CMC Students Help Children in India “Learn Well” Courtesy of KLI Internships and Pratham

Divya Vishwanath ’11 and Matt Kelsey ’11 are the beneficiaries of a unique arrangement between the Kravis Leadership Institute Partnered Internship Program and Pratham, a Public Charitable Trust established in 1994 by the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, UNICEF and several prominent Indian citizens.

The two CMCers completed summer internships awarded by KLI that took place in India in conjunction with two foundations that are Pratham partners and devoted to the ongoing mission of seeing every Indian child “in school and learning well.”

Indeed, Pratham is the recipient of the 2010 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, a $250,000 award that is directed to a deserving nonprofit organization. The Prize is presented and administered by CMC and Marie-Jos?e and Henry R. Kravis.

As of January 2010, Pratham was working in 21 states in India, with a presence in 43 cities and 305,000 villages.

Divya’s internship was with the Akshara Foundation in Bangalore. Akshara implements programs in the Government Schools (like public schools) in the state of Karnataka. The Foundation, with the help of the Karnataka Learning Partners and its partnership with the government, tracks and stores the information of each child in every stage of educational development in schools.

Matt interned in Delhi, working with the ASER Center, a subdivision of Pratham that is responsible for the largest annual survey (public or private) examining the state of education across all of India. In addition, Matt says that ASER also provides Pratham with all of the statistics and objective data necessary for Pratham’s education-intervention programs.

“KLI is very excited to work in partnership with Pratham through our new KLI Partnered Internship Program,” says Sherylle J. Tan, Interim Administrative Director and Associate Director of Research and Internships at KLI.

“With a KLI-sponsored internship, Divya and Matt received the opportunity to work with an organization that truly encompasses responsible, innovative leadership. Pratham has provided our students with transformative international internship experiences in which they can build upon their leadership skillsand knowledge outside of the classroom.

“CMC students, in turn, are afforded the chance to meaningfully contribute to an organization that is truly a leader and entrepreneur in the social sector,” she continues. “We are pleased to continue our partnership with them.”

Sherylle says that KLI’s Partnered Internships with Pratham are made possible by a gift from Susan Mirza, widow of Muzzafar Mirza, ’80, that established the Mirza-Kravis Leadership Institute Endowment Fund for international internships.

Divya points to her internship in India as an incredible experience and believes it exemplifies the life-changing experiences CMC students are offered (as well as the difference they can make) when they take advantage of such opportunities.

“It’s clear from the teachers, the students, the government and the data how strong an impact Pratham is making,” she says. “At each school, whether I wrote problems for children to solve on the board (and they solved them so quickly!); spoke to teachers about how I was a part of Pratham (“God bless you,” “Thank you for what you do,”), or spoke to children directly (who were able to converse back with me in English about their favorite subjects), it was clear that the trust in Pratham is huge.”

But in order to “make a difference,” students must first get in the game and, according to Matt, without CMC there was “no way” that he would have even heard of the KLI internship and Pratham.

“Prior to CMC’s Kravis Leadership Institute presenting Pratham with its Kravis Prize, I had never even heard of Pratham,” he says. “CMC and KLI established the internship specifically for the purpose of sending CMC students to work for Pratham. They provided me with all of the contacts and funding necessary to make my internship a reality.”

A major thrust of Divya’s internship research revolved around the paucity of data regarding the status of Urdu Medium Schools in Bangalore. Urdu, she says, is the minority language in the state. Mostly on her own recognizance, Divya created a research proposal that addressed this research gap which included creating a tool for teachers to measure a variety of topics regarding Urdu school children (madrasas, early marriage, maturity for girls, dropout rates and parents’ lack of education, etc.).

“This is where my analytical skills were truly tested,” she says. “I developed tools that a whole field staff would be using and which would be the method for the entire data collection for this project. It was intimidating, but very satisfying.”

Divya trained a 40-member field staff on how to use the tool after having field tested the tool herself. She set the deadlines for the team to complete all of the data collection and was out in the field for a majority of the internship.

“The teachers truly opened up to me, in part because of my unique background Indian family, American born and in part because of their respect for the organization,” she says. “It is pretty incredible that a student was the manager of this whole research project. Not too many undergraduates get this kind of an opportunity.”

The KLI internship with Pratham garnered Matt’s attention because of its combination of two things he is passionate about: social justice (with an emphasis on education issues) and global travel.

“Despite its growing economy, India still has a literacy rate below 70% of the total population and hundreds of millions of Indians still live below the poverty line,” Matt says. “I believe that education is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against poverty, the people at Pratham share these beliefs and, more importantly they put them in to practice. The fact that while working for the largest education-oriented NGO on the subcontinent I would simultaneously be given the opportunity to explore a country where I had never been before was just too much to pass up.”

Matt says that since ASER is so data oriented, he primarily worked on data analysis, including cleaning and analyzing data collected from a joint ASER-UNICEF survey and then summarizing the data and preparing presentations and reports drawing on its findings.

“I was also given the opportunity to prepare my own individual presentation summarizing data and research findings dealing with the state of younger childhood education (ages 3-6) in contemporary India,” he says.

A first-generation American, Divya’s immediate family lives in the U.S. with her extended family residing in India. On her many visits to India, Divya says she’s experienced a nation rich in culture and history; a far cry from the country she witnessed working as a KLI intern with Pratham which was an India of educational disparity.

“What I wanted was the chance to give back to my heritage, to work alongside those striving to change the country, and to bring innovation and impact myself,” Divya says. “Thanks to KLI and Pratham, I had that chance.”

For his part, Matt says the impact Pratham is having on the education process in India cannot be overstated. He says that in areas where the education system is failing, Pratham supplies the government with the necessary resources and information to make dramatic and substantive improvements.

“Pratham empowers local community members to take control of their own education process, thereby forcing the government to act with accountability,” he says. “In areas where the government is still deficient, Pratham brings in its own resources to directly supplement the failing education process and guarantee that all children are in school learning well.”

Divya says that a big “take away” from the internship in addition to honing important skills was the experience of being “hand-in-hand” with needy children in the slums, trying to make a difference.

“It would be easy to see that my eyes were opened to poverty and educational gaps, but that’s not quite it,” Divya says. “With Pratham and the Akshara Foundation, I was able to see the ability that we have to make an impact. These are dedicated, brilliant, and successful individuals who have dedicated their lives to doing the kind of research I did and what is more, insuring that changes are made and that brings to Earth my idea that we can and have made huge steps to changing lives.”

For Matt, the internship generated important practical knowledge relating to data collection and analysis. “I learned how to use programs such as STATA which I had never used before,” he says. “My internship helped develop my ability to adapt and thrive in a foreign workplace while simultaneously navigating a foreign culture that I had no previous experience with.”

A PPE major and Edward J. Sexton Fellow, Divya has received offers from both Google and Teach for America and foresees a future in the field of international/national law with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship. “I hope to eventually be in a place where I get to make innovative ideas come to life in order to benefit individuals around me,” she says. “I want to mesh the CMC ideal with my own beliefs to use my resources to make change for others.”

After graduation Matt, who has a dual major in history and government, says that he plans on taking a year or two off to work for a non-profit before ultimately pursuing a law degree. “I am currently applying for Teach for America, but if that option doesn’t work out, I plan to work with an education NGO overseas; preferably in a Russian-speaking country,” he says.

Applications for next summer’s KLI Partnered Internship with Pratham will be available in the spring semester. The deadline for the application is February 28. Visit the Kravis Leadership Institute website for more information.