India’s “Eklavya” Mentoring First-Generation Learners

Raju Kendre - Eklavya India

SOAS has a familiar face in this year’s cohort for Forbes India’s 30 under 30. Raju Kendre, who is pursuing MSc Development Studies has been featured for his extensive grassroots work in the tribal regions of Maharashtra.

Raju is a Chevening Scholar from India at SOAS, Founder and CEO of Eklavya India – a mentorship platform for first-generation learners in the country. As a first-generation learner himself, he founded the Eklavya India movement in 2017.

The Indian education system introduced policies ensuring access to formal education for the country’s historically marginalized communities in 1951 as India became a republic. This system ushered in a new generation of students who do not enjoy the same privileges of having a formal academic background in their families. But access to education alone is not enough if there is no sustained mentorship for accessing higher education.

Raju belongs to the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, which is infamous for its poor performance on development parameters and suffers from socio-economic problems like farmers’ suicide. In 2011, he became the first one in his family to pursue undergraduate education. But due to a lack of mentorship and support, he had to forfeit his admission to a prestigious institution in Pune.

After completing his graduation from an open university, he successfully cracked the entrance to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. During his time here, he realized that his struggles were part of a systemic issue. It motivated him to launch Eklavya India as a platform for first-generation learners.

Since its inception, Eklavya has mentored and helped 300 students from marginalized communities access higher education in India. Students have secured admission to premier institutes like Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology – Guwahati, Azim Premji University and more.

In 2021, the FCDO office recognized Raju’s talent and selected him for the Chevening Scholarship from India. He chose to study Development Studies at SOAS for the institution’s commitment to progressive values and supporting social justice movements.

The Forbes 30 under 30 list is yet another feather on his cap. The list is known to feature “young disruptors and game-changers”. Eklavya India stands out with its focus on higher education as against school education. Their focus on supporting tribal communities with limited access to education is helping students aspire for higher education.

“In the next decade, we want to work with 10,000 first-generation learners and help them access institutions in India and beyond. We stand on the shoulders of pioneers like Dr Ambedkar, Savitrimai, Mahatma Phule, Shahu, Periyar, Jaipal Singh Munda, Birsa Munda, Karmaveer Anna and all those who struggled to uplift our society. I owe this movement’s success to them”, Rajusays. He wants to establish an institution dedicated to first-generation learners in India that can aid and support their specific needs.

When asked about his experience at SOAS so far Raju mentions, “SOAS has been a supportive space for me. The institution’s commitment to social justice and nurturing a progressive discourse on campus has inspired my outlook the most”. 

Neeraj Shetye is a SOAS Digital Ambassador and pursuing MSc Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice.

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