Learning Links Foundation: Unlocking Lifelong Learning for All

Learning Links Foundation: Unlocking Lifelong Learning for All
Learning Links Foundation

One thing that begins the moment we are born is our learning. At Learning Links Foundation, we keep the learning gene activated by providing the opportunity, tools, and resources that build an ability for lifelong learning. We believe that learning goes beyond books and schools. It is the process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes. Inherently progressive in nature, learning encourages us to question and create solutions as we navigate ambiguity and challenges in life. This ability is the key to sustainable progress in human development.

The vision of enriching all lives with learning is at the heart of Learning Links Foundation—its raison d’être, as I see it. It is toward fulfilling this vision that I am constantly working with my team. My name is Dr Anjlee Prakash. When we established Learning Links Foundation (LLF) in 2002, the female literacy rate was not more than 54%. Things have changed since for the better. India’s female literacy rate now is slightly over 70%, according to data from the National Statistical Office (NSO).  I am proud that we have been contributing to this change. Ours is an award-winning non-profit organization that has empowered more than 1.8 million students2.2 million educators and 6.8 million community youth and adults. Learning Links Foundation works in the remotest locations of India, aligning its endeavours with UNDP-SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG-5 (Gender Equality), and SDG-8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

I always wanted to give underserved communities access to a learning environment that accepts diversity, nurtures creativity and builds an ability to shape one’s future. The end goal is to ensure that every child gets an equal opportunity. The passion to serve this goal by catalyzing change in education powered my steps into the social development sector, and I started Learning Links Foundation. The organization’s endeavours are fuelled by my conviction that Education can be the greatest social leveller.

In my heart, I hold a special place for the girl child and women. The education of females is often neglected in India. As a woman leader and mother to two daughters, I focus on supporting girls to complete their education and achieve their aspirations. 

As it continues to fulfil its vision and mission to provide better learning opportunities to all, Learning Links Foundation has maintained a dedicated focus on creating pathways for the girl child and women to progress. This includes implementing programs that support academic improvement and wellness in girls and equipping women with skills to forge a sound economic future for themselves. This journey of support for girls and women starts in childhood with our flagship programs that focus on holistic development of children. It continues well into adulthood with Women Entrepreneurship Programs that empower them with livelihood and self-employment opportunities.

The financial literacy initiatives at Learning Links Foundation have supported over ten million people in taking the first step towards financial inclusion. Over 55% of these are women who are either homemakers or small and micro-entrepreneurs. The financial habits of the program participants have changed with a 200% increase in the number of beneficiaries who have begun to practice saving money in a bank account. Learning Links Foundation has also been supporting women micro-entrepreneurs in tier II and III cities helping them become owners of viable enterprises.

Today, Learning Links Foundation is trusted for its need-aligned programs that focus on all age groups and are driven by the intent to unlock lifelong learning opportunities.

At Learning Links Foundation, we nurture women for leadership roles in the workplace and community. It is a known fact that even in modern India, where women’s empowerment is highly talked about, the education of girls is not given priority. In many of our programs, we strongly focus on ensuring girls gain equal opportunities to achieve their aspirations. Enabling girls and women to take charge of their destiny supports gender equality, and this is a cause we are passionate about serving. 

Within the organisation, we make sure women are given opportunities to have their voices heard at levels where strategic decisions are made.

A dedicated continuity in ensuring that girls and women are empowered with skills to create a future of their choice comes not only from what the programs achieve but also from the investment the top leadership makes in the cause. As the Chairperson of Learning Links Foundation, I’m very passionate about the holistic development and economic upliftment of girls and women and privileged to have been recognized for this commitment.

Dr Anjlee has held several other positions of responsibility in the academic, nongovernment, and corporate bodies.  Her perspectives on policy and practice are highly respected and she has received recognitions that honour her role as a female leader aiming for excellence in education. Some of the recent recognitions accorded to Dr Anjlee are as follows:

  • Featured in the EdTech 10 List of Bett Asia 2023 that recognizes top 10 women who are changing the EdTech game in Southeast Asia.
  • Winner of ‘Social Impact Leader’ Award 2023 organized by BW Businessworld
  • Winner of ‘Beyond Business’ Leader of the Year at the ET (Economic Times) Prime Women Leadership Awards 2023
  • Winner of Lifetime Achievement Award at the Global EdTech Awards 2023
  • Recipient of Mahatma Award for ‘Leadership in Social Good’, 2022.

The Eloquence of the Human Spirit

As a woman leader working toward gender equality, the Women’s Education Project (WEP) felicitated Dr Anjlee with the Red Bangle Award in 2019. This award is given annually to ‘an exceptional woman, who by her life and accomplishment, demonstrates the eloquence of the human spirit and inspires others to higher goals.’

Dr Anjlee’s story about how passion and persistence have fuelled her rise as a woman leader has been published in the globally acclaimed new book ‘InnovateHERs’, authored by Barbara Kurshan and Kathy Hurley.

Her commitment to ensuring girls and women get opportunities to succeed, achieve, and thrive is held in high esteem by her teams, who strive to fulfil it with work on the ground through the many programs running nationwide.

Learning Links Foundation has been a women-led organization since its inception. Currently, many of its leadership positions are held by women, and 59% of its employees are women. As such, empathy towards all employees is an integral part of its culture.

Key programs that help create a better experience for women:

Maternity leave: “We offer six months of paid maternity leave to all our female employees, and also offer them an extension/advance leaves on a case-to-case basis.”

Flexible work hours: “We offer our employees the flexibility to choose their working hours (case-to-case basis) in a way that they can strike a balance between their professional and personal commitments.” This flexibility has been largely availed by new parents who are living in a nuclear family set-up and by those employees who are primary caregivers to an ill near and dear one.

Policy framework: “We have various policies to give our women employees, in particular, a better work experience:”

  • Prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • Grievance redressal policy.
  • Whistle-blower policy.
  • In addition to these, other policies such as ESIC/ Medi-claim policy, employee welfare policy, compliance policy, and travel policy offer our employees insights into their rights and entitlements.

Work from home: “All our employees are provided with a laptop, and their internet connectivity expenses are reimbursed. Our work-from-home policy has been in place ever since our organization was founded. We have several employees who have been working from home for over a decade now. What is noteworthy is that work from home has not been looked upon as a privilege in our organization, and those employees who work from home are evaluated as objectively as any other employee.”

Sabbaticals: “We allow all our employees to go on sabbatical (case-to-case basis) for personal or professional reasons.”

Recognizing these policies and practices, Learning Links Foundation was selected among India’s Top 100 Best Places to Work for Women, 2022, by the Great Place to Work Institute, India.

Nurturing a Value-based Culture

Learning Links Foundation has greatly benefited from the value-based culture that Dr Anjlee accords primary significance. Over the years, she has kept an uncompromising focus on cultivating an environment that respects gender equality, practices humaneness and allows people to build lasting personal and professional connections. This has infused belongingness, compassion and safety in the Foundation.

We strive to create a work environment that is just, transparent and communicative. Our core values of integrity, stakeholder satisfaction, teamwork, excellence and professionalism are our guiding forces.”

Renowned professionals periodically conduct wellness sessions that promote holistic well-being for the entire staff. These sessions focus on identifying unhealthy practices and paving the path to fostering a healthy workforce.

Last but not least, a confidential grievance mechanism ensures access to a safe space for healthy dialogue to anyone facing concerns or challenges.

Fostering Equal Opportunities

The essence of a diversified workplace is found in a diversity and inclusion policy. Learning Links Foundation is an equal-opportunity employer. This is mentioned in our policies and is implemented in letter and spirit. “We recruit locally for all our projects.” The recruitment team evaluates profiles based on merit and experience and never differentiates based on gender, caste, creed, religion or region.

The fact that retrenchment in our organization has been below three per cent is a testimony of our fair employment practices.”

Tech-Powered Learning

Technology is being used successfully by Learning Links Foundation to deliver and create its products and services. It also plays a significant role in monitoring and evaluating its programs.

India’s largest ICT in Education teacher training initiative, which aimed at helping in-service and pre-service teachers integrate technology into their classrooms, was launched by Learning Links Foundation as early as 2002. A powerfully designed initiative, it pioneered the use of technology in many schools in India. It focused on moving teachers beyond learning how to use computers towards enabling them to think about how technology can be used to support student-centred, inquiry-driven teaching and learning. Spread across four cities, this program trained over 1.5 million teachers and future teachers who continue to influence instructional practices in schools across India even today.

Dr. Anjlee, informed by her experience as a techno-pedagogue, has led the launch of thoughtfully-designed STEM initiatives that integrate innovative use of technology into the core curriculum to build STEM skills. These initiatives place special emphasis on including the girl child and also go beyond to include differently-abled children such as those with visual impairment or other physical challenges. This is instrumental in bridging the technology divide as also promoting gender equality and reducing ability disparities thereby paving the path toward a more inclusive India.

In locations where resource-strapped schools cannot provide space for tinkering labs, Learning Links Foundation uses mobile innovation stations/mobile learning labs (tech-resources equipped van) that go from school to school providing a portable space for students to tinker, explore and make. After school-hours, these innovation stations provide STEM-rich learning experiences to children from neighboring disadvantaged communities, many of whom come from low economic backgrounds and are unable to attend school regularly. Doorstep Learning also helps to address the challenge of digital gender divide as it opens doors to new ways of learning for girls who are not able to benefit from formal schooling due to low attendance or high drop-out rates.

Over 75,000 students from schools across India have been empowered with STEM skills to date. Most of the students come from challenging socio-economic backgrounds and the EdTech and STEM initiatives at Learning Links Foundation have provided them a platform to develop, hone, and showcase their tinkering, computational and design thinking skills.

Nurturing Strong-Willed Leaders

Women are given opportunities and platforms not just to steer strategies but also to be the voice of the organisation with their representation in global seminars and conferences.

A ‘buddy’ program used for professional guidance of new employees also doubles up as a communication channel that provides emotional support. Such guidance to employees not only enriches the workplace environment with skill building and knowledge sharing but also builds positivity and confidence in the staff, resulting in an embedded sense of inclusivity and belonging at the workplace.

Dr Anjlee informs, “We follow an objective approach to measuring performance for all our employees. The Key Result Areas (KRAs) are designed to be as quantitative as possible and are aligned to organizational goals. This drives our employees to demonstrate growth in a more tangible manner which eventually helps us as an organization to propel forward with greater trust of our employees.”

Dr Anjlee shared an instance where her team’s resilience, willpower, and ingenuity triumphed over adversity. While the world faced a grave health challenge during the pandemic, this didn’t stop Learning Links Foundation from ensuring learning continuity among students. They knew that any child who left education during this time was a child they may lose forever. Its targeted COVID response strategy, ‘No Lockdown on Learning,’ guided the design of innovative hybrid implementation models to ensure children from intervention schools and communities stayed safe, healthy, and continued to learn. The teams underwent rigorous training on new pedagogical approaches that supported effective online teaching and learning and kept the stakeholders engaged. These included children, teachers, youth, and also adults who were supported in starting their micro-enterprises. Learning Links Foundation leveraged technology to introduce ‘anytime-anywhere’ learning. As a result of these efforts, in one of the flagship programs, more than 35000 students regularly attended online classes and community classes on academics and wellness in 650 plus villages.

Learning Links Foundation was recognised for its timely initiatives to mitigate learning loss in India. It won the Diamond Award for social initiatives at the Masters Transformation Conference (MTC) organized by FGnC Consulting in 2021. More recently, Learning Links Foundation has been a Finalist in the globally renowned Reuters Events Responsible Business Awards 2023. It has won the CSRBOX CSR Impact Awards in the Education (Large) category as also the ‘Best 3 social welfare initiatives of the Year’ award at the Indian CSR Awards, 2023.

An Enlightened Tomorrow for All

Looking ahead, I want Learning Links Foundation to be considered an agile, innovative and credible organization that is creating measurable impact by empowering people from disadvantaged communities. We have been focusing on improving the workspace diversity landscape through our programs.

In schools, we are working with students and the parent community to ensure continuity in the education of girls. We are also implementing programs that are encouraging girls to explore STEM learning and inspiring them to take up STEM careers in the future. These girls will grow up to join the workforce and contribute to the nation’s economic growth. 

Our youth skilling programs also see a trend of supporting the industry to embrace diversity. For example, we include more girls in the training batches in one of our skilling initiatives, where we prepare youth to join the manufacturing industry as frontline factory workers. Over 25% of the trainees to date are girls, and they are employed in job roles that require operations on the shop floor

We are also supporting women-led micro-enterprises through our Women Entrepreneurship Program. Over 60K women have benefitted from this initiative in the past three years. The program has empowered them to build resilient enterprises and given them a voice in household decisions. Our financial literacy program has empowered women with better financial decision-making skills.

“Through the above initiatives, we are changing the diversity landscape at the grassroots level, not just in urban centres but also in remote rural locations. We are unlocking the potential of the children and youth of India and contributing towards building a stronger nation,” concludes Dr Anjlee Prakash.

For more information, please click https://www.learninglinksindia.org/.

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