Inspire India Project: A project for community and to be owned by community

We have an abundance of talent in India. But in this abundance a lot voices and a lot of dreams get drowned or overshadowed as they do not get right platforms to hone their skills. Some such talents face the problems of financial well-being, some face the challenge of foreseeing the vision. However, the fact remains that with due guidance these talented artists can carve a happy life for themselves.

Shankar Mahadevan Academy www.shankarmahadevanacademy.org (SMA), which has been actively involved in imparting music education to students of all ages, has taken a step towards providing these talents an avenue to develop themselves. SMA has taken a step even further by not just limiting themselves to providing music education to underprivileged children but also to the underprivileged community as a whole, irrespective of age. SMA has initiated a mission by the name Inspire India Project. The Inspire India Project aspires to make music as a topic of household conversation at every home in the community.

We got a chance to interact with Mr Sridhar Ranganathan, the founder of Inspire India Project and SMA, to know more about his vision and the purpose behind Inspire India Project.

Here are the excerpts from the discussion;

What are the founding principles behind the Inspire India Project? How did this idea come through? How will this project grow over a period of time?

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

John Adams

US diplomat & politician (1735 – 1826)

(Source: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/33545.html)

Project Inspire India is a dream and aspirations of the founders – Shankar Mahadevan and Sridhar Ranganathan that is founded on the following basic tenets:

  1. India as a country is experiencing growth is many dimensions and the “growing pains” are experienced at various levels viz., political system, education system
  2. India has the most diverse art culture in the world, we look to promote all various forms of music from around the country – for people to recognize their roots, bring diversity in performances and preserve to the extent relevant – the fantastic art forms of various regions
  3. It is not just about recognizing the need for arts in the society, it is also about exploring possible livelihood opportunities from within the society, for those who are qualified and creating careers around arts
  4. The field of art with the ability to display a myriad of expressions is a perfect platform to educate, display and enact fundamental values for the next generation and all future generations of Indians. Including the seniors in the household allows the ability to further the cause of creating “art empowered households”

Simply put, this idea came from 2 diagonally opposite scenarios, Classical Music was held captive by specific castes and sub-castes, and the Bollywood music has gained such strengths that it overshadows all other forms of beautiful Indian music – which exist in many forms outside Bollywood. It was time to ensure that they do not go extinct.

The 1st phase will be deployed in 3 stages:

Stage1:         Pilot at DS School, Sion-to ensure that we can draw the crowds

Stage2:         Add 1 community center-to ensure that this can scale to more like minded communities, without sacrificing quality

Stage3:         Add 1 more community center-to ensure that this can be scaled to diverse communities, without sacrificing quality, but subtly changing the content that is more localized

Once these stages have been implemented successfully – The measure of success would be to run at least 10 batches of music and related classes of 20 students each in each center.  Giving a grand total participation of 2000 students over 3 years with a potential to influence at least 2000 participants from the household across 3 communities.

The goal is to have at least 25-30% of the batches taught by first generation trained facilitator from the community. To this initiative, Mr. Rajendra Pradhan, Chief Trustee DS School said “”I am very excited to host the Shankar Mahadevan Academy’s Inspire India Project at our school premises. I personally believe that music brings about life-long connections that can mutually benefit the citizens of a community. I am looking forward to seeing people of different ages come and enjoy this very innovative project that would touch lives in a community”

Inspire India project looks to instill happiness in the lives of the underprivileged citizens. Given that the underprivileged citizens are themselves struggling to make their ends meet, what is the upside for them being a part of this journey? How will they benefit by being a part of this movement? This is no less than a movement in the current scheme of their daily lives

The Vision of the Inspire India project is one to inculcate values and basics of music to the masses. The Shankar Mahadevan Academy Trust will provide the same programs that we have for the privileged sector to underprivileged communities.  “Underprivileged” will be qualified by way of looking at students and their families in schools that have an annual fee structures less than Rs. 15000-20000 per student per annum as well as the surrounding communities in the proximity.

The very core idea of this program is to make music as a household conversation, encourage listening to music and derive simple fundamental benefits that music has to offer. The primary focus of this program is to create a familial feeling using music, bringing awareness to social issues using Audio/Visuals and in forms of songs – especially for those that are hard to communicate and for the fundamental wellbeing of the community. There will be quarterly performances to ensure that the learning is intense and it has an outlet for expression for the learners within community and for the community.

The Academy has also initiated a program for training musicians to be teachers with a Teacher Certification program that includes imparting fundamental relationship building and best practices for teaching music.  This program recognizes the lack of trained teachers as the country have evolved from the world of “music for the Raja” (in Royal patronage) to a new world of “music to the Praja” (Music for the masses and common people)

Schools, as a part of location providers, will have to collaborate with SMA for this project. How has been the response from the schools and other location providers?

This program is not and will not be limited to schools as location providers. SMA may create its own centers within the community or seek the local body’s help to do so. The intent to start this program at the DS School was to reduce the effort on marketing at the initial stages and get a captive audience.  All schools centers that we have approached have been more than ready to help which is very encouraging for us.

For this project to be sustainable, there needs to be financial support, essentially also because it is to help the underprivileged society. Understand that TATA Trust has tied up with SMA for this. How did the synergies between SMA and TATA Trust get aligned? Will we see more partners joining hands going ahead?

Yes, there are many supporters who are coming forward and the intent is to keep the program financially stable and sustainable.  One among many things in this project, is to find, nurture and train teaching talent among the members of the community who are musically gifted to become teachers for this program. This creates a win-win situation where they gain employment as well as the familiarity of the environment and people in their own community will lend a substantial hand to the success of the program,

Nitin Komawar, who has the huge task of financial sustainability said “It is a project to bring quality music education to the masses and this will require funds.  With the brand of Shankar Mahadevan Academy and the very foundation of this idea, I am sure that people and businesses will come forward to support this venture. We are looking to raise enough funds to bring quality teachers and music curriculum that will lead to fundamental changes in every day outlook for the community in and around Dharavi”.

How will SMA and CloodOn ensure stickiness of students to this project?

For starters, the program budget includes a glass of milk and biscuits before every class, to ensure that the students are not hungry during the class. This may be a good incentive for the poorest of the poor to come to class.  Further, the program will have 4 performance events every year – which in itself is a big stage for the students. When the dust settles, the quality and the sustainability of the program will depend on the quality of service as well as the intent of the community to pursue the same.

Apart from Mr Shankar Mahadevan, will there be an engagement of other Bollywood celebrities too in this project?

Yes, at the moment, we do not have a commitment from anybody nor have we approached a lot of celebrities, but as the project gains momentum, SMA will rope in other celebrities to pitch in their bit.

How do you see the future of Inspire India Project?

One of the biggest success of this project would be when the communities start taking ownership of this project. We would like to, ideally, see it happening from the next year. Communities will need to play a huge role in their learning modules, for eg. the songs that they want to learn. They will have to actively participate in stage shows and recitals.     They will have to also own the decision making on the timing of the classes and also creating teachers from the community. They will have to also develop the marketing spearheads for the project. We visualize the community to play a huge role in the execution and implementation and eventually becoming marketing spearheads, bringing in sponsors for their shows.

From starting an Online Music Academy to starting Inspire India Project, SMA has truly established itself as an organization with its heart at the right place. It’s no wonder that they are attracting not only students but other partners to collaborate with them in this noble initiative of theirs. With time we will see this project growing further and with dedication of the community, we can see it becoming a household name in near future. It was also very honorable moment to be a part of the inauguration ceremony of the D S School Center of Inspire India Project. We wish Inspire India Project to touch the highs it aims to as this project has been designed for the benefit of the society at large!  Archana Hegdekar very proudly mentioned, “I am very happy to be the go to person to lay the foundations of the Inspire India Project.  In the coming year, we plan to deliver music lessons to more than 500 students of varying age groups.  I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to experience the Joy of Music during the performances and recitals scheduled through the year.”

Well we all have the same feeling and totally relate to what Archana has to say as well!

Article by Shveta Mishra

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