Social Impact: RightWalk Foundation – Samina Bano, PGP 2010
Like Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see” – Samina Bano, took it upon herself to empower the weak and less fortunate classes of the society to be able to bring about more oneness in the society. She is the Founder & CEO of RightWalk Foundation (RWF) which is actively working towards RTE and its effectiveness in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. RWF is working towards social inclusion through public policy intervention across the policy value chain.
Since its inception, RWF has worked tirelessly through various challenges along the way but has successfully managed to enroll about 2 lac students enrolled under the RTE act. RWF has been listed amongst the country’s top Education Influencers by ScooNews magazine in 2018 and the top 26 NGOs in India impacting Education by Education World in 2016. Samina in every sense of the word is Changing lives, for the better.
Could you please tell us something about yourself.
I come from an orthodox Muslim family where generations of women and even men for that matter have barely finished high school. Fortunately, my father got a job with the air force. As a result, we stayed and interacted with people from all over the country. It was a very diverse and inclusive space in that sense. My parents under “peer pressure” started sending us to schools an idea unthought of for generations in our family when they saw their friend’s children going to school. I went to a Kendriya Vidyalaya the only school my parents could afford. Thanks to KV I got access to affordable quality education. I did my 12th went on to graduate in engineering, worked for a couple of years, got into IIMB, got placed with Deloitte US as a management consultant, left it all and here I am today with my own venture- RightWalk Foundation.
What is Right Walk Foundation, what does it do?
In the pursuit for a just society RightWalk attempts to bring leading educators, researchers, think tanks, the top leadership of the State and Central Government as well as civil societies together on one platform to drive better policies and more importantly their efficient delivery through effective monitoring mechanisms. We are currently working in the state of Uttar Pradesh. UP is not just a state but it is a country in itself. UP has 18% of India’s population, had it been an independent country it would have been the fifth largest country in the world. But the human development indices paint another picture of the state. Our human development indices are worse than Sub Sahara Africa. There is a pressing need to work in the state and hence RightWalk has chosen Uttar Pradesh as its intervention state At RightWalk, we strongly believe that people should have equal access to education, health, well-being, justice, privileges, and opportunity regardless of their legal, political, economic, or other locations in the society. We drive equity, inclusion and social inclusion by co-shaping public policies and translating them into action.
What prompted you to leave your corporate job to enter this space, what was the motivation behind this?
I don’t know what was the origin but it was always there in the back of my mind. Education empowered me, changed my destiny. I could see and feel the power of education. I realized that this is something that must not be left to chance. My Bua was a really smart woman but she did not get the opportunity and access to the quality education that changed my life. My sense of justice and equality is intrinsic and strong and I just cannot turn a blind eye to the inequalities that I see around me.I had a vision, I don’t know where it came from. I knew that the corporate job was not my destiny. It never felt like I had settled. It was not my destination. I tried quitting thrice, but something or the other would happen. This one time I was coming back from the US to Pune via Hyderabad to meet my family. My flight got delayed so I went to Crossword picked up a book called ‘I had a dream’ by Rashmi Bansal. The book was a compilation of inspiring stories of social entrepreneurs who had left their high profile jobs to make a difference. At the time I was already grappling with the idea of leaving the job and starting something in the development sector. It was a scary idea. The moment I started reading all my fears were allayed. I felt prepared. Leaving my job just felt right.
Your view on social inclusion across all classes of society, and what effective measures can be taken towards it?
Before the pandemic wrecked havoc there was (still is) an endemic called inequality claiming lives.Today, India’s richest 1 per cent hold more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people comprising of the bottom 70 per cent of the country’s population. It says a lot about the society we are living in. Our location in this social fabric plays a significant role in determining access to resources/facilities like healthcare, education, workforce etc. Individuals born in a rich household have access to networks, opportunities, ideas good educational institutions and top-notch healthcare facilities while individuals born in a poor households are bereft of any such resources and hence are excluded. We are an unequal society and unequal societies are inherently exclusionary in nature. Excluded continue to be excluded and poor. If the society continues to remain unequal it will lead to violence, agitation and civil unrest. Inclusive contextualized public policies for individuals and communities on the margins and their effective implementation can go a long way in equalizing access. That is why at RightWalk we don’t just critically scrutinize public policies but we also assist the concerned departments/ministries in their end-to-end implementation.
Amendment in government policies in a country like India is a big task, how do you manage it?
What do I say? Yes, it is a herculean task. It took some time for my voice to be heard. Back when I started the organization I did not have a particular strategy/approach. Everything was happening very organically. In hindsight, when I look and reflect on my journey I can think of a few things that I kept in mind and will keep in mind for future projects.
- First and foremost, it is very important to understand the policy ecosystem- who drives it, the role of policy makers, what is it driven by, how are policies designed. Policies and politics are closely intertwined and hence their deep comprehensive understanding is important.
- Gauge the political weather, push the right narratives and align them with the political will.
- Smart engagement with media in building a public demand for these policy changes
- Resort to judicial proceedings if nothing else works out but keep this as your last option! Contrary to the common opinion justice is not always denied.
What are the some achievements at RWF that you are really proud of?
Today, we are successfully assisting the state government with the end-to-end implementation of RTE Section 12 (1) ( c) but that wasn’t always the case. We have had our not so fair share of trials and tribulations. Back in 2015, we fought against a powerful private lobby with the government just to get the policy implemented in the state. We emerged from this adversity scathed but victorious here to tell people this story. I am really proud of what we did that day. A lot of lives transformed because of that verdict. When we initially started working in the state way back in 2013-14 the state only had 108 cumulative admissions under the provision. Each year around 6 lakh students are eligible to be admitted under the provision in Uttar Pradesh. In a state as populated and diverse as UP, we were shocked when we first got to know about the numbers. Despite the low numbers we decided to take things in stride. Joint efforts and continued support from the government have ensured effective implementation of the policy in the state and the numbers speak for themselves. From just 108 admissions in 2013-14, we now have more than 2 lakh admissions in just six years. I am really proud of the work we have pulled off as a team. Looking back it all seems surreal.
What according to you is a sustainable business model for an NGO which works on policies along with the government bodies?
As an organization, we have consciously chosen to move away from a conventional understanding of sustainability which is limited to financial sustainability. We are talking about a new way of sustainability where we are making the change sustainable by making a one-time investment just like a fixed cost. This one-time investment could be a non-profit grant-based investment for bringing about systems change by strengthening existing institutions which can then lead to a sustainable generation of impact. This way we are impacting more lives as we have institutionalized a system. Strengthening the system will generate more results and impact year on year without any additional incremental investment. This way although we are not generating any revenue but we are generating sustainable impact at the system level. It also ensures sustainability of the organization as we keep on moving from one problem to the next. We don’t believe in combining revenue generation with creating social impact. The revenue generation model is often at odds with systems change. We have experienced this contradiction and we chose a system change model even if that has meant no grant based functioning, not generating any revenue or financial sustainability.
What has been the most fulfilling part of this journey for you?
I will be honest, it has been an extremely tough journey. However, when we see and meet children who have been admitted to private schools under the provision it brings smiles to our faces. You see a child of a rickshawala/ safai wala coming and speaking to you in English, or securing first position in class, it makes all the effort worth it.
Any upcoming projects that you are excited about.
We have started working with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship on end-to-end implementation of an apprenticeship scheme in Uttar Pradesh. We all know Youth unemployment is one of the most pressing challenges facing India demanding urgent action. The onset of an unprecedented pandemic has aggravated the situation and brought onboard some unanticipated challenges.. Apprenticeship program can act as a lynchpin – Connecting the under-skilled or semi-skilled youth to the skill starved industry. We feel apprenticeship can be a game-changer in improving employment and employability in youth. We are actively recruiting for our new project. We need more like-minded people who believe in sustainable impact. If you are one of them please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.