In life, there are those who sit on the sidelines while doling out criticism, and then there are the ones who believe in making a change happen by putting in the work to find solutions to better the system. One such change maker is 26-year-old Sayyed Manzer, an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Hailing from a small town in Chhattisgarh, his dream is to make education free for all.
Manzer, along with another alumnus of TISS, Mumbai, Surya Kartik, recently launched a student-led initiative called ‘Bridge’ which works to provide financial support to students from marginalised communities and ensure that no student suffers academic immobility due to a lack of funds. The initiative is officially registered at the Office of Students Affairs, TISS.
In August 2017, Manzer says, he found out that one of his friends, who came from the marginalised (shepherding) community, used to skip his meals to save money and supplement his tuition fee. “This really fretted me, however, before finding a solution, I tried to understand the real problem which took three to four months. Eventually, I found out that the government scholarship for marginal students has been defunct over the last few years. Many students were on the verge of dropping out of college which soon led to massive protests against the college administration and the government.”
On digging deeper, Manzer says, they came across the Student Aid Mechanism of TISS, Mumbai, which provides financial help from their own corpus accounts to students who are either not eligible for a scholarship or are not receiving a timely scholarship from the government. However, he says, due to a massive increase in the number of courses and students, the fund was significantly insufficient to meet the needs of the students.
Thus, they decided to come up with ‘Bridge’, which, he emphasises, is not a replacement for scholarships. With ‘Bridge’, he adds, they are trying to provide immediate support. “Instead of starting something entirely new, we decided to strengthen the existing Student Aid Mechanism of TISS, Mumbai by bringing in more money to the Aid while keeping the entire system transparent. For this, we decided to reach out to the TISS alumni for financial support.”
He adds, “Even though we will make use of the college’s infrastructure (like their payment gateway, their website, domain, name), it will be run completely by us – the students. Nonetheless, the entire selection process to decide who would or wouldn’t get the scholarship will be in the hands of the administration, as we have no intention to be the decision-makers or be at the position of power. We would just act as a bridge between the donors and the Students’ Aid and try to further strengthen it. So, 60% of the collections would be dispersed and the rest 40% would go into the corpus account of the Students’ Aid. This would help to make it self-sustainable one day.”
The execution of the concept took almost two years and yet another year to get the payment gateway ready. Finally, he says, in May 2020, they did their pilot campaign wherein they were able to successfully support 18 students and raise close to Rs 6.77 lakh, which was entirely distributed amongst students in need.
Of late, Manzer says, they have started a new campaign called ‘Avirat’, which means ‘continuous’, wherein the donor can subscribe and donate an amount as small as Rs 300 every month: “It is quite like Netflix and Amazon.” Other than that, he adds that their first-ever annual report will be launched towards the end of 2020.
As of now, there are 20 members on the team. “Every year, we call in for volunteers who would like to contribute to the initiative,” he says. Other than that, he manages everything remotely – from regular weekend meetings to visiting Mumbai twice a month.
Manzer adds, “Even though our main aim is that all students get scholarships on time and there comes a day where there is no need for ‘Bridge’, however, until then, we are aiming to be more and more inclusive in the future. Transparency is another major goal and has always been. Other than that, we wish to expand it to not just TISS campuses of other cities but to other colleges and universities as well. Besides, via ‘Bridge’, we would love to make more people from remote cities to be aware of such colleges and courses in order to spread more education”.
Moreover, he says that he wishes to reach more and more alumni of TISS so that no student ever has to leave college due to lack of finances. “This is their right, I believe. There should be free education for all.”
“There are some things that emerge truly out of human compassion. ‘Bridge’ is one of them. It’s my way of giving something back to society. I’m also an emotional person. So a single message I received that said – ‘Thank you so much for the support, I’ll now be able to graduate freely’ – was enough for me to put all I can into ‘Bridge’,” he says.
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Prachi Batra is an intern at LiveWire. She loves watching sunsets and writing stories while sipping light coffee.
All images have been provided by Sayyed Manzer