Lighting a Spark In Inclusive Education – Meet Founder & CEO of Chrysalis – Chitra Ravi!

Nine-Tenths of Education is Encouragement. Isn’t it? One of the fascinating vestiges of growing up in education systems that focus on tests, is our propensity to ask – “Did I do well?” It is amazing how much progress we make when we replace that question with – “Did I give it my best shot?”

 

It all started when I realized, almost like an epiphany at midnight, that my daughters’ school textbooks, and the education system in general, was not doing justice to bring out their innate potential.

At Chrysalis, Chitra has built an environment where students are focused on how to learn instead of what to learn. The biggest value in education is for people to understand how they function. Every one of us learns differently.

Chitra besides achieving many milestones for Chrysalis, also witnessed a personal milestone. She was chosen as one among 58 business leaders, for the SEED program of the coveted Stanford University! 

Chennai Insider had a conversation with Chitra to share some insights into the Chrysalis World and her journey so far.

What has been the best thing about running your own company?

Through our 18 years of research, we have partnered with 700+ schools across India, touching more than 250000 children. We see the impact of our program through the joy in a child’s eyes when he/she picks up a Studio or a Companion (our learning materials). That is the best thing about heading Chrysalis. And that is the only reward that we look for. Every time I receive a Student Response to the stimulating questions in our Studios, my heart is filled with happiness. This is what keeps us Chrysalians going. Recently, I received a letter from a principal of one of our partner schools. She narrated the story of a special child in her school who once used to be subdued and secluded. And now, she is just blossoming and was showing amazing grit and imagination in the classroom. The principal was so happy narrating how inclusive the classrooms have become after partnering with Chrysalis. She shared the child’s response to a question from our Science Studio and it brought tears of joy. Moments like these are what keeps us going. 

What has been the most difficult aspect of the entrepreneurial journey for you? 

There are challenges galore when we are in a field like education. I have long stopped looking at challenges as a roadblock. They are a part and parcel of work and need to be seen that way. Challenging situations come by every day when you see impediments in transformation due to people’s mindsets (internal/ external), regulatory unpredictability, lack of discernment for high-vision solutions like ours, lack of adequate resources and so on. However, as an entrepreneur, business leader and someone in the education domain, I have learned to see these as pains that help in growth. And that has brought in a world of difference to myself and my team at Chrysalis.

We find humor in our everyday struggles, and the opportunity to grow in criticism. 

Transport us back to where and when the idea of Chrysalis started?

It all started when I realized, almost like an epiphany at midnight, that my daughters’ school textbooks, and the education system in general, was not doing justice to bring out their innate potential. Children were wilting away due to the pressures of the system instead of blossoming into beautiful human beings. That’s when the idea of a solution for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) took shape in the form of EZ Vidya. From there, we have been growing and expanding the range of solutions to all subjects, challenging mediocrity in the education system all the way. From designing a solution for ICT curriculum to working towards the goal of awakening the Human Potential in every child, we have come a long way. For the last 18 years, we have been working with stakeholders in education across the country by developing solutions that can be implemented in mainstream schools.

How was the initial market reaction? How did you develop the traction?

Initially, there was much less acceptance from school stakeholders. Not just about the philosophy and the vision that we were initiating but also of the very possibility of “outsourcing” or adopting a program from an external organization like Chrysalis. There was a lot of hesitation and even skepticism. Gradually schools understood the importance of educational research and collaborating with organizations like ours.

Building a team is extremely critical – how did you go about that? 

Wherever I go, one thing that I continue to hear from our partner schools is that they are intrigued by the way the culture of Chrysalis stays intact and consistent in every Chrysalian. That has been possible, only because we are a team of inspired people working towards a goal. We come from varied backgrounds, but we all have a common passion – education. From PhDs to engineers to photographers to science and literature majors, each one of us comes with a unique set of talents and skills. It is this very diversity that has become our biggest strength. This has been possible because of our unique value system – compassion, courage, excellence, joyfulness and being truly genuine in every action. This has been our guiding light. In every interaction with our stakeholders, belief in our values is what keeps us all together.

Reflecting over the last few years, what would you pick out as the key milestones you think happened to get to where you are today?

The first key milestone was Chrysalis being selected as a partner organization by Wipro’s Applying Thought in schools educational forum. This helped us collaborate with and learn from other educational organizations and domain experts, and develop a spirit of continuous learning, that has gone on to become the core mindset of every Chrysalian.

The second was our partnership with Nokia in exploring mobile technology for enhancing learning in classrooms. This 3-year partnership aided in exploring technology in our pursuits. 

The third was our transitioning into scaling ThinkRoom as a comprehensive solution for schools. Today in all our partner schools, the Chrysalis touch-point with our key stakeholders (the child and the teacher) is over 75% of their over-all physical time in school. This inspirational time is amazing and drives in immense responsibility in us, to drive away mediocrity and bring in the best for the child. 

The fourth milestone was our 3-year research on Authentic Assessment, supported again by Wipro Applying Thought in Schools. 

Getting to “market-product fit” is essential for the success of any business. What were you measuring to know you had ‘got there’?

Can we ever ‘get there’ in the truest sense of the phrase? 😊 Education is an ever-evolving dynamic field. And one cannot afford to get complacent or comfortable in one solution for long. We lay a lot of stress on being aware and imbibing education and pedagogical research from across the globe. And our products and solutions are evolving every year. From a solution to ICT to bringing in pedagogic research into every page of Studio and every process in our Programme, there is an impact measurement happening at every stage. We have teams dedicated to ensuring that the transformation we envisage for education is happening in the best possible way in every school. Our Learning Transformation team works with every stakeholder in a school to help bring in this transformation. We have processes and impact measurement for every process and we review this regularly to see how close we are to our goal every year. 

As regards learning from others, is there one course or book you think everyone should take/do that has helped you? 

There are quite a few books that have defined my growth, both personally and as an entrepreneur. The earliest I recall is Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Another latest read is the Trillion Dollar Coach that gave me a lot of take-aways. 

Can you share your experience at Stanford? And why did you choose to be a part of it NOW?

Learning is continuous and I seize every opportunity in formal learning, that comes my way! When I was chosen as one among 58 business leaders, for the SEED program, I was excited. And my excitement met its match in the 57 inspirational entrepreneurs who attended the program with me and the amazing professors who were always so giving and stimulated our thinking. And yes, the learner in me is someone I would never want to lose until I drop dead! 

Part of your journey involved raising investment — what did you learn from that?

Discipline! Also, having external investors has taught me that there are so many people out there who are passionate about fueling an entrepreneur’s aspirations and guiding them through their journey. Grateful.

Chrysalis plans to reach 1 million students in the next 2 years. As 3 Cents for aspiring entrepreneurs, Chitra says, 

  • Keep the passion in your heart and the fire in your belly going strong
  • Seek lots of help. There are many people out there to help
  • Keep learning and never feel fully-equipped!

Miles to go, before you sleep, indeed!


Know a great story or want to tell us your own?

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