Each year, over 6 million high-school graduates in India are denied the quality undergraduate education they deserve. A vast majority of these students come from low-income homes. Their exclusion from India’s top colleges prevent them from being equal participants in India’s economic growth and is a major contributor to India’s ever-widening socio-economic divide. Avanti Fellows, a not-for-profit charitable trust helps level the playing field for these disadvantaged students in India.
Avanti Fellows was started in March 2010 by Mr Krishna Ramkumar with his few other IIT friends as a platform to mentor students from economically poor background looking forward to a career in engineering and medical. It is a platform for these children to gain awareness and guidance about tough competitive examinations like JEE and AIPMT that students from these households generally miss out on due to financial reasons. Alongside, it gives them academic mentoring through Avanti volunteers who have passed these exams and are in prestigious engineering and medical colleges.
The basic aim of Avanti Fellows is to remove the economical and social barriers between the deprived students and the top notch education system, which they would else have been left out of. With a vision to help these students find their path in life and unlock their full potential, they are nurturing them so that they may build a future for themselves, thus, breaking the cycle of poverty and participate in India’s future leadership.
ABOUT THE CEO
Mr Krishna Ramkumar is an alumnus of IIT Bombay and had worked for the Boston Consultancy Firm (BCG) for a year and a half. The genesis of Avanti came from his time at IIT Bombay. The involvement with batch-mates who fought against great odds to clear JEE inspired him to work for such cause. His involvement with the Institute Student Mentor Program convinced him of the power and impact of mentorship on motivated students.
Krishna Ramkumar says, “BCG was a great launching pad for my career. However, I always wanted to get involved in some way in the social sector. After a year and a half at BCG, I started exploring various options – primarily foundations, social venture funds and social consulting firms. That was when I had conversations with a few senior folks at BCG’s Social Impact Practise Network. They urged me to consider starting something on my own with the simple advice – If not now, when? It never gets easier.”
HOW AVANTI FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM WORKS
Avanti Fellowship is aimed for high school students coming from poor backgrounds who cannot afford private tutoring for entrance examinations. Searches are conducted for such students through career awareness sessions in schools. This is followed by aptitude tests for the interested students followed by an interview of the student and their parents to test their dedication towards these competitive exams and to make them aware of the journey ahead. After all this, are selected the Avanti Fellows. These enrolled Avanti Fellows are provided with mentors (volunteers) who coach them for IITJEE and state-entrance exams (for engineering) and AIPMT (for medical) and also help them cope up with the pressure of these competitive exams. These students also get career advice and counselling from IIT alumni and are mentored during their undergraduate education and aided in securing internships and jobs.
The program is currently being operated in college campuses through student-run chapters called Avanti Core Teams (ACTs). These teams serve the primary purpose of selecting mentors each year and managing their interaction with the Avanti Fellows. Avanti currently has 6 ACTs operating in IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee and Maulana Azad Medical College, and an estimated 150+ volunteers. Along with this, they have partnered with India’s top test prep private institutes to provide Avanti Fellows access to high quality training for entrance exams.
SOURCES OF FUNDING
In the beginning Avanti Fellowship program received seed funding from the Stanford BASES Social-E Challenge business plan competition in 2010 along with financial and non-financial support from the Mumbai based social incubator, UnLtd India. Currently their major sources of funding are high-net worth individuals in Mumbai.
The leaders of Avanti hold high expectations from future. With 115 students enrolled in their first year of operations (2011), they aim to select 230+ students in 2012. In parallel, they are also piloting initiatives to leverage technology to provide disadvantaged students access to quality tutoring.
“We plan to ramp up over the next few years; by 2017, we hope to cumulatively help over 100,000 low-income students gain admission to college,” says Krishna Ramkumar.