A life dedicated to education: Shaheen Mistri
She believes that every child deserves to attain education. And she channels her efforts in that direction. Shaheen Mistri is the CEO of Teach for India, a program that trains people in the art of education. She is also Founder of the Akanksha Foundation, which brings education to underprivileged children. Over the years, Teach For India has placed over 500 students in schools and Akanksha has expanded from 15 children in one centre to over 4000 children across its after-school centers and 9 schools across Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi. Shaheen Mistri talks to ShethePeople.TV about the cause which is closest to her heart.
The vision to educate underprivileged children gave birth to Akanksha
I had a blessed upbringing, living in more than 10 countries – including Greece, Lebanon, America and Indonesia. In 1989, I was enrolled in an undergraduate program at Tufts University. In my second year, during my summer break in Mumbai, I walked into one of the city’s sprawling slums and was greatly moved by the neglected plight of children. I decided at that point that I needed to stay in India and do something about it. I dropped out of Tufts and enrolled in a sociology bachelor’s degree program at St. Xavier’s College, and began educating underprivileged children in a low-income community in Cuffe Parade after college hours.
Two months later, I started the Akanksha Foundation (which then got formally registered in 1991) – which pioneered the idea of bringing together available resources: vacant classrooms of mainstream schools, colleges and offices after work hours, the minds and hearts of children eager to learn, and the skills of college students who wanted to teach. The first Akanksha Center enrolled just fifteen children in a single centre and was staffed with college friends as volunteers.This idea was really easy to replicate and we soon expanded to 60 Akanksha centers.
Teach For India: Adopting a scalable model for India
Teach For India happened in 2007 – when I realized that something on a much larger scale was required to eradicate educational inequity from our country. Teach For India was an idea that sparked to life in 2006 when I met Wendy Kopp – CEO and Founder of Teach For America – to discuss the feasibility of adapting Teach For America’s model to the Indian context. A few months later, the plan to place the first cohort of Teach For India Fellows was put in place.
Teach For India today is a nationwide movement of the country’s most promising college graduates and young professionals who commit two-years to teaching full-time in low-income & under-resourced schools and go on to become a powerful and ever-growing leadership force of Alumni. Informed by their experiences and insights, these Alumni strive to work from inside and outside the educational system to effect fundamental, long-term changes necessary to ultimately realize educational opportunity for all.
I met Wendy Kopp – CEO and Founder of Teach For America – to discuss the feasibility of adapting Teach For America’s model to the Indian context
I started this journey thinking that I could change the world but I finally figured that the only thing that I could change is myself
My deepest ambitions for both these organizations is that we all work relentlessly to ensure that one day, all children attain an excellent education.
The funding that came from many sectors
I started with the Citibank family; friends of my parents who understood my passion for Akanksha. As funds started to slowly come in from more sources, I was overwhelmed by the trust and generosity shown from so many – there were indeed people from every sector who really wanted to do their part to help!
When children are the real challenge
Perhaps the greatest challenges though were those in the classroom and community. I witnessed things that no child should have to go through – academic gaps that were glaringly big, kids who had no belief in themselves, kids who were mistreated and were witness to appalling tragedy – mothers burning, fathers incarcerated, abuse at home and other deep-rooted issues that poverty brings.
Another challenge Teach For India faces is maintaining a balance between scaling the movement quickly and continuing to ensure the highest levels of quality and impact.
Funding has always been challenging but I’m immensely grateful for the tremendous support that we have received from our donor partners.
The entrepreneurial mantra
Integrity, constant strive for excellence, compassion. If you manage to build these characteristics, nobody can stop you from doing what you dream of.
Tips for entrepreneurs
For me, a big learning was to understand what is within my control and what is outside my control. I started this journey thinking that I could change the world but I finally figured that the only thing that I could change is myself and even that is very hard. And for me, that was a massive realization.