Spearheading India’s fight for educational equity is Shaheen Mistri, the Founder and CEO of Teach For India, a non-profit organisation transforming education for low-income communities.
Born into a Parsi family, Shaheen grew up living in 13 different countries including Lebanon, Greece, and Saudi Arabia before she returned to Mumbai at the age of 18. It was then that she realised the acute lack of quality education and its accessibility to children living in the slums of the city.
Her desire and passion to better the lives of these children was the primary drive. She did her bachelor’s in Sociology from St. Xavier's College and her master’s in Education from the University of Manchester.
Planting the seeds for transformational education
Shaheen began volunteering as a teacher in various organisations in Mumbai, like the Happy Home and School for the Blind and the E.A.R. school for the Hearing Impaired. This experience led her to the start the first Akanksha Center in 1989 at Holy Name School, Colaba, with 15 children enrolled, employing her college friends as volunteers. The centre aimed to provide quality education to lesser privileged children.
This center soon grew into the Akanksha Foundation, which is a non-profit education project providing after-school tutoring to children from low-income communities. Today, almost 30 years later, the Akanksha Foundation helps almost 4,500 children across 51 centres and 16 schools.
Shaheen met Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, and was inspired to launched Teach for India along with five of her colleagues in 2007. This was to systematically advance the Indian education sector.
Teach For India runs a scrutinised and selective two-year Fellowship programme that provides an opportunity for India’s brightest minds to serve as full-time teachers to children from low-income communities in some of the nation’s most under-resourced schools.
Paving the path to pursue her purpose
Over the years, Teach For India has recruited, trained, and placed over 1700 Fellows in schools across seven cities including Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi, impacting the lives of over 38,000 students. More than 1,250 Teach For India alumni now work to realise the organisational goals from within as well as outside of education.
Shaheen, 48, has earned global recognition for her contributions. She says, “My Akanksha and Teach For India children are my biggest inspiration in this work. They do little and big things every day to show me how incredible they are.”
Her five-year plan is to try and jump from 38,000 kids to one million kids under Teach for India. The organisation is planning to double the size of its fellowship too over the next five years.
Achievements and Accolades
A 2001 Ashoka Fellow, a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum 2002, and an Asia Society 21 Leader 2006, Shaheen has made her mark as a leader in this space. She has also served as an advisor and board member to other organisations, including the Latika Roy Foundation, Ummeed, and The Indian School Leadership Institute.
She is also an author. Shaheen co-authored Redrawing India: The Teach for India Story, a non-fiction book with poems, stories, and personal experiences from many Teach For India Fellows and staff, highlighting the power of self-reflection and the greater cause of education.
Shaheen realised her purpose as a young student and did not let anything get in her journey towards transforming the lives of children and redefining quality education in India.
By making the best of resources through her organisations, she has helped unleash the true potential of education for those who need it.