Ashish Dhawan: Addressing Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in Indian Schools
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Ashish Dhawan, the founder and chairperson of Central Square Foundation. Let’s see what he is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hey there, Ashish. Welcome to the blog! I’m curious about what challenges Central Square Foundation is addressing. What can you tell me?
Ashish: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Central Square Foundation addresses the issue of learning poverty in India. We fundamentally believe that every child deserves a quality school education. Our organization focuses on reducing learning poverty in India from 50% to 25% so that every child can attain foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN). If children don't learn to read, they will never be able to read to learn.
Spiffy: That’s very true! What motivated you to do it?
Ashish: My grandfather was a polymath and a self-taught mathematician. He taught me mathematics at a young age and made it really fun. When I was in high school, I was involved in an initiative to teach middle-school students math. I used what my grandfather taught me, and, ultimately, saw students really understanding and having fun learning the subject—it made me feel like teaching was my calling. My mom was the one who always pushed me academically and I remember running home and telling her that I wanted to be a teacher!
Spiffy: A fun math teacher, I bet your students love you! How would you say that the Central Square Foundation is working towards a more equitable world?
Ashish: We are working to ensure every child, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or caste is able to access quality education. Solid fundamental education (FLN) is the key to enabling children to learn more meaningfully in higher classes and acquiring 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking.
Spiffy: Is there a recent milestone or initiative that you’d like to share?
Ashish: Sure, Spiffy! Central Square Foundation worked closely with the government of India to draft the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. The NEP 2020 accords the highest priority to achieving FLN among all children by 2025. NEP advocates the launch of an FLN mission at the national level. The National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) Bharat was launched with a focus on FLN.
Spiffy: Wow, that’s impressive! I’d love to know about a startup or project you’ve worked with that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to make.
Ashish: While Central Square Foundation is a non-profit organization, it effectively operates like a startup. We have immense entrepreneurial energy which enables us to get the job done, whether we're working with the government, teachers, parents, or innovators. We pride ourselves on our ability to develop an initial hypothesis on a problem and continue iterating until we find the answer.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before I let you go?
Ashish: Entrepreneurial ability and energy will set you apart as someone who will do what it takes to get the job done. This will be incredibly important in any career you pursue, to truly make a difference.
Spiffy: Wise words, Ashish—thanks for speaking with me today, it’s been an honor!
Ashish Dhawan is an Indian private equity investor turned philanthropist who founded and ran one of India’s leading private equity funds, ChrysCapital. He is the chairperson of Central Square Foundation, a non-profit foundation working towards quality education for all children in India. Ashish graduated from Yale University and received his MBA from Harvard Business School. (First published on the Ladderworks website on December 7, 2021)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.