Lisa Heydlauff started off by telling children stories on entrepreneurial skills. And now, she’s funding them.
Everyone grows up believing in stories. But somewhere down the line, we tend to lose faith in them.
Lisa Heydlauff never stopped believing in the power of stories. In fact, she decided to use stories to bring about a change in the lives of hundreds of Indian children.
When Lisa was a young teacher in London, many years ago, one of her students asked her a question. “What is it like to go to school in India?”
When she came to India, Lisa decided it was time to find an answer to that question, and that’s how Going to School was born.
Photo source: LinkedIn
Going to School is an organisation that inspires children to stay in school by creating interactive stories of everyday role models. In a country where thousands of children drop out of school, the organisation is equipping students with the skills they require to constructively participate in the world around them.
After arriving in India, Lisa, accompanied by photographer Nitin Upadhye, travelled to various schools across the country, where children were fighting all odds to get an education. In 2003, she released a book called ‘Going to School in India’. This book contains 25 stories – each one emphasising the fact that going to school can be fun. The design-intensive book has many stories which feature courageous children – from those studying under a tent in a desert to those going to school in the dark with solar lamps.
“In the beginning it was just Nitin and me. Now, our team has grown to 200. We have designers, graphic artists, editors, and so on,” says Lisa.
Be! Schools is a flagship programme of the organisation. This series of 45 stories, with a strong focus on design, teaches children entrepreneurial skills. It tells them how to identify a problem and create a plan to tackle it.
For instance, there’s a story titled ‘How Majeed Makes Jam’. It revolves around the life of a boy in Kashmir. He is a college dropout who tries to find work, but never does.
One fine day, he sees apples rotting in his orchard and voila! Majeed becomes a jam maker.
Photo credit: Facebook
Going to School has partnered with over 4,500 government primary schools. And its books have reached out to more than 4.5 million students across the country.
However, Lisa and her team don’t just stop at creating books.
Be! Movies is a series of seven Bollywood-inspired movies, featuring stories of young entrepreneurs.
The movies were screened on Star Utsav TV channel. At the end of each movie, youngsters were asked to share a business idea as a solution to a problem in their locality. This was met with a tremendous response and the organisation received as many as 68,000 calls from across the country.
Be! Fund was created as a solution to provide risk capital to aspiring entrepreneurs from economically poor backgrounds. Though it was tough to convince people to fund these youngsters, Lisa finally succeeded in 2011 by getting the initial seed capital from entrepreneurs Phaneesh Murthy and Dev Roy. And since then, Be! Fund has received grants from USAID, Deutsche Bank, and more.
“We convince people to give the money they usually give to charities and fund the entrepreneurs,” Lisa says.
The entrepreneurs are chosen after a rigorous selection process. Be! Fund has invested in over 95 entrepreneurs, who, Lisa is convinced will do well.
Among the other initiatives Going to School runs, is Financial Skills Radio.
Photo source: Facebook
In Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Pune, there is a weekly live radio show where radio jockeys talk about finance issues related to youngsters. They tell them what a PAN card is, how they can fund their education and so on.
For children studying in government schools in Bihar and Jharkand, Going to School has created a series of video games.
Photo source: Facebook
These video games, like all their other initiatives, teach entrepreneurial skills to children.
Going to School also focuses on teacher training.
It has trained as many as 5,000 teachers on how to introduce skill-based learning to children.
“Most of the teachers are as excited as we are. In fact, they also question us on some aspects of the training. It’s interesting that they are also on board to make this difference,” she says.
The impact that the organisation has had on children is what is important at the end of the day.
“We’ve seen the difference. In Bihar, for instance, many children, especially girls, would drop out by class 9. After we’ve introduced skill-based learning, there has been a 60 per cent increase in retention. And we’ve seen that girls continue to outperform boys,” she adds.
Going to School won the HCL grant, and through this grant it wants to introduce Be! Schools to 300 government schools and reach out to 30,000 students of class 8 and 9. It aims to teach life skills to students through interactive story-telling sessions and train 600 government school teachers to take up interactive story-telling classes.
About HCL Grant
There are about 3.3 million NGOs in India doing commendable work in various areas aimed at inclusion and development. The HCL Grant has been launched to support the institutionalization of the Fifth Estate comprising individuals and institutions formed and led by the citizens of the country through the creation of strong governance frameworks and management capabilities. An endeavour of the HCL Foundation, HCL Grant envisions to build sustainable communities by supporting NGOs and individuals who are doing path-breaking work towards high impact transformation in rural India. In the first year, HCL Grant has identified the best NGOs in the area of rural education. To know more about the HCL Grant: http://www.hcl.com/hcl-grant