OU in India: Investing in Change through Social Enterprise

OU President Larry Schall journeyed to India to participate in the 2010 Enterprising Schools Symposium, along with the inaugural class of the IDEX Fellowship for Social Enterprise. Launched in early 2010, IDEX is a unique early entry professional development program for recent college graduates interested in the field of social enterprise. IDEX is managed by Oglethorpe University and sponsored by Gray Matters Capital.  

From Hyderabad, India:

I will never complain about Atlanta traffic or Atlanta drivers again. Today I ventured out on the street on foot for the first time and crossing the street is virtually impossible for the faint of heart. After standing and waiting for an opening for 15 minutes I finally found someone else crossing and attached myself to his hip as he just wandered out amidst hundreds of cars and cycles zipping by.

I am in Hyderabad visiting Oglethorpe’s 11 IDEX fellows, a group of recent college graduates, from OU and five or six other colleges in the States, spending a year in India working in what are called Affordable Private Schools or Enterprising Schools. Their mission is to assist the owners of these schools—in Hyderabad alone, there are over one thousand in operation–to develop sustainable business plans and improve the quality of education across the sector. These schools are also known as slum schools because only the poorest of the poor attend these places in a attempt to improve the lives of the lives of their children (the public system is a disaster here at least for these children). So the parents pay a few dollars a month in tuition as an alternative.

Each of our fellows is placed in a different school and the schools vary widely. One I visited yesterday had 600 students enrolled, from age three to sixteen, in a building a whole lot smaller than our homes. The first grade had close to 90 students in a room about 20 feet square. Yet, it was all orderly and there was learning going on, although certainly not at a level any of us would accept.

Grace Model is Ember Melcher’s school, a 2009 OU graduate. I spent a couple hours with her school owners, an amazing couple who have put everything they have into this cause. Ember is trying to help them figure out how much revenue they bring in and what they are spending. Their tuition is the lowest of all the schools we are working with and it has remained virtually the same for all nine years since the school opened. Despite that, about 25% of the parents are unable to pay and the owners cover their costs from their own pockets and with the help of a few donors. Ember has started a library at Grace Model, their first.

Allison Grossman’s (Emory, 2010) school, Lohia’s Little Angels, is run by Miss Lohia, and if you ask me, she is an angel. I got to spend some time with the eighth grade girls who have become Alli’s little posse. In just a few weeks, the attachments are palpable. This little gang of six who performed a dance for us last night at the international symposium on APS schools that is being held in Hyderabad this week were as poised and outgoing as any 13 year olds I have ever met. I am already trying to figure out how to get Alli’s entire posse to Oglethorpe.

It’s just remarkable to me how much our fellows are accomplishing. They are changing a little part of the world as their own lives are changing in ways they could not have imagined.