Prafulla Shashikant has been striving to bring free, high-quality education to lakhs of children. He is doing this through VOPA, his organisation.
33-year-old Prafulla Shashikant has worked relentlessly to guarantee that students from the country’s most disadvantaged and marginalized groups may complete their education. This was partly motivated by his personal experiences.
Born into a lower-middle-class family in Maharashtra’s Beed district, he was a first-generation student who observed the hardships that Marathwada still faces today. The area is very drought-prone, and farmer suicides are common.
Prafulla felt it was critical that he use his experiences to influence the narrative of the region. In 2018, VOPA, or Vowels of People Association, was born from this desire for change.
Prafulla collaborates with this organization to guarantee that children from low-income families in the state have access to quality education. He created VSchool, a free online platform and app that offers students with resource material based on their linguistic medium. Prafulla claims that this can be duplicated with any district, state, or curriculum. Thousands of students and instructors in the state’s most disadvantaged areas now have a simpler and more inclusive method to continue studying.
Prafulla’s desire to effect change was natural. He came to Aurangabad after finishing Class 12 to study mechanical engineering. With two friends, he founded Janeev, a teenage social advocacy group inspired by Ambedkar and Gandhian ideas.
He recalls, “These were the days that created my future vision. That’s when I realized my life’s mission extended beyond engineering and that I was more interested in tackling social concerns.”
He wanted to join the civil service after graduation to serve the country. He relocated to Pune and was accepted into Yashada, a training institute operated by the Maharashtra government. He passed the pre-examination and went on to take the UPSC mains in his first year. But tragedy struck when his mother was afflicted with cancer, forcing him to abandon his studies in the middle to care for her.
Prafulla was left to face with the uncertainties of life after her mother died in 2010. To cope, he began looking for a way to make a significant contribution to society. This quest brought him to the Gadchiroli area, where he joined Nirman, a program founded by Padma Shri awardee Dr Abhay Bang that encourages adolescents to participate to social change.
Motivated by their work and attitude, he chose to join their efforts and worked on several educational programs, including directing a project called Kumar Nirman, which focused on social sensitization and value education for schoolchildren.
Prafulla also pursued the Post Graduate Programme in Development Management at S P Jain University at this period to broaden his knowledge of the social sector.
In 2017, he realized that, although Nirman was focusing on intelligent children, young people from underserved neighborhoods and with limited exposure needed the same chance.
He founded VOPA after a six-month break of soul searching and brainstorming with friends and mentors alike.
Prafulla explains, “Many people have asked me what the significance or meaning of the vowels in my name is. We seek to harness the key social change drivers — Agitate, Educate, Ignite, Organise, and Usher — to enable marginalized communities improve themselves. Because each of these words begins with a vowel, that’s where the concept originated from.”
VOPA is now working to create an ecosystem that will democratize the development, consumption, and standardization of information and educational learning.