Usha Tamba Dhar

Ashoka Fellow
Richmond, ON, 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

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