New Delhi: In the fourth part of Mint’s “Joy Of Giving Week” interview series, prominent lawyer Zia Mody, who is a board member of Teach For India (TFI), talks about her support for TFI—part of the multinational organization, Teach For All—which trains volunteer teachers to be deployed for short periods of time in government schools all around the country.
How did you become involved in Teach For India?
I think that I first got to learn about Teach For India when Shaheen (Mistri, chief executive officer of TFI) picked it up. Before that I was involved in Akanksha, an NGO (non-governmental organization) that she had founded for street children; and then I attended a couple of events for Teach For India and saw the new fellows that were going into it. There was a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, a lot of commitment. I thought that the value could be great. I have been on the board for about a year plus and supporting the cause for another six months before that.
Culture connect: Mody sees no harm in transplanting an idea from outside India that will work. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
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Teach For India is part of the international Teach for All programme. Did you prefer to support an institution which had already proven its scalability as a model?
What worries everyone here is that we have such good causes, and such good people, but what worries people is scalability of a cause. And I thought that it could work here. Everyone who sees India’s growth obviously sees that education is crucial. We have so many people, but if they are not engaged, and in the workforce, those people could potentially become your worst enemies. To reach into the lower middle class, and to achieve scalability there, seemed to be a good way to make a difference.
Are there any hurdles involved in transplanting a foreign development model into India?
If the model is something that is acceptable at the ground level, then it will work. One of the main problems that Teach For India has is that, in America, these teachers are subsidized by the government, whereas in India, the whole economic burden falls on the NGO. We’d love that to change; but in India, it hasn’t been able to take place yet. But I think that, if you have no cultural disconnect, then there is no harm in transplanting an idea from outside India that will work.
Was this your first foray into philanthropy?
No. I had been involved in other educational institutions as well. I used to be a trustee on Barli Institute (an NGO for rural women’s development in Indore) which was sponsored by the Bahá’í faith, to which I belong. One of the tenets is education. They used to go and bring the tribal women to the institute and teach them, and then transplant them back to change their social position forever for the better.
I would give to the girl child if I had to choose only one cause. She’s the future; unless women are holding up half the sky with their hands, India won’t progress sufficiently. The quicker they get educated, the more they won’t allow their daughters to lead the same sorry lives. So dowry will reduce, female sex selection will reduce, foeticide will reduce. Right now the village woman really believes she is cattle.
How much influence do the Teach For India fellows have on their students’ lives?
The fellows are not formal teachers, and they aren’t going to remain forever. It’s really an intervention for a certain period of time to inspire change and, hopefully, get the institution to continue those practices after they have left. The fellows become quite a major part of the children’s lives. It may not be a formal caretaking relationship, but if one of the kids has malaria then the fellow might intervene.
Are India’s high net-worth individuals beginning to give in a different way—donating time as well as money?
I think people are giving more of their time. I don’t think I’m prepared to give too much more of my time at the moment, though. The younger generation are prepared to give much more time than I would have done at their age, and I think that will continue. Some people find it easier to write a cheque and that’s fine too.
Every rich man wants his own foundation, and if you put them all into one pot, maybe, the scale would be better. But I think different things inspire different people, and it depends on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. In the future, I would love to be able to get out of my professional rigamarole and do more. Money is always appreciated, but it’s the energy of ideas that is better.