“Every child is capable of achieving great things if the opportunities are given to them”
Shaheen Mistri is a social activist and an educator, and the founder and chairperson of the Akanksha Foundation. She has also founded Teach For India, a movement with the vision of providing a good education to all children in the country.
Shaheen Mistri was born in Mumbai. Moving around with her father, who was a senior banker in Citigroup, Mistri had an international upbringing. She has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Manchester, England. By the time she returned to India at the age of eighteen, she’d lived in thirteen different countries, a background that she says helped her in her initiatives. Having been in over ten different schools helped her understand people, how to mobilize them, and how to adapt to different systems.
After moving back to Mumbai, Mistri saw that children living in the city’s slums lacked access to quality education, thereby being deprived of the chance to acquire the skills necessary to compete in India’s formal, competitive job market. Seeing this, she founded the first Akanksha Center in 1989, enrolling fifteen children and employing college friends as volunteers. From this beginning evolved into the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit education project that provides after-school tutoring to children from low-income communities. In twenty five years, the Akanksha Foundation had expanded to fifty one centers and sixteen schools in Mumbai and Pune, serving more than four thousand children.
In 2006, sixteen years after starting the Akanksha Foundation, Mistri felt the need to address the issue of educational inequity on a larger scale. In 2007, she met with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America and was struck by the idea of leadership being at the core of the solution. In 2009, Mistri began Teach For India, beginning what she hoped would become a nationwide movement of diverse leaders. Teach for India enlists India’s most promising college graduates and young professionals to spend two years teaching in low income schools in an attempt to bridge the educational gap in the country.
Shaheen Mistri is an Ashoka Fellow, a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum, an Asia Society 21 Leader. She serves on the boards of Ummeed, The Thermax Social Initiatives Foundation, The Indian School Leader Institute, and Design for Change. She has earned global recognition for her dedication and commitment to the fight for educational equity.