Anil Shetty was born to marginal farmers in the village of Shankaranarayana in Karnataka’s Udupi district and grew up in a dilapidated home, in the middle of a forest.
The small piece of land which belonged to the family earned a measly income which was certainly not enough to meet their needs.
“During exams, I would light up the room with a kerosene lamp to study. When I scored 95 per cent in my PU exams, I earned a seat at the MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology. I remember the fee was Rs 15,500 and I couldn’t afford it or apply for a loan because my father was already repaying our farm loan. When I came to Bengaluru in 2005, all I had was Rs 70. My uncle paid for my education, and I worked at a sweet stall to manage my daily expenses,” Anil recalls speaking to The Better India (TBI).
He eventually dropped out of college in 2007, to chase his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Starting out as a trader in the stock market at the age of 20, he travelled to Mumbai three years later, and co-founded the company Fly With VIP which engaged celebrities from the showbiz industry, cricket, and big corporates.
Quest for an equal society
Anil had grown up witnessing and experiencing different kinds of inequalities. Whether it was caste oppression in his own village, lack of access to healthcare for the underprivileged when his father was fighting for his life on a ventilator or the absence of a level playing field for government school students when compared to private school counterparts.
While he had big dreams, he also wanted to rebel against such injustices.
Today, not only has Anil achieved his entrepreneurial dream but also has an impressive list of accomplishments. He is an independent investment banker who helps start-ups raise early-stage capital, an author with two books to his credit and a motivational speaker who has travelled the world.
He has also led several social initiatives like Peace Auto, Flex Politics Beda (No to flex politics), Pothole Yatra, and was selected by the United States’ Department of State to represent Indian in the International Visitors Leadership Program, alongside representatives from 22 countries.
He may have come a long way, but has not forgotten his roots.
“Every initiative I lead stems from my own journey. I studied in a government Kannada medium school. And now when I look at my journey, I believe that had I not received that free education, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”
And therefore, having studied in a government school himself, Anil was inspired to kickstart his biggest initiatives to date, Save Government Schools.
‘Save Government Schools’ is a statewide movement which is campaigning for the formulation of a new policy to ensure free and quality education at all 50,000 state-run government school till the 12th standard and up to graduation for girls.
It is also seeking the formation of an Indian Institute of Education, along the lines of premier institutes like IITs and IIMs, which will train teachers.
The movement aims to revive the public education system of Karnataka and bring it on par with private schools.
Using his network in the showbiz industry, especially the Kannada film industry, the initiative motivated actors and influencers to adopt 15 government schools since July 2018.
The who’s who of the Kannada film industry like Rishabh Shetty, Akul Balaji, Pranitha Subash, Ragini Trivedi, and Prajwal Devraj have extended their support to the movement.
Anil himself shelled out close to eight lakhs from his own pocket to build a classroom in the government school he studied in.
“My idea is to create equal opportunities for all students. There is a major disparity between how education is imparted in private schools and government schools. And therefore when students step out of government schools, they compete in an unfair race. None of them should be allowed to compete 100m behind their private school counterparts, just because their parents do not have the financial standing to support private education. Each of them should begin from the same starting line, regardless of what region, location, caste or school they come from.”
Under the initiative, the first step is to visit these government schools and identify the issues. There is no one solution fits all approach.
The requirements of each of these government schools differ. While some need help with infrastructure development like painting the building, setting up toilets and repairing classrooms, some struggle with basic needs like teachers.
Furthermore, there are a few that grapple with lack of enrollment of students. So, from taking care of financial needs to mobilising foot-soldiers to go from door-to-door to get students, they do it all.
“If a school has everything but lacks a toilet, we build it. If they have good infrastructure but lack an English teacher, we hire one and pay the salary. If you look at the Government Primary School in Balagattu Grama, Hassan adopted by Pranita Subhash (an actor), one of the major issues was the availability of water. The students had to walk long distances to fetch water even for their most basic needs like drinking. And the second priority was revamping the building. Much of this was achieved within five months of adoption of the school including getting an English teacher. Their next aim is to build smart classrooms, science labs etc. to improve quality of education.”
He further adds, “It is a citizen-based community movement. In countries abroad, it is a matter of pride for students to say that they study in a public school. Why not India? We now want to set up a larger organisation that will help carry the work with one million volunteers to ensure these facilities reach all of the 50,000 government schools and 50,00,000 students in Karnataka.”
Even as he bids adieu, he highlights the need for creative education not just within public schools in the state but also India.
“In the 2018-19, Karnataka allocated a Budget estimate of Rs 26,001 crore for education. And yet not much has changed. We can only bring about this change when we join hands and ensure that even the most underprivileged children in rural India, have access to a world-class education.”
In the last six years, Anil, alongside his mentors and friends, has raised close to a million dollars for various initiatives to support the underprivileged including giving away scholarships to girl children.
“My school empowered me to grow in my chosen field and reach a position to provide for others, and I want that to be the story of every family,” he signs off.
We wish him the very best!
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Anil at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)