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The Citizen

Student Spotlight: Shashank Shekhar Shukla (that’s a lot of ‘s’s)

1. Why did you apply to the Kennedy School?

Researching, teaching, advocating and implementing issues regarding education and poverty  through Teach For India, my own social enterprise called “Gurukul” (A chain of low cost schools and colleges in rural India), as an advisor to the Supreme Court of India and the National Advisory Council of India, got me the opportunity to work closely with the government as well as the civil society. This experience made me realize that while civil society and social enterprise could be thought partners and catalysts in envisaging and accelerating change but wide spread social change can only be brought about by partnering with the government. The missing links in my mind are the capacity gaps in most politicians and bureaucrats, to evaluate issues in a socio-economic framework and develop relevant, equitable, cost-effective and scalable policies.

These realizations made me recalibrate my future plans, as I realized that the most effective way of public service could not be “Gurukul” alone but working within the government and “Gurukul” was an ideal platform for my entry into government through electoral politics. This gave birth to my goal of serving in the Parliament of India within the next 8 years. As a first step towards my goal, post completing my responsibilities with the Supreme Court commissioner’s office in 2013, I intend to enhance my academic skills around public administration and policy through the Mason program at the Harvard Kennedy School.

2. Who did you first tell when you got accepted?

My wife who is also my best friend and partner for 15+ years now. I saw the mail and immediately went numb. I did not have the courage to open my mail hence I called my wife and asked her to login to check the results. She did and then for the next ten minutes we were just jumping around. This was in 2012. Then I did not get any scholarship and I had to differ as my goal is to go back to my social enterprise and later grassroots politics where I will not be earning enough to pay back a student loan. I worked throughout the next year with Harvard with Professor James Quane to develop a “National Policy for the Urban Homeless” as well as the Supreme Court of India guidelines for tackling Urban Poverty. This earned me a full merit scholarship this year along with a stipend and here I am!

3. Cats or dogs?

Both. Have always loved animals. I have a cream colored Labrador in India who is called “Tubby”

4. What’s the worst thing about Cambridge?

It’s fluctuating weather. I cant seem to figure when to wear a sweater or a short and my body cant seem to figure when to sneeze or sweat.

5. You’ve just been given a million dollars what do you do with it?

Use it to provide additional facilities at the Early childhood centers in India in my district to provide nutrition and education to young children as well as lactating mothers. I believe that just like science there are certain interventions which pay huge dividends to a society in the long run. The best among them according to me is to invest in the health of women and children in the form of proper nutrition as well as education of both mother and child.

6. What are your 3 proudest achievements (other than being interviewed here of course)?

Sorry, I have four which I cannot reduce further. The four in chronological order are:

  • When I got selected in the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot and got the opportunity to play a role in serving my country in the Kargil War in a support role to frontline troops
  • When I opened my first school in rural India in my native village and started providing scholarships for girls and outcast children in the villages much to the surprise, anguish, resentment and later backlash of the higher caste and class of the village
  • When I taught 29 street and juvenile children with zero education and within 2 years they managed to secure admissions in good public and private schools by clearing independent entrance exams. They are appearing for their high schools exams in April 2014 and for me those exams are more critical to me than our end terms
  • When I finally at the gates of the Kennedy school on the 1st of June 2013

7. Have you ever internet dated?

No, but I did date a girl when I was 17 and almost 16 years later she is now my wife, the mother of my child and above all my partner in my crazy journey. She is my strength, conviction and dream. Her name is Pooja.

8. What have you done in your life that we would be most surprised by?

My hands have smelled of gunpowder as well as chalk, I have drunk tea with Cabinet ministers as well as Homeless Mothers, I have won 40 million dollar contracts as well as help start 40+ residential schools for street children while working for Government of India. I have been a teenage student madly in love at 18, a warrior at 20, a corporate consultant at 24,a husband at 25, a social entrepreneur at 26,  a teacher at 29, a bureaucrat at 31 and now at nearly 34 years, back to being a student and still madly in love with the girl I loved at 18. Life does come a full circle!

9. Red wine or white?

White. It is smoother

10. One item that is essential to your everyday life?

Phone. In 3 weeks I will become a father and I spend a couple of hours everyday talking to my back in India as well as my elder son who is 7 years old and his mid year exams are going on.

11. What was the first word you ever said?

Don’t remember but I guess would have “Mummy”. She is my hero and my inspiration. She has been a career teacher in India for over 30 years and is now retired. She brought me up as a single parent as my father died when I was 3 and since then she has made me into whatever I am today!

12. What are you hoping to do once you graduate?

Post graduation in 2014, I intend to return to “Gurukul” and use that as a platform to work in the public space across a broad range of issue like education, child malnutrition, women and family welfare, adult education etc. This is with a short term goal of winning the local government elections in 2015, performing at the local level for a full term and then to contest and win parliamentary elections post 2020. As a pre-cursor I also established the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Lok Satta party (a grass root political party) and campaigned in the recently concluded 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections, in order to establish my political credentials in the area of my work. I believe that with my entry into the ballot fray, another ride in my roller coaster life may have already begun!