What Motivated an IIM Graduate to Leave Her Job in the US and Enrol 20,000 Children in UP Schools

Samina Bano, an IIM Bangalore alumna, and RTE crusader, fought several odds in Uttar Pradesh to enable over 20,000 children from underprivileged gain access education in private schools. This is how. 

Sita Devi works as a domestic help in five houses. From cleaning to cooking, she does more than her body can allow. Her life goal — save enough for her four children so she can build a respectable future for them.

Private security guard Ram Chandra Kannaujia suffers from epilepsy. His wife Rajkumari works as a domestic help while their little son worked in a dhaba. All sacrifices made by the couple bore fruit when their son, Akhil (6), started going to school after getting admission under the RTE act. “I cook food at people’s homes so that my child can study,” says Rajkumari.

Soaked in sweat and wearing a hijab (veil) on her head, Shabana commutes over long distances everyday in spite of her Ramzan fast, just to get her daughter Kaifiya (5) enrolled in school. “My mother made envelopes to educate us but I had to drop out after class 5 since we had no money, a regret that I have till date. My child will not grow up with that regret,” says Shabana.

Fate has been kind to them. Kaifiya, Akhil, and Sita Devi’s daughters go to a regular private school now. All thanks to a lady who chose to leave her plum job as a management consultant in the United States and returned to India to work for students like them. She dedicated her life to providing education to students from financially poor backgrounds through institutional reforms within the system.

Samina Bano, a computer engineer and an MBA from IIM Bangalore started the Bharat Abhyudaya Foundation (BAF) in Lucknow with a dream of bringing parity in the society and fighting discrimination based on socio-economic backgrounds.


BAF is a nonprofit education startup, and till date it has helped in the admissions of over 20,000 underprivileged children across 3,000 private schools in 50 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Samina has been able to achieve this feat with the support of co-founder Vinod Yadav, the government of UP, and senior bureaucrats such as Mr. Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma, Mr. Amod Kumar and Mr Rigzin Samphel from the Chief Minister’s office.

“To build a better and equitable society that is not divided on the basis of caste, religion and money, we believe we need to begin with making children’s schools more inclusive. When all children, regardless of their socio-economic differences, are educated together, everyone benefits,” says Samina.

She strongly believes in social inclusion within classrooms that not only benefits the underprivileged children but also helps kids learn empathy and become pro-social. Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates 25% reservation for children from Economically Weaker Section (EWS) at entry level in every unaided private school. BAF is spearheading the implementation of this provision in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

Despite political roadblocks for over two years – including a fierce court battle in High Court as well as the Supreme Court against the influential private lobby that engaged country’s leading advocates, Samina and her team came out victorious.

The Supreme Court in a landmark judgement ordered the erring school to admit 13 children from underprivileged backgrounds under the RTE act on September 28, 2015.


When Samina started working on RTE Section 12(1) (c), she not only saw several loopholes in the policy but also highlighted dismal figures in admission. After a thorough study through primary and secondary research she found that in last four years since the inception of this act, only 108 admissions were made across UP where six lakh seats were available annually. This was basically due to reluctance on government’s part and also because of the unwillingness of certain big private schools that had least interest in the implementation of this Act. With BAF’s persistent efforts in advocacy impacting policy, capacity building within government, and groundbreaking innovations, the number of admissions increased to a historical 4,400 in 2015 and 15,646 in the year 2016.

Samina used her sharp management skills to create a sense of urgency. The RTE round table deliberations resulted in key next steps in implementing the scheme. As a result of all the above advocacy efforts, nine new major government notifications were issued in the last two years to amend state policies to actively implement RTE Sec 12 with clear timelines. The government of UP and BAF built a unique partnership where they leveraged their individual strengths in effectively reaching out to a scale that was individually not achievable by both.

Holding the Ashoka fellowship and many such awards and recognitions, Samina has already started taking her next steps towards making the process seamless with the help of technology and training teachers for social inclusion in partnership with UNICEF and the state government.

Samina, belonging to an orthodox Muslim family, suffers from locomotor disability in her left leg due to an accident that she met with when she was a child. It however didn’t deter her from walking on the path that was strewn with difficulties. Working in a religiously divided state where women are often given a second-hand treatment, making her voice heard is a feat in itself. With perseverance, dedication and strength in her resolve, Samina has become one of the most trusted voices on inclusive education in the state.

Impossible as it seemed, Samina has set the government machinery in motion and the RTE ball rolling in the state.

BAF is looking for volunteers, supporters, and partners. You can contact them here.

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