Gloria de Souza on how to grow into a "fruitful" entrepreneur
Gloria de Souza was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
One of the first three Ashoka Fellows, Gloria de Souza (center left) turned down lucrative business career opportunities to teach. She found an educational system that deadened student’s creativity, motivation to learn, problem-solving capacity, and faith in India. Gloria created and introduced modern experiential education that challenged students to think and to solve problems together instead of chanting facts. Her core contribution has not been to invent modern education but to adapt it to make it attractive to everyone in non-Western settings. Her patient work of adoption, persuasion, training, and organizing spread her impact widely. Eventually the government of India introduced her work into other districts, and UNICEF asked her to help first in Sikkim and then beyond. Other areas of India, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East want Gloria to extend her program to their areas.
Who are your favourite changemakers from history?
Tarabai Moda is one of my favorites. She gave me my best lessons in an environmental approach that makes sensory awareness the key to learning by observation, enquiry, and discovery—indeed, to learning that lasts.
Tarabai Modak, who lived from 1892 to 1973, is another. She won the Padmabhushan award in 1962 for her original contribution to the field of education. She pioneered an approach that enabled impoverished rural children, and their parents as well, to learn from their daily experiences in their environment. She was 65 years of age, when she set in motion her project to educate adivasis (indigenous peoples in India) through anganwadis (a government sponsored child-care and mother-care center), believing that if children cannot reach school, school should reach them.
My exposure to Tarabai Modak’s ingeniously simple and inexpensive ways of using the learner’s available environment—to enable growth in learning skills and in the internalization of concepts related to maths, science, and geography—was my first experience of an authentic environmental approach to learning.
What are three qualities that make a changemaker successful?
Let me begin by saying that the word “successful” is often perceived as being “that something that attracts name and fame.”
So, let me replace the word “successful” in your question with the word “fruitful” (which carries a kind of organic growth connotation to it).
The three qualities of a fruitful changemaker are:
- Clarity of vision – what is crying out for change and why?
- Tenacity of purpose – even when unforeseen obstacles interfere with strategic planning, and prevent desired outcomes.
- An open mind – listening to and learning from the wisdom of others, critical and creative thinking (that would envisage necessary detours from earlier plans), and taking the calculated risks that may be called for.
What has made you successful in your work? What specific strategies or tactics did you employ?
My perception is that Parisar Asha (the organization I was able to set up, thanks to an Ashoka Fellowship) has been fruitful, for the following reasons:
- Parisar Asha has stayed focused on its mission of making quality education an affordable gift, even for the underprivileged, first-generation learner. This reality has resulted in a “spread” that has also enabled Parisar Asha to generate a modest income, thus becoming self-sustaining.
- It has been ever-open to self-evaluation, to learning from feedback, to be being constantly pursuant of updating and refining its processes and products.
- It has, at all times, reminded itself that the only medium of fruitfulness within an organization is respect for teamwork. The contribution of every member is valuable, insofar as interdependence is the key to fruitful functioning.
What are the key elements individuals should keep in mind as they grow as a social entrepreneur?
- Be sensitive to the living condition of all humans whom you encounter in your living environment. Work unceasingly to ensure that the current gaping divide between the haves and the have-nots becomes non-existent.
- Ensure that all that you do revolves around respect for everything that touches your life, living and non-living.
- Be sure never to live by double standards.
- Make an unfailing sense of discipline, transparency and accountability the cardinal principles by which you conduct your life.