Urvashi Sahni

Founder President and CEO, Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF)

Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF)

Dr Urvashi Sahni is a disruptive innovator, social entrepreneur, and women’s rights activist, working to transform education for 35 years. A pioneer in her field, she’s a leading expert and practitioner in education innovation, school governance, curriculum reform and teacher training. Married at the age of 17, she had 2 daughters by the time she was 23 – both unwelcome in a patriarchal culture. When she was 27, her sister was burnt to death over dowry. Such experiences fueled her anger at the oppression and dehumanization of girls and women, and led her to question why, despite their high-quality education, she and her sister had not had the agency to make important life choices. In response, she founded Suraksha (a women’s rights organisation), followed by Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF, an educational organization that empowers students and teachers as changemakers) and DiDi’s (a social enterprise for sustainable livelihoods for women). She’s currently president and CEO of SHEF, through which her work has impacted over 100,000 teachers and 5 million children, most of whom are girls from marginalized communities. From the beginning, her work has centered gender equity and prioritizes on life outcomes. She believes education is a powerful force to transform lives if we can transform education itself. As such, she has dedicated her life to transforming systems – government and social, and the accompanying narratives to improve both literacy and life outcomes for millions of girls and boys in some of the hardest to impact states in India – Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Dr Sahni earned her MA and PhD in Education at UC Berkeley. She’s an Ashoka Fellow, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution, USA, and a former member of Rajasthan’s Chief Minister’s Advisory Council. In 2017, she was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year India by the Schwab-Jubilant Bhartiya Foundation and joined their international fellowship of social entrepreneurs. She’s co-founder of Catalyst 2030 (a global network to expedite the SDGs through innovation) and has been featured in Time Magazine, NBC News, Sydney Morning Herald, Toronto Star, Hindustan Times, the Mint, Education World, and Times of India. Dr Sahni participated in consultations for the development of the SDGs, as well as for India’s National Educational Policy 2020. She’s been nominated by the state government to join the Steering Committee of Primary and Secondary Education Groups for the implementation of the new policy in Uttar Pradesh. Few people have built the credibility, mindset, courage and track record to advance systems change from both the inside and the outside. Dr. Urvashi Sahni stands out in her remarkable ability to shape the education system as both a partner and an activist.


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