Giving poor, bright students manna of scholarship, mentoring | Ralph Alex Arakal | Deccan Chronicle

The Goels struck upon the idea of launching an NGO after they sold their first company

Securing a medical or an engineering seat in a reputed college is a dream come true for lakhs of students in the country. But for many, it only remains a dream as they are unable to join these professional courses for lack of financial backing.

To help economically backward students overcome such hurdles, and to bridge the gap between merit and scholarships, the Foundation For Excellence (FFE) India Trust has been creating turning points for many youngsters for over two decades.

Founded in 1994 in Bengaluru by serial entrepreneur Dr Prabhu Goel and his wife Poonam Goel, FFE focuses on providing financial aid to aspiring doctors and engineers. These professional courses were and are still believed to transform the lives of those youngsters and their families. The Goels struck upon the idea of launching an NGO after they sold their first company and were looking to use a part of their proceeds for philanthropy.

“Taking a leaf out of his own book, Dr Goel wanted to continue the cycle of a student beneficiary pledging support to another needy student after graduation, keeping the model self-sustainable,” explained Dr Sudha Kidao, Managing Trustee, FFE.

The founders reached out to leaders of other philanthropic organisations in the Silicon Valley and then built a team that included like-minded experts heading similar initiatives, Raj Mashruwala (Indians for Collective Action), Venki Venkatesh (India Literacy Project) and Mahaveer Jain (Asha) to give shape to their organisation. The team then expanded further when Balaji Venkateswaran (India Literacy Project), Dinesh Katiyar (Asha) and Pradip Joshi (Indian Senior Center) joined hands with the organisation. This core team has since then contributed to building a strong foundation for FFE.

FFE’s aim is to bring about a transformation in the lives of academically bright but financially needy students, who are pursuing degrees in engineering and medicine through scholarships (merit cum means scholarship). FFE, which is present in 27 states of the country, believes that this can bring about a transition in the lives of students and their families in a single generation.

On the ‘Circle of Giving’ model followed by the organisation, FFE Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sandhya Manoj told Deccan Chronicle that an FFE scholar, after graduating using FFE-aided scholarships, donates back to the organisation and also connects the NGO with the company in which he/she joins. “The FFE alumnus/scholar automatically takes up volunteering/mentoring for several others pursuing academic and professional dreams,” she said.

FFE now has a network of over 500 volunteers who identify eligible students for the scholarship. They also conduct house verification visits to validate a student’s financial and family background. The team has over 250 facilitators from the industry serving as mentors for FFE engineering scholars. It also has over 30 corporate partners supporting the Foundation with ten other foundations, trusts and charitable organisations and over a thousand individuals who support FFE through donations. “These have enabled us to provide skills training and mentoring, both improving chances of employability. These two initiatives now augment the scholarship programme we follow,” Ms Manoj explains.

The FFE National Scholarship programme has so far awarded 53,000 scholarships to over 18,500 students. “Since our inception, over `120 crore has reached our beneficiaries,” said Dr Kidao. FFE alumni are now employed across the world, contributing to over `50 lakh in donations over the last two years. “This has been matched 100% by Cognizant Foundation, who constantly promote and encourage ‘the idea of giving’ we follow,” she said.

FFE believes that their initiatives have built a strong sense of pride and belonging among students and alumni, who are now part of the growing ‘FFE Fraternity’ that helps each other in a number of ways.

“Students with high potential but without financial support can stagnate and become burdensome for their families. They may seek alternative courses which may leave them dissatisfied and undervalued. Many students who are determined may seek bank loans, but most of their applications are rejected because of their lack of ability to provide a collateral,” Ms Manoj said.

But FFE’s scholarship is a sure chance of success for such students as the scholarship amount covers a substantial portion of their education expenses. She said that it is important to make such schemes known to students, especially girls, in early classes making them work harder.

FEE, celebrating its silver jubilee next year, is planning to launch a scholarship for law students and is working to expand the scope to cover other disciplines that require specific skills for employment.

This year, FFE won the 9th Annual Spirit of Humanity Awards, constituted by Americares, a non-profit disaster relief and global health organisation. At the 5th CSR Impact Awards 2018 (known to be the biggest CSR-NGO Summit in India), FFE was awarded the CSR Project of the Year (Special Jury Mention) 2018. It was also the finalist in the 20th Annual Polestar Awards for Social Impact, nominated in the education category.

“FFE likes to leverage its partner network, other NGOs, corporates and individuals, to ensure that our scholars gain from engaging with them,” Dr Kidao said.

Ralph Alex Arakal | Deccan Chronicle

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