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Chillibreeze Interview with Shukla Bose
Shukla has a rich corporate experience of 26 years in the hospitality industry. In 2000 she gave up her high profile corporate position and started the India operations of a multinational NGO working with children. She volunteered with Mother Teresa for 7 years. Ten years ago, she started Parikrma Humanity Foundation an NGO that runs four schools and one junior college that provides quality English medium education to 1300 orphaned, abandoned, slum and street children. Parikrma has also partnered with Bangalore Corporation to enhance the quality of education of 18 government schools.
1. You are the Founder-CEO of Parikrma Humanity Foundation. Tell us something about the organisation. What is the mission of this NGO?
We founded the Parikrma Humanity Foundation in 2003, asking a simple question – ‘Can any child, even the poorest from the slums of urban India, access the best opportunities and live a full and happy life?’ Today, in our 10th year of operations, Parikrma runs four centres for learning and a junior college for 1375 children from 69 slums and 4 orphanages in Bangalore.
At Parikrma, education is not just about getting a child to school, not even just about academics. We provide our children with the best possible English language education following the ICSE syllabus, nutrition (breakfast, lunch and a glass of malt), health care and family care to ensure stable homes. But most importantly, we are preparing our children to live in this globalized world. Global exposure is the key to education at Parikrma, as are extra-curricular activities like art, theatre and sport. We look after each child from kindergarten to the twelfth grade, then provide them with scholarships for university. Our journey with each child lasts until s/he is placed in a job, when the cycle of poverty is finally broken.
Our mission, therefore, is to unleash the potential of under-served children in urban India so that they can access the best opportunities anywhere in the world.
2. Does having a degree in Social Entrepreneurship help in running Parikrma? What kind of partnership does Parikrma have with the Bangalore Corporation?
The degrees I have both in management and social entrepreneurship have helped me to put some structure into planning and process building at Parikrma. But that is all. What is vital for running any organisation and especially a not-for-profit one, is the ability to think in the long term and to get a team of dedicated and passionate people together who will work for the cause and put other’s interests before themselves. That is not taught in any business school and has to come from deep within, because one cares and wants to make a difference.
Parikrma partnered with Bangalore Municipal Corporation a few years ago and ran an after-school program for 18 poorly performing schools with an average pass rate of 0 to 9%. We were proud that we improved their performance to 33% in the first, and then to 49% and 69% in the subsequent years.
The challenges that NGOs like us face are many. Financial sustainability and stability is the primary challenge. Next, getting good quality people to work with us at a low salary is difficult. But most challenging is the preconditioned mindset of people both in the government and donor segment who have archaic ideas of how the poor have to be educated and treated. A change in the way we think is most important in overcoming these challenges.
4. What kind of platforms do you think can help create awareness about the social issues?
We must become aware of what is happening around us at a very early age and that awareness building needs to begin in schools and homes. I have always said that our ambition at Parikrma is to be made redundant and that can only happen if society in general starts behaving responsibly. So I think platforms like school and college assemblies are the first points to start. In organisations, if the leadership is able to drive home the message that the way the company and employees address social problems are as important as achieving profits, then that would be a powerful propeller towards better priorities.
Yes, I volunteered with Mother Teresa when I was a student and during the early days of my career. I worked very closely with her because I was one of the many regular volunteers. She has left an indelible impact on me. I think one of the reasons that I started Parikrma is because of my days with her and the close brush I had with reality. It is so easy for each one of us to ignore some of the social problems around us and pretend that it will never touch our lives. Many of us want to do something but do not know how. My experience with Mother Teresa showed me what just one individual can do and that even a small thing is worth a lot more than not doing anything at all.
I learnt from Mother Teresa that love is over powering and that if one does something with total selflessness then somehow the world conspires to help. I am still trying to be as simple and humble as her but it will take me a long time!
6. Your corporate career in the hospitality industry was 26 years long. Can you share your key learnings with us?
Corporate success has been very important for me. It has given me the confidence to start entrepreneurial ventures. I also learnt that it is possible to be successful in a totally transparent manner. And of course working with business leaders in the industry always helps to open doors.
7. What inspired the career switch to social entrepreneurship? How do you apply your learnings from your corporate career to your work with the under-privileged?
There is not much difference between running a not for profit organisation and running a profitable enterprise. The principles of managing a cost effective, outcome driven, inspiring organisation is the same. It is only the objectives that are different.
8. You have a long list of achievements…which of these is your favourite?
The best achievement is to see Parikrma children doing well after they leave the school. I feel proud when I am invited to see a Parikrma student get the Best Student Award in hotel management or when I am at a parent interview for a student who has just gotten into the National Law School, Bangalore.
9. Any advice you want to give our readers regarding social issues and how youngsters today can contribute their mite to society?
We must feel anger and the need to act when we see social injustice around us. We must never be complacent or lethargic when helping someone who has not been as fortunate as us. I believe true education is what gives each one of us clarity about what is right. And trying to create a just and inclusive society has no age limits. Young people have a very powerful role to play and they do not need to wait until they are financially independent or even rich to do their own bit. And there is no right time later. The right time is now.
Question for readers:
How do you do your bit towards educating the poor?
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