Akshay Saxena & Krishna Ramkumar
Akshay Saxena and Krishna Ramkumar seek to level India’s unbalanced educational playing field, one student at a time. Through after school programs and mentorship, the Avanti Fellows program they founded helps low-income Indian students gain entry into the country’s top universities.
“India is a country obsessed with academics and education as a means to social and economic progress. As a result, there is tremendous compassion for our cause and an incredible willingness to help. ”
In India, sometimes the door is closed to a student before he’s even born, and Akshay Saxena and Krishna Ramkumar started Avanti to level the playing field. The challenge to educational mobility is India's restrictive caste-system, which can make breaching economic and class barriers impossible. To be born poor in India is to face inferior schooling, or no schooling at all. Low-income students who do manage to make it to high school graduation form a majority of the 6 million Indians every year who either don’t seek higher education or attend low-performing institutions. Akshay and Krishna know that to be born disadvantaged is to be denied the opportunity for success.
While students at IIT Bombay, Krishna and Akshay met a classmate who secured himself a coveted spot at the high-ranking university through self-education and borrowed books. But despite his drive and intelligence, their friend’s career was hampered by a lack of the kind of guidance and connections that Krishna and Askhay enjoyed.
Through Avanti, the team challenges caste and class by offering the brightest low-income students access to educational opportunities normally out of their reach. Indians know that to graduate from one of the country’s 16 Technology Institutes (IIT’s) is an almost surefire path to prosperity. But the sole requirement for admission to these prestigious schools are the notoriously difficult IIT Joint Entrance Exams. Of the young people who take them, only 2% are accepted.
Avanti wants to provide economically challenged students with the same vigorous preparation that privileged students undergo. Through a partnership with a number of leading coaching institutes, it provides free or highly subsidized training to the most promising economically challenged youth. Students work vigorously for two years, both in class and alongside mentors, to ensure entry into an IIT.
The duo are so committed to their cause that Akshay left Harvard Business School, and Krishna put his consulting job on hold. “It's very difficult explaining social entrepreneurship to Indian friends and family. Many struggle with the notion that someone would quit a corporate career and risk it all on a business without a clear profit motive." But for these two, empowering others is the biggest reward. The partners hope to scale the Avanti Fellows program to provide quality education to a million students in just 10 years. It’s an optimistic goal, but one they’re confident they can achieve.