“Education is the only way to democratise opportunities and understand freedom, equity, love and compassion.”
As we continue our hunt for the most inspiring projects around the world, we asked Kiran Bir Sethi – the design guru who founded India’s top school, Riverside School, and one of the world’s largest movements for change, Design for Change – to take us on a tour of the country’s most exciting projects that are shaping a better future. Because education doesn’t just happen in schools.
Kiran’s groundbreaking school is built on purpose and compassion. And that’s something all of her five projects choices all have in common: “Each organisation is moved by empathy, love and compassion to make the lives of underserved people who don’t generally get noticed better,” Kiran tells us, “and helps them to live life with a little bit more dignity”.
Take a journey around India with Kiran – from the largest slums, to the streets of Bangalore, to the ashram where Mahatma Gandhi lived.
⚡ 1. India’s top school designs a better world
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. You can do anything.”
On the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad stands a small school making a big noise in eduction. Riverside School picks up award after award, yet doesn’t focus on classic recognitions of excellence. It’s more interested in wellbeing, new learning models and a vibrant method that’s grounded in common sense. At its centre, Kiran Bir Sethi.
How Riverside started ► A purposeful way to educate
⚡ 2. India’s ‘Clothing Man’ goes beyond cloth
“In the villages there are NO beggars. People value working hard for their dignity.”
Popularly known as the ‘Clothing Man’, Anshu Gupta has transformed the culture of giving and receiving in India. Goonj is a mass movement for surplus clothing and goods from the country’s rich to its poorest communities. Material is turned into a new currency that’s bartered with the efforts of villagers, who build big bamboo bridges, dig wells and build schools to strengthen their community power
The shocking story that started Goonj ► Sleeping with dead bodies to keep warm
⚡ 3. Gandhi guides ashram to help kids
“We are blessed to serve from Gandhi’s land, where Gandhiji spent 13 years of his life, and serve the poorest of the poor.”
The spirit of Gandhi lives on, brightening the futures of underprivileged children, thanks to social NGO Manav Sadhna. It started in 1900 when, under the branches of a tree in the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, a team of young volunteers began playing with street children. Today, the activity centre in the Gandhi Ashram squatter settlement is an informal school and community centre where youth are trained for employability. It’s a monument to Gandhi’s life mission to “love all and serve all.”
Enter the ashram ► Gandhi spent 13 years of his life here
⚡ 4. Home composting designs clean up India
“More people engaging with the way nature works is key to creating more sustainable cities.”
There’s a social stigma to waste in India, where waste is linked to class, caste and other barriers. Poonam Bir Kasturi started Daily Dump to clean up the country and break down the barriers associated with home composting. This is how you make a national habit – by being playful.
It’s all down to good design ► India’s first home composter
⚡ 5. Special education for children in India’s slums
“Our mission is to build the capacities of people with special needs to live with dignity and hope as productive and confident citizens.”
Prabhat Education Foundation is replacing despair with hope by helping children with special needs in disadvantaged areas. Cheerful centres encourage learning-by-doing where there’s a lack of alternatives for those not served by conventional exam-oriented education opportunities.
Watch ► A touching look inside the slums during the pandemic
⚡ 12 November: Ask Kiran anything
Atlas of the Future presents Kiran Bir Sethi LIVE – in English & Catalan – on 12 November, as part of Fixing the future: Education edition. Join us for a special, free online talk, and Q&A and grab this unique opportunity to ask the founder of India’s top school questions. ► Register for tickets