Usha Tamba Dhar

Ashoka Fellow
Richmond, Ontario, Canada
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Usha Tamba Dhar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Tamba is focusing on strengthening literacy in marginalized communities in Canada by implementing a strong community-based approach. Her approach is twofold: She builds her student’s self-esteem and integrates community support to address low literacy rates in marginalized communities. The tools Tamba developed enable families and volunteers in the community to support youth to read and write. Her method gives mentors and parents techniques they can use even if they do not master English literacy skills—developing their own skills as they teach and become leaders and role models.

Tamba believes that an effective approach to literacy works equally well with 25-year-olds, street-involved youth, high school students with Down syndrome, and five-year-old refugees. Hence, she is reviving a traditional approach that has long been abandoned in Canadian schools and is based on four comprehensive steps. Tamba adapts her methodology to diverse groups and the materials she uses reflect their cultural and social realities, be they First Nations, street and homeless youth, immigrants and refugees, or youth with special needs (e.g. ADHD or learning disabilities).

To scale the impact of her literacy approach, Tamba provides microfunding to help community groups initiate or run literacy programs. Her grant program operates at a national scale. These partnerships also involve sharing her effective and inclusive manuals, as well as capacity-building trainings about literacy. To date, 150 organizations are using Tamba’s materials and methodology or have received microfunding to increase literacy across Canada.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


I am committed to building on the Excellence in Literacy Foundation's 25-year history of remarkable resilience. In order to support our students in achieving their brightest futures possible, we have delivered proven, effective programs to young people who are marginalized, criminalized, and racialized. We are leveraging our strengths and recognizing the essential role we play in the broader vision of breaking the cycle of poverty in Canada. In the past three years, 185 community programs and over 26, 000 children and youth have been supported through the ELF. Our direct program delivery has produced 200% increases in literacy skills and 0% dropout rates among our student population. The ELF offers a low-cost, highly effective solution to ending Canadian poverty. Applying literacy as a tool for youth leadership, empowerment, and critical success skills, we break this damaging cycle. We are not a response-based organization, our mission is to prevent, and eventually end, the causes of this pervasive social issue.
I plan on continuing my work in our directly-delivered Sage Youth programs inOttawa, and in our work across the country.  Local participants are homeless, newcomer refugees; homeless and street-involved youth; and children with exceptionalities.  The Sage Youth model forms the foundation for the ELF’s national programs that deliver highly effective literacy and life skills materials; community builder training and mentoring; and micro-funding to organizations ready to increase their impact on literacy and poverty-reduction. 
In the coming months, I will be working with the ELF to expand our nationalefforts.My goals will be to focus on prevention results; organizational renewal andresiliency; and celebrating our upcoming Silver Anniversary.

More For You