January 9, 2018: Though everything around us has changed drastically in the last 150 years almost nothing has changed in our classrooms across schools and colleges. We need to revisit the theoretical approach and bring in a more experiential way of learning where students not only become employable and skilled but also focus on applying their learnings to solve real life issues of people. It is indeed sad that although India has given to the world techniques like yoga and vipassana, today it is itself chasing after IBs, Cambridges and Harvards of the world, who unfortunately are themselves ill-equipped to tackle the challenges facing the planet.
A year ago when Sonam Wanghchuk who has been actively engaged in the educational reforms in the Ladakh region for the past 25 years launched a campaign to support an alternative university for the mountain context called Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh ( HIAL). In this he was supported by His Holiness Drikung Skyabgon Chetsang Rinpochey, one of the topmost spiritual leaders in Himlayan Buddhism after HH the Dalai Lama, and currently also the United Nations’ Ambassador for Mountain Partnership.
Sonam Wangchuk is widely known around the world for his invention of the Ice Stupa artificial glaciers. For this he won the prestigious Rolex Award Enterprise in Hollywood in November 2016. Coinciding with the announcement of the Rolex Award he contributed to the university project the rupees one crore that came with the award and started a campaign on India’s leading crowdfunding platform, Milaap. He appealed to the nation to help raise half of the 14 crore rupees that will be needed to start the first school of the HIAL alternative university. The other half is expected to be raised from corporates CSR initiatives. Of the 7 crore target on Milaap over Rs. 4.6 crores have been raised with contributions from over 1000 individuals in their personal capacity and some corporate donations.
For the first phase of the university Sonam hopes to raise rupees 150 crores by 2020.
While crowdfunding from community has seen personal contributions ranging from rupees 50 to rupees 21 lakh, it was most interesting to see Arjun Rajawat, a 8th grade student from Ridge Valley School, Gurgaon raise one lakh rupees through a campaign of his own among his school friends and relatives. Similarly the Singapore International School, Mumbai raised two lakh rupees through various activities done by its students. Sonam himself through the fees collected from 25 talks at various corporate events has personally contributed roughly 1.5 crore rupees more in the past year. Apart from financial support many senior professionals have offered their time and experience as volunteers for this cause.
The crowdfunding campaign got support from HNIs in India like Vallabh Bhansali, Deep Kalra, Ashish Kacholia, Jyoti Sagar, Harshal Morde and Shantilal Mehta and many more. Organisations like Jain Irrigation Systems, Petronet LNG, Max Life Insurance, PWC Foundation, Timken, Essel Group, Makemytrip, Sterling Wilson, Supreme Industries, Natural Remedy, Gemalto, Future Institute, Indian for Collective Action – San Francisco, and many more also contributed.
Speaking on this occasion, Sonam Wanghchuk thanked all the supporters and said this was an act of nation building, to see India spearhead the next learning revolution. Stressing that education should be contextual, he said that although this time it was for the mountain context he hoped that ripple effects would be seen in higher educaiton all over the country and probably the world. He said, “HIAL aims to break the rigid boxes of conventional thinking, be relevant to people’s lives, and encourage hands-on learning via practical application of knowledge. At HIAL students will spend more than two thirds of the time in real life applications outdoors. The School of Sustainable Tourism will run actual hotels and homestays and ice parks, School of Sustainable Architecture will build the university itself and the School of Applied Ecology will at the restoration of the valley damaged by effects of climate change.”
He then announced the Founding Partners of the project i.e. individuals and corporates who have promised more than one crore rupees. As also Founding Supporters who have enabled in transforming this vision to reality by contributing on the online crowdfunding campaign.
He particularly thanked the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council for supporting the HIAL initiative and providing roughly 200 Acres of land.
Today is an important milestone as the HIAL team prepares to get cracking with on-ground implementation of the project. They are already in process of recruiting for key positions and preparing to start the first batch of Diploma in Integrated Mountain Development this summer of 2018. They look forward to more support in achieving the goal of Rs. 7 crores of which 70% has been achieved.
As India marches towards it 69th Republic Day which also marks the closing of the Milaap campaign, lets join hands and contribute towards making India a leader in innovative education.