“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
It sounds very simple when we casually talk about bringing in change, but a change maker is someone who is taking creative action to solve a social problem. Thus, whether sparking a national movement or stopping a neighborhood bully, founding a social enterprise, every change maker is ‘Intentional about solving a social problem’.
It is all about determination and the zeal to fight against all obstacles, once you decide you want to be part of the movement.
Vaibhav Kumar is one such dynamic individual who is swimming against the tide with positivity and determination to contribute his effort to make a positive dent in the space of social impact.
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Vaibhav comes from a middle-class family in Meerut, a small city in Uttar Pradesh. Eldest amongst the three siblings, with parents who like any other Indian Parents, wanted their son to complete his education and be placed in a secure comfortable job. Vaibhav made his family proud, got through AIEEE to secure admission to NIT Bhopal, and then secured Rank 63 in the All India Level GATE Examination in 2011 to pursue a Master in Technology in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Kanpur. He received an Academic Excellence award during his post-graduation from the IIT – K administration.
However, while he was studying at IIT Kanpur, his interest shifted to serving underserved communities in India through Education. Apart from his Engineering, he would volunteer to teach Kids at PRAYAS (after school initiative for Underserved kids near IIT Kanpur) and work with the parents.
This is where he was introduced to the idea of ‘service’ as a means to change oneself. After completing his post-graduation, in a team of five people, he developed and Tested Science Video content pertaining to classes 5 and 6 of the U.P. Board Curriculum in Hindi language and simultaneously taught the children of Migrant Labour communities from rural Kanpur.
These videos have been used more than 43000 times online and are being used for children nearby the IIT-K campus and schools in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and other parts of the country. As part of the same project, he also experimented with various pedagogy methods as a teacher of primary school for children of workers and changed policies in school to make learning more interesting.
While working as a volunteer at PRAYAS, he experienced the role that is played by one’s chance of birth, in deciding the access to some of the major opportunities in life. and how it is important to share the privilege one has, in an effort of making this world more equitable.Since then he has not looked back and contributed to the Education and development space by donning various hats.
While making this shift, it was difficult to explain it to near and dear ones about his life choices. For the outer world —The question was, why would a young man with accomplished degrees, decide to work for rural education and social initiatives and give up a lucrative career?
For him, it was far less complicated; he was primarily driven by a deep-rooted sense of purpose coupled with the courage to follow his heart. It was not an ‘overnight calling’, as a lot of the external world might assume. At every stage, he assessed what drives him, what he doesn’t like to do, and finding a purpose that is larger than self or to put in another word; trying to expand the idea of ‘self’. What also helped him was having a group of like-minded friends (Ananya, Chaturbhuj, Ratnakar and Sambit) in his journey, who started together providing a sense of solidarity and togetherness. A realization that he had early in the journey that there are lots of role models who have taken this journey and seeking inspiration from them, is what further propelled his life choices
His work in Education in the past 9 years captured various domains including Gender Equality through Education for Underrepresented Girls, Systemic Education Transformation, Content, and Pedagogy based Interventions, Classroom Practices, Making Education a socio-political issue, etc.
Vaibhav says,” I am driven by the philosophy of ‘Es Ergo Sum’ translating to ‘You are therefore I am’. It’s important to understand the interconnectivity we have as humans and hence increase the idea of ‘self’ from an ‘I’ to people around you.”
In 2014-15, he was also part of the anchoring team to file a successful petition against discontinuing the Open Basic Education program of the National Institute of Open Schooling across India, which would have affected 3 million students across India by not providing flexible educational options to continue studying.
These experiences transformed his journey into engaging with Education based social issues and serving at the grassroots.
This also led him to go for a Post Graduate Diploma in Liberal Arts through Young India Fellowship on a full scholarship in 2015. At Ashoka University, he initiated the Baal Shodhak Program. The project researched on a broader idea of whether kids can act as change agents in their community (Asawarpur Village). Developing and implementing Modules for sensitization of the community on financial savings through kids of secondary schools. He also mentored another student-run, ‘volunteer’ program for the students of Ashoka University called ‘Neev’, where they were involved in teaching kids from the nearby village community.
In 2016, Vaibhav took up a job at STIR Education, an NGO working to build a system of intrinsically motivated teachers. He facilitated the capacity building of 60 teachers from 15 budget private schools in Delhi for a year focusing on classroom practices and general pedagogy in their schools. In collaboration with the Delhi government, he led the Design and Program Readiness team to scale the program from 70 schools to 1029 schools in Delhi, managing over 40 people as part of the Delhi Education Revolution in 2018, serving 1.8 million government school children.
Summating his experiences at STIR, he also Co-Authored and published a case study on ‘Improving teacher quality and motivation in the Budget Private Schools sector.
In 2018, with all this experience, he co-founded SwaTaleem Foundation with Ananya Tiwari. SwaTaleem is a combination of two words, ‘Swa’ meaning ‘Self’ and ‘Taleem’ meaning ‘Education’, SwaTaleem represents ‘Self-Education’ or ‘Owning one’s Education’.
SwaTaleem Foundation serves historically underrepresented rural adolescent girls in India. SwaTaleem currently works with 5000 Girls and their families through state-run residential schools for adolescent Girls called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas. These are specifically designed schools for Girls hailing from minority and underrepresented backgrounds.
Even though school enrolment of girls in India has increased from 10.7 to 28.1 million between 2000 and 2014, girls continue to drop out of school at higher rates than boys do!
The Government of India launched the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) scheme in 2004 for setting up residential schools at the upper primary level for girls belonging predominantly to the SC, ST, OBC, and minorities in difficult areas. There are 3,609 residential KGBVs in India where, along with education, girls are provided clothing, food, and school materials (NITI Aayog, 2015).
SwaTaleem works in tandem with Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya schools, with a belief that ‘It takes a village to raise a Girl child’. Through the village approach, they involve adolescent Girls, local women leaders, Teachers, parents, and government officials through a hybrid approach (in person and use of low tech) to build a thriving ecosystem for the Girls. SwaTaleem has a vision of reaching out to all 3609 KGBVs in India by 2028.
Apart from this, Vaibhav has also contributed to the larger national education ecosystem. He was part of Haryana’s State implementation committee to recommend initiatives on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy as part of New Education Policy 2020, in 2021.
He has also contributed as a committee member to frame the position paper on Adult Education for the National Council of Educational Research and Training based on the New Education Policy 2020. He has also written several op-ed pieces on Education in national papers of India focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on the education space and covering the situation of KGBVs across India.
He was also part of the core team of Shiksha Satyagrah, to make education a socio-political issue across India. This involved appraising and building online campaigns and creating national awareness. This led to the formation of groups across Assam, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh to do advocacy for making education a socio-political issue. He has also been a part of the core group of Remote Education Collective for Children-India (REACH – India) of 15 organisations working in some of the remotest parts of the country to amplify the voices of grassroots organisations.
Vaibhav represented SwaTaleem in Webinar titled ‘Towards an Equitable and Inclusive Society: Realising the Goals of NEP 2020’ conducted by the Ministry of Education (MoE), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), and Department of School Education & Literacy (DSE&L) – July 2021.
Vaibhav says, “We strongly believe in immersing ourselves in the challenges, building partnerships, and growing together in the ecosystems we work in. It is a partnership of equals, without compromising on the ethos of the organization. The power of acknowledging people’s strength and working with them rather than ‘on them’ leads to a partnership that helps in mutual transformation.”
This is the ethos that will lead ‘The New India’ towards its bright future. SwaTaleem Team and people like Vaibhav Kumar give India hope that there is sunlight at the end of the tunnel.
SwaTaleem’s work can be found at:
Email : [email protected]
Social Media Links –
Vaibhav’s Links –
Twitter – @vaibs_k
What is Salamat Raho ?
Team NomadLawyer’s ambition is to positively impact the world through the stories of HumanKind. We believe in the art of storytelling. Through “Salamat Raho ”, we are creating a database for social good in the form of “Impact Stories”, which will help us achieve our goal and reach out to the world at large.
BY CONTRIBUTING THROUGH YOUR STORIES AND EXPERIENCE YOU CREATE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY AND AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR YOURSELF.