Darden Student Profiles: Reshaping Education in India

Last year, I sat in on a speech by Ed Freeman where he shared about how to discover Inspiration. A particularly important point he made is to look for inspiration among those around us. For Ed, inspiration came from within his family.
As we think about the Darden Family, it seemed appropriate to look for inspiration within our family. With that in mind, I'm excited to introduce Archana Rao to share a bit about her story.
CJ (EMDC President)


Student: Archana Rao
Teacher & Entrepreneur
Mentor Me India

Archana, in 2013 you helped launch a new program called MentorMe India through a pilot in Mumbai. Prior to that you were a teach in Teach for India and saw first hand the challenges of education in the dynamic landscape of urban India.

What spurred the creation of Mentor Me India?

All through my Teach for India fellowship there was always one question that kept irking me- “Am I leaving my students with everything they need to succeed in life?” More often than not I was unsure of the answer. Yes, I had given them everything I could in the classroom and far more outside of it. But could they sustain their motivation and grow up to have the same opportunities that any other kid had to achieve anything that they wanted?

The Mumbai Cohort for the Pilot
Too many children in low-income communities in India do not reach their full potential. Often, even when these children have goals, the path to achieve them remains a mystery. Government schools are confined to providing literacy and basic academic input and do not have the capacity or mandate to provide the professional and cultural exposure and life-skills that are critical to success. Parents are often not educated and are too preoccupied with making ends meet to provide adequate support to children who are often first generation learners, children lack information about relevant resources to drive towards their goals, and struggle with social, behavioral and psychological obstacles. 

Children needed more than just a teacher in their lives. They needed a mentor. This is when we decided to found Mentor Me India.

What was is like launching Mentor Me India?

Whenever I heard about people launching organizations and companies, I always thought that they possessed qualities and skills that were way beyond your average person. But when we got the idea for MMI and started doing conference calls over phone across Harvard and India, we were extremely excited about the prospect seeing the idea come to life. At first, we were apprehensive about the response and the viability of the idea. But the more people we spoke to about the idea the more positive responses we got. We realized that there was definitely a need for mentorship in India. 

We started conceptualizing the idea, creating a business plan, making a project plan, deciding timelines for work streams, setting up appointments for partnerships and figuring out how to raise funds were some of the things that felt like natural next steps. Being in business school now, I know what each process is actually called in the start-up life cycle, but back then it felt like this is how we should start and proceed. We worked on the end to end process of conceptualization, business plan drafting, program development, mentor recruitment, advertising (website and promotional video design), and marketing, fundraising, and training mentors. 

As daunting as starting something new sounds, it was actually like taking a huge problem and breaking it down into smaller projects and tackling each one. That’s how we ended up starting Mentor Me India.

How do you recognize mentees and how do filter mentors, what is the mentor/mentee ratio?

For Mentee recruitment, we partnered with Akanksha foundation runs municipal schools in low-income communities in Mumbai. Through a nonprofit partner liaison, we worked with the teachers to identify 30 girls between 9-12 years old who have high needs of a role model, supportive parents/guardians and who want to participate in the program. 

For Mentor recruitment we partnered with large corporations based in Mumbai to call for interested and qualified female young professionals. Depending on the interest from corporations, in the pilot phase, we may recruit mentors through personal and alumni networks in addition to trying to secure corporate partnerships. 

We recruited Champions, from the Harvard community in the pilot phase and from other Ivy League graduate schools, to provide ongoing support to the relationship. Champions have experience in mentoring/teaching/working with children or otherwise be in a position to provide advice to the mentors (e.g. HGSE student with several years of experience as a Big Sister or a HBS student who is specifically paired with a young professional mentor interested in applying to business schools). 

We matched mentors, mentees and MMCs based on similar or complementary characteristics, experiences and interests.

What has been MMI's impact so far?

In our pilot phase our mentors are serving 30 adolescent girls and their success stories stand proof of the mentorship model and its theory of change. We have achieved a lot of goodwill in social media and also among various organizations such as Akanksha Foundation, who we have partnered with for our pilot phase this summer. 

We have been hearing from our mentor-mentee pairs about the tremendous progress the pairs have made in building a trusting relationship. Jamini, who studies at a municipal school in Mumbai, has been regularly meeting with her mentor Akanksha who was a former teacher in Dharamshala at a school run by Dalai Lama’s sister. They have a great relationship already, but it was not easy in the beginning. There were some hurdles to be crossed with Jaimini’s parents who weren’t entirely convinced about the mentoring programme. But Akankasha felt that Jaimini was quite a distracted kid which really needed mentoring so she didn’t give up on her efforts. 

She can already see an improvement in Jaimini’s behavior. She’s more attentive and tends to listen to what her Didi tells her. She’s also helping more at home by doing quick and easy things, which makes her Mum happier. They are now planning on what they can do weekly to build Jaimini’s confidence. Akanksha and Jaimini will read stories together and enact it for a group of people at a restaurant.


For more success stories visit our Facebook page 

We are expanding our team and have found a lot of dedicated and passionate people who are working with us on the pilot phase in Mumbai. We have recruited a full time operations director in Mumbai and work remotely with her to address any pressing operational issues that may crop up during the pilot phase of the project. Currently we are measuring the impact of the mentor-mentee relations and will assess the expansion potential for the coming years for increased mentor-mentee pairs in 3 more schools in Mumbai serving 300 additional students. 

Please visit our Facebook page and website to keep abreast with what has been happening at Mentor Me India.


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