Sparking Curiosity And Creativity To Ignite Change In Rural India

One development problem in India that has been largely overlooked is what Ramji Raghavan calls the “chalk and talk” educational mindset, in which students learn based on rote memorization, which has stifled creativity and critical thinking. Many consider this to be a holdover from British colonization, but Raghavan believes the time is now to solve this issue, and he has dedicated his life to this very cause.

Raghavan asked the daring questions: How can decades of a deeply entrenched system be unbound, and the potential of the people at its center unleashed? How can a new kind of education be created—one that works within the existing system and utilizes the best community resources—to celebrate teachers and students as change agents? And how can this meet critical development needs while leveraging the power of every day changemakers?

To make an emerging vision into a reality, Raghavan created the Agastya Foundation, an education program for economically disadvantaged kids, which brings hands-on education directly to students in rural and often impoverished areas of the country. Participants have gone on to successfully compete in elite Intel-sponsored science competitions—in some cases even beating out urban, private schools—and to pursue careers as innovative educators and scientists. Agastya operates 75 mobile labs and 35 science centers in rural parts of the country, in 12 states, with significant expansion on the horizon.

In this micro-documentary, Raghavan talks about how Agastya is rapidly building an ecosystem for changemaking, and how creativity is inextricably linked to social transformation: 

To learn more about Ramji Raghavan and his journey from Wall Street banker to leading social innovator, watch his oral history here:

With this story and others, Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation are building a library of evidence to inspire the next generation of inventors and changemakers. Find more first-person stories of Ashoka-Lemelson Fellows in multimedia vignettes illustrating the intersection of invention and social innovation over the next few weeks on this blog and at ​

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Ashoka's "Change in the Making" Forbes blog and is a part of a series of Inventior-Entrepreneur stories brought to you in partnership with the Lemelson Foundation. Read and watch the rest of the stories.

photo courtesy of Maggie Lemere