the government, this is an opportunity that could not be missed! I hope that my current and future peers will see it as well.”

Overall, the India Schoolhouse Fund is a great success story of HBS students truly making a difference. To learn more about it or find out how you can help, please contact Annie or visit www.indiaschoolhousefund.com.

November 13, 2006
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