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Press release October 9, 2009 Education

High profile, international panellists encourage a new discourse on India's Future - The Relevancy of Education & Entrepreneurship

Friday 2nd October 2009, Christies, London saw the launch of a pioneering series of discussions, Understanding India, bytheUK arm of Pratham, an international charity initiated by UNICEF and dedicated to helping under privileged children in India with reading, writing and basic arithmetic. Pratham’s mission is to have “every child in India in school and learning well”. Since 2008-09, Pratham enhanced literacy amongst 31 million children living in rural areas in approximately 355,000 villages in India – more than half of the UK’s population - and 350,000 children in 43 urban cities.

The Understanding India Discussion Series aims to pioneer a new philosophy and generate a new breed of philanthropists with an interest in India. The inaugural topic of the discussion was in line with Pratham's core focus of education - 'How relevant is education and entrepreneurship to India's future?’The date of the event coincided with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who had pledged to universalise primary school education. 

Chaired by Jo Johnson, Editor of Lex, Financial Times, the panellists comprised a prestigious line-up of high profile international and national public figures and personalities which included entrepreneurVikrant Bhargava, Anshu Jain of Deutsche Bank, TV personality and eminent businessman Suhel Seth and Paddy Walker of J Leon Group. Also on the panel was Co-Founder and CEO of Pratham, Dr. Madhav Chavan who was instrumental in building the concept of a "societal mission" for universal primary education in India through Pratham.

The By Invitation Only event was attended by Pratham’s key donors and partners, high net worth philanthropists, pre-eminent writers, corporate CEOs, captains of business and industry, marketing gurus and individuals, serious collectors of Indian art, representatives from foreign policy and research organisations based in London and Members of Parliament. The forum was preceded by a display of Indian and Islamic art to be sold at auction later this week by Christies and was followed by a Q&A session with the esteemed panellists. The event was generously sponsored by Taj Hotel Resorts & Palaces and 51 Buckingham Gate.

The discussion provided a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions and explored several issues pertaining to education in India and the changes the country has seen in economic prosperity and influence as a result of entrepreneurialism and the provision of education. The panelists also engaged in conversations that challenged the status quo, questioning the political and social consensus and structure of the Indian government and how this has stifled the universalisation of education in India. Furthermore, discussion was also divided with a split of opinions on the rise in NRIs and Indian born academics venturing West for new business opportunities.

In response to Jo Johnson’s comment on Universal free compulsory education should have beena reality in India 50 years ago in 1960 for all children according to the Indian constitution’ and why this has been deferred time and time again”, Dr Madhav Chavan replied:  “Indian leadership did not emphasize on preliminary education as they should have.   When Pratham started, education was focused on the social justice theme. After economic liberation in 1991, industry business people realized that the lack of education will be the road block to economic growth. If India wants to achieve 9-10% economic growth rate, they need educated skilled workers to help them achieve that”.

Anshu Jain made a poignant comment relating to the pool of talent India has, stating: “There are definitely talents from India. When Deutsche Bank started to recruit from India for the capital market franchise team, all the new recruits from India were within the top 10 in the group of 90 in the final examination. India does have talents and top end institutions; however it does not mean that there is no problem with the education system. There are talents in India and they need top end institutions to nurture the talent.”

Prathamis established as a leader in intellectual and thought provoking discussions relating to development issues in India. As a result of the organisation’s size and ability to implement change efficiently, the charity has become a leading voice in policy discussions in India and academic research internationally. TheUnderstanding IndiaDiscussion Series will continue and extend this facet of Pratham’s work. This will complement Pratham’s traditional methods of social fundraising, provide guests with the opportunity to delve deep into the issues that surround primary education, and locate the charity’s work within the wider landscape of economic growth and development in India.

In speaking about the launch of the Understanding IndiaDiscussion Series, Vilas Gadkari, Chairman, Pratham UK comments: "Pratham’s pioneering work has demonstrated how active support and campaigning can offer children a better and enriched future. Pratham believes that knowledge and information can empower and motivate potential givers. An event such as this helps to quantify the impact charitable giving can make to the lives of others, and reveal the urgency and scale of need. We are nearly half way to reaching our goal of enhancing literacy amongst 100 million children in India and we call upon everyone to join our movement and support Pratham in actualising its ambition and changing the lives of children."  

Since 1994,Pratham, which began its journey in the slums of Mumbai, has had dramatic success in improving basic reading and maths in some states. The last two years have seen Pratham create a network of uncompensated village and community volunteers which has expanded nationally, with programmes now running in most states across India, making the charity the largest education NGO working to universalise primary education in India. Through its flagship Read Indiaprogramme,Pratham has mobilised more than 450,000 volunteers across 22 states and trained around the same number of government school teachers in some states in learning enhancement programmes focused on basic literacy skills.

In March 2003, Pratham UK was established by a group of volunteers who have been associated with the charity’s movement for several years. The aim of the UK incorporated charity is to raise awareness and funds for Pratham’s programmes in India. Since its UKlaunch, the charity has raised significant sums of money through various sporting and social fundraising events. One of Pratham’s newest initiatives is the Pratham Young Professionals Network, a unique platform that encourages philanthropic endeavours amongst 3rd and 4th generations in the UK.Pratham also has international operations in the USA, Germany, Canada and UAE which provide fund raising support.

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