Art of Giving

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Ashish Dhawan

Founder and CEO,
Central Square Foundation

An MBA with distinction from Harvard University and a dual bachelor’s (BS/BA) holder with Magna Cum Laude honours from Yale University, Ashish Dhawan ran one of India’s leading private equity funds, ChrysCapital. In June 2012, he left his full-time job. So, what drove a private equity investor to choose the education sector for philanthropy and start Central Square Foundation (CSF)?

All children in India, regardless of their social and economic status, will get a high quality school education that prepares them to be responsible and productive citizens

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To achieve transformational standards of excellence for the Indian school education system

A pioneer in introducing VC funding for non-profits, Ashish Dhawan’s work is largely focused towards ensuring delivery of quality school education. Forty-three year old Dhawan is also a celebrated name in the Indian private equity fraternity for being one of the most triumphant dealmakers for over a decade.
His brainchild, the Central Square Foundation (CSF) has adopted a unique way of doing so. While CSF doesn’t work at the ground level, it funds the organisations that do so. In Dhawan’s words, “CSF believes in backing new generation who has bright ideas and execution capability to bring about the change in the education sector. The newer generation has more adaptability and more willingness to change.” The group believes in bringing the change through a venture capital approach.

However, as Dhawan quickly points out, “We realise that no goal can be achieved at the ground level without bringing in changes from the policy level. Hence, we strive to create a platform for all the non-profit organisations and the reformers to come together and work on a common platform.” To address this need, CSF organises special programs like excellency seminars and also provide open education resources and conduct media workshops as a step to improving the quality of education. The organisation also interacts with policy makers and carries out extensive research and advocacy activities.

As Dhawan mentioned in one of his communications, “The journey has so far has taught us some valuable lessons – we have learned the importance of linking our investments to a larger policy objective, as well as aligning them with the current market conditions. While we continue to borrow global best practices, we also recognise the need to adapt and contextualise these models to fit the local Indian conditions.”

The Central Square Foundation team runs to raise the bar for education in the Airtel Delhi Marathon

Over the years, CSF has done a tremendous job in engaging with stakeholders to catalyse an education reform movement in India. It tied up with Centre for Civil Society to build awareness of around the RTE among key stakeholders and promote sharing of best practices related to on-ground implementation of the Act, and allow people to seek redressal of grievances when required. On similar lines of advocacy, it works in collaboration with INDUS ACTION to help them ‘create over 10 million seats for low-income children at private schools.’

CSF also enabled capacity building of school leaders through their partnership with The Akanksha Foundation and ASER Centre.
CSF has channelised a public-private partnership model in rural schools by funding 3.2.1. Schools, a start-up organisation with 227 children enrolled in KG and first Grade. Not only that, at the ground level, CSF works with India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) to encourage leadership in setting up high quality schools for students of lowincome communities, and establish the benchmark for school leadership training in India.
CSF and Pratham’s initiative Saajha aims to work with 35 municipal schools in North Delhi and 25 schools in East Delhi for formation and capacity building of School Management Committees (SMCs) for improved learning outcomes who in turn will help improve student attendance and parent participation in the learning process.

The Central Square Foundation consists of a team of experienced professionals united by the belief that quality education is the right of every child.

Apart from these projects, CSF has also launched the “Vision 2018 for Delhi’s School Education System,” to document the key targets, and action steps needed to create a world-class school system in Delhi. Following its commendation, the foundation is also working on “National Vision to Transform India’s School System,” to drive discussion on quality education in the 2014 National elections, a recent release of CSF said.
So, what makes CSF nobler than the rest in the segment? As Dhawan points out, “The Foundation has a similar objective as other stakeholders, that is, to improve the education scenario in India. The foundations like Azim Premji are sharply focused and are now bringing in their own projects in education sphere. The CSF group on the other hand, works on venture philanthropy approach and on building an eco system where collaboration happens among all the players in education sector. The CCF works in collaboration with other foundations to get the PPP model working.”

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