Social Impact: Shraddha Maanu Foundation – Madhumati Narayanan, EGMP 2003
Madhumati, an alumna from the EGMP 1 batch 2003, has dedicated herself to uplifting underprivileged communities through innovative education pathways. Inspired by the untapped potential of educated women from low-income backgrounds, Madhumati and like-minded professionals launched the Shraddha Maanu Foundation (SMF) in 2018. The organization empowers women to become proficient after-school educators through the UPASANA program, which, in turn, benefits underprivileged children by providing them with quality foundational learning. SMF’s VIPASANA microcenters and Edupreneur Support Centers further extend their reach, with the goal of impacting 500 women and 5,000 children by 2025. The foundation’s holistic approach addresses societal barriers, fostering personal development, and preparing individuals for brighter futures. Alumni, through mentorship and volunteer engagement, actively contribute to this transformational mission.
When did you start the Shraddha Maanu Foundation, and what was the idea behind it?
My journey with Shraddha Maanu Foundation (SMF) is very personal and close to my heart, intrinsic to my 26 years of experience in the education sector. On a routine morning in 2018, I found my domestic help reading an English daily as she was going about my household. When I enquired, startlingly, she revealed that she was a postgraduate. On further enquiry, I discovered a remarkable community of such women in the LIG (Low Income Group) tenements in Chennai, who were confined to caregiving & household responsibilities due to traditional gender roles and societal structures.
This led us to do a dipstick study covering 5 questions. This study was done with 52 women from the Gangapuram and Dharmapuram localities of Chennai. A whopping 35-plus women expressed their desire to become financially independent and willing to take up teaching as a profession.
This inspired the birth of the Shraddha Maanu Foundation, a not-for-profit organization which I founded along with 3 other like-minded mid-career professionals, all women. Our vision is to “mainstream the marginalised women and children through innovative education pathways” and equip them to be After School Educators who could deliver essential foundational learning to children from similar backgrounds thus impacting and transforming their communities.
As an alum I realized the potential for reshaping the educational landscape by breaking the cycle of inaccessibility of education in rural and remote Tamil Nadu, uplifting women and thereby entire communities.
How exactly do you help educated women find good jobs, and how do you assist lower-income children with their education?
Nation-building involves bringing those, especially women and children, in the fringes of society into the mainstream and education is a powerful tool to do so. At SMF, our mission is to enable access to quality primary school education to underprivileged children at the last mile by creating happy & effective classrooms by providing opportunities for women from marginalized communities, build resilient livelihoods.
UPASANA is a certificate program in multiple intelligences training for primary classes that offers a comprehensive 6-month online training to enable graduate women to become ace after-school educators who can take up part-time teaching jobs. It comprises 160 hours of classroom instruction and 3-months of On-the-job training. The UPASANA graduates, on completion, teach in schools in their neighbourhood or become edupreneurs by setting up home tuition centers. This provides dual benefits of enabling resilient livelihoods for the women while enhancing the quality of foundational learning available to underprivileged children.
VIPASANA, on the other hand, is our after-school education program that instills vital literacy and numeracy skills in underprivileged primary school children. Beyond academics, we impart value education that cultivates resilience and positive self-image. By providing a foundation for value based early learning VIPASANA ensures these children are well-prepared for future schooling and lifelong learning.
Through these programs, we enable quality foundational education in rural and remote parts of Tamil Nadu that promotes holistic development within the underserved communities.
Many women from poorer backgrounds face challenges. Can you tell us how your foundation supports them to become financially independent and respected?
Despite progress in women’s education, gender biases & systemic constraints limit women from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities to participate fully in the workforce. These women face numerous challenges in pursuing financial independence and respect.
Our flagship program UPASANA, hones the physical, conceptual, cognitive, emotional & social skills of prospective teachers. The program trains participants in student psychology, academic inputs on the conceptual framework of the primary school syllabus, basic computer knowledge, contemporary international teaching methodologies and in music in collaboration with organizations like Madras Youth Choir (MYC).
Guided by mentors, UPASANA graduates effectively apply knowledge gained through classroom sessions in live classrooms. After UPASANA, these graduates take up part-time teaching jobs as after-school teachers or establish home tuition centers as edupreneurs directly impacting 10-12 children per batch or more in their neighborhood. They gain experience to become respected educators uplifting their families and communities while building resilient livelihoods for themselves.
It’s mentioned that underprivileged kids lack resources. Can you explain how you make sure they get the help they need for their education?
Underprivileged children come from challenging home environments and we recognize that education for them is not just about textbooks and classrooms; it’s about creating a holistic environment that nurtures learning. These children often come from homes where conflicts and disrespect are commonplace, making it hard to focus on learning. Their parents, often with limited education, may struggle to support their learning.
Our after-school program steps in to address these multifaceted challenges.
- We provide a safe and supportive learning space where children can learn without the distractions and conflicts they encounter at home.
- Our teachers treat the children with empathy, respect and patience. Moreover, classrooms are made enjoyable and learner centric using the multiple intelligence methodology. Equipping the children with essential life skills that go beyond the classroom makes them resilient to challenges of life, preparing them for higher education and future learning.
- Availability of well-trained teachers who can empathetically guide children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds is pivotal to enabling access to quality foundational learning at the grassroots.
- Our UPASANA trained teachers understand the hardships these children face as they aspire to learn and excel in life. Through patience and encouragement, they help the children overcome obstacles to realize their potential.
- Our classrooms are equipped with technology infrastructure that supplement activity based learning with audio visual resources that enhance registry, retention and recall while aiding in robust monitoring and mentoring ensuring program effectiveness.
- Our curriculum is designed aligning to the Tamil Nadu state board syllabus, with timely assessments based on ASER that helps evaluate impact as children learn to understand and reach their grade level.
- We provide them with learning kits that include a school bag, stationery, notebooks, and workbooks, all essential for effective learning in a VIPASANA classroom.
- We organise events during festivals and other days of national importance through activities and cultural performances that helps them understand and appreciate the rich heritage and culture they belong to.
Our holistic approach nurtures not only the educational growth of children but also their personal development by striving to break the cycle of disadvantage, providing an opportunity to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families while growing into well-rounded individuals.
What do the VIPASANA micro centers and Edupreneur Support Centers do? and how do they help your goal of impacting 500 women and 5000 children by 2025?
VIPASANA microcenters and Edupreneur Support Centers are integral to our goal of impacting 500 women and 5,000 children by 2025.
VIPASANA microcenters (VMCs) are localized hubs for after-school education, strategically set up in government, panchayat, or private low-income schools in neighborhoods where UPASANA graduates reside. Each microcenter consists of a teacher with a student-teacher ratio of 12-15:1. We have 2-3 microcenters in a school helping us impact about 25-30 children in each grade.
Since 2019, we’ve been training 100 women annually through UPASANA.
- Although the pandemic disrupted our efforts, which led to smaller batch sizes, the subsequent transition to online training allowed us to reach 98 women in 2022 and 80 women in the first half of 2023 across two batches.
- Approximately 50% of these women go on to impart Foundational Learning (FLN) at VMCs, with others establishing home tuition centers (Edupreneur Support Centers), responding to a growing demand from the community.
To ensure continuity, we’re working on creating a pipeline of educators in each center, supporting children up to class 5, helping them gain essential skills for independent learning. We have thus far impacted 1526 children through 60 VMCs in 13 districts of Tamil Nadu.
We’ve reached 250 women so far, and we’re on track to achieve our target of training 500 women by December 2024 and 5000 children through them.
Can you share some stories of people or communities that have benefited from your programs? How do these stories show the impact of your work?
Story 1: Enabling women for a change
Meet Ms. Deepalakshmi, a B.Sc. Chemistry graduate and resident of the LIG tenements in the heart of Chennai city. She once struggled with despair, unable to find a job that matched her skills and aspirations, while receiving little respect at home & from her community. However, the UPASANA program transformed her into a part-time teacher, without disrupting her routine at home, helping her gain confidence and expertise. Today, she leads a Vipasana Center in the heart of Chennai while also teaching children in a local government school. She has become a supplementary income earner for her family, and is an inspiration to her community, proving that every woman can reclaim her self-worth.
Story 2: Rediscovering purpose:
Clara Mary, is another UPASANA graduate, hailing from a remote village near Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, who initially saw herself solely as a homemaker. After ten years of married life, she discovered a new sense of purpose as a teacher when she began her journey as an UPASANA trainee. Teaching with us has given her profound self-worth and pride, reshaping her life in unimaginable ways.
Story 3: Transforming young lives
Kanishka, a once-shy learner is from the town of Mannachanallur, near Tiruchirapalli. At this VIPASANA center, she now exudes confidence and a thirst for learning. Through engaging learning content and constant encouragement from her teacher (a UPASANA graduate), she has shown remarkable progress in foundational Math.
The academic year 2022-23 saw children like Kanishka achieving a 70% improvement in literacy and an impressive 85% improvement in numeracy after the learning losses suffered during the pandemic and subsequent school closures.
These stories exemplify how SMF enables women to realize their potential and create meaningful impact within their lives and their communities, holistically developing young minds to build confidence and skills that groom them for a brighter future.
What are the future goals and expansion plans for the Shraddha Maanu Foundation beyond 2025, and how do you envision the organization’s role in addressing educational and socio-economic discrimination in the long term?
In the journey beyond 2025, Shraddha Maanu Foundation (SMF) envisions the following to ensure a changed educational landscape for children from socio economically disadvantaged background.
- Expanding our reach: Our goal will include sustaining and expanding to encompass 300-350 SMF VIPASANA microcenters across Tamil Nadu, providing foundational education to underprivileged children in very remote and rural areas. The focus will be on increasing the number of children whose learning levels are at their grade level.
- Volunteer engagement: Engaging volunteers will be critical in this effort as we also upskill the children at Edupreneur Support Centers in English virtually thus enabling a well-rounded learning experience. We plan to execute this through CSR partnerships and tapping the immensely skilled pool of homemakers across the world.
- Growth of UPASANA: Our focus remains on the continued growth of our UPASANA program, upgrading teachers’ skills to enable them to deliver content relevant to the times we live in while encouraging them to also confidently approach local schools for employment and setting up Edupreneur centers at homes or in a community center in their neighbourhood.
- We are also looking at reskilling B.Ed graduates who have not taken up a vocation after completion of their course and train them to create value in nearby schools or through Edupreneur Support centers.
- Furthermore, we aim to actively seek the expertise of our alumni by harnessing their expertise to create additional livelihood opportunities.
- Leveraging technology is a critical element of our strategy that will enhance skilling, capacity building, and impact tracking.
We seek to evolve into an organization recognised for its expertise in enabling resilient livelihoods for women who break the barriers in societal norms to emerge strong, creating opportunities for themselves and their communities and fostering impactful and lasting change.
In what ways can the alumni community contribute and support the mission of the Shraddha Maanu Foundation?
Our alumni community includes UPASANA-trained graduates who uplift their communities to make an impactful difference in nation-building through grassroots efforts.
Mentorship: Alumni can offer mentorship to women enrolled in the UPASANA program, providing guidance and support as they embark on their teaching careers.
Volunteer Engagement: They can volunteer their time and expertise in areas like curriculum development, teacher training, assisting teachers at our VIPASANA center, program operations and being an ambassador for our fundraising efforts.
Resource Mobilization: Alumni can help raise funds and resources to support our programs enabling the foundation to reach more women and children in Tamil Nadu. Those who have taken up corporate roles can initiate partnerships between their organizations and SMF for corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives for skill development programs.
Advocacy: The alumni are active on social media and can advocate for SMF’s mission spreading awareness and gathering support.
Participation in Events: Alumni can participate in SMF’s events contributing their insights and expertise.