New Ekal Vidyalaya president sets $1 million fund-raise target

Rajeev Aluru, president, Houston Chapter, Ekal Vidyalaya

Manu Shah

Rajeev Aluru inherited more than an analytical, goal-oriented mindset from his father. Growing up, he also observed, and absorbed, his father’s philanthropic zeal, from helping several families to overseeing the construction of their town’s Balaji temple.

Rajeev now leads Ekal Vidyalaya’s educational initiatives as Houston chapter president of the organization. Ekal’s youngest president describes his role as “a divine opportunity”.

A new Houstonian (he moved from North Carolina in 2020), Rajeev, 41, outlined his vision for Ekal with the leadership in Houston and found it to be receptive. With their “invaluable guidance”, he is set to put his plans into action.

Rajeev’s journey with Ekal began eight years ago in North Carolina when he accepted colleague Ramesh Kalagnaman’s invitation to a fundraiser dinner. Three things struck Rajeev at the event that evening: the organization’s transparency, the magnitude of its impact, and the effectiveness with which the funds were used. They spurred him to open doors to opportunities that he had been fortunate to receive from “God and his parents”.

Rajeev became an active volunteer and developed a keen understanding of the foundational impact Ekal was making in education in rural India. Today the movement, started in 1989 with one village and one school, runs over 100,000 schools offering free education, vocational training, digital competence, agricultural knowledge and more.

A native of Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, Rajeev had a middle-class upbringing and credits his mother for his academic excellence. She was determined to give her children the opportunities that she never got. This brought him several scholarships in school and college, and he graduated with top honors as a mechanical engineer.

Situated on India’s east coast, by the Bay of Bengal, Rajeev’s hometown is prone to hurricanes. One of his earliest memories is of a night where the family huddled in a car amidst lashing rains and gusty winds as their house offered little protection. He remembers his father’s vow that desolate night that “he would build something that would mean never doing this again”. Those words stayed with Rajeev and as he grew older, fueled his desire to be financially independent.

After earning his engineering degree in India, Rajeev enrolled in Auburn University, Alabama, for his graduate studies where his professors, impressed by his analytical skills and focused dedication, encouraged him to work on his doctorate which was wrapped up in three years.

While concluding his research, Rajeev was invited to present his work at Fabtech (North America’s largest manufacturing conference) in Dallas, Texas. A global aerospace technology company attended his talk and recruited him. Rajeev led a global team that slashed aircraft engine component costs by half while improving performance, leading to significant revenues for the company.

His move to other stints brought more professional acclaim and included an executive MBA program in 2019. In 2020, he joined Calpine, America’s largest generator of electricity based in Houston, where he heads the analytics division and is responsible for optimizing assets worth $25 billion.

Underscoring the importance of education coupled with opportunity, Rajeev draws attention to the fact that 40 percent of schools become self-sustainable in five years, a reflection of Ekal’s effectiveness. Simultaneously, Ekal is tackling systemic issues such as corruption and female literacy at the grassroots.  In an Ekal village, for instance, villagers held local politicians accountable for the money spent on development. Equally heartwarming is the 50 percent ratio of girl students in schools, which will empower villages to be “economically stable and future strong”. The Integrated Village Development and Gramothan Resource Center programs, he emphasizes, serve up to 30 villages.

In a post-Covid world, Rajeev realizes the need to rewrite Ekal’s outreach strategies. His team is drafting a model to facilitate entrepreneurship, jobs, avenues to profits and an approach that will empower villages to a point where “they don’t need us anymore”. He intends to create a program to encourage donors to visit Ekal schools in India to see for themselves how their contributions are benefiting millions of children.

While pointing out that Ekal is “winning on its own”, he adds that it could become more impactful by collaborating with organizations that align with its mission and values. The organization will leverage digital marketing to augment Ekal’s presence beyond the traditional fundraising events. The new president has an ambitious $1 million benchmark for this year’s fundraising.

Rajeev stays in shape with an early morning run, loves traveling and concludes the conversation by revealing that he often turns to ‘An Ignited Mind’, written by the late President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, to keep the inspiration flowing.

Rajeev’s wife Srilatha, a software applications leader, is his pillar of support as are their sons Neeraj (13) and Vibhav (11). Each, he says proudly, has supported an Ekal school already from his savings – proof that the philanthropic gene he inherited is being passed on to the next generation!