September 2015: Changemaker Award — Ratna Gill for Gyaan Ghar
About the Changemaker
Ratna is a Harvard Economics student passionate about the nexus of poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Hailing from Washington, D.C., She works for a start-up called Sense & Sustainability, which is a blog and podcast that takes a multidisciplinary approach to sustainable development. She has worked for the Business Outreach Center Network in Brooklyn, Environmental Defense Fund in Boston, The Nature Conservancy in Bogotá, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. Before college, She took a gap year to travel, write, and work on a variety of projects — from counseling homeless youth with Sasha Bruce Youthwork to studying World Bank resettlement projects in Brazil, to shadowing former Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad in India, to teaching Latin under Howard Chang at Flint Hill School in Virginia. In 2008, Ratna opened a learning center called Gyaan Ghar (“House of Knowledge”) that provides academic support and extracurricular enrichment to low-income students in the town of Ludhiana in Punjab, India.
About the Project
Gyaan Ghar is a learning center in New Lajpat Nager, Ludhiana that provides academic support and supplementary enrichment to underprivileged students. Gyaan Society was registered as a non-profit in Ludhiana in 2008, and now has enrichment programs in visual art, music, dance, theater, public speaking, computers, and environmental education. The activities of the learning center have been covered by publications like the Times of India, Dainik Bhaskar, the Chandigarh Tribune, and Day & Night News.
Uniqueness: the project is unique in that it’s free for these lower-income students and also provides extracurricular instruction. There are tutors available in the neighborhood that do one-on-one after school lessons or help with homework, but they charge fees for this service. Even if the students are able to afford them, instruction ends at academic subjects and doesn’t extend to extracurricular activities like art, dance, singing, public speaking, etc. Thus, Gyaan Ghar takes a holistic approach to education and is unique in that respect.
Impact: the school’s programs currently reach 65 students and their families in New Lajpat Nagar, Ludhiana. Many of the school’s students have been with the school since 2008, and Gyaan Ghar just sent their first student to an undergraduate degree program in economics, helping sponsor her college education. They are also involved in outreach activities involving students’ families, publicly recognizing and awarding parents who send their children, especially female children, to school on a regular basis.
Scalability: Gyaan Ghar has garnered interest from a number of volunteers in different cities in starting Gyaan Ghar Learning Centers across India. The model is very easy to replicate as it doesn’t take much funding to hire a number of part-time teachers, and most funding is raised overseas. The learning center takes about $3000/year to fund and every $ spent goes towards creating real impact in a child’s life.