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Richa Gupta: Owning the Problem of Social-Emotional Learning

Richa Gupta: Owning the Problem of Social-Emotional Learning

Hi there, Spiffy again. Today on my quest to meet the best & brightest entrepreneurs improving health I’m talking to Richa Gupta of the Labhya Foundation.

Spiffy: Hi Richa, it’s so good of you to join me today! I’m curious, what challenge are you addressing?

Richa: The pleasure’s all mine. Our challenge is that governments of developing countries lack the area expertise to equip children in public schools with the necessary skills to cope with the stress that accompanies poverty. Thus, these children experience inattentiveness, powerlessness, shame, anger, etc. which stops them from becoming healthy lifelong learners. With 236 million children enrolled in the public schools of India itself, most living on less than $2 a day, there is an urgent need to reimagine the types of skills our most vulnerable children need. 

Spiffy: What motivated you to do this?

Richa: At age 17, I started working with Rohingya refugees. Here, I was moved by the repeated experiences of how each child’s potential was defined by their inability to cope with trauma and emotional adversities. So to explore this further, I spent 4 years teaching in under-resourced public schools across India. I saw how the existing education system didn’t address our children’s emotional needs either. This pushed me to bring a system-level change – I began Labhya in 2017. 

A glimpse of children practicing Social Emotional Learning in their 'Happiness Class' in a public school in Delhi. (Photo courtesy of Richa Gupta)

Spiffy: You’ve spent plenty of time investigating the issue firsthand, but why did you choose entrepreneurship as the way to solve the issue?

Richa: When I was growing up, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur or leader. But finding the problem that I wasn’t willing to leave unsolved pushed me to lead and learn. Today, my team and I run a nonprofit that impacts over 2.5 million children, 110,000 teachers across 20,000 schools in India. I believe that by trusting one’s instinct and building strong relationships, systemic change is possible.

Spiffy: What are you doing to make the world a more equitable place?

Richa: Labhya Foundation equips 2.5 Million vulnerable children with social-emotional skills to cope with poverty & become lifelong learners, at scale. We provide end-to-end support to education ministries for effectively implementing a scalable daily Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) class in all state and public schools by leveraging their existing resources & infrastructure. Our support includes curriculum, train-the-trainer, monitoring & evaluation, and policy changes towards furthering Sustainable Development Goal #3.

Spiffy: What’s a milestone you’ve reached recently?

Richa: Most recently, Labhya Foundation partnered with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) India and Head Held High Foundation India to create a web-series based on social-emotional learning, entrepreneurship, and employability. This series is reaching over 100,000 children and youth across 7 Indian states. Additionally, we are providing free one-on-one personalized counseling sessions to youth with an aim to give them the skills and direction to reach their true potential despite the pandemic.

Spiffy: Free learning is the best learning :). What’s a time you’ve faced failure? How did you overcome the challenge?

Richa: In 2017, when my co-founder and I were trying to convince schools to help us pilot our Social Emotional Learning program with children, we were rejected by 79 schools before getting our first one. We were bringing a new concept to a system where wellbeing was not a priority and that was our biggest challenge. My biggest learning from this was the power of standing by one’s values. We didn’t want our program to ‘add-on’ and persevered, which resulted in us spearheading the SEL space in India. 

Spiffy: Without your persistence, the kids wouldn’t have access to the SEL courses! What’s something you’ve learned unexpectedly from someone?

Richa: Most recently, I unexpectedly learnt the value of courage and determination from my team member. He travelled across a state during the pandemic to initiate and execute a state-wide teacher capacity building workshop for over 20,000 public school teachers. He wanted to ensure that when schools reopen, teachers are prepared to prioritize student wellbeing and resilience in classrooms.

Richa is an educator and the co-founder of Labhya Foundation, an India-based nonprofit. Richa has been a fellow with Teach For India and Teach For All. Richa also serves as a member of the Youth Advisory Board to UNICEF India. Currently, Richa is a student at Harvard Graduate School of Education. (Nominated by Harvard Innovation Labs)