How Aravind Sreedhara went from biz analyst to community prof

A Business Consultant with a regular 9-5 job, Aravind Sreedhara talks about his journey of joining TISS and later ending up in an NGO teaching underprivileged kids

Aravind Sreedhara sounded quite relaxed when we caught up with him on a Saturday afternoon. In a half-an-hour-long conversation, he remained immensely calm — the sort of calm only the bliss of doing something that you love could give you. Undoubtedly, Aravind is a man who is in love with his work. And does he regret quitting his lucrative corporate job to be around underprivileged children in Makkala Jagriti and helping them turn their dreams into reality? Absolutely not!

So what prompted Aravind to quit a comfortable job as a business consultant in a leading IT firm in Bengaluru?

While the entire country is standing with Kerala and Kodagu, looking back at the destruction that the floods have caused, Arvind takes us back to 2009. That is when he witnessed a huge calamity for the first time in his life. You do remember the floods of 2009, don't you? 178 people lost their lives that year in Karnataka. The company that Aravind was working for was very active in the relief activities. "We collected a lot of things to be sent and we were really busy dispatching these things to different parts of the states. That incident got me thinking about development and disaster management. I was planning to do an MBA at that time. But after this incident, I started understanding that there were niche fields in MBA like forest management and environmental safety," says Aravind. His search finally brought him to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), where he pursued a Master's in Disaster Management. 

After completing the degree, he worked in different companies, but all this wasn't very fulfilling. That was when he met Joy Srinivasan, the founder of Makkala Jagriti through a mutual friend. "Joy and I had a long discussion about education and development and our thoughts resonated in the same direction. She was looking for a programme manager then and I was on board," he says. Aravind had a lot to share about his journey in Makkala Jagriti, about what he learned and what he taught in the past one year. Excerpts from the conversation:

What kind of impact do you have on the children you work with?

We basically work in underprivileged communities. We have community centres where we work directly. We have also signed an MoU with government schools, where we train these children after school. People from really underprivileged schools come here. Our community centres cater to 4th to 7th graders. We make them do a lot of activities. More recently, we launched our youth centres that cater to ages 14 and upwards. There is no upper limit. We don't say no to anyone.

Learning right: Aravind with the children in Makkala Jagriti

What are some of the difficulties that you have faced?

When I did my master's, we had a lot of rural internships. That was when I realised that the world that someone from an upper middle-class background is exposed to is not the real one. Life in the real world is not easy. At a ground level,  people have a lot of opportunities. But they don't take it up because of the lack of exposure. One of the key issues that we faced was to help them realise that what they were doing wasn't the right way.

Are you happy about the way your life turned out?

Definitely. One of the reasons for joining TISS was to get into the development sector. This particular project fell into my spectrum and that's why I took it up. Also, I wasn't fully happy with what I was doing before this. 

Are there a few children that you'd like to remember int his short journey of yours in education?

A couple of days ago, an eighth grader called me up saying she passed her English exams and wanted to thank me for that. She had a hard time reading and failed continuously in her exams. What has to be blamed here is the system that doesn't bother to help the child out, but instead, kept on letting them go to the next grade. We are trying to solve that issue here.

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