Starting an Impact University – Why and How?

“The leaders of our society have never been generals or kings but Rishis. When you are a Rishi, you become a blessing to humankind. This is Rishihood.” 

Swami Vivekananda

The years 2010-2014 was interesting times when leaders like Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi brought a new kind of social and political awareness that pulled young minds to contribute to the cause of India. As a young student, I aligned with the macro-level change happening in India – a change where India was awakening from a deep slumber and taking pride in the glorious history of over 5000 years and taking fresh note of where it could be. I realized that India is at a crossroads and if we don’t step up now, the opportunity that has come in more than 1000 years would be lost. 

Upon deep reflection, realization struck that I was drawn towards institution building where I could provide a platform to like-minded people to contribute to the same cause – Nation Building. Social movements, activism, business trajectory showed that civilization awakening was taking place and I wanted to provide an institutional platform – a structured platform where people with the intellectual bend of mind could come together to support nation development (and not through simple charity). On January 2012 during Vivekananda’s birthday attended a workshop by Dr R Balasubrahmaniam and this left a deep impression in my mind. As an educator, I realized that our role is extremely important as we are not looking for an incremental change but at a transformational journey where our actions will put India on a path of civilizational awakening. 

During my growing up years, I saw my father set up educational institution around fifteen years ago and I was witnessing this while growing up – how educational institutions are set-up, what kind of impact they are able to create, what are the challenges they face, and all this impacted me.

So the macro-level changes, reflection on the best way to contribute through an educational institution and my personal journey all formed the backdrop for setting up Rishihood University.  

The Start

Creating a social impact formed the core of my philosophy and I wanted to develop a spiritually grounded, socially impactful educational institution. Along with my team, I identified a few areas that were socially relevant and could create a long-lasting impact on the greater society – areas like healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, creativity and public leadership. So, we chose these areas as academic disciplines, and these took shape as various Schools at Rishihood University. 

The Journey

To institutionalize the aspirations, we focused on the ecosystem – the type of research faculty we would have, the type of students and the partnerships that would be formed.   An ecosystem where various disciplines could interact and intertwine – in line with the new education policy. Thus, keeping in line with the choice-based credit system, students can choose the subjects of their interest – say entrepreneurship and creativity which is in line with the impact that they want to create. 

Realizing that our courses are outliers and not meant for the masses is important as we require other courses as well for the economy to grow holistically. To facilitate the students and help them decide, we introduced a gap year where structured, mentored inputs are imparted to students so that they can explore their own interests. This gives exposure to students after high school to experience various opportunities and decide for themselves. Interacting with school children and showcasing the various career opportunities to help build consciousness among students and their parents was another focus area. 

Operationalizing education to make it purposeful and non-transactional was another challenge. To overcome this, we at Rishihood University started with “Why?” to identify course curriculum delivery. Purpose of taking a class enables students to appreciate and develop a liking for the topic and enhances classroom learning. 

Our pedagogy is project-based, peer-based and travel-based. Application-based learning helps develop interest and takes students to next level of self-directed learning. Peer learning is another important focus area where students spend time and ideate with each other. Travel based learning includes spending time with people working at grassroots levels and understanding the work they are doing so that students can understand the impact.  

The Goal

Rishihood creates a balance between impact and employability by aligning the two goals. If a career is fulfilling for a person then only people continue with it and perform their best. The young population has started questioning themselves about the impact of the career they are choosing. On the other hand, corporate literature shows that companies are also moving towards creating a social impact. So, this churn helps Rishihood in blending employability and impact. Our graduates will be ‘Rishis’ who will first awaken themselves and then contribute to society by creating an impact. 

The way forward

At the industry level, we have to internalize the importance of being in the space of education. The new education policy has changed baseline to think about an educational response and all educational institutions will have to ideate and develop a common mission. We need to understand that there is space for everyone and the institutions are not there to compete with each other. We are in a zone where we need to align with the vision that education and educational institutions can directly contribute to nation-building.  

At the institute level creating an Impact is our goal but the very nature of “impact” needs to be defined. However, this is easier said than done as the world is evolving and what we are witnessing now too will evolve and change. So, at Rishihood we developed a game plan for a hundred years – Mission 2100 where we identified the state of being a “Rishi” as the highest aspiration that would lead to self-actualization. To achieve this all institutions have to have this philosophy and so our institution has to be a benchmark in education. This can be achieved by being a nationally important institution which in turn can be demonstrated through our alumni. To create this kind of impact our learning models have to be robust and in place. We have scripted this in a decadienal journey so by the year 2100 we achieve “Rishihood”.

Sahil Aggarwal
Co-founder & CEO