This column is about aspiring engineering, technological and medical students who finally made it because there was someone anonymous in a quiet corner of the world, willing to write a cheque and transform their destiny.Shital Shinde’s Solapur family lived in a single room, prayed for rain and depended on the largesse of their extended family. Shital wasn’t deterred; she scored 92 per cent in SSC, 90 per cent in HSC, 94 per cent in PCB (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and got the 509th rank in the Maharashtra CET. Most would have been elated; Shital was defeated. She secured a seat in B J Medical College (Pune) but there was no money to sustain it. Foundation For Excellence heard and arranged for a scholarship. Shital secured 68 per cent in the first year and now intends to specialise in gynaecology and work in rural India.
Rajarshi Bhowmik was born to a struggling family in a coastal Bengal town. He studied by a kerosene lamp. His real challenge began when he completed his school examination. A larger educational investment was now needed: books, coaching and study materials for the entrance examinations. The school principal connected him to the FFE facilitator who arranged the funding. Relieved, Bhowmik secured a spot in the top 10 of the 12th standard board exam and a rank within the top 2 per cent in the engineering entrance exam. Now came an even bigger challenge: the college fees of around Rs 3 lakh. FFE offered to pay the interest of an education loan for four years. The result: Rajarshi completed his B Tech and is employed in an MNC.
Akshaya Kumar G came from a family dependent on the meagre income of an elderly, priestly father. Since he attended a school within the Gurukul education system, he had to be mainstreamed for class ten. He appeared for his SSC exams privately, secured 95.5 per cent, joined the PUC (science stream), struggled with English but reported 94.6 per cent in HSC. Since he hoped to pursue engineering, he was selected as an FFE scholar and went on to top the university. He was part of the college team that entered the final of Robozest (IIT Mumbai event). He seeks to pursue his post-graduation from IISC Bangalore in Astrophysics and possibly one day work for ISRO.
Yogita’s father passed away in November 2014 and the family was reduced to a meal a day.From the sixth standard, a government scholarship accounted for Yogita’s education and hostel. Yogita ranked 946 in her CET exam, which obtained her a place at Shri Vasantrao Naik Government Medical College (Yavatmal). Same problem: no funds. FFE stepped in. Yogita now intends to specialise in gynaecology and plans to complete her post-graduation from AIIMS.
Chitralekha Gurumayum from Imphal comes from a family where her alcoholic father is an occasional mason and chauffeur, while her mother stitches handmade traditional blankets. Chitralekha was exempt from paying fees through school as she was always ranked first.When she was confused about her educational direction, her school principal helped; she passed HSC with 74.9 per cent. She secured the 202nd rank in her first medical entrance exam; she re-attempted it and came 34th. The game was virtually over there were no family jewels to sustain her journey through Jawaharlal Institute of Medical Sciences (Imphal). FFE stepped in as the white knight. Chitralekha cleared her first year MBBS with ranked 34th and second year MBBS with a rank of 39(64 per cent).
Venkataraghavan Hegde walked 5 kilometres to take the bus to school, and occasionally missed it when an overflowing river swallowed the bridge. He secured a decent ranking in the state CET exam (1315), which got him an engineering seat in the prestigious BMS College of Engineering. The important question: `How does one pay for the fees and accommodation?’ FFE said don’t worry: it funded the college tuition fees and text books and gave him guidance as well. Today, Venkataraghavan is a graduate engineer working with Delphi Automotive Systems.
So what is Foundation For Excellence? An NGO started by venture capitalists Dr Prabhu Goel and Poonam Goel focused on life transformation of academically brilliant (but financially needy) Indian students, by awarding meritcum-means scholarships. FFE awards scholarships to students pursuing degrees in Engineering, Technology and Medicine in India. The scholarship amount is Rs. 40,000 a year for Engineering (Rs. 1.60 lakh over four years) and Medicine (Rs 2 lakh over five years). The family income cut-off: less than Rs 1.80 lakhannum.
The numbers are staggering. Since 1994, FFE has assisted more than 15,000 scholars and given out more than 38,000 scholarships in excess of Rs 66 crore across 25 states.
The best part: the people funding FFE are names that seldom get the applause for transforming prospects. Cognizant. IBM. Capgemini. HP. Google. Sonus Networks. Bosch. Trent.Ashok Leyland. Caterpillar. Praxair. Amdocs.Bally Technologies. Oracle. DISA Technologies.And a number of foundations and private individuals working below the radar.
There is a lovely quote by Isaac Newton about seeing further only because he once stood on the shoulders of giants. Applies here as well.