Dream big. Start small. My Indian Dream.

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!
Weird.
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.
Small.
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.

28 thoughts on “Dream big. Start small. My Indian Dream.”

  1. Really inspiring post, Ulrike! I am really impressed with the effort and commitment you are all putting into this project and the entire process it is generating – you, your friends, Rajiv and his family, local authorities and kids themselves! You should all be so proud! Keep up the work and keep posting! It’s so uplifting to see your posts!

  2. Ulrike, this is very inspiring! (Ah I see I have started to write the same thing as Sylwia 🙂

    It’s so wonderful to be able to experiment new ways and see how the children develop their curiosity and thirst for learning and building their own livelihoods in resilience and autonomy and a future in a way they and their parents feel confident and secure.

    If you can bring things together at the local level to build a strong model, it will spread!

    So keep the good work! You are on the right track and I trust you will achieve your dream!

  3. Hi Ulrike!

    Just last friday, inspired by a documentation about the Sudbury School in the US, I told a friend of us, that I’d love to build a school where children find a place to learn and keep their energy and enthusiasm about life and people. I’d love to get the chance to change things to the better, change the way we treat our children, yet this seems so incredibly hard to achieve here in the western world. Things are so plugged-in and there is so much fear of the establishment to lose control, espacially here in Germany.

    I admire the power and will to do what you and your people are doing there and I’m stunned seeing a family giving property for a school. How much guts does it take to ignore what other profitable things you could do with this land? This is visionary!

    You are doing the right thing! Education is the path to a better world and you are walking the talk and this is simply great!

    Hope to see you soon!
    Björn

  4. I’m deeply impressed by your project, Ulrike! Thank you and your indian friends for your courage and enthusiasm to go for this dream. I keep my fingers crossed that we-school becomes reality in very near future. Keep it up!

  5. Ulrike this project is awesome and I can’t wait to come to Khajuraho to see the place of we_school. It’s already exciting to see how the dream is growing every day a little bit more to become reality.

    All the best and tons of energy for the upcoming days, weeks, months and years !

  6. I follow up your project/process since you’ve started. I can learn a lot from it. For example that it can be very powerful to work with very different people/characters (make sense=) and that it’s not helpful for society to build island, in this case educationals.
    Our big challenge is to change our system, let’s say in a more human way of living. With these changes whatever it is – a we_school, politics, working places – the whole system will change.
    We can’t do this with building islands, we can’t do this without working with different characters, we can’t do this without being and working within the society itself.
    From my point of view it’s great how the idea of we_school is changing from an educational island to a much bigger thing…
    You started it small but it’s just the beginning =) For me it’s good to see that every big idea starts with a little first step…. Thank you!

  7. ulrike! inspiring and inviting… i trust that the change we can make educating and trying to give the same initial opportunities to everyone is the change that will actually have an impact in us and the future. thanks for trying, for trusting and for sharing this with everyone. i hope i can join you there to participate in this marvelous opportunity. hugs and good luck for what is coming.

  8. What a great project, Ulrike! I especially like the idea of setting up a public private partnership in the field of education. It will certainly create added value for the project in terms of speed, skills, efficiency, expertise. Look forward to the future updates.

  9. Ulrike – this is amazing – your we_school is so right on so many levels – I am just full of admiration for what you have set out to achieve. The school I am connected to in an Uttar Pradesh village similarly started almost ten years ago with a gift of land from an individual. Yes, just a vacant block. Now there are three schools, including a pre-school, an orphanage, hospital, an organic vegetable garden – a farm now, actually – an adult literacy and health education program (for women) and even a few commercial ventures – shop and paper recycling for stationery. And it just keeps emerging. You and Rajiv have so much to look forward to – what you do will be scaleable because I feel that it is such a different model you will see as it evolves how you will be able to do that. I have seen it is very hard work, nevertheless the rewards are enormous and you will get everything you need. Not least the gratitude and love that is flowing back to you x1000 what you are putting in, via the most loving souls on planet earth – the Indian children – you will not be able to contain as you feel your joy overflowing. Bless. xx

  10. “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.”

    This is 100% spot on not only for building schools, but is at the very core of what everybody experiences, whenever he aims for something new.

    “If you want something you´ve never had, you´ve got to do something you´ve never done.”

    To build something new you have to go beyond what you know, beyond what´s there. How could it be new and unique otherwise?

    Whenever you dare to take this bold step into the unknown, what is right and what is wrong, possibly your deepest beliefs are challenged. As far as I understood building a school like this is not only new to you, but more or less to everybody involved. The family, the citizens, everybody. So I´m pretty sure that from time to time everybody is feeling insecure and tries to insist on processes and logic that worked for him/ her before. Which does NOT mean they will work this time too!

    When worlds collide loads of energy are released. Enough energy to kill or to give birth to the new. Therefor various points of view and arguments will accompany the way of WE-school into being, but as long as everybody involved is committed to keep going, all of this will lay the foundation for something new, that was never done like this before.
    Be proud!

    Just some days ago I actually wrote a blog post about a similar experience in a completely different situation. It´s about logics, beliefs and regulations standing in your way while trying something new: http://everydayrobots.de/post/30819384181/don-t-let-the-regulations-pull-you-down

    1. Thanks Dominik!
      Yepp would be wonderful to use all this energy for the good …. We are working on it.
      After a break;-)
      Off to some relaxing days in the Indian Summer – let’s go west for a change;-)

  11. Its a pleasure to read your inspirations from far, far away. Keep in rocking, Ulrike.

    And: While building up a school by myself with a wonderful team here in Germany, I would be happy if we take the opportunity to connect our ‘young professionals’ (aka pupils) one day.

  12. Ulrike,
    I only got a little tiny glimpse of (one of the) Indian culture(s) during this summer when I was out there. But it seems exactly the right place to trigger a movement in the education system where you can reach great impact and scale with (relatively speaking) a limited amount of (financial) resources. I’m super impressed for the challenge you are putting yourself into (as always…). And I’m sending loads of good energy for the project.

    Oh, and a little idea just crossed my mind: We’re currently building a crowd-sourced online map to help trigger the knowledge exchange and collaboration among different creative spaces worldwide at .

    Maybe it might make sense to use the system and build a custom map to gather various examples of “private public partnerships in the education system that work” – where the founders / users / private investors /students of a particular school can share their insights & findings. Such a map might already exist, I haven’t researched it. But I could imagine that it could spark some international cross-inspiration on the sector.

    Or it comes in the shape of a co-creative book with tools to figure out a working (private / public partnership) business model in the education system, just like the “Business Model Generation”. It’s in many cases oversimplified, but i admire the creators for triggering many people to think about business models that have never coped with that kind of thinking before…

    Either way… Keep on ‘rockin!

    Humble greetings,
    Jonathan

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