How it began at Basic Research Education and Development (BREAD) Society

BREAD Society is a voluntary organisation whose mission is to lay the foundation for a knowledge society in the next generation, with a special compassion for poor children, especially children who study in government schools.
The scale at which the Society operates is impressive. BREAD Society has touched 1 million lives ever since its inception, in the form of students, teachers and parents, through various interesting initiatives. To run such a mammoth operation, you need a combination of strong leaders, robust systems, a talented team, and, most of all, the spirit of selfless service. As for technology, the Society has a sophisticated database system (built by their own team members) that helps them keep a record of every single beneficiary, donor and activity, and also retrieve information when necessary – indeed, transparency is a way of life with the team.

What is noteworthy is not just that BREAD Society has all of the above, but that every member of the organization is a volunteer, and every activity undertaken by them – be it field trips to schools in the remotest of locations (sometimes at the edge of forests, beyond civilization), phone calls to follow up with schools, or sorting books for the BREAD libraries – is purely voluntary. It is individuals who spend their own money on their tasks.

Several eminent people have led the society over its journey so far – accomplished people with a passion for knowledge and education. Dr. Bhaskara Rao, its founder president and Chairman of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), was president for 13 years. Other presidents were: Dr. P M Bhargava, founder director of CCMB and Vice Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission; Mr. Narasimhappa, retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax; and Mr. K Padmanabhaiah, retired Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. Currently, BREAD Society is led by Justice Dr. P C Rao, Judge, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

How did it all start?
BREAD Society was born when some like-minded NRI friends and senior professionals in India, who met in 1989, realized that some of their school mates, who were academically better than them in school, never got around to study further owing to debilitating poverty. It was then that they decided to financially help poor but meritorious students from rural areas, to aid them in pursuing higher education.

Basic Research Education And Development (BREAD) Society was registered in 1989 in Hyderabad, with Dr. N Bhaskara Rao as president and Mr. M Siva Ram Prasad as Vice-President. Around the same time, the North South Foundation (NSF) was established in the USA. BREAD Society would identify poor and meritorious students from rural areas pursuing professional courses in Engineering and Medicine, and NSF would send donations for their scholarships, which were disbursed through BREAD Society.

In the first phase, from 1989 to 2002, BREAD Society gave about 300 scholarships to medical and engineering students.

Based on an evaluation study conducted in 2002, BREAD Society, headed by Dr. P M Bhargava, evolved common eligibility criteria for its beneficiaries pursuing all courses of higher education. It was decided to award scholarships only to bright students from government schools pursuing higher education in government colleges.

Around this time, BREAD Society confined its activities to Andhra Pradesh, parting ways with NSF. It started receiving donations on its own.

From 2003-04 to 2010-11, scholarships worth Rs. 220.92 lakhs were given to over 3,500 students.
BREAD Scholarships were awarded from the first year of a course till its completion. Similarly, donors sponsored scholars from the beginning till the completion of a course. So, donations were received upfront.
Later, when the government of Andhra Pradesh started giving scholarships to all poor students of higher education irrespective of merit, BREAD discontinued its scholarships scheme.

Other experiments
With BREAD Society’s aim being to bring about changes in the education sector and aid underprivileged students, quite a few experiments were tried out in this direction. The governing body of BREAD Society started rural study centers, coaching centers for polytechnic entrance tests, and children’s libraries in government high schools. 52 libraries were set up in 2009-10, and 88 in the next year, based on recommendations of district coordinators.
A review of performance of these libraries revealed that 40% of them were successful, 40% were functioning satisfactorily and 20% were not functioning satisfactorily. BREAD Society then decided to take the library movement forward in a sustainable manner, in a way that ensures that the libraries do make a difference to the lives of children.

Establishing libraries
It decided to establish libraries in schools securing 6 or more National Means cum Merit Scholarships (NMMS) in a year, since it was assumed that such schools have dedicated headmasters and teachers who take special interest in their students’ education. NMMS is a Central government sponsored scheme launched in May 2008, whose objective is to award scholarships to meritorious students of economically weaker sections of society. BREAD libraries have been established in NMMS schools since the year 2011-12.

BREAD Society recognizes that the mere presence of a library does not guarantee that children are actually reading, so it makes efforts to ensure participation by the students. Children are encouraged to write articles based on books they have read, and prizes are given to them.

The Society has a history of trying out various ideas to help poor children carve out a future for themselves through education, and we can only expect that the BREAD libraries are not the end of the story.

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