Shaheen visited Chicago for the first week of June 2007 and delivered the first annual Patricia Blunt Koldyke Lecture to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Monday, June 4. She told the story of her truly remarkable journey turning an idea into a dynamic and viable organization that has given thousands of children from the slums in India a strong educational foundation, self esteem, and values.
Shaheen Mistri has earned global recognition for her tireless devotion to educating and empowering the less privileged children of Mumbai and Pune. The story of her organization, the Akanksha Foundation, is one that encompasses compassion, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and commitment.
Born in Mumbai, Shaheen lived in thirteen different countries while growing up. At the age of eighteen she returned to Mumbai, and keen to learn more about the city and its slums, she decided to enroll at the University of Mumbai. Every day after classes she then spent time with India’s less fortunate. Shaheen soon came to realize that children living in the slums lack access to quality education and are deprived of the skills necessary to compete in India’s formal, competitive job market. Compelled to do something, Shaheen gathered some friends and they began teaching a group of children in the slums.
She founded the first Akanksha Center in 1989, enrolling fifteen children and employing college friends as volunteers. Over the past fifteen years, the Akanksha Foundation has expanded from serving fifteen children in one center to more than 2,600 children in fifty-one centers in Mumbai and Pune, with an additional 2,100 children in ten schools. Shaheen’s achievements through the Akanksha Foundation have earned her numerous awards, including being named an Ashoka Fellow of the Ashoka Innovators for the Public, a global organization dedicated to promoting the work of leading social entrepreneurs.