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In Conversation

Uma Iyengar

Uma Iyengar with Rohini Nilekani   The Chairperson of Akshara Foundation, Rohini Nilekani, is a philanthropist, author and an enthusiast for anything that is good. The Foundation was set up in March 2000 to help ensure quality education for every child up to the age of fourteen. Started in the slums of Bangalore with the help of a few volunteers, today it is a movement that integrates the efforts of the government, business houses and communities. Akshara is now working in Mysore, Hubli-Dharwad and Mandya aims at bringing all of Karnataka under its ambit. They are proud of the fact that out of the 52,000 pre-school children who have attended the Balwadi Programme over 95 per cent have gone on to enroll for formal education. Akshara’s programme models are all easy to implement, scalable, replicable and geographically comprehensive. Their ultimate goal is to develop self-sustaining models that are community driven.   Uma Iyengar: Would you like to begin by giving an idea of your Foundation and its primary objectives?   Rohini Nilekani: Pratham is a national network spread across thirteen states, twenty-eight cities and many villages. Our goal is “every child is in school and learning well”. The Akshsara Foundation which is a part of the Pratham network pursues this goal in Karnataka. So basically the idea is to ensure that in a learning community, all the students are in school at their appropriate age level and that they stay in school. Our approach has been to work closely with the Government wherever possible. The word community is much abused so we really use community in the sense of where the children come from—that is where the children live. We are talking of course of usually the urban poor or rural poor, so that’s our plan. Pratham is ten years old and Akshara is five years old. The work is pretty similar. In Bangalore, we have in the last five years worked with one lakh children in the city itself. We also have Akshara in Hubli, Dharwad, and Mysore and now we have gone on to the most backward regions of Karnataka.   UI: Basically you are now focused on Karnataka?   RN: Akshara is focused on Karnataka but I am also on the National Board of Pratham so that is the Pratham India Education initially and Akshara is a part of the Pratham family.   UI: Do you work with existing schools or do you ...

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