TLDR: I decided to step down as a full-time member in October 2019, to explore some of the ideas that strongly interested me. Since then, I have been working on my transition to step down as the COO of NavGurukul. Will still be involved in a (very) part time capacity in certain areas. Don’t have a specific plan ahead. Want to spend more time exploring my interests around sustainability, permaculture & generally on building regenerative solutions for the planet.
How should the evenly distributed genius across the world get access to the unevenly distributed opportunities? How can we build access to holistic & inclusive higher education spaces for everyone, not just for the privileged? How do we revolutionise education as a means of learning and acquiring wisdom than a mere tool to get jobs with? How can we facilitate everyone to fulfil their aspirations, not just fill their bellies?
It was these big questions that led Abhishek and I to start NavGurukul out of a small 3BHK in New Delhi, in 2016. We wanted to build a wholesome alternative to mainstream colleges. We did not want a system obsessed with marks but where everyone’s starting and finishing lines were respected and appreciated. A safe haven where all of us could learn about ourselves, life & also get skills to financially sustain ourselves. Not being actively part of the education system after 10th grade, I had a personal love-hate relationship with the formal system. I felt the need to build an alternative of what a college or rather any educational institution should look like. For everyone, but especially for the under-served.
It was often very challenging to uphold our values while ensuring our students had a high paying job post their completion of the residential program at NavGurukul. But since that day 4 years ago, we haven’t looked back and I’m in love with what we’ve created. Today — 4 years, 100+ students and 2 beautiful campuses at Dharamsala and Bangalore and one in the pipeline later, I can say it’s been quite a beautiful journey and I’ve loved every moment creating it. Even after all this relentless work, we know we’ve barely scratched the surface and a lot more work awaits us.
Being a young organisation there are still issues we are firefighting, almost everyday. We’ve failed countless times and still do. We still don’t have stable processes for some critical parts of the organisation like admissions. We still don’t have answers to many questions we started out with. But we do have a stable foundation to help us keep going and a very dedicated team. We’re learning everyday not to be afraid of making mistakes, which is exactly how we want our students to be too! A lot of heavy-lifting within the organisation is done by our alums right now and I am deeply grateful to have reached this stage.
Personally, the last 4 years have been a non-stop rollercoaster of work and figuring out curveballs while starting NavGurukul. I’d wanted to take out time for myself and focus on some of the newer questions brewing in me. When I decided to step down as the COO in October 2019, I slowly worked on reducing my involvement to make this a smooth transition through providing support and charting a plan ahead.
I would still be involved in different aspects of the organisation and I am present on the board too. Inequity still bothers me and I still want to reinvent what education should mean. Just maybe, my journey is going to be a tad bit different :)
What’s my plan ahead?
- I feel modern solutions & jobs are often degrading to parts of the larger ecosystem, our larger home-Earth. They don’t help us in regenerating our communities, ourselves or the planet. Similarly, software engineering as a profession thrives on structures built around inequality and often the work involved doesn’t help in giving back any of the resources it needs to function. Manish Jain, from Shikshantar jokingly calls a lot of modern professions ‘Deadli-hoods’. He talks about building Aliveli-hoods which help us in regenerating ourselves, the earth’s natural systems and healthy communities. Can I play a part in making these aliveli-hoods more accessible & inclusive? Maybe we can start different schools of these aliveli-hoods within NavGurukul ;)
- Spend more time with myself. Last 4 years have been a lot of work. I absolutely loved it, but I do feel in retrospect that I took out less time for myself. (note to all early founders :P).
- I’ve been deeply interested in sustainability & generally living a life which is more aligned with nature & the planet. How can I personally live a life closer to nature? A life more aligned with Gaia. Spending time on Permaculture farms is the next action plan for me.
- Reading. Lots & lots of reading.
These are some of the questions for which I would like answers. Or anyway, attempt to find them. I often feel really lost wondering…if any of this is even possible looking at the massive scale of problems we face as humanity? But then the hopeful me also wonders is anything less worth a try?
I want to spend the next few months volunteering at permaculture farms, exploring different alternative spaces & experiments across the country. Covid-19 has made mobility difficult, but I’m still looking for such places. (Reach out to me if you can host me for a few months. I’m very clean and eager to learn.)
How does me transitioning out affect NavGurukul?
I’m both happy & afraid that when I decided to not work full time to start my exploration in October last year, it created a strong vacuum within the organisation. But I also feel blessed to know that with the support that I could offer, and the tenacity of what we have built together, the organisation seems ready for me to leave in entirety.
I would still be available and involved in all aspects which need my help. I’m actively mentoring some of the new people coming on board and helping them understand the essence of what NavGurukul really is. Apart from that I would still be on the board of NG for the coming future.
I might not be involved in daily decision-making at NavGurukul, but I am sure I will be spotted actively plastering the walls of our new campus (which we dream of building in completely natural methods) or cooking litti chokha by the fire side with our students.
We never looked at higher education as a defined box for young adults helping them get ready for the adult world. We look at it as a plethora of experiences which should be accessible for everyone, from young adults to centenarians. I feel really inclined to get back to NavGurukul after my personal journey (of at least the next year or two) to redefine higher education in different aspects :) Thank you for being part of it.