As I walk into this bubbly school, Parikrma Foundation, near Ashoka Pillar, Jayanagar, Bangalore, a group of kids playing in the ground run towards me shouting “Anna” (meaning brother), give me a tight hug and return back with a smile.
Some kids stayed back with a barrage of questions ranging from “Who am I” to “Did you hear the thunder” to “Why are you so tall?”
I was amazed at the outspoken nature and soft skills in these so called “Slum kids” which is rare to see in a reputed private school also …Just then Mrs. Shukla Bose, the person behind Parikrma Foundation walked towards me.
Shivoo: It’s a great institution you have built
Shukla: <Smiling> we are very young. Just 14 years, long way to go
Shivoo: How do you define success?
Shukla: 97% attendance from students, 1% drop out, 100% attendance from both parents in PTM (Parent Teacher Meeting), 80% of teachers are more than 5years in Parikrma, Most of our non-teaching staff is parents whose kids are studying here, we have made a difference to 999 families, opened 896 Bank accounts !
Shivoo: It’s great to see a completely different metrics for success for an educational institute
Shukla: We are in the journey of “creating identify for our students and their parents first” and instill the right values in them. Education is just a means to do that
Shivoo: What made you quit a plush corporate job?
Shukla: When I was working for a multinational company, we were just a dot in the world map. I wanted to create a world for someone deserving…
Shivoo: Is it worth the personal journey from a branded luxury German car to a small Indian car?
Shukla: 2AM I get a phone call that 11 girls from outside Karnataka are holed up in a small room. I call some of my parents whose kids study in our school. In next 30 minutes, I am hitching a ride on a 2 wheeler with 10 autos as convoy and go there to rescue them. We get all the kids out aged between 10-12 and put them in foster homes until we admit them in our school. If I had not reached there on time, these kids would have ended up in a brothel or as an abused domestic help. Now you tell me isn’t it worth it?
Shivoo: <Blank face>
Shukla: <Smiles> never a moment of regret and looking back”
Before I could ask the next question, I could see more than 20 kids rushing towards Shukla shouting “Akka” (meaning sister)
The hugs were surely warmer than the best cashmere could give..
In Conversation with Shukla Bose – Founder & CEO, Parikrma Foundation
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
I am the Founder-CEO of the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, we run four schools and one junior college that provides quality English medium education to over 1700 students. Parikrma has also partnered with Bangaluru Municaipal Corporation to enhance the quality of education across 18 government schools. But I did not start my career by being the CEO of Parikrma Foundation. I grew up in a middle-class family, where I was encouraged and supported to get a good education. I attended good schools and my mother brought me up with the belief that I could do anything. But my parents also decided that I should have a strong social conscience, so with education, they also encouraged me to volunteer with Mother Teresa for over 7 years at the Missionaries of Charity. This was where my calling for the teaching and wanting to help people started.
The initial academic success I experienced paved the way initially to business school, where I was among very few women at the time, and ultimately to the business world. There were not many women CEOs – that gave me the Access to decision makers. I worked with the Oberoi Group, and afterwards as the Managing Director of Resort Condominiums India (RCI (company)). I was responsible for starting the new concept in hospitality the country, as their first MD. I played many leadership roles with RCI for 10 years and was responsible for making it a profitable and a well-known hospitality brand. I don’t like stereotypes. I love to break habits. It’s not about who is the “Tarzan” or “Jane” in the house or office, I owned the jungle and the world was for me to grab with my hands. But in 1997, I started doing something unusual – I started reading the obituaries in the newspaper and writing my own, trying to understand from other people’s lives what impact they left behind. Duty and purpose is very important to me as a person. This is because of my middle class upbringing. My parents always use to say “You are my retirement fund” – it’s not about money but instead it’s about putting the sense of duty and purpose in me as a child.
In 2000, I gave up my high profile jet setting job and accepted an offer run the Indian operations for a multinational NGO for children. The turning point for me was when I realized a pair of shoes I was wearing could take care of the entire family for 6 months. In this role I set-up the entire operations and gained useful skills like financial planning and distribution for non-profits. I did this for about 3 years, and I felt that I could do lot more.
Once I tasted success there, I got an idea to start Parikrma in early 2003 with all her savings. I remember planning the Praikrma idea on my breakfast counter one early morning. After the idea firmed in my head, I called my daughter who was pursuing her undergraduate studies at a US college. I had a long chat with her to get her views on what she felt about supporting her own education. She wholeheartedly supported me, as did my husband. The stakes were very high, but I believed in the idea, and was able to successfully get over the struggle.
I was naturally anxious of whether people would have faith in my aspirations. Along with my husband, we decided to empty our bank accounts, and take a deep personal risk by investing ourselves wholly in this project. I knew it was vital for us to make Parikrma a success, using our own financial assets, before asking for financial contributions from others.
I gathered a 5-member team in March 2003 and together we started walking through the slums of Bangalore to identify schools. We were ambitious, and insistent of creating English medium schools, based on the demanding ICSE curriculum. Throughout this difficult, early process it was important that we acted with clarity, conviction, commitment, and courage and most importantly with compassion. Our efforts paid off and only 3 months later, we had set up the schools and identified the teachers and children.
Parikrma’s uniqueness lies in its 360 development program that integrates the community with its core operation of managing high quality education centres for the slum and street children of Bangalore. The education provided follows the ICSE curriculum and the language of instruction is English. A key feature of the program is the Circle of Life. There are four areas that complete this Circle for any child – Education, Healthcare, Nutrition and Family Care. Parikrma manages all these areas and works closely with each family to ensure stability of homes and a nurturing environment. Thus far Parikrma has provided vocational training for older siblings, AIDS awareness programs, de-addiction programs for alcoholic fathers and women’s empowerment programs. Many of the children’s parents also work with Parikrma.
Our Model has already shown success. Attendance is at all an all-time high of 100% while drop outs are practically nil. In fact parent-teacher meetings have shown an attendance of 100%, pointing out to how successfully Parikrma has integrated the parents into the program. Our admin cost is just 6%, probably the lowest in the NGO world.
Our kids are fed all 3 meals in school. No child can learn on an empty stomach. They are fed breakfast, lunch and an evening snack before they leave from school. Because we know how their families struggle to even meet the basic needs for these kids, our schools are open 365 days a year, ensuring our kids get the necessary nutrition. This is the driving factor why they are also in school every day. The school also covers immunization, hospitalization, and even the cost of surgical operations, if needed, for its students.
Today our focus is on scalability and replicability. We want our children go deep and wide, the Parikrma way.
“But my parents also decided that I should have a strong social conscience, so with education, they also encouraged me to volunteer with Mother Teresa for over 7 years at the Missionaries of Charity.”
“I don’t like stereotypes. I love to break habits. It’s not about who is the “Tarzan” or “Jane” in the house or office, I owned the jungle and the world was for me to grab with my hands. ”
“Our kids are fed all 3 meals in school. No child can learn on an empty stomach. They are fed breakfast, lunch and an evening snack before they leave from school.”
“Parikrma student family consists of 3 things – instability, insecurity and dysfunctionality, where there exists high violence and noise factor. They have their own way of resolving issues and it’s totally alien. ”
“We have kids form 999 families and we have opened bank accounts for 896 families. This is the first identity they have and we are giving them the identity. They don’t get PAN card or AADHAR Card. We have managed to get their AADHAR cards made.”
Please tell us about the successes on this journey?
A key success metric of Parikrma is our admission process and number of students we admit. For example this year for the June session, we received 700 applications for the 125 students we admit. The challenge is “How to refuse?” We have this admission policy that pretty simple – we take kids from the poorest of the poor. Average income of the Parikrma household is 4.5-5000/Month. And some cases, 98% of these kids have alcoholic fathers and 92% of them have someone in jail. A typical Parikrma student family consists of 3 things – instability, insecurity and dysfunctionality, where there exists high violence and noise factor. They have their own way of resolving issues and it’s totally alien. Here the mother goes off to the factory early morning for a 4500 monthly wage and the father is a father in absence here and lives with multiple women and multiple families. Our focus is not only to provide education but also help them integrate with mainstream. We want our kids in Parikrma to have higher order thinking but with humility. Despite all the hardships at home, this we have kids who had gone to Duke University scholarship program and nobody in that program knew these kids were from slum.
You will see our children sit on the floor and ground because they have just come from a 100 sq.ft. house with not even a tin roof but a plastic sheet. We don’t want to remove them from their ground reality. Our children need to become the change agents in the community they come from. That’s probably one reason when you visit the slum you can make out the house that has a Parikrma student. When I go to visit them in the slum, which is regular I see that the houses that have kids coming to our school, are cleaner, parents have a greater understanding of hygiene and I see these kids trying to help other younger and older kids in the locality to learn hygiene or impart knowledge they hear in our school.
Each year I have learnt something unique and different. For example, what’s the best way to teach values in a child? This put me dilemma. Let me explain; we teach them not to copy but when a child comes to me and complaints that the invigilator in the exam took the child’s paper and circuited to the entire class to copy during the exam. What do you reply to the bright child who had struggled hard to write the exam? It’s very easy to say stand up for the right cause and fight back. But the background and the environment they live in, this can be tricky. So what we teach them is to write the exam slowly and handover the answer scripts only at the end. This way you avoid the problem and confrontation by not being a part of the problem itself in the first place.
We have kids form 999 families and we have opened bank accounts for 896 families. This is the first identity they have and we are giving them the identity. They don’t get PAN card or AADHAR Card. We have managed to get their AADHAR cards made. To even get the Below Poverty Line (BPL) card they find the paperwork tedious. We work with the concerned authorities and get the relevant paper work so that their identity card process can be simplified. Our kids also help their parents in this.
I saw a change bearer when I saw a 12 year old girl spurred the rest of the Parikrma student’s community to rally around and stop a child marriage in her slum. Another one was when one child started walking to school to save bus money to send it to the children of Nepal to build a school soon after the earthquake. That mobilized all of us to create fundraising drives to raise funds to re-build a school in a remote village in Nepal. I am proud to say that we have been able to raise 80% of the budget of the construction costs. But this huge initiative began by a 5th grader who felt he needed to do something for the earthquake victims. He influenced all of us. And he wanted to build a school because he understands the value of a school.
Another integral part of our success journey, is how our kids have fared in the real world. Santosh Kumar, a slum-dweller’s son, earned a degree in hotel management and now works as an assistant chef at Hilton International in Bangalore. Thangminlal Haokip, an orphan from Manipur, is a student at one of the country’s best colleges, the National Law School in Bangalore. Meghashree Balaraju, whose mother works as a domestic helper, scored 90 percent on her exams and was selected for a San Diego Global Youth Leadership Summit in 2014. Other Parikrma students have exhibited their artworks at galleries in New York and San Francisco, have won gold medals at a South Asian taekwondo tournament, and have won intercollegiate story-writing competitions conducted at literary festivals.
All the students who have graduated from Parikrma are either attending college, pursuing vocational training, or working and earning money to supplement their family’s income. With this, I believe that we have shattered several myths. “We have discovered that the parents of slum-dwelling kids are as interested in their child’s education as any other parent.”
What are your future plans?
We are working closely to create some programs with our key stakeholders, volunteers and corporates who have funded our NGO to say “Yes, I know Parikrma is making a difference”, “Yes I know the kids from Parikrma will integrate with the main stream”. “Yes I know my money is put to right use”, “I know I am making a difference to the society through Parikrma”. People need to change their mindset from “At least” to “Why not?” i.e. from thinking ‘at least the poor have …” to “They are like our own children, why not”.
Our alumini work with our foundation and contribute some part of their monthly salaries towards funding our activities. I am hopeful that as more Parikrma alumni begin to settle into well-paying jobs, we will also have a steady stream of funding.
I have one personal dream – to be present at the school assembly at 8.15 am, 20 years down the line. “This school should have been started by a Parikrma student.”
Right now we do not have the management bandwidth to take care of schools outside Bangalore. But through the Education Transformation Center we will be able to share our best practices and influence schools outside Bangalore as well. We believe that a good school is not just the brick and mortar but the unique idea and that idea can always be shared and scaled.
“I am scared of excessive marketing as people tend to think Parikrma doesn’t need funds but that is not the case. We need all the small contribution that comes our way to keep this NGO going. We don’t want Charity or favor or pity as we are not a charitable organization. We want your confidence in Parikrma and your involvement in the journey.”
There is enough resources, talent, and funds in India. We don’t need international funds to sustain many programs. We need mentoring by corporates, placements for vocationally skilled students, internships, one to one guidance regarding careers, future, technology etc, social marketing person to help restructure our social marketing strategy, someone with experience in helping fine tune our processes further, improve documentation and help in policy making. We also look to work with corporates who can include us in their CSR charters. Anyone who would like to work with our children, and Parikrma please feel free to reach out to us through firstname.lastname@example.org