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In Conversation With Vinod Jhunjhunwala

Ranjani Saigal

Vinod Jhunjhunwala, founder of U V International, is the incoming President of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA.  Ekal Vidyalaya is an organization that brings literacy to remote rural and tribal areas. They run single teacher schools, which are used as a nucleus for bringing about holistic development of the village.  The organization runs schools at a very low cost of just a $1 a day.  $365 supports a school in a village with about 30 – 40 students for a whole year. They reach nearly 1.5 million children in all states in India and Nepal. 

Vinod Jhunjhunwala has been very active with Ekal for several years and has been Executive Vice President of ‘Ekal’ since 2011. A graduate of St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jhunjhunwala has been a very successful businessman for past five decades and has been instrumental in establishing family & friend’s various businesses on firmer grounds. 

“It is truly humbling to have been given this honor. I am privileged to have the opportunity to serve”, says Jhunjhunwala. “Education is an agent for transformation. Ekal Vidyalayas are transforming the lives of the villagers and empowering them to move forward. Education enables people to support themselves and most importantly gives them self-esteem. I am grateful for the role I have in bringing about this transformation to nearly 52,000 villages in India and Nepal”.

Just before taking on the Presidency of Ekal USA, Jhunjhunwala visited India and spent a few weeks meeting volunteers, teachers and full-time workers, He also visited Ekal schools in different parts of India.  â€œEvery time I visit India and meet people associated with Ekal I am very moved by the unflinching devotion and dedication to their work. This dedication is the foundation for the success of Ekal.  It is the hard work of the ground workers that has allowed Ekal to make such a staggering impact.”bb

He also had the opportunity to participate in Vivek Sangam, an event held in Kolkata, which was a grand conclusion to the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.  The Ekal movement was inspired by the words of Swami Vivekananda who said “ if a poor child cannot come to education then education must go to the poor child”.  â€œAt the Vivek Sangam thousands of people from the Ekal movement came to be part of the celebrations. As I sat there and watched that grand spectacle, I realized what an amazing job the Ekal movement had done in making Swami Vivekananda’s vision a reality. “

Vinod Jhunjhunwala is the son-in-law of late Madanlala Agarwala, one of the founders of the Ekal movement.  â€œUnfortunately I really did not have the chance to watch the development of the Ekal movement from the very beginning though I was aware of the work.  My own personal involvement came in 2008 when I met Shyamji Gupta, the leader of the Ekal movement.  His talk touched me deeply and since then I have been committed to the cause. “

What is the future for Ekal? “The architects of Ekal have built a scalable and sustainable model which has proved to be very effective. We need to continue to grow and increase our fundraising efforts to reach our target of 100,000 villages”, says Jhunjhunwala. ”We hope Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA can provide support for 3000 more schools this year”.

Jhunjhunwala is excited about new opportunities that technology brings to Ekal. “We are planning to use mobile technologies to build a stronger communication link between the donor and the Ekal villages supported by them.   Information technology also provides us the platform to improve our tracking and monitoring of schools and thus help maintain the quality of the schools”. 

While functional literacy continues to be the focus for Ekal, there are other opportunities that Ekal is beginning to pilot. “Holistic development of the village has always been the ultimate goal. We are beginning to shape a new initiative called Ekal Arogya which will address healthcare in the village. Dr. Veena Gandhi, Dr. Yashpal Lakra and Dr. Shashi Shrivastav are the key architects of the Ekal Arogya movement in the US.  Other initiatives including micro-rural entrepreneurship (Gramothan) and pilots to improve teaching using technology are all in the works”. 

What message does he have for the donors? “Every dollar spent at Ekal has the greatest return on investment.  Your dollar can truly help uplift a village.  I seek the support of every donor to spread the word and help bring others into the Ekal circle so that we can succeed in our goal of bringing literacy to rural and tribal India”

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Vinod Jhunjhunwala visiting an Ekal school in Amritsar

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