As the saying goes, “Self-reliance is the only road to true freedom”; there is nothing like being able to stand on your own feet, dictating life on your terms. However, for the vulnerable section of society, the journey to being self-reliant is rather challenging, if not impossible.
Against this backdrop, Radhika Bharat Ram, along with her husband Kartik Bharat Ram, laid the foundation of KARM Trust, a registered public charitable trust.
Being married to a family of philanthropists, the Shri Ram Family, for Radhika, it was almost like she was destined to serve humanity for good. Moreover, with the support and inspiration from her mother-in-law Mrs. Manju Bharat Ram, she, with her husband, started KARM Trust.
The flagship program of KARM Trust is the KARM Fellowship for high school graduate girls from an economically weaker background. At KARM they wish to support these driven, resilient, and bright young girls by providing Fellowships to deserving girl students. Going forward, they aspire to establish a cohort of Fellows who will assist and help one another in the pursuit of their goals and enable a meaningful ripple effect in their communities.
We recently sat down with Radhika Bharat Ram for a special interview on KARM Trust, her journey with it so far, and the challenges faced along the way. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
From being the founder of the KARM Fellowship to leading The Shri Ram Schools and beyond, you have been donning many hats. Tell us a little about your career journey.
Well, till now, I have been associated with various trusts and organizations and each of them has been an eye-opener and a learning experience in itself.
My journey at The Shri Ram Schools began in 2003 and I was mentored by my mother-in-law Mrs. Manju Bharat Ram. She believed that education should never be the right of just the elite and through the SRF Foundation, we made progressive education accessible to children in rural parts of India. Today, we are touching the lives of close to 80,000 students, studying in 269 schools across nine Indian States
As far as my volunteer works are concerned, I stepped into volunteerism over a decade back when I joined Delhi Crafts Council. I gained an insight into the challenges and struggles faced by the craftsmen in India. I have also been associated with the Blind Relief Association, where we provide the visually impaired with the necessary education and training to prepare them for life as a part of society.
I am fortunate to have been associated with various Foundations through which I have been able to serve the less privileged and address the pressing issues in our society. For instance, through CAPED (Cancer Awareness, Prevention, and Early Detection), we cater to the health needs of women. Being a part of the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program, I have also been able to contribute to the improvement of the lives of several rural women. It is due to my family and the like-minded people I work with, that I can make a difference in someone else’s life.
What are the hallmarks that define KARM Fellowship’s endeavors in addressing society’s pressing issues?
Women are highly underrepresented in our country and I think it is high time that we change that. At KARM Trust, we endeavor to pave the path for underprivileged young women through a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on all the key pillars to success including academic education, life-skills training, mentorship, and community service. Our aim is not only to broaden their horizons in general terms but also to give wings to their professional dreams and increase their employability. We hope to empower young women to pursue college-level education to not only transform their lives but also their families and the entire community at large.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic and its grave impact on the vulnerable sections of society, what initiatives has KARM Fellowship undertaken?
I have always believed that education when used as a transformational force can drastically improve lives. It is more than a process of acquiring knowledge. I believe in its power to provide hope, build resilience, and unleash possibility that propels human, economic, and social development. As a result of this crisis, we are staring at the risk of reversing 20 years of gains made in girls’ education.
While I have been toying with the idea of the KARM Fellowship for some time, it was the pandemic that led to its inception considering how the education of millions of children has been affected. We aim to boost the space of both formal and non-formal learning.
We will be financially supporting the KARM Fellows, most of whom are young girls from government and aided schools. We will also be providing career mentorship and skill training to them and facilitating them with internship opportunities in the development and corporate sectors.
How would you summarise 2020 in terms of growth, challenges, and opportunities considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of many social welfare organizations?
With most corporate houses and companies diverting their CSR funds to COVID-19 relief, several NGOs were strapped for funds and we too had our own slice of challenges. Nevertheless, we were finally able to launch KARM Fellowship which is something that we have been planning for quite a long time.
Since the Fellowship is underway, for me, it is extremely gratifying to see the many lives being transformed for the better, especially post the pandemic. We have been adapting to work remotely and serve the community in the best possible way with the use of technology. Through KARM Fellowship, hopefully, many women will be able to write their own success stories very soon.
Like any other sector, technology has also been changing the way NGOs, NPOs, and charitable trusts deliver their services in recent times. What would you like to say about it in terms of the KARM Fellowship?
Technology has truly proven to be a blessing in disguise in the past year. Thanks to applications like Zoom, MS Teams, and Google Docs, we have been able to stay true to our vision of building opportunities and capabilities across local communities.
What are your plans for KARM Fellowship this year?
This year, we will be welcoming our very first batch of KARM Fellowship. The next year, we will have two batches and then three batches the year after that. I undertook the initiative myself after many years of contemplation so I am quite excited to see that finally bear fruit.
What motivated you to lay the foundation of the KARM Fellowship?
Firstly, coming from a position of privilege, I find joy in making a difference in someone else’s life. My purpose has always been to lend a voice to the voiceless and serve the underserved people, especially women because empowered women are the key to transforming communities. This was what drove me to lay the foundation of the KARM Fellowship.