Shravya is empowering small-town kids to dream big and chase their dream
Shravya Nalla has travelled the world on assignments and worked on oil rigs in a mostly male-dominated sector. But her search for contentment brought her back home, a small-town in Andhra Pradesh, to change lives through technology and education. As the Co-founder of Presidency Kids Preschools, she wants to make it possible for young minds to dare to dream and chase those dreams; and empower teachers and students alike to transform education.
Born and brought up in a middle-class family in Nizamabad, Shravya grew up as insecure and under-confident. Contact with the outside world overwhelmed her: “I felt like a frog in the pond.” But she decided to change that mind set by getting out of town and joining BITS-Pialni, Rajasthan.
The exposure at Pilani brought with it the realisation that that life is not just about the race; the journey is equally important. During that period, Shravya started Project Saksham in an effort to bring economic empowerment to rural women. Though, the project failed, she discovered that self-sustenance leads to dignity and it set her on the path to social change.
After graduation Shravya joined Schlumberger as a field engineer and worked in different capacities in five countries in the last six years. With her savings, she co-founded the Grassroutes Fellowship program aimed at encouraging the youth to become rural entrepreneurs. The fellowship has executed 32 projects
focusing on education and entrepreneurship. Though the idea was novel, they were unable to scale their operations.Shravya continued to work for Schlumberger and moved across three continents working in Algeria, USA, Qatar, Dubai, and India. Talking about her experience at the oil rigs she says: “It is imperative that a woman should never shrink from taking challenges, including physical labor, and only then will she truly earn respect. Being ‘man’ enough and shouldering such responsibility while working outside in the Sahara desert on the oil rigs strengthened this belief in me. Working in remote rigs sometimes where I was the only woman within 200-300 miles was strangely empowering.”
The biggest challenge that life threw at her was the sudden death of her father in an accident when she was still young. “I lost him and with him a large portion of myself. At 10, I had already lost all hope in life. I did not see the point of my existence. The following seven years I would wake up every morning thinking and hoping that all of it was a bad dream.”
On one business trip to Kuala Lumpur, discussions about the future got her thinking about the difference between joy, happiness, and contentment. “I had access to the first two, but was nowhere close to feeling content despite all the good that was happening in my professional and personal life.”
A trip to her mother’s school in Nizamabad, founded by her parents in 1995 changed that. When eager and curious parents and children who wanted to hear the stories of her travel and work, hovered around her, Shravya was reminded of her aspirations and the scarce opportunities that the small town had offered her.
Shravya knew what she wanted to do — use education to change lives. She is now working at Presidency High School, and has also co-founded Presidency Kids Preschools.
The challenge for Shravya was not in convincing her husband to leave his promising career and move to Nizamabad. But it was something at a personal level:
The apprehension of coming back to the town that I had eagerly waited to leave made it extremely difficult to take that huge leap of faith. But the strong will to find a purpose finally beat all the anxiety that is inevitable before you take the road less traveled.
According to Shravya the biggest problem plaguing the Indian education system is the parallel trajectory that education and learning are following: “In India, we get done with all the education and then start learning!”
When it comes to educating girls, she feels that parents tend to make sure that they are picking ‘safe’ career options for their daughters, limiting their exposure to the world. “There is still a barrier to what a girl can dream, ” she adds.
At present, Shravya is working with the vision to make learning fun and intuitive for both students and teachers with emphasis on the emotional and social curriculum. This includes learning about the self;
having the room to explore, discover, and experiment; and understand that making mistakes is okay. Along with this they are embedding technology into education. Says she: “Technology has the power to transform the one size fits all approach of instruction into a more bespoken learning experience. Complex and abstract concepts can be explained better with simulations. We are using app-based learning to teach kids spelling, vocabulary, and algebra.”Along with this the classrooms need to be designed to enable interaction and collaboration while providing teachers and students the space to move around. The three major milestones reached by the school are: a change in assessment; a platform for teachers to connect; and the success of the social emotional curriculum that has allowed kids to reflect and express better, and teachers to listen more.
Presidency is looking for like-minded people to join them from wherever they are and take up projects. They are also willing to be a sandbox for experimental programs that aid in child development.
Her two great colleagues – her mother and her husband — are her support system and keep her going, along with the stories of people who are passionate and are driving change.