I came to India for the very first time in February 2012. And I got stuck!
In Khajuraho – a UNESCO World Heritage Place, a place I’ve never heard of before.
I’ve met a young man there. Full of energy.
His name is Rajiv. Everybody calls him Ranu.
I call him Raj – just like Taj;-)
Very focused on his business and on building “his” system.
A system based upon money, control and obedience.
Power defined by social status and property.
Pretty much the same like in many big companies.
I don’t think that this has anything to do with culture or the country you live in.
It’s a worldwide thing.
Lehman Brothers, Shell, Citi Bank – you name it.
Yet I like his energy.
we_school stands rather for an open system.
A system in which power is based upon reputation and trust.
A system clash – so to say-
And herein we find a lot of challenges.
But if we do it right, also tons of opportunities.
The second day I was there he asked me if I want to build a school in Khajuraho.
His family would provide the land.
They always wanted to build a school, he said. But somehow it never worked out.
He thought, I am the right person to do it!
First I thought he was nuts.
But then we kept on talking, I stayed a few days longer than planned.
And I seriously started to think about building a school in Khajuraho.
What I saw was challenging and inspiring.
And I’ve had (and still have) the feeling, when two completely different characters join forces, big things can happen.
And – above all – I really like the place.
While I was still in Khajuraho I sent an email to one of my best friends, Egon Zippel, and asked him, if he would join me in this endeavour.
Funny enough it was him who wrote me an email before I left for India asking if we could do something together while traveling.
2 weeks after I arrived back home I told Raj that I was willing to build the school.
4 weeks later he visited me in Germany.
And 6 weeks later, Egon and I were there together in Khajuraho exploring “new territories”.
We stayed for more than 4 weeks.
And we decided to build we_school.
Today, almost 6 month later.
We’ve learnt a lot. In so many ways.
We’ve faced cultural clashes, we’ve had tough discussions.
We experienced tensions we never experienced before.
We definitely live outside our comfort zone.
But this is – I guess – what you have to do, if you want to build something new.
We got somehow adjusted to the weather and food.
And we’ve got a better feeling of what is happening around us.
Intense, intense, intense.
We dived into the topic “education in India”.
We had many meetings with professionals and politicians.
On a local and on a state level.
We implemented “A Hole in the Wall Learning Stations” in Khajuraho.
And we are working to open the we_school learning hub late October/early November,
And we cruised India on our motorbikes – 5000 km in less than 3 weeks.
We visited many schools on our way.
And we’ve learnt a lot about the country!
These days we just finished our business plan.
Our first ideas became much clearer and much more precise.
Thanks to all of you who helped and who are still helping.
A true design thinking process is going on.
And without our network the entire thing could never ever happen.
So NOW we are ready now to start to look for funding.
The next step.
The next huge challenge.
For me building we_school is a dream.
And I am very thankful to Raj that he offered me this chance.
And that he and his family are supporting our work.
Even though it is not always easy to handle.
But now I know what all the work I’ve been doing over the last years was meant to be for.
But if it ONLY would be we_school – the dream wouldn’t be big enough;-)
We DREAM BIG!
What we realized in the last few weeks, building another educational island doesn’t make sense.
There are already some great examples of excellent schools in India.
Riverside School in Ahmedabad (see also here), The Barefoot College in Ajmer.
And many others.
The problem is: none of these schools really scale and tackle the education system itself.
They are much more islands which support the educational divide between the rich and the poor.
I am sure they are NOT meant to do so.
But honestly they don’t support equality of educational opportunities.
Of course you can argue that this is NOT the job of a private school.
To provide a scalable solution for the education problems in India.
But it would help. Certainly.
This is why we try to embed we_school in a bigger system.
A system – maybe like in Finland – where the “WE” really stands for the entire population of the country.
We are discussing this with the government in Madhya Pradesh (where Khajuraho is located).
We talk about public private partnership policies in education.
They do this for the very first time.
We connect them with international thought leaders in this field.
We try to convince them to spent the huge amount of money they have in better ways.
We show them possibilities and try to adjust them to local needs.
We are defining pilot studies on a small scale.
Try to proof the concept.
And then scale them.
This is the learning hub, the online platform, the learning environment we are planning to build for the kids.
All in public private partnerships.
So my dream is to make them think to change the system.
And to work together with them on a better education environment for many.
On the state level of Madhya Pradesh.
So, the dream is big.
But I think is doable.
And we will go for it step by step.
And yes, we’ve started.
But we’ve only just begun …
And for all of those who might ask: Why India?
Simply because I’ve got the opportunity here.
And you can do things here!
Much easier than back home.