Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Jigyasa Labroo, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Slam Out Loud. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Jigyasa! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing?
Jigyasa: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! Did you know that 131 million children in India's government schools lack opportunities to build socio-emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy and compassion?
Spiffy: No, I had no idea! That’s a big problem.
Jigyasa: Indeed! Most education initiatives for children from under-resourced communities in India focus on securing employment. At Slam Out Loud, we believe that it is just as essential to nurture creativity and empathy in children from under-resourced communities in order to help them reach their full potential. We work to transform how art education, which facilitates SEL education, happens in India. We do this by creating arts-based SEL curriculum resources, training teachers and artists to build SEL skills in children, and creating platforms for children to showcase their learning.
Spiffy: What motivated you to tackle this issue?
Jigyasa: Well, I conducted 76 spoken-word poetry workshops across India. The 77th workshop in Kashmir changed my life. I began the workshop by asking the children to write a poem on an emotion. In my experience, students had almost always chosen emotions like happiness, joy. I was caught off guard when a 13-year-old named Zaira chose to write about hate. Her classmates chose sadness and confusion. I was confronted with thoughts and feelings that had never had an outlet before. That day solidified my belief that spaces for creative expression were a necessity for children. A majority of Indian students in government schools receive less than 20 hours of art education per year. To bridge this inequity of choices, three months after that 77th workshop, I co-founded Slam Out Loud (SOL).
Spiffy: How are you and your team at SOL working towards a more equitable world?
Jigyasa: We work to transform the Indian art class and change how SEL education happens in India. Our goal is to build the socio-emotional skills and mindsets children need to become the leaders of tomorrow and bring about a more inclusive society. Every child involved in the Jijivisha Fellowship received 60+ hours of art education per year (as opposed to the national average of under 20 hours). Through surveys of fellows, teachers, and parents, we have also seen that: 96% of artists felt they were positively contributing to society; 83% of respondents strongly agreed that our resources build SEL skills in children; and 75% of children that are part of a Jijivisha classroom for a year grow at least one level in the Creative Confidence skills rubric.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone by SOL. What impact does that make?
Jigyasa: Our beneficiaries are Indian children aged 8-16 whose annual family income ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 USD in urban spaces and from 1,000 to 2,500 USD in rural spaces. They are studying in government, affordable private, and open schools. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we distributed bite-sized art lessons through WhatsApp and state education portals, reaching 4.7 million children across India and 19 other countries through over 125 partners. Since March 2020, we have produced a content library of over 90 hours of content. 83.3% of parents reported that their children hadn't received similar content during school closures.
Spiffy: Congrats on those achievements! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?
Jigyasa: When COVID-19 struck, we had to stop all of our physical programs. The children we work with do not have access to the internet, so relying on online education methods wasn’t possible for us. However, they did have access to their parents’ phones. This led us to design a program called Arts for All, which uses partnerships to distribute our content library to children via Whatsapp, IVRS, or state education portals. The most important thing for us during that trying period was to ensure that we kept our children at the center and to remind ourselves that, even though the situation felt like failure in the short term, it was an opportunity for us to explore what access to artistic education on low-tech platforms could look like.
Spiffy: Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Jigyasa: I would love to tell the story of a 17-year-old named Supriya, one of SOL’s students living in a household with an annual income of 2 lakhs INR. When she joined SOL's programs five years ago, she was frugal with her words and cautious of everyone around her. Today, Supriya is an active member of SOL's "BOL Poetry Crew," and she has performed on multiple national and international platforms. She is interning with two organizations, helping her family at home, teaching her younger brother, and is building her skill set through online classes. She uses the power of creativity not only on the stage to speak her truth, but also in her daily life to negotiate for change in her school and home.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Jigyasa—it’s been an honor!
Jigyasa Labroo is the co-founder and CEO of Slam Out Loud (SOL), where she leads program development, fundraising, and partnerships. She is a 2020 Emerging Education Leader with WISE and a member of the 2022 class of Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia. She was most recently a KC Mahindra scholar at Harvard University and the 2021 winner of Falling Walls, Berlin. She deeply believes in the power of finding one’s own voice and engages with music, travel, and coaching to constantly evolve hers. (Nominated by Alex Parks of Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 19, 2022.)