This profile was prepared when Rajiv Vinnakota was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Imagine walking up the driveway to a new college preparatory school. Students, dressed in the school uniform, pour out of the main academic building, a building that houses gleaming new classrooms, a modern library, a computer center, and state-of-the-art science laboratories. The athletic field and tennis courts are in sight, and two dormitories and a Student Services Building, complete with a kitchen, dining room, gymnasium, and theatre are just steps away. Now imagine, across the street, public housing projects. The neighborhood is one of the poorest in the city. These are the students public education forgot.This is The SEED Foundation's vision for inner-city students, schools, and communities. The SEED model applies the benefits of a private college preparatory education–close attention from dedicated teachers, round-the-clock supervision and assistance, the status of belonging to a well-regarded school–to inner-city children whose futures would be severely compromised if they continue to live in an unstable home or neighborhood. Of course, public and private schools have always had special programs for bright, promising kids from tough neighborhoods. But The SEED Foundation believes that transporting students from poor neighborhoods to study in a distant, foreign environment doesn't present a solution; instead, he works with communities to build safe, nurturing schools within the inner city. This collaboration is possible because SEED schools, unlike elite prep schools, are paid for with public money. By deftly tapping existing funds, The SEED Foundation is able to finance most of the school with dollars that already fund assorted and disjointed programs for urban students. Raj, co-founder of The SEED Foundation, envisions the schools becoming focal points of change in the community–lively, economically viable institutions that have a vested interest in community development and enough clout to attract further investment. With the first school open for classes in Washington, D.C., now in its fifth year of operation, Raj and The SEED Foundation are now showing other American cities what can be done and how to pay for it.