Once upon a time, long long ago, in a small school, in the big city of London, a little boy called Oliver raised his hand. He asked his teacher, “What is it like to go to school in India?” His teacher promised him that if she ever got a chance to find out, she would think of him and tell him.

His teacher decided to find the answer to little Oliver’s question. She came to big beautiful India. She travelled all around the country – up the hills, down the valleys, across the plains, crossing rivers and jungles and big cities and little towns, visiting every school that came her way and speaking with every child she met.

And then, she wrote a little book. The book told Oliver a lot about going to school in India. However, this teacher felt that there was a lot more to find out about going to school in India and a lot more that she could do for the children going to school in India. She met a little group of people who could write beautiful stories and paint pretty pictures, just like her, and they embarked on a journey to find out more and give more to these schools and their students.

The teacher saw that a lot of girls had trouble going to school. They also faced a lot of hurdles to start businesses on their own. So she and her team decided to write stories about those girls who fought all odds to go to school and those who thought of brilliant business ideas to solve local problems. They called them “Girl Stars” and wrote 15 books about them!

The teacher realised that if all the little boys and girls in other schools were told about her Girl Stars, maybe they would also want to start businesses one day that would solve problems around them. That way, if all children started small businesses solving problems, then all problems would soon start going away. She began Be! An Entrepreneur to encourage all children to become entrepreneurs when they grow up.

The teacher and her team of painters and story writers and managers and photographers wrote 31 colourful story books about little boys and girls all over India. These stories taught their readers very important skills that all entrepreneurs and problem solvers needed.

Most of these books were made into movies and these movies were shown on National Television. The movies were also taken to villages where there no TVs and shown to the children and teachers there.

All these books were taken to Government run schools in Bihar. The teachers in these schools were taught how to read these books with the children and play the activities at the end of each book with them, for they were not like other text books. Very soon, nearly 84,101 children in 841 schools in Bihar were reading these books. There were some who were coming to school only to read these books!

Soon enough, we were receiving fabulous projects from the children all over Bihar. Each project activity showed what they learnt from that book: important skills needed to solve problems, identifying these skills within their families, identifying local problems and finding solutions to them, building a social network, identifying entrepreneurs and interviewing them and many many more.

While the children in Bihar were reading and learning from these books, the teacher and her team were encouraging the youth in Karnataka and Maharashta to start problem-solving enterprises in their villages and towns. They identified 25 entrepreneurs first and 20 later who had brilliant solutions to local problems and invested in them to go forth and solve these problems. There was Archana who decided to make Areca leaf plates and bowls, Radhakrishna who got a truck to take farmers to the market, Mageshwari who started a solar light manufacturing company and many others like them.

It has been 10 years since the teacher started on her journey to answer Oliver’s question. She is still on that journey with her team around her, and will one day answer questions to how children go to school all over the world!

Skills@scale: Postcards & prizes, recognizing little things in 2013

As the New Year begins with frosty cold across Bihar, and schools are still closed, we have great hope for 2013. Be! Schools is a project to teach children skills at school before they drop out, skills they can use for a lifetime. Working in hundreds of schools, reaching thousands of children is a logistical challenge, but we also wanted to stay true to an emotional, human connection to the children and teachers in our program. Faced with so many numbers, we know it’s the participation of every teacher and child that’s making it work. In a world of automated services we wanted to make sure everyone received their own message. So the team in Bihar has been hard at work writing thousands of postcards to children. Each postcard is personally addressed to a child, each postcard responds to and recognizes their individual skills project: we ask about the people in their family tree, we want to understand if the market survey took too long – who are the entrepreneurs in their children’s newspaper, are they still friends?

When Sarwat, one of our team members, visited a school last month, the children recognized her immediately: “You wrote to us!” they exclaimed and Sarwat nodded, removing another surprise from her bag: a backpack for young girl with the best project.

You see, for most of 2012, the team in Bihar and Delhi, had been overwhelmed by the quality and design of children’s projects that we collect each week: thousands of children have been hard at work collecting giant yellow chart paper with glitter, ribbon, interwoven two colour drawings, intricate design, even 3D models and portraits. So while we collect and grade each project, and we’d sent postcards, we decided we needed to do more. We thought we’d visit schools as a surprise, and reward children whose projects were superlative.

We’ve been delighted that children and teachers were quite plainly shocked to see us coming to meet them personally with prizes. Teachers and principals were extremely proud that their students were recognized and rewarded. Now, there is no going back. While we will continue to track each child and school by the number of skills projects we collect each week, and their grades for each project, we know there is no replacement for surprises, personal connections and recognition. And we know this means we’ll be writing even more postcards, and making even more visits with prizes in 2013.

To give the gift of skills books or backpacks to children in schools in Bihar,
click here.

Going to School wins ICICI and CNBC-TV18 Inclusive India Award

Going to School is the 2012 winner of ICICI Foundation and CNBC-TV18′s Inclusive India Award for Emerging NGO (Elementary Education). The Inclusive India Awards recognize individuals and organizations committed to creating meaningful, sustainable and scalable changes in the development sector. Continue reading

Be! Movies back by popular demand

STAR Utsav will be re-airing our Be! Movies series, Idea Ho To Aisa starting February 26. Get ready to join our hero entrepreneurs on their roller-coaster ride of setting up a business.

Tune in every Sunday, 12:30pm. Mark your calendars!

Feb 26:  Seher ka Jagmagata Business
March 4:  Biogas ka Bindass Business
March 11:  Motor-mechanic Phulwa ki Kamaal Kahani
March 18 : Bamboo Boys
March 25:   Suraj ka Superwaterworks
April 1:   Rukshar ka Asmani Bagh
April 8:  Pintu aur uske 99 dost

Pintu and his 99 Friends on STAR Utsav

“Pintu aur uske 99 Dost” will air on STAR Utsav on Sunday, January 22, 2012, at 12:30 p.m. This is the seventh film in our “Idea Ho To Aisa: Be! an Entrepreneur” series.

In a slum, divided by a wall, live two communities. The school is on one side of the wall, the water pump on the other, so children have to go up and around the wall to get where they need to go. Pintu has moved here from the village, a place where he claims he once had 99 friends. No one believes him at first, but Pintu convinces them by quickly making friends on both sides of the wall.

One day Pintu and his friends are playing football and their ball lands in a large pile of garbage. The boys frantically rummage through the trash—wrinkling their noses in disgust at the smell—but are unable to find it. Pintu decides enough is enough; it’s time to clean up the place. And so he embarks on a journey to set up a waste management enterprise in a slum where Ranjan Bhaiya, the local don, owns everything—even the fear in people’s hearts. Through this roller coaster of a ride, Pintu builds a team—‘the Chakachaks’—that includes his football friends, a gang of girls (led by the feisty Afsana, the undisputed hopscotch champion of the slum) and Bharat who used to be the slumlord’s right hand man. Tension builds as his business becomes more and more successful and Ranjan Bhaiya starts to notice that the boy on the other side of the wall is taking away his business. Will Pintu’s 99 friends be enough to see him through the fight?

Rukhsar’s Rooftop Revolution

“Rukhsar ka Asmani Bagh” airs on STAR Utsav on January 15, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. This is the sixth film in our series titled, “Idea Ho to Aisa: Be! an Entrepreneur.”

Rukhsar, a young woman from the village, moves to the city to join her husband. Instead of the city of dreams she imagined, she discovers a crowded slum where everything—jobs, water and vegetable supply—is ruled by the local slumlord Chinni. Her stubborn nature starts her on a journey to start a rooftop farming business that will give people freedom from Chinni and a way to earn a living by growing and selling their own vegetables. But will Rukhsar be able to overcome people’s fears and her husband’s opposition? Will she be able to bring together a community to challenge the way things are?

Suraj’s Super Waterworks

‘Suraj ka Super Waterworks’ the fifth Be! Movie from our series titled “Idea Ho To Aisa: Be! an Entrepreneur” airs on Star Utsav at 12:30pm on Sunday, January 8, 2012.

“When will you send electricity to our village?” Puja, Suraj’s sister, hopefully asks the engineers building a dam in their river. The engineers laugh and tell Puja that the electricity from the dam is for the big city, not for her sleepy village. Puja is distraught to hear the news.

Suraj is moved to change the world for his sister, and starts on a journey to bring electricity to his village. He faces opposition from the village elders and the District Collector, who tells him, “Create your own electricity if you want it so much.” Emboldened by this challenge, Suraj finds out that traditional watermills (gharats) can be used to generate electricity. But no one has the money to turn his ambitious plan into reality.

Will Suraj find a way to finance his dreams or will his village remain in the dark?

Bamboo Boys on STAR Utsav

‘Bamboo Boys’ airs on Sunday, January 1st at 12:30pm on STAR Utsav.

Rocco and Zaki are inseparable best friends, although they have very different dreams: Zaki is happy with his life in their Nagaland village, but Rocco is determined to grow up to become a ‘bada saab,’ a big man. But when Rocco eventually moves to the city after finishing school, he only finds low-paid construction work instead of the glamorous life he imagined. After a few years of struggle, Rocco returns home to discover his father is in serious trouble. He has failed to fulfill a government contract to build a library, and stands to lose everything. Rocco and Zaki decide to build the library themselves, but they don’t have money for concrete and brick. One day, Rocco looks at the miniature toys Zaki makes and an idea strikes him. They will make the library from bamboo! Will the library stand? But will the villagers agree? And will their friendship survive the challenges they face?