An Impressive Track Record
By Preethi Ann Thomas | Published: 20th January 2014 12:00 AM |
Moving from one naval base to another and isolation on board a merchant vessel with his family, away from school, probably paints a sad picture. But in retrospect, that is the magical time that brought out Akshay Saxena’s love for maths and science — a passion he now tries to help other students discover. Co-founders of Avanti Learning Centres, Saxena and CEO Krishna Ramkumar have been helping students from low-income backgrounds prepare for college entrance exams, especially in engineering and medicine, since 2010.
Students spend up to 18 hours a week at a centre and are charged only around Rs 1,200 per month. Costs are kept low by a large network of volunteers and partners, who assist with teaching and administration. “Avanti aims to create a world where all students have access to affordable, high-quality math and science education. We provide it to high school students in 10 cities across India. With our unique teaching method, students spend most of their time teaching and working with each other. A highly committed team of IIT alumni tutor these students,” says Saxena. Their impressive track record earned him the Draper Richards Kaplan Fellowship and Echoing Green Fellowship in 2012 and subsequently, investment from the Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund in 2013.
Saxena went to IIT-Bombay where he spent five years studying chemical engineering and graduated in 2006. He describes it as a wonderful experience. “I had the opportunity to play competitive basketball, edit the college newspaper and compete at speaking events in addition to my academics. I met Krishna, my co-founder, at IIT-Bombay and the beginnings of Avanti came from our work with the Institute Student Mentorship Program, where senior students mentored the incoming class of freshmen.”
But post-IIT, Saxena and Ramkumar pursued corporate careers. Saxena worked with the Boston Consulting Group in India, project implementation with the UN World Food Programme and fundraising and strategy at The International Save the Children Alliance. He also served on the founding team of HeartFlow, a medical diagnostics company.
Having been selected as an Ashoka Fellow last year, he reminisces, “Interacting with other Ashoka Fellows continues to be a huge source of motivation for me. Working in the development sector is hard and often very isolating. However, knowing that there are several others who have taken on even bigger challenges and are still as motivated and committed to their cause is massively inspiring.” He is currently on a leave of absence from the MBA programme at Harvard Business School, but makes times for the things he loves — motorcycling, cooking and eating street food. Saxena hopes to nudge more students forward on their learning trajectory.