Transforming education for a better India
Multi-talented Ssarita Siingh could have easily excelled in a bevy of professions. However, after dabbling in a few successful jobs, she found her calling in grassroot education. Managing Trustee of Priyadarshini School, Pune, Ssarita is an entrepreneur, teacher, and mother. Yet her biggest passion today is a school in the heart of Alandi, a small town in Maharashtra, that she endeavours to transform.
“This project is a passion project; it has no monetary compensation. Today when everything is a business, education is the biggest business. But our brand is already developed, we have been in the market for 30-40 years, and thus there is no pressure to do anything for its commercial appeal,” Ssarita tells us.
Ssarita was running the Indian operation of Macmillan Publications when her work took her to schools in smaller cities such as Gwalior, Raipur, Indore, etc. To her dismay, Ssarita found a lot of these schools in dilapidated condition. These were budget schools with a high student strength of 2000-3000 as parents in those places had no other option for affordable schooling. Even so, in the absence of digital exposure, Ssarita found the students nice, naive and focused.
“Years later, when I got the opportunity to take over a school in Alandi, I jumped at the chance. These are schools that have seen no upgrade in the past 20-30 years. First up, I decided to overhaul
the infrastructure completely – give them better grounds, better labs, get them out of this place, and expose them to the world,” says Ssarita. She worked to make the school a bright, fun place, and introduced new subjects like Life Skills and Happiness Code.
Speaking about how the advent of international education is a bane for India’s talent, she shares, “More and more IB schools are pushing more and more students abroad. What is left is ‘mediocre’. I say mediocre because the state of the schools in the interiors is inadequate. These are the students who will run the country. What skills will they have?”
Ssarita wants to show all her naysayers that it is possible to uplift students through education. “If this pilot project works, I will take on more projects and create better schools, and subsequently, better citizens,” she says, adding that in Maharashtra itself, there are close to 4000 schools in the interiors, just waiting for a change to happen.
The naysayers weren’t the only challenge in Ssarita’s journey. She lost both her parents in quick succession just around the time the pandemic started, and was left with no support. “My father, Late Shri Indraman Sahadeo Singh, was my inspiration. Losing both my parents was a big blow,” she reveals.
A single mother of two, Ssarita learned that gender bias and clichés aren’t limited to any one industry. She has worked in the fields of media, counseling and investment banking. Presently, she serves as an Advisor to the Board at Unified Vision Capital Pvt Ltd. “If a man leads a meeting, the meeting is totally different and totally focussed on numbers and ratios. With a woman, it often ends with a dinner invitation, which is such a put off. I hope more men learn not to disrespect and underestimate a woman,” suggests Ssarita frankly.
A self-made woman, Ssarita has been acknowledged with innumerous awards like Woman Icon in Education Sector, Outstanding Women Leadership Award, and Inspirational Leaders of India Award. Recently, she was conferred the esteemed ‘Champions of Change Award’ by Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Hon’ble Governor of Maharashtra. She has also been featured in prestigious magazines like Forbes and other news media for being a women’s leader as well as her success story.
This year saw her being honoured with two esteemed awards – ‘National Award for Woman Leadership’ and ‘Emirates Award of Excellence 2022’. Ssarita was presented the Emirates award by the United Nations Global Peace Council in the UAE, along with an Honorary Doctorate in ‘Humanity and Education’ for her sincere and outstanding contributions in the field of rural education, raising the social stature and standards of education, and her Humanitarian Services in rural areas of Maharashtra.
A woman of substance, there are many lessons one can learn from Ssarita: “No matter what issues you’re facing – personal, professional, or financial – talk! Find that one person who you can share everything with. There is no shame in sharing. Also, value loyalty. It is not easy to get loyalty in business, but if you are loyal to your people, take care of them, and treat them as assets instead of employees, they become your family,” she says with wisdom.