COMPLETING 30 years in the social sector, Akanksha Foundation has been educating children from low-income communities across Mumbai and Pune – first, through their after-school centres and, since 2007, through the Akanksha Schools.

The non-profit organisation has gone through an incredible journey with a mission to build the largest network of innovative schools that empowers children to maximise their potential and influences systemic reform. 

Started in 1991 by Shaheen Mistri with a simple idea – to deliver a high quality education to each child, no matter his or her background – today, Akanksha is one of the largest urban networks of public-private partnership schools of its kind in India, delivering education to 9,800 children.

As part of our Lead Read series, we had a chat with the Foundation’s CEO Saurabh Taneja to understand what it takes to lead one of the top education NGOs in India. We also included a few questions to get to know him better: 

Q. If life had not led you into joining the social sector, what would you have done?  

It is hard for me to imagine doing anything beyond the social sector. Perhaps I’d have joined a top consulting firm to work on social sector projects.

Q. What have you learned about yourself since you became CEO at Akanksha?

Leadership requires one to lead by asking the right questions. I used to believe in having the RIGHT answers most of the time. I am now learning the former.

Q. What is the most heart-touching thing that has happened to you through your NGO?

The most heart touching thing is witnessing the CHANGE in the lives of the children and their families. I recently met with two of my alumni:

Ruby – who has gone on to become a professional artist after living in a slum community with no electricity. Her artwork was a part of Pune’s best exhibition. 

Reena – who works at Starbucks and worked relentlessly throughout the pandemic. She got promoted and is now a ‘permanent’ employee. Her resilience to support her entire family single-handedly blew my mind.

Q. If you had to choose between listening to music, watching a film or reading a book – what would it be? What would you listen to/ watch/ or read?

I’d love to read a book. I mostly read non-fiction. Stories of leaders and how they navigated tricky situations. These days I am reading Barack Obama’s The Promised Land.

Q. Do you have a motto in life? What is it?

Be The Change You Wish To See In The World – Gandhiji.

Q. When was the last time you did something for the first time? What was it?

Phew! I had never done a proper road trip. So for the end of the year vacation, my wife and I decided to do a road trip in the Sahyadri Ghats (Western Ghats), which was fascinating and beautiful. 

Interviewed by Abhishek Pde

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