Murali Rao, Head of the Academy & Training, talks about how he got into the development sector and his goals for the training piece at Head Held High.

My life before HHH was in the corporate sector spanning varied industries – IT, logistics, media and finally a long stint of about 15 years in telecom. This included the sector’s boom period in the late 90s and early 00s. 

I always wanted to do something different but it’s hard to find the time when you are in the corporate world – chasing targets, watching revenue streams and figuring out business models. When I turned 50 in early 2009, however, I decided that I had had enough. Education had always been my particular area of interest. In my own experience, I saw that education was a key differentiator that could level the playing field for people. 

Over the next few years, I volunteered for a few different NGOs in the education space. I started at the grassroots level, going into government schools to teach art, computer skills, English…wherever help and support was needed. Later I got more involved in their strategic efforts and began to better understand their problems and pain points – in terms of funding, scaling and more. I also had a chance to serve on the boards of a few NGOs.

One interesting project that I helped drive while working with Youth for Sewa was a global tutoring initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  For this, we had qualified tutors from India who were subject matter experts in different disciplines – maths, science and more – connecting with students from low income families in New York’s Harlem area. It was a great example of leveraging knowledge in one part of the globe to bridge education gaps in another. We ran the project for three years from 2013-16, with support from the Gates Foundation, and even expanded our reach to cover disadvantaged students in other parts of the world.

There were many factors that initially attracted me to HHH, including the energy and commitment of the Board as well as stories of the very first batch that included Chandana, Meghraj and Hemanna. But I mainly liked the fact that they were working to create impact in rural India and in the area of education. That is a combination that not too many other organizations are taking on. 

These are difficult times but I believe that, as an organization, our response has been brilliant. I am not sure if other skilling and education organizations would have been willing to take up the logistics of ration distribution. But we jumped right in. What was required was to see how we could contribute under the circumstances, and we really came through as a team.  

I believe that digital is the next frontier for us, when it comes to delivering our content. I have always been a believer in technology because I know it can add value, regardless of where we are in terms of access and bandwidth currently. My goal for the next year – and beyond that for the next three years – is to embrace the technology platform, keep it simple and find a sustainable way forward with this shift.