- 05 Jul 2022
Farmers are widely worshipped in India and rightly so; they are providers, nourishers, and hard workers who feed our population. While they work day in and day out to produce food for millions of strangers, it is a fact that most of their families suffer from poverty for generations. Opportunities for them are slim, funds are problematic and unfortunately, higher education is a luxury a majority of them cannot afford.
But there are exceptions, those who shine through their struggles and become the face of change, better times and countless possibilities. This is the story of Raju Kendre, the son of farmers who made it to the list of Forbes 30 under 30, a social worker, an inspiration and a changemaker!
Raju Kendre, who hails from a nomadic tribal community, has been in the social sector for the last ten years and has dedicated his time and efforts to the development of rural communities. He is the heart and soul behind Eklavya India Foundation, an NGO that has helped more than 700 students from marginalized communities access quality higher education in the last 5 years. Some of these students have had the chance to study at reputed Indian institutes such as Tata Institute of Social Sciences, IIT, IIM, and even prestigious fellowship programs like Gandhi Fellowship, Chief Minister’s Fellowship, Teach for India, etc. That's not it! The team’s One Village, One Library initiative has accumulated over 30,000 books for children who come from low-income backgrounds.
Raju’s life turned around after his work in first-generation education was rewarded with the prestigious Chevening Scholarship worth INR 45 lakhs by FCDO, the government of the UK. He is one of the few Indians to have received this scholarship, after which he also made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for the year 2022.
“The place I come from is infamous for farmers' suicide and my parents were also farmers,” shared Raju, who is a first-generation learner from rural Vidarbha. His journey was tough from the beginning, even when he visited Pune city to graduate from a reputed university. Financial constraints and lack of guidance forced him to return to his hometown. “I went to Pune to pursue my graduation but had to leave due to lack of support, especially financial support,” said Raju. Determined to educate himself, Raju completed his graduation through distance education and went on to pursue his post-graduation at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. While he was barely managing to obtain formal education, it struck Raju that he wasn’t the only student facing financial and other barriers. He talks about this in his video, Forbes 30 under 30.
Raju has long realized the value of education in developing marginalised communities, especially for first-generation learners who don't have an educational background. “My parents didn't even complete their primary education and here I am in London, completing my higher studies. I can say from my experience that only education can bring change,” said Raju in an interview with GfG.
Talking about the importance of promoting higher education, he said, “Primary education is already being promoted by the Indian government; there are policies and initiatives in place. But higher education still needs to be promoted, especially for girls. In villages after completing their 10th or 12th grade education, mostly the focus shifts from their education to marriage due to lack of access to opportunities or information.”
He vouches for students who come from low-income communities, “These children lack only in soft skills such as speaking and writing. They have potential, and, if you compare students from communities with those from tier 1 cities, you will see that they are equally competitive, ambitious, and promising.”
He further adds, “In 2012, I visited Melghat (Maharashtra) and started working at the grassroots level. It was an eye-opener for me as there were no graduates or well-educated individuals even in 50 villages combined, but there was so much potential in the children”. Visits and experiences like these inspired Raju to develop a system that enables students from communities to access top-notch training, education, and opportunities.
Raju Kendre describes how Eklavya India Foundation creates countless opportunities. The foundation works on three to four levels. It begins with a one-day workshop where the students are introduced to opportunities, both traditional and non-traditional. This is quite like an orientation. Up next are 2 to 4-day workshops. He explains, “Ten to twelve sessions are conducted by mentors from different backgrounds such as law, business management, development, social work, media, etc.” This is followed by a preparatory course that spreads across 3 to 4 months, online and offline. After this, one-on-one mentoring is provided to students for a year to focus on their soft skills. The foundation offers the preparatory course free of cost and charges anything between INR 100 to 500 for food and workshops. However, there is no compulsion for students to pay and this amount widely depends on the child’s capacity to pay.
Raju shares his take on why charging a minimum fee with flexibility is a must - “I believe a small amount should be charged with flexibility because the children shouldn't feel like we are doing any favours and must feel that they have contributed. They should feel the belongingness and should take responsibility for their education.”
Eklavya India Foundation’s backbone is a strong group of 100+ volunteers, people from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, IIT, IIM, and many other reputed institutes. They help with mentoring the children and play a huge role in the growth of the foundation. Furthermore, along with being grateful to the volunteers, the support that the foundation has received from the people of Tata Institute of Social Sciences is something that Raju is grateful for, “We have operated for four years without any external funding. We have a big group from the Tata Institute, and we crowdfund among ourselves.”
Here’s Raju’s message for the youth in tier 1 and tier 2 cities, “Those who belong to urban areas have a certain degree of socioeconomic privilege. Recognize it and use it to help those who come from rural communities.” He further adds, “The youth that shares my background, remember that you have potential. Channelize it, work on your weaknesses and keep fighting for your right to education. Don't stop! If I can do it, so can you.”
Raju's motivation comes from his journey, which is why he never stopped, despite having no external funding for four years. “It has been five years of running the organization and we have worked without any resources or external funding for four years but our commitment towards our cause keeps us going. Lack of resources has been a number one challenge for us so far. However, we have started to receive support, but we aim to expand with five more centres for which we still lack resources,” shared Raju.
Moments that kept inspiring him - “I was teaching at a college at Yavatmal (a town in Maharashtra). I recall I was having an introductory class with 50 undergraduates, and I’d asked them where they would want to go for higher education. They gave me names of institutes and after a year, 30 students applied to colleges outside their hometowns, out of which 20 went to study outside. These students inspire me to take that step, change my mindset and do what is required to stay on the right track.”
Raju dreams of building an Interdisciplinary University in Central India which will bring education to the tribal populations of India. His vision is to create leaders from every sector of the Indian society. His unshakeable motivation and determination cannot be praised with mere words! However, the team at Giving for Good Foundation with all their heart congratulate Raju Kendre and all the faces behind the roaring achievements of his foundation. His story proves that children of farmers too can change lives when armed with the right education, resources, and guidance.
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Puja Das
I'm Puja Das, a freelance writer & LinkedIn personal branding specialist. I'm from Assam, and a postgraduate in English. When I'm not busy building impressive personal brands on LinkedIn or writing for my clients, you'll either find me lost in the world of dancing or writing for myself.