How ALA is helping me develop change-makers in India

January 25th, 2019

Shashanka Rao, an Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Sciences graduate from India, joined ALA to explore his passion and purpose in leadership development. What he found was so much more...

"ALA has given me inspiring mentors, an amazing family, and a space to explore my purpose. I have definitely enjoyed listening to inspiring stories of young leaders on campus. These stories motivate me to act on my passion and pursue my spirited dreams."

Exactly one year ago I was sitting in my mentor Krishna’s living room discussing our mutual passion for youth development. Krishna Ramkumar is the founder and CEO of Avanti Fellows, a non-profit helping reduce inequality in STEM-based secondary education in India. We talked about how India was held back by a lack of ethical leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs but most importantly, socially-responsible citizens.

We both expressed concern on India’s education system where students are taught to be uncritically competitive, to adopt rote learning and to pursue conventional career paths. During this conversation, he ended up reminiscing on his inspiring visit (on a trip sponsored by Echoing Green) to a small leadership high school in Johannesburg. He spoke highly of the entrepreneurial and critical mindsets of students at this institution. This was my first introduction to African Leadership Academy (ALA).

Fast forward a few weeks, I was sitting in a coffee shop at Stanford meeting Diego Ontaneda, an ALA staffulty alumnus. I was in San Francisco on a business trip as part of my work at McKinsey & Company. I had found Diego through LinkedIn and other mutual connections from work.

He was then studying for his MBA and working on building Latin American Leadership Academy (LALA), an idea he had conceptualized during his time at ALA. He spoke with unreserved praise about his time at ALA and his wonderful peers who inspired him to start LALA. He urged me to have a conversation with Chris Bradford, ALA’s CEO, to share my vision for India and passion for the development of young people. To my good fortune and delight, Chris invited me to work at ALA to borrow lessons from leadership development, contribute to ALA’s audacious mission and curate a portfolio of experiences to help me realize my vision for India. He offered me a role in his office to work on several strategic and organizational projects.

Last month, I kick-started my entrepreneurial journey by running my first ever pilot of Parivartan Academy. This was a 3-day boot camp called “BUILD your life” for 15–17 year-old students from a local school,  Little Rock Indian School. We had loosely mapped our curriculum to ALA’s human-centered design thinking framework. We managed to instill a sense of purpose and collaboration into participants through a carefully designed course that included activities, personal reflections and mentorship.

Parivartan hopes to bring about a revolution in Indian society by preparing our youth to think creatively, teaching them to be curious and giving them the skills to tackle issues plaguing our country and the world. This mission has been envisaged around my shared experiences and interactions with people and projects while working at ALA.

Through projects at ALA, I have played a catalytic role in building systems and programs contributing to the school’s financial sustainability, designing short courses on Business and Entrepreneurship, and working on mission-critical projects such as university transitions for soon-to-be graduates. ALA has given me inspiring mentors, an amazing family, and a space to explore my purpose. I have definitely enjoyed listening to inspiring stories of young leaders on campus.

These stories motivate me to act on my passion and pursue my spirited dreams. I have another year at ALA before I return to India to work full-time on Parivartan Academy. I wish to spend this remaining year contributing directly towards the development of our young leaders. My genuine hope is that this contributes towards ALA’s mission and vision for this great continent. 

About the author: Shashanka Rao is a 24-year old, aspiring education entrepreneur from India. He was born and brought up in Brahmavar, a little village in coastal Karnataka. He graduated from IIT Madras with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Sciences. After a two year stint as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, he joined ALA to explore his passion and purpose in leadership development. His favourite pastimes include digital illustration, watching tennis and understanding culture in the Global South. Please sign up here to learn more about his upcoming venture – Parivartan Academy.



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This is an article from the ALA Journey Journal – the blog that tracks our 50 year journey to develop 6000 leaders. Visit the Journal here.


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