New Delhi: Urvashi Sahni, founder and chief executive of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF), was awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 for her work in educating India’s most disadvantaged girls.
She won the award, beating candidates from more prominent non-profit organizations including Akshaya Patra. Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu presented the award to Sahni.
Jointly founded by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2010, the award recognizes promising and high impact social entrepreneurs implementing practical and sustainable solutions.
Sahni was chosen from over 100 applicants. The other two finalists for the award were Safeena Husain of Educate Girls and Madhu Pandit Dasa of the Akshaya Patra Foundation.
SHEF has demonstrated a business model of education for inclusion, empowerment and leadership building for India’s most disadvantaged and girls at risk. It has scaled its model across 993 government schools of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, training 24,000 teachers in the process and impacting 501,000 girls.
To ensure that women from ultra poor communities have the resources to keep their daughters in schools, Sahni has started Didi, a catering and tailoring venture that has captured the Lucknow market for corporate meals and has doubled the incomes of its women employees.
Accepting the award, Sahni said the perfect tool for changing mindset is education. “Education should be broader, deeper and wider. Until then we cannot call ourselves a fully democratic country," she added.
Sahni is an Ashoka Fellow, an honorary member of the Clinton Global Initiative and a non-resident fellow at the Centre for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in the US.
In an emailed response before she won the award, Sahni said in her girls education programme, the organization uses the government curriculum but makes sure that it is infused with critical feminist pedagogy or a gender-empowering methods of education. “We have also added a separate programme called ‘critical dialogues’ in the official curriculum," she said.
Sahni said the biggest challenge to remain sustainable is building teams that believe in the idea, the mission, the underlying philosophy, the culture of the enterprise and above all a culture of entrepreneurship. “Having a secure flow of funding is important too, but in my opinion if the social entrepreneur has invested enough in building a strong team, they will ensure the flow of funding. I work very hard at building my team in the ways described above. We are a learning organisation and that is what sustains us," she said.
To be a successful social entrepreneur, passion is more important than expertise, Sahni said. “Expertise is sterile without passion. But passion alone can only go so far and will burn itself out if it isn’t guided by expertise. Passionate social entrepreneurs, either seek out and develop the expertise they need to execute their ideas, or then find people who have the expertise. But they are very good and fast learners themselves. In our case, we are all thinking and learning all the time and working at developing the expertise we need and reaching out to other partners who have the expertise we don’t have," she said.
Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is a sister organization of the World Economic Forum. The Foundation provides unique regional and global platforms to promote social entrepreneurship as a key element to advancing societies and addressing social problems innovatively and effectively. It also fosters a peer global community of social entrepreneurs.
Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, established in 2007, is the not-for-profit organization of the Jubilant Bhartia Group. It focuses on conceptualizing and implementing the Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives (CSR) for the Group. The Jubilant Bhartia Foundation’s activities include various community development works, health care programs, cultural and sports events, an environmental preservation initiative, vocational training, women empowerment and educational activities.
Seema Chowdhry contributed to the story.
The promoters of HT Media Ltd, which publishes the Hindustan Times and Mint, and Jubilant Bhartia Group are closely related. There are, however, no promoter crossholdings.