Madhukar Banuri, Founder & CEO of Leadership For Equity

Leader Talk

August, 2020

Mr. Banuri started his career with Larsen & Toubro in marketing and product management and, has been in the Education Sector for around a decade now. He holds an engineering degree from BITS Pilani and was a 2009 Teach For India Fellow, currently serving on its Advisory Board. Mr Madhukar is also a 2015 Acumen Fellow and a 2019 Ashoka Fellow.

1. Leadership For Equity (LFE), as a systems change & research organization, works with the government at various levels. What was the motivation behind working with government systems?

I switched sectors when I joined Teach For India as a fellow.- I was a class teacher for grade 3 and 4 -in a municipal school in Pune. Teaching in a govt school gave me a lot of learning helped me learn a lot, for instance, how the government set up, operates, and what are the values of the government stakeholders’ system.

When I left TFI, I felt that something was left undone. I was teaching just 35 children out of 700 in my school. Through Be The Change Project, I tried to reach out to all the 700 children in my school, but there are 70,000 children in Pune city studying in Municipal Schools. Therefore, scale was always an influential motivator to me. So the idea of scale and how the Government plays a significant role is pushing me to take my position in my career post my TFI days. For example, I have worked for three years as a Government Relations Manager, helping them expand and even working with the Government in Pune. It was all about how we can reach more children. That inspires me to work from classroom to the municipal body level; what does it take to deliver quality at scale. That led me to start Leadership For Equity along with my co-founder Siddesh. His motivation was to see public schools as the first choice of parents, and my motivation is to understand scale.

The government system has always been the gatekeeper of equity. They are the ones who care for the children. So our vision is to support children and we are betting on the system to be more efficient as a whole, all children then will get excellent education. In the last ten years, we have worked with NGOs and witnessed that NGOs’ ability to scale at Government is minimal. No way it matches the enormity and size of a government.

Our ethos, therefore, is to work with the existing resources and government machinery system and make them efficient for them to deliver at scale. That was the systemic approach that we have taken- which led us to start LFE.

2. Your goal is to impact 15 million students by creating five scalable models in 3 different states. Please shed some light on this mission.

Our vision was clear- we wanted to build an effective public education system that did not deprive children of the education they deserve. So to make them effective, we choose two ways, which are the parts of our mission.

  1. We co-create programs along with the government in two areas- Officer development and teacher development using existing resources to make them competent to deliver good quality and achieve high enrolment.
  2. Undertaking advisory and research role under the senior policymakers or leadership, we provide them with researched-based policies and government resolutions; also Launching publications that revive the trust of youth in the government.

It is our model that we want to create – by working with the government, teachers, and officers, and it will lead to improvement in students’ learning and enrolment. Currently, we are working within 7 geographies in Maharashtra, including SCERT, Education Department and Textbook Bureau. Once our model is validated, we will take it to different geographies in the country. We have chosen three states representing different demographics, one from the Hindi belt, another is a regional state, and the third one is from the Northeast; which is being neglected. We believe that by working in these three states, we would be able to understand the underlying systems, although every state and district is distinct. In these three states, we are trying to impact 15 Million children, which is 10% of the total children studying in government-run schools in India.

3. What role do you see for technology in the government education system during this pandemic?

First of all, understand the problem hasn’t changed because of the pandemic, it has redefined itself — a massive digital gap between the affluent and low-income families. The problem is now lack of access – access to food, livelihood, and education is the biggest of them. Technology is the only indicator to reach out to maximum children and the only single most level player in both private and public schools.

We have seen the way officers in the government, especially in Maharashtra, are embracing technology. Teachers are now leveraging different E-tools and platforms such as Diksha app, Google Classroom, YouTube. The way they have adopted and accepted these online teaching practices is incredible. I am happy that the government has adopted technology, but the challenge remains – the digital divide.

4. We have a new NEP after 1986. What are some of the fundamental changes you are excited to see getting implemented?

NEP is a significant development. And we have been doing a lot of sessions on NEP, on what NEP is trying to say and other aspects. There are significant shifts that are going to happen when the NEP is appropriately executed. One vital step that I am excited about is the universalisation and expanding the scope of education from K to 12th, stating that the right to education is not from 6-14 years but from 3 to 18 years.

It is also for the first time since many years that the government is pushing to measure the learning outcome of the students – the revamp of testing and learning outcomes at every grade level is a huge step.

Another significant step is the gender inclusion fund for girl children and transgender people. Again, for the first time, we are acknowledging the existence of transgenders in the community and supporting them to ensure that they are coming to schools. I am also excited about the launching of Foundational Literacy & Numeracy (FLN) mission to achieve grade-level outcomes for all children up to grade 2, by 2025..

5. You have worked with different organizations in the Education sector. What are some of the similarities you observe among these organizations? How do you think these organizations can contribute to educational equity in India?

Having been part of multiple organizations, I have seen one common trait that is extraordinarily rooted in what is right for children. The passion that organizations operate with, primarily the non-profit, which comes with a lot of innovations, is incredible — rooted entirely in children and full-on heart.
The similarity is that many organizations have identified the core of the issues and adopted their own ways of solving them. They can diagnose the problem of what is stopping children from learning or achieving holistic development. They beautifully explain why a problem is a problem.

But many of them don’t necessarily have design for scale in their solutions in the beginning. Therefore, the answers may work with ten schools or 100 schools, but when they want to scale it up to 1000 or 100000, it becomes more challenging. The aspects of how NGOs can scale are sometimes missing. The NGOs are supporting the Government in areas that the Government cannot do on its own. Therefore, a lot of great collaborations are happening between the government and the NGOs to ensure equity in education in different states and countries.

6. You have worked with different organizations in different roles. How have those roles shaped your leadership? What are your next projects?

I am grateful to have some of the people who have always inspired me, such as few of my seniors from Pilani who started non-profit organizations like Nirmaan & Mobile Medics, Mrs. Shaheen from Teach For India, Mr. Aditya Natraj from Kaivalya, and many more on whose shoulders we stand. The core is the inspiration from these people to take on more challenging roles. Secondly is to learn the trick and trade of learning non-profits, as operating a non-profit organization is different from a regular business.

A significant chunk of it is also people management and inspiration. You will have inspired people to take leadership roles and prepare the second level leadership. The third is to look at the work as a social contribution- the ability to do the job while trying to solve a more significant problem. It’s challenging to balance between managing an organization and working to solve a problem. I was learning to balance this out by working in different organizations.

We want to continue working with Govt teachers and Govt officers and are currently working towards a single goal, i.e. to improve access to education in the next few months, including the capacity of teachers and officers to lead programs and provide access to quality education.

“We want to leverage technology to improve education access to 3Million children in the state of Maharashtra.”

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the person interviewed and not to TechConnect or EdIndia and its employees, unless explicitly stated.

Find it interesting? Share it!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Talk, Contribute, Innovate

TechConnect is supported by EdIndia Foundation. It is an independent Newsletter initiative highlighting “at scale” work of edu-tech innovators and inspiring efforts of teachers and practitioners, working at government and affordable schools as well as policymakers of India.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Add Your Heading Text Here