From Rural Vidarbha to the World Stage: Raju Kendre's Pursuit of Excellence and Social Impact

Eklavya Foundation Founder Honored Among 75 Awardees of India-UK Achievers Awards
From Rural Vidarbha to the World Stage: Raju Kendre's Pursuit of Excellence and Social Impact

For individuals hailing from poverty-stricken communities in India, the shackles of deprivation often impede their education, leading them to drop out of school and seek a livelihood for their family.

Vidarbha is one of the most backward regions of the country, as it is always grappling with agricultural distress and the consequential poverty, farmer suicide etc. Raju Kendre, grew up in a village in the Buldhana district of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. His parents were farmers belonging to nomadic tribe community who could barely read Marathi. But Raju pushed against these headwinds to emerge as a first-generation learner.

Overcoming Adversity

However, Kendre's resilience and determination allowed him to overcome the obstacles he faced and complete his schooling in his home district. He then traveled to Pune, but because of economic, cultural barriers compounded by the high financial costs, he opted for distance education from Yashwant Rao Chavan Open University. While pursuing his degree, he began working for the NGO "Melghat Mitra," which works with tribal groups.

For his post-graduation, Kendre attended TISS Tuljapur and earned a degree in Social Work and Rural Development, a course that aligned with his interests as it provided him the opportunity to work at the grassroots level.

Eklavya Academy Learning Circle
Eklavya Academy Learning Circle

Expanding Horizons

Kendre realized that many students like himself had the potential but were limited by their circumstances. In 2017, he founded the Eklavya India Foundation with seven children in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra. Over the years, the foundation has grown to reach other districts in the state.

In an interview with The Mooknayak, Kendre stated that the Eklavya India Foundation mainly operates in the higher education sector and has helped around 700 first-generation learners gain admission to prestigious institutes in India, such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Azim Premji, IITs, and IIMs. They have also initiated a program called the Global Scholars Program, which trains individuals for admission to globally recognized schools abroad, with a goal to send 2,000 global scholars from marginalized communities in the next ten years.

From Vidarbha to the UK: The Daring of Hope

Kendre later gained admission to SOAS, UK, but the challenge of funding presented itself. Although selling his agricultural farm would not be enough to cover his fees, he was awarded the highly coveted Chevening Scholarship, which would fully cover his expenses.

International Recognition for Grassroots Work

Kendre's work has been widely recognized, and he has been included in the Forbes and Hindustan Times' 30 Under 30 list. This year, he was among the recipients of the India-UK Achievers Honors, instituted by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK in partnership with the British Council in India and the UK's Department of International Trade (DIT) to acknowledge the achievements of Indian students who have studied in British universities. Other recipients of the award include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha, actress Parineeti Chopra, and pharma tycoon Adar Poonawala. Kendre noted that the representation of marginalized communities was limited, but the award served as inspiration to work for these sections.

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Advocating Affordable Education

Kendre advocates for free education from undergraduate to postgraduate levels and for the control of privatization, which is increasing. When asked about the arrival of foreign universities in India, he said that there is a lack of clarity regarding affirmative action in such universities, but if they charge exorbitant fees of 20-30 lakhs, how will a student from deprived section study there?

Raju with students at Eklavya
Raju with students at Eklavya

The uplifting news is that Raju is not alone in his efforts to empower students from marginalized communities to realize their aspirations. Similar luminaries, such as Anoop Kumar in Nalanda and Dev Pratap Singh in Lucknow, have dedicated their lives to the cause and have effectively guided Bahujan students towards success.

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