‘The valley will RISE’: how ex IIT Bombay Mubeen Masudi set up his institute for JEE aspirants in Kashmir
Kashmir’s first of its kind institute, RISE, offers specialized mentoring and coaching to aspirants of JEE (mains and advanced). Started in October 2012 by an IIT Bombay graduate, Mubeen Masudi, the only Kashmiri from his batch at IIT, RISE wants to make a positive impact on the lives of people in Kashmir through education.
In an interaction with YourStory, Founder Mubeen Masudi talks about his passion for improving the education scenario in Kashmir through awareness building, resource availability, and opportunities.
YS: Tell us about RISE, the institute. What is it about?
MM: RISE is a mentoring and counselling institute in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, aiming to equalize educational opportunities for high school students of Kashmir. The institute provides students with guidance and educational tools to successfully pursue their career goals. Currently, the institute offers coaching for national (JEE Mains/Adv, BITSAT) and state level entrance examinations, besides working with a few schools in streamlining their teaching methods.
YS: What is your background? Walk us through your motivation and journey to start RISE.
MM: I have done my B. Tech., Civil Engineering from IIT Bombay, which I completed in 2011. After graduating, I worked for one year at a sales and marketing consultancy firm in Gurgaon.
A year into my job, I felt that I had done nothing important or impactful. The work was repetitive and seemed boring after a point despite its challenging nature. I wanted to do something that positively impacted peoples' lives.
In August 2012, I quit my job to work with schools in Jammu and Kashmir. School level education is currently a mess in Kashmir. Even the brightest students in Kashmir are not able to get admissions to tier-1 colleges of India due to lack of awareness. A few who have the awareness lack proper guidance or support from schools or institutions. I was the only Kashmiri resident in my batch at IIT Bombay. I was lucky I did my schooling from multiple cities across India, had I schooled in Kashmir, I probably would not have made it to IIT. Not that making it to IIT is the only benchmark of success, but the situation is equally grim in other disciplines as well.
After a month of planning, I started RISE institute in October, 2012. Initially, I wanted to work with the government but due to minimal support from their side I started my own institute.
YS: What are the challenges you faced while starting and running such an institute in Kashmir?
MM: Initially the institute started with offering coaching for JEE Mains/Adv. The first challenge was the lack of awareness of the same among high school students and teachers. So I had to focus on creating awareness first. I wrote a few articles in the local daily and approached a few schools to conduct seminars to apprise students about the opportunities and how to exploit them. The beginnings were humble; a batch of about 10 students.
Unfortunately, we have a culture in Kashmir where students are not expected to pursue excellence. Neither parents nor teachers encourage them to test their own limits. As a result, students settle for moderate goals and always settle for an easy path. This is the first challenge we face whenever we mentor a new student or start a new batch. We make them realize that if they work hard they deserve success as much as anyone else in the world. Although, once overcome, the rest of the mentoring part becomes much easier.
We faced other challenges with which we have learnt to live: state corruption. Last year, we tried conducting a talent search examination across the Kashmir valley to identify students for mentoring. We wanted to provide potential students free of cost training, and other resources to pursue careers like engineering, medicine, CA, law, civil services, etc. However, we had to scrap the initiative as we were expected to bribe the government officials involved.
In the September 2014 floods, we suffered huge losses. The ground floor of the institute was completely submerged in water for 15 days. We had a library which had approximately 4000 books. We could just save 200. Thankfully, we managed to survive and continue to offer courses.
YS: How big was your team when you started it and who are the current team members?
MM: Tanuj Bhojwani helped in the planning stage. Once the institute started, I was working alone in Kashmir, as Tanuj was busy with his own startup. In the past two years, two IIT Kharagpur students, Imbesat Ahmad and Saood Nazir, chiped in part-time. They plan to join RISE after they graduate from IIT in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
YS: How many students have you coached so far and what has the response been?
MM: Till date, we have coached around 100 odd students in various short-term and long-term courses. The awareness about IITs is increasing gradually in Kashmir, and more students are interested in enrolling with us. Given the results we have delivered in these two years, schools are also more open to us.
Our first long-term batch will appear for JEE this year, and we look forward to a few IIT selections. If that happens, juniors will be encouraged to aim for IITs as well.
YS: How sustainable has it been for you in terms of funding and revenue generation?
MM: Initially, I used my personal savings for marketing and institutional infrastructure. But as students started enrolling, the revenue was enough to cover the operating costs. Currently, it is sustainable in terms of covering the costs and a basic personal salary, which I hope will increase with time.
YS: What are your current endeavors and future plans?
MM: The current plan, to be honest, is to just ensure as many IIT selections as possible. We consider that important because we want to create a group of role models for the student community here. Once we enough role models, students will consider excellence achievable, and not a distant dream.
We have developed an app to enable students streamline their preparations and teachers their teaching. We will provide our students with tablets that will have this app preinstalled. We plan to launch it next month. Given the political uncertainty, we sometimes have to call off classes for weeks; a device with the appropriate content will be helpful in such situations.
We have also partnered with a school in a town near Srinagar, where we will be working with their faculty and students, to improve the quality of the education imparted.
Our long term goal is to establish a sustainable institute where students get the best possible guidance and resources. This can be achieved through constant improvements to the institute and collaborating with school authorities, and hopefully someday with the government. We are sure, that in the future, we will develop a culture in Kashmir, where students are expected to chase excellence.
For more information, check out http://www.rise-institute.com/