“We need to create a culture where we can disagree without being disagreeable ”: Sharad Sagar
In 2008, Sharad Sagar, a simple sixteen-year-old founded the organisation Dexterity Global to provide students with exposure and encourage them to become powerful world leaders. Almost a decade and a visit to the White House later, he refuses to be limited by labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’.
Expanding on the interrelation between education and opportunities, he elaborates on Dexterity Global, false narratives and free-thinking, in an exclusive interview with TMJ.
What made you initiate Dexterity Global? Why did you name it so?
Why Dexterity? As some of you already know I was born in a small village in Bihar and was brought up in small towns for the first 12 years of my life. I was home-schooled throughout this period because my father had a transferable job. In all the places we lived in, there were no good schools or libraries. My family could not have afforded to send me to any super expensive boarding school so they decided to teach me at home. I joined a school only when we moved to the capital city.
In school, I got 8-9 years to take part in things I wanted to be a part of and by the time I graduated I had won around 100-200 quiz competitions. My school was celebrating me. However, I noticed that when I used to return from these tournaments my friends would know more answers than me. I realised that the reason I could avail these opportunities was that I was aware of these competitions and others weren’t. Most kids do not get a platform while they are still in high school. So around 2003 when I was in high school, I founded Dexterity to convey that there are ample opportunities out there. The objective was to create a more confident and concerned generation who are service-minded in approach. We have learnt from our students and evolved over the years.
Everybody thinks the name from comes Dexter’s lab but it’s not true. When I was being home-schooled, I read this book called ‘Word Power Made Easy’. My parents had bought the book to improve my vocabulary. On the second page, there was this word called ambidextrous. Dextrous means skilled and that word stuck with me. In 2008, when I was creating a platform, I thought it should be one where people could make their dexterity global.
With a system of education by the state and central governments in place, what is the role to be played by Dexterity Global?
Dexterity does not build schools and it does not necessarily teach you English, Math and Science. We live in a very different world right now. The world’s largest taxi company does not own a single taxi and the largest content based enterprise, Facebook does not produce its own content. Based on these two things, the idea with dexterity is that you can go to any school but if you inject a dexterity program in your school or if you use our platform, your education would look different.
Your preparation now looks different because you realise that the level you train at has shot up. The solar system remains the same but now you know that NASA requires your ideas to settle a colony on space. The problem here is nobody is aware of these opportunities. A competition like NASA settlement contest which can easily have a few million entries has just 900 participants. One kid wins and is celebrated as the next Einstein but nobody contemplates whether he excelled because he was the smartest science wizard or was it because a large number of people were not even informed about the same. So, within the schooling system, we inject new opportunities and focus on critical thinking, research, and leadership. Our idea was to create a platform that could integrate itself into any system and make it better. Dexterity does not necessarily affect these systems but instead tries to improve them without any replacement as such.
To sustain such a movement with a specific mission, how do you fund yourself?
So Dex believes that the ‘for profit’ world has seen its Apple and Microsoft, organisations with a supreme standard. We believe that the non-profit world is yet to encounter its own ‘Apple’ and we want to build the same. But there is a fundamental problem at play here. Let’s say you purchase an Apple product and it is delivered damaged. The company would apologise and give you an intact product because you have paid for it. So there is a chain that responds to who you are, what you want, how much you pay. But in case of a non-profit organisation, if the same situation arises, there would be no replacement because the person paying for the phone, the person building the phone and the one using it have no connection whatsoever with each other. This difference is because if a company is producing damaged products, their sales drop but if a non-profit has bad service, nothing happens. So with Dexterity, we wanted to build a system which would not knock on doors or make phone calls. We would not raise a single penny in donations. We wanted to create opportunities for kids of well-established personalities as well as children from the most marginalised communities. Our policy is that either you pay if you can or else we pay for you. All we require for the latter is a written declaration.
In proposing that all answers lie in our ancient texts and identifying Vivekananda as the foundation for pedagogical purposes, are you celebrating a form of nativist discourse for which you want global acceptance?
I have not advocated anything nativist or ‘ancient text’ based. I was named after him (Sharad Vivek Sagar). The name had an impact on me, and as I read his works, I was very inspired and influenced. Swami Vivekananda talked about a human-making form of education, a character building education. He had a vision for India where he envisioned that the younger generation would bring back the country’s lost glory. These are extremely relevant concepts, whether they are ancient or modern. If our education system has these visions, imagine how our schools would progress. The issue is that he is one of those figures who has been appropriated by everybody. I was at the Ram Krishna Mission Math in Hyderabad and one of the monks there was narrating that during the Telangana protests a certain person started beating up a police officer. When asked why he replied, “Swami Vivekananda said, be fearless!” So these interpretations need to stop.
In your recent speech at Hyderabad Ramakrishna Math on September 11, you have stressed on the necessity of not only being Indian citizens but true Indians in spirit and soul based on Vivekananda’s rubrics of tolerance and universal acceptance. As you must be aware, we are living in times in which freethinkers are being silenced. How feasible are these ideas of tolerance and acceptance in our present cultural-political climate at the ground level?
It’s funny that we’re questioning how feasible it is to be a thinker in the modern day society. I know that there have been instances where free thinkers tend to upset a lot of people. What I would encourage everybody to look at is how willing are we to look at other people’s perspectives. We are fortunate to live in a nation which gave the world Tagore and Gandhi. Unfortunately sometimes to bring people together, we make teams based on fundamentally wrong ideas. Teams are being formed without even educating people about basic team building spirit.
In today’s world, a lot of people do not understand the concept of being a conservative or liberal. Just because your Twitter bio says you’re liberal, does not mean you are a liberal. We need to start educating people and encourage them to do their fact check, their research. I might not agree with you on 10 out of 10 things. When did this culture of agreeing with someone on all points come in? They may be our Chief Ministers, they may be our Prime Ministers but I am not supposed to agree on all things. Unity in diversity is our biggest strength and inclusion is the roadmap to success because when we include people it makes sense in terms of business and politics as well. You have everybody’s best ideas. We need to create a culture where we can disagree without being disagreeable and this needs to start from school.
Featured image courtesy Anany Khare
Edited by Shivani Singh