Our social structures and education systems are built to focus on academics and teaching students to get ahead of the curve. They tend to neglect nurturing the most humane qualities of our promising youth – empathy and compassion.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.” Rahul Adhikari, a first-time entrepreneur is enabling every child in India to be a changemaker.
In 2017, an encounter with two 15-year old young social entrepreneurs led Rahul Adhikari to start developing a platform where young students could be nurtured to become social changemakers. Rahul’s personal belief that human beings are innately compassionate and that children are more than capable of designing solutions to everyday problems is the foundation of his non-profit, International Changemaker Olympiad (ICO).
An IIT Gold Medallist, Rahul had the courage of his convictions and left a comfortable job at an education start-up to single-handedly start ICO in 2018.
Rahul sharing his journey on Republic TV
Putting Empathy into Action
Rahul realised that children have the ideas, ability, and passion to create change. “They just require a nudge in the right direction along with someone who believes in them,” Rahul affirms. Through ICO, he connects young potential changemakers with a mentor to initiate their journey of creating social change.
ICO’s model is simple; students from Grade 6-12 form teams of 2-4, register for ICO, and are assigned a trained mentor. Over the next 4 months, student groups identify a real-world problem, design and implement a solution, and measure its impact – taking the guidance of their mentor whenever required.
The young changemakers are as diverse as the problems they choose. ICO works with students from government schools, low-income schools, and premium schools. They tackle varied problems like bullying, the absence of menstrual hygiene, food wastage, pollution, road safety, gender inequality, improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, etc. For the children, no problem is too big that it cannot be solved. The children maintain complete autonomy through the time period of the project, seeking guidance from their mentor but taking every decision on their own.
When it came to mentors, Rahul realised that employing full-time mentors would be cost-heavy. Thus, he started a 1-year part-time Fellowship Model where working professionals, college students or anyone who really wanted to make a difference could apply. Each mentor spends an average of 7 hours a week mentoring students remotely – over video/audio calls or group chats. Each mentor works with 25-30 teams i.e. an estimated 100 changemakers. Mentors undergo rigorous year-round training on principles of inquiry-based education and elements of child psychology.
Empowering Young Students to be Changemakers
The extremely rewarding nature of ICO’s work and its effectiveness is indicated by the different student-led initiatives on their website. With over 5100 changemakers from 120 schools spread across 20 cities, ICO’s impact is widespread. From the most rural communities in Jharkhand to urban Bangalore, solutions to social issues are powered by ICO’s young changemakers.
Rahul’s initiative hasn’t just helped to transform communities, it has transformed the children as well.
For Keerthi, a young changemaker working on improving menstrual hygiene in government schools, her experience has been life-changing. What started as a 4-month project has led to a decision to pursue a career in the social sector, and Keerthi is currently working with another non-profit to understand the sector better.
As Rahul points out, Keerthi is not the only one. Students are stepping out of their comfort zone, understanding different perspectives, and becoming aware of ground realities. They are believing in their own power to make a tangible difference. “It’s like a self-awakening in the children,” shares Rahul, “a profound behaviour change that makes them want to create a positive social change”.
ICO’s impact has not gone unnoticed. ICO recently won the “Oscars” of Education at the Reimagine Education Conference in London, an award that celebrates and rewards global innovations in education that are effective, scalable, unique, and transformative.
Paving the Way for Tomorrow’s Changemakers
Rahul is working towards systemic transformation. Team ICO is leveraging its nuanced understanding of how to mentor young children by developing a Changemaker Education ToolKit for schools, parents, Government Agencies, and other organisations that work with children. With their toolkit, these empowered stakeholders can independently facilitate students’ to think about social issues and guide them in drawing up solutions.
With requests for an expansion of the program pouring in from Switzerland, Canada, Singapore, and the US, Rahul is keen to start the process of empowering changemakers overseas in the next three years.
Join Rahul and ICO in their journey of empowering more changemakers, and become a changemaker yourself!
*All images are courtesy of International Changemaker Olympiad