Bijal Damani was a marketing manager earning good money when she decided to quit her job and begin anew as an economics teacher. But her work at S N Kansagra, the largest private school in Rajkot, India, came with new challenges. She was expected to employ rote learning, which she felt was ineffective, and some of the older students were perceived as insolent by other teachers.
So Damani decided to teach real-life business and marketing skills. She proposed that her students plan and operate a public bazaar, at which they would sell goods. They would market the event ahead of time. They would secure financing and track expenses and profits, learning accounting skills along the way. Despite skepticism from school administrators, her students launched Galaxy Bazaar in 2005 to coincide with a major Hindu festival. That was their first good marketing decision. Their second was to source goods from socially and environmentally responsible sellers and to advertise that policy.
After the bazaar, the 28 participating students reported profits and proposed spending 8,000 rupee ($133) on a party to celebrate. But Damani had them do some math first. They learned that “what they spend on a cup of coffee would feed a poor family for a week,” she said. It was a watershed moment.
After much discussion, the students decided to invest the money in underprivileged students’ education. “Donating the hard-earned money is the first step towards empathy,” Damani said.
The school today embraces the bazaar wholeheartedly as an annual event and important part of its curriculum. The project has grown to involve about 170 students and produces more than $23,000 in profits. Since its first year, it has donated $70,000 to pay for the education of 1,500 underprivileged girls. Other schools in the area are keen to replicate the model.
The students in Damani’s class also manage virtual investment portfolios and create products that can solve problems in the local community. They have left rote lessons far behind. Damani said that her end goal is to teach inclusiveness, empathy and ethical standards. “The values inculcated at the impressionable age will be with them wherever they go and whatever they do,” she said.
In fact, most of the students who ran that first Galaxy Bazaar in 2005 are now adults running successful businesses or working as professionals. And most continue to sponsor the education of underprivileged children.
Damani is one of the 50 finalists in the 2015 edition of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize for an outstanding teacher. Often referred to as the Nobel Prize for teaching, it is open to teachers in every school in every country of the world.