Volunteer initiatives help students in India, Canada, and Bermuda
- Apr 21, 2021
Vishal Vijay, an HBA ’22 candidate, has seen firsthand the power that education has to lift people out of poverty. So when COVID-19 forced billions of students around the world out of school, he created Social Educating, a program that offers free online tutoring to elementary students in Canada and Bermuda to support their learning.
“Elementary school students have had a complete disruption to their learning and this is particularly alarming given the importance of a strong educational foundation. We believe that every child deserves a quality education and with many parents not in a position to be able to help their children with schoolwork, we knew that there was something that we could do,” he said. “We offer free online tutoring for homework help as a way to bridge the gap in online learning and give kids support in this virtual environment.”
Social Educating connects students in grades four to eight with volunteer tutors who are in university or high school for help with subjects ranging from English, math, and science to even coding. Vijay went to elementary school in both Bermuda and Canada and is familiar with the curriculums in those areas. He set up the Bermudian tutor program with the help of Karina Forth, an HBA ’22 candidate who is from Bermuda. Sonia Kishinchandani, also HBA ’22, now oversees the tutoring programs in both locations. Since launching in spring 2020, Social Educating has matched more than 30 students and tutors.
Social impact in India
Vijay has a long history of working on social impact initiatives. In 2012, when Vijay was just 11 years old, he and his brother, Ishan, launched a small youth group in Oakville, Ont. called Children in Action to raise money to support the construction of a clean water well in Sierra Leone. They were motivated to do so after going on a family trip to Faridabad in northern India where they saw extreme poverty and wanted to help children in similar positions.
As interest grew, the brothers transformed Children in Action into a national non-profit youth organization under the name EveryChildNow (ECN), which focuses on youth empowerment and child poverty alleviation. It provides children and their families with their five basic needs (education, food, water, shelter, and health care). To date, EveryChildNow has raised more than $100,000, collected more than 35,000 supplies, and impacted 500,000 people globally through its initiatives. The money raised went toward building schoolhouses in Faridabad and Rajasthan, funding a clean water well in Sierra Leone, and providing supplies for Syrian refugees arriving in Canada. EveryChildNow has also assembled household protection kits to limit the spread of Ebola in West Africa and has assembled school kits to support Nepalese education during the humanitarian crisis.
“I didn’t set out to start a non-profit. It wasn’t something that was even on my radar. But as we began to hold community initiatives, more people wanted to join and it grew quite organically,” said Vijay, who is CEO of EveryChildNow, an organization that has helped to provide thousands of families with their basic needs. “We discovered that a lot of young Canadians are really interested in social impact. I think of us as the Purpose Generation, a generation of young people that is passionate and wants to engage with the world in a way that truly resonates with us.”
Pivoting during the pandemic
When COVID-19 closed schools and disrupted learning for Canadian youth, Vijay pivoted his team’s focus and launched Social Educating. He had heard from educators that the shift to online learning had created a digital divide and some students didn’t have the resources at home that they needed. Social Educating aims to support these students by pairing them with student volunteers that can help with homework. He said the initiative taps into EveryChildNow’s core capability, which is leveraging a motivated and talented young volunteer base.
“By having conversations with and listening to educators, students, tutors, and parents, we’ve incorporated feedback to improve the service and deliver more value. It’s been so rewarding to see firsthand the impact of our work in Canada. I’ve also had the chance to visit kids in India that have benefited from our initiatives. Education has the power to transform lives … to lift children and their families out of the cycle of poverty and start a new cycle of progress,” he said, reflecting on his most recent trip to India in 2017.
Seeing business through a social lens
Vijay credits his education at Western University and Ivey for helping him to advance EveryChildNow.
“Being in the HBA program has really helped me to contextualize how to effectively run a non-profit … everything from defining our value proposition and adopting a structured problem-solving approach, to leveraging our resources and capabilities to maximize societal contribution. We think about how to execute actions today for both short-term impact and long-term sustainability,” he said. “I believe that the purpose of business is changing and will be more focused on how to integrate profit-maximization with societal impact, so I appreciate that Ivey encourages us to bring a social lens to our case-based conversations.”
Getting youth involved in social activism is also important to Vijay and he has spoken to 165,000 people at conferences across North America to inspire young people to become stewards of the future. From working with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to create a permanent children’s rights exhibit to interviewing Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, he has learned that collaboration is very important in the social sector.
“Young people have been at the forefront of so many social movements, from racial equality to LGBTQ+ rights. EveryChildNow has been focused on getting more young people involved in activism. It could be as simple as reaching out to someone and having that really important conversation,” he said. “We don’t just measure our impact based on traditional metrics, which are still very important … we also track our success based on the stories we hear from people who have been empowered to improve their own lives and the lives of others. Our goal is to impact one person’s life every day.”