In spring 2019, I announced my decision to leave The Children’s School at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Neeti and I were in no rush or urgency about what would be next for us. I wanted to explore whether I could make a difference at a different scale and, possibly, on a different platform. Over the summer and early fall, I met a lot of new people, connected with old friends and mentors, and listened and learned about several possibilities. Of them all, one option and conversation kept resurfacing.
In late April, I attended a dinner at a close friend’s house. Her brother, Ravi, was on a fundraising tour of the United States for his nonprofit, Enabling Leadership (EL). Ravi started EL in 2013 to be an agent of social change and disruption for underprivileged children, and their families, in Asia. Starting with India, EL’s footprint now covers 6,300 children, ages 8 through 14, in six cities and 22 villages all over India. Many of these children are the first in their families to go to school. Their families cannot afford private tutors in arts, music, or academics, or support their children’s wish to participate in competitive sports. EL provides those additional opportunities, as a vehicle for skills and leadership development, in partnership with local schools. There’s a predestined path for these children simply because of lack of access, opportunity and resources. Without EL and organizations like it, many of these children would drop out after middle school and start work or get married. EL aims to disrupt that status quo and transform not just the child but the fate of the whole family. That April evening, when I returned home, I couldn’t stop pacing in our bedroom. Neeti was trying to sleep but listened patiently.
Ravi and I met again a couple days later. He explained his vision to expand EL’s reach across Asia and how I could help. The opportunity to lead Enabling Leadership with Ravi was really tempting, but there were a few roadblocks Neeti and I had to discuss. I kept it on hold while I networked and probed other options. After every exploration I’d return to the same question: “I want to do EL. What do I need to make it work?” Neeti noticed the difference in me after my calls with Ravi. Another friend said to me over dinner in September, “Of all the opportunities you’ve described, this is the one you’ll regret not doing 15-20 years from now.” In late October, Neeti and I made our decision and I called Ravi. Starting August 2020, I’m going to join Enabling Leadership for an initial commitment of ten months.
- From August 2020-June 2021, I will work closely with Ravi as a strategic adviser and consultant on a variety of projects:
- Set up a governance/board structure in India, Europe and the UK, Asia and the United States where EL is currently incorporated as a non-profit.
- Clarify vision and mission, and create a more robust philanthropic and marketing infrastructure that allows EL to scale its operations and impact to reach more children.
- Assess, develop and coach EL’s leadership team to take on more strategic responsibilities as the organization grows in size and complexity.
- Evaluate EL’s curriculum implementation and ensure quality and consistency across their multiple sites, collaborators and partner schools in India.
- Assess additional sites in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia where EL will expand next, and co-create a successful entry plan.
- Establish philanthropic and educational (think teacher exchanges and teacher training) partnerships with individuals, schools and organizations in the US, UK, and Singapore.
- Neeti and I have purposefully decided not to think beyond June 2021 yet, and remain open to many possibilities, including the two obvious ones: extending my commitment with EL, or returning to independent schools in the US or abroad.
In August 1996, I came to the United States as an Indian citizen on an American visa. Three weeks ago, on December 19, Neeti and I took our oath of allegiance and were inducted as American citizens. In August 2020, I will return to India as an American citizen on an Indian visa. I was an immigrant when I came here; I will be an immigrant when I go back. While I was born in Mumbai, I grew up in cities all over the United States. I left one home in 1996. I leave home again, even if temporarily, to reclaim part of what I lost. Now I get to do the work I love, that challenges and inspires, in a country and a continent that was once home for me.
For children on the other side of the world who are also deserving,