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Vidhi Bhardwaj on working with Simple Education Foundation

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Vidhi pursued her undergraduate degree in Political Science, wanting to pursue a career in public policy. However, a step out of her academic bubble, exposed her to the systemic inequality rampant in the country. Through experiences with organisations such as SEWA Bharat, Vidhi realized she does not want to spend her life detached from reality and wants to play an active role in transforming society. She considers equal access to education the cornerstone of change and hence began her journey with Simple Education Foundation (SEF). Through her work at SEF, she wants to share the lens with which she views the world, that is one of empathy, love and infinite possibilities.

Please tell us more about your organization.

Simple Education Foundation is an education not-for-profit based out of India. We started with the fundamental idea of ensuring that where someone is born should not decide what they can do in their lives. From our personal experiences of working inside schools we realized that schools can play a catalytic role in enabling our fundamental idea. Over the years, we have done a bunch of things and learned from each one of them to finally zero down on our intervention priorities as an organization. We are focused on reinventing government schools by improving teaching practices inside them.

What inspired the founder to start this organization?

Mainak Roy and Rahul Bhanot are educators by choice. After brief stints in the corporate sector, their paths crossed at the Teach for India fellowship, where both taught in Government schools. Mainak was deeply inspired by the passion of Government school educators, but observed a gap in opportunities for their professional and personal growth which directly impacted student learning. Meanwhile, Rahul observed that learning in schools was limiting children by only preparing them to be excellent students, but not necessarily excellent human beings. With aligned passions to transform teaching learning practices in India, the duo set out to find simple solutions to complex challenges with Simple Education Foundation.

What are some education problems in rural India, if we are to talk about 3 main ones?

We have been working with a cluster of villages in Tehri Garhwal, since 2016. The 3 key challenges that we have observed would be:

  • Gap between policy and reality, while schools have teachers allocated as per national policy around teacher-student ratio, it leads to lack of teachers in rural schools because rural areas don’t have enough children in each school to ensure that there is a teacher in every class
  • The curriculum does not take the context of the villages into account, children in rural areas do not find relatable characters and settings to learn from
  • Limited livelihood opportunities leads to huge dropouts after a point

How can education in rural India be improved? Specifically in government schools?

  • Increasing staff allocation would be the most immediate way forward
  • School leadership is proven to have an impact on a school’s learning and culture. Giving more autonomy to Principals to make decisions around local hiring, deciding on immediate learning priorities, etc can make a huge difference
  • As staffing is a continuous challenge, building access to technology and integrating tech-based learning practices can make classrooms more engaging and effective
  • Contextualizing and adapting curriculum to children’s context through stories or other learning aids is also effective in increasing engagement and delivering better learning outcomes

Since you work towards the holistic development of children, how do you focus on mental health in your model because mental health is largely stigmatized in India?

Our focus on mental health and wellbeing is rooted in the idea of building skills in our educators and children that will help them navigate challenges around mental health while also ensuring mental wellbeing. We design and implement practices that help children identify their emotions, reflect on their actions, pause and think, etc; which are rooted in the overall development of the child. For Example, a simple practice like asking “How are you feeling today?” before any class, session or call has led to a small but significant shift wherein our stakeholders are pausing to understand emotions and the impact they have. We do understand the stigma around mental health and therefore we understand that exposure to social-emotional learning and mental health at a young age can change the way children will look at their mental wellbeing when they grow up.

How do you push for greater gender equality in these schools?

100% of the schools we work in are open to students from all genders and we work with the communities to ensure that every one, of school-going age, is enrolled in the school and attends the school regularly. We also work with external partners like Girl Rising and The Laali Project who work on projects that address the issues of gender equality deeply.

Our curriculum and learning practices, like the feelings chart, are designed keeping social and gender inclusivity in mind.

What are some future goals of your organization?

Our mission is to work with 50000 schools across India and transform practices that impact learning, leadership and culture in these schools. We are currently working with close to 2000 schools through our partnerships with the Delhi and Uttarakhand state governments, and we aim to expand to 2 more states over the course of the next 18 months, to impact 8000 more schools. Our big goal is to build a world where everyone lives in harmony and in alignment with their head, hand, heart and soul.

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.

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New Social Compact

COVID- a way forward with Sustainability & Biodiversity

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Since the onset of the COVID- 19 pandemic, a new unprecedented situation has arisen many new challenges including social, health, sustainability and world economic issues. COVID -19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus II, first identified in Wuhan city of China on December 19, 2021 and until now this virus has reached its sparks to 218 countries and killed 3.9 million people across the world.  It magnifies the everlasting impacts of inequality, batting the poor the hardest. Periods of fortified unemployment, global shortage critical medical and personal protective equipment including masks, protection sheets, gloves and medicines further afloat economies resilience by foster sustainable economic systems- low- carbon investment and green infrastructure planning.  The G7 and G 20 ensure to finance least developed and developing countries in flattening the pandemic curve along with the extreme focus on sustainable resource development, climate change mitigation measures and fair economies.

Up till now 25% of plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, therefore, countries should consider biodiversity in their COVID19 response and economic recovery plans because land use changes and wildlife exploitation increase the risk of many diseases by bringing humans and domestic animals closer to pathogens and disrupting disease-sustaining ecological processes.

The economy and human well-being depend on food, clean water, flood protection, erosion control, the drive for innovation, and more. More than half of the world’s national production relies heavily on moderate biodiversity. Thus, decline in biodiversity poses a major threat to society. As part of the policy to respond to COVID19, investing in biodiversity can help mitigate these risks while creating jobs and economic incentives.

Although government and business leaders have recognized the importance of green recovery, and their focus is now on climate change. As part of the restoration and environmental protection system, they should talk to each other. Many countries have taken comprehensive measures to protect biodiversity in response to their COVID19 policies. Examples of biodiversity measures include changes to regulations on the wildlife trade to protect human health, and employment programs focused on ecosystem restoration, sustainable forest management, and control of invasive species.

Analysts suggest that the amount of potentially harmful costs incurred as part of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis far outweighs the benefits to biodiversity. Governments should take the necessary steps to integrate biodiversity policies into COVID-19 recovery projects, ensure that COVID-19 economic recovery measures support biodiversity without jeopardizing it, maintain regulation, and reduce land use. , wildlife, wildlife trade and pollution and attach the environmental condition to the bailout to improve stability, screen and monitor stimulus measures of their biodiversity effects due to plastic pollution and now due to mask pollution in seas or Covid- 19 poor disposal of protection equipment. In order to combat such drastic conditions, large investments should be made in the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity.

There is no socio-economic development in the current global panorama. These problems and challenges directly affect human psychology, leading to the loss of psychological stability and the escalation of the financial crisis. Especially, because people are threatened by so many threats, there are more and more cases of mental crisis because people are locked at home and told to be As a result of people being told to confine themselves to their homes and maintain self-loneliness, someone is more likely to be severely affected psychologically, further affected by a lack of proper guidance or treatment.

When no resources are provided to manage the well-being of the people, the situation becomes profitable and affects mental health. Regarding the effects on sustainable psychology, the importance of better mental health should be discussed as it affects individual development and counters limit personal activities.

We have had many epidemics in the past. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS outbreak) has hit Asian countries, and West Africa has also been infected with the Ebola virus. They also affected the socio-economic balance, affected public health, and caused numerous similar deaths to what we are experiencing with COVID-19 but the new thing now is that Coronavirus affected us mentally, physically and well-being of the ecosystem with its drawbacks of limiting resources by humans while staying at homes due to partial or national lockdown where they put a burden on economy and ecosystem by overconsumption of natural resources instead at the same time human enclosure at homes give a chance to ecosystem for its resource restoration, replenishing disastrous effects caused by anthropogenic activities like decline in air pollution, soil erosion, mineral leaching, hunting, poaching and wildlife trade. 

Humans are deteriorating the habitat of wild animals and the normal cycle of pathogens and their hosts. In such situations, we are becoming more and more prone to new diseases. Human pathogens such as the coronavirus are not fully understood to date and several other strains or wildlife as host of this virus (and many other viruses and bacteria) in nature that could be a matter of global health in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic is calling into question our ongoing efforts to improve the Earth’s environment. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is even more important now. Emphasis should be placed on the adoption of strict wildlife trade regulations and comprehensive measures to protect the natural environment. Most importantly, consider comprehensive ways to improve our relationship with the environment that will lead us to sustainability. Agricultural stability and reduction of dependence on animal products is one such example.

There is no doubt in saying that there are some important lessons to learn from COVID-19. It is about our survival, preparedness and responsibility against nature that will lead to the control of future epidemics. Shutdowns are proving to be viable not only in breaking the chain of infection but also in the healing of the ecosystem. Air and water pollution levels have dropped in many parts of the world and nature has begun to regenerate. The important thing is that what we as human beings learn from it. Will we reduce greenhouse gas emissions evenly, will unnecessary travel be curtailed, will we allow the reduction of pollutants in the ecosystem to let nature breathe, and will we promote and adopt sustainable agricultural practices? And stop disturbing wild habitats? Most importantly, will all stakeholders, including governments, organizations and individuals, unite to fight the epidemic that has been going on for decades and resulting in loss of life and biodiversity? There will be a decrease sooner or later, the deadly coronavirus, and one of the most explosive epidemics of the century will be tackled through vaccines or other means through united efforts across borders of countries and continents. But this is not the first novel pathogen that has targeted us, nor the last. There is a need for a fresh perspective to address some of the key issues we have learned from this pandemic.  Therefore, humanity must work together to stop the root causes of these pandemics. The way to deal with such pandemics in advance is to make every effort to achieve the goals of environmental sustainability.

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Anagha Rajesh – Founder of Yours Mindfully

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Undergrad researcher, storyteller, and community builder- that’s Anagha Rajesh, in a nutshell. 

She is the Founder and CEO of Yours Mindfully, a youth-led organization on a mission to make mental health resources accessible to 1 million young people by 2030. 

She has worked as an advocate for the Girls in Science 4 SDGs platform that works closely with the United Nations to make STEM accessible. In addition, Anagha has served as a facilitator for the Digital Exchange program empowering middle and high school students to collaborate beyond borders to achieve the UN SDGs. 

As a researcher, she is working on a project to identify biomarkers for endometriosis, a painful uterine condition. 

Tell us more about your initiative, Yours Mindfully? 

Growing up, I saw my uncle suffer from schizophrenia and how the stigma around this condition prevented him from seeking medical support. When I was accepted into the 1000 Girls 1000 Futures mentorship program of the New York Academy of Science in 2019, I shared my uncle’s story with other young people in the program. We realized that mental health is a stigma in most parts of the world and decided to do something to smash that stigma. 

We then went on to create e-magazines to create awareness about mental health. That’s how Yours Mindfully was born. We were called MindChamps back then. The popularity of our e-magazines encouraged me to grow our team and focus on areas beyond the e-magazine. 

Yours Mindfully is now a team of 30+ young people worldwide, focusing on addressing awareness, inclusion, and accessibility in the mental health space. We create inclusive content, organize webinars, spearhead social media campaigns, and conduct contests to bring more stakeholders. 

We have partnered with a range of organizations, including UNICEF, 6 Seconds (UK), Spill the Beans (Australia), Spikeview (USA), Manzil Center (UAE), and Road to Nepenthe (India). In addition, we work closely with mental health professionals to create our resources and partner with educators to get this across to young people. 

Over the last three years, our initiatives have impacted 5000+ young people. We are currently piloting a program offering personalized mental health resources to youth organizations and schools. 

What is the Ashoka Changemakers program all about? 

Ashoka is the world’s largest network of Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. is a carefully selected network of young people who have found their power to create change for the good of all and are ready to take on their next big role as co-leaders of the global Everyone a Changemaker movement. 

13 young changemakers were selected for the Indian cohort out of 18,000+ applicants globally. Selected changemakers get access to mentorship, digital resources and a volunteer marketplace to further the impact of their initiatives. In addition, young changemakers get involved in getting more young people to become changemakers through focused initiatives. 

How did you get selected for this? 

The selection process was a 6-8 month long process with the following stages

1. Submission of the nomination form – This involves a detailed description of my changemaking idea – I spoke about Yours Mindfully, the impact I have created so far through the organization and how I plan to co-lead the changemaker movement.

2. National Review – 4 to 5 hours of conversations with Ashoka India Team

3. International Review – 2 to 3 hours of conversations with Senior Leaders and existing Ashoka Young Changemakers from the global network

4. Selection Panel – an in-person pitch to an esteemed jury explaining what the future potential of my changemaking idea is and how invested I am in implementing it

What are you planning to do in the next 5 years? 

I plan to grow Yours Mindfully to impact more young people worldwide. I am currently exploring research in biochemistry, entrepreneurship and public policy. I hope to pursue a career at the intersection of these fields in the next 5 years. In addition, I want to explore writing and traveling in a way that helps me grow. 

What other programs and fellowships are on your list that you’d like to engage in? 

Dalai Lama Fellowship, Clinton Global Fellowship and Rhodes Scholarship (super ambitious!) are some programs that I am hoping to get into

Tell us more about your work at Force of Nature. 

Force of Nature is a non-profit working to mobilize young people’s potential to combat the climate crisis.

 I completed a three-week introductory program on becoming a force of nature, where I learned about eco-anxiety, the power of narratives in addressing the environmental crisis, and how I can utilize my unique skills to contribute to the climate movement.
Following this generic training, I joined the Canopy pathway to train as a youth consultant to help businesses create and implement solid sustainability strategies
– Under the guidance of experienced youth consultants Clover Hogan and Sacha Wright, I am working on understanding concepts like greenwashing, identifying greenwashing in the sustainability strategies of Fortune 500 companies, and figuring out ways to engage meaningfully with corporate leaders on these issues. I have been on-boarded as a consultant and am looking forward to my first project in the upcoming months. 

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

I am the first woman from my family and community to get into a top-tier university in India and to kick-start a non-profit. I am super passionate about helping girls and women access networks and mentorship to get ahead on their journeys. 

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New Social Compact

In conversation with Manasi Gupta about Hues of the Mind

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Manasi Gupta is a social entrepreneur and an engineer by profession. At the age of nineteen, she founded Huesofthemind, a nonprofit organisation to provide mental health services which have impacted 50,000 beneficiaries with its initiatives. She is a mental health advocate and wants to make mental health resources more accessible, affordable, and available.

She often reiterates the importance of taking care of oneself and encourages mental wellbeing through her workshops, delivering 50+ talks worldwide at the University of Nairobi, Delhi University, and NIFT Mumbai, to name a few. She is also a published author of the book, Hues of You, which raised funds for mental health resources.

She has been conferred nationally for her team’s efforts by the former Health Secretary of India and interviewed by The Times of India. She will be representing India in the upcoming One Young World Summit and is one of the 28 Applicants to receive 100% scholarship from 50,000 applicants worldwide.

What has the overall impact of your work been like? 

More than ten thousand beneficiaries have directly been impacted by our workshops, conferences, and events. These beneficiaries are of varying age groups, ranging from eight-year-olds to thirty-year-olds. These sharing spaces have been in different locations, ranging from India to the United States of America, Nepal, South Korea and more.

We raise awareness on our social media platforms, which have witnessed more than a hundred collaborations for content, campaigns, and live social media events. Our social media platforms on Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter have a cumulative reach of an average of five thousand users virtually.

Other than that, our multiple initiatives have impacted more than ten thousand users and subscribers. Our newsletter HuesLetter has had nearly forty successful editions, reaching more than a thousand subscribers. Huesofthemind’s podcasts in Hindi and English have reached more than a thousand listeners. Our virtual repository that helps people connect with professional help has received an average of a thousand users per month since its inception in June.

Our team has also been interviewed by The Times of India, the National newspaper of India, and by AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organization, thereby inspiring thousands more. 

Hence, we’ve nearly impacted close to fifty thousand beneficiaries worldwide. 

What other projects do you plan to undertake in the near future? 

Educating, engaging and empowering communities, especially the youth, is crucial. Access to affordable healthcare services is a right of every human being, and awareness is the primary step in receiving the right healthcare services. Non-judgemental sharing spaces, focused on expression, are crucial to mental well-being. My mission is to foster these spaces with the funding I receive in the program.

I have seen a dire lack of education when it comes to mental health, thereby contributing to the stigma around it. I also believe that technology can significantly elevate the depth and breadth of the impact one can have. HuesEd by Huesofthemind is an interactive interface that would help shed light on the various aspects of knowledge in the realm of psychology & mental health education. This interface would inspire our audiences to know more about common misconceptions and hardly known yet essential concepts that require more awareness, given their gravitas

What is your illustrated book all about? 

We published our illustrated book, Hues of You in June 2021. Our team has worked relentlessly to create this wholesome coffee table book. The proceeds we receive go towards making therapy more and more accessible to everyone around us. 

Sharing is cathartic

Carrying this vision forward, we, at Huesofthemind, crafted a book with research-backed articles, self-help resources, our journeys- in prose and poetry & so much more. 

People have found our spaces ‘life changing’, which has motivated our team to empower many more lives. I firmly believe that we are glistening with the potential to brighten our lives and those of others.

Which all conferences have you attended so far? Any advice for people who want to attend more conferences? 

HPAIR

Forbes

AIESEC International

ECOSOC Youth Forum

One Young World

For me, the key values that really shine in any individual & their respective work are,

Authenticity, passion & courage.

Any specific programs or fellowships you are planning to join in the near future? 

Not at the moment 

Anything else you would like to share?

Access to the correct information regarding healthcare services is a right of every human being. My vision is to make that come true. Awareness is the primary step in receiving the right healthcare services.

The presence of misinformation is a challenge that our present world faces, and access to educational resources from reliable sources can help combat that. I also truly believe that the inclusion of education in the curriculum with the help of a top-down approach involving changes in public policy can support this vision come true. I have seen a dire lack of education when it comes to mental health, thereby contributing to the staggering stigma around it. Education can assist an individual in being more aware, informed, and thereby help them make the right decisions. 

Along with physical health, access to mental health resources and services should not be a luxury. I also believe that technology can significantly elevate the depth and breadth of the impact one can have. This idea involves the use of wearable devices to track vital information and ideas to improve the overall wellbeing of a person.

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