The World's Greatest Philanthropists

India's second freedom movement

A private equity maven explains why improved the education quality is the key to reform and philanthropy in India

Vishal Koul

When it comes to trends in Indian philanthropy, our freedom struggle set a powerful precedent for future generations to follow: some of India’s wealthiest families dedicated their resources towards the liberation of the country. However, despite 67 years of independence, India has not yet turned into a land of opportunity for the majority of its citizens. Today, the country faces a crisis because its education system has failed three generations and currently faces the threat of failing a fourth generation as well. Our failure to provide quality education to our children not only undermines their dignity but also puts India’s overall development at risk. The bright side is that this is something we can change within our lifetimes. Members of the Indian elite thus have a responsibility to harness change for the millions of their countrymen without the same access to resources, thereby bringing about a second freedom movement. 

While the government has done a remarkable job when it comes to improving access to education, it has fallen short in providing an education that prepares our children to become responsible and productive citizens. We may have achieved 97% enrolment in grade 1 but only 35% of the 355 million children in India today reach grade 12. Policies such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act have ensured that children are enrolled in schools but there is no guarantee that they are learning effectively. Foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy are severely lacking and most children are ill equipped for employment opportunities. As a result, learning levels remain abysmal, individual dreams go unrealised and India struggles on a variety of socio-economic indicators. 

Private philanthropy, an age-old tradition in India, has played an important role in the education sphere. We have seen its impact in private initiatives such as charitable schools, programmes focused on the girl child and skills training for youth. While these programmes have had a positive effect on individuals and communities, they have not contributed to systemic change. What is required is a concerted effort towards philanthropy that can spark a transformation in the Indian education system. This type of catalytic philanthropy uses a business approach to solve social issues in long-term, systemic ways. It involves strategy development, execution, measure

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