Ram Kolavennu, COO, Foundation for Excellence FFE
Ram Kolavennu heads Foundation For Excellence(FFE), who are into transforming the lives of academically brilliant students coming from financially needy families – through scholarships and comprehensive skilling program.
A huge percentage of Indians are still living under the below poverty line. There are a large number of people whose annual family income is below 2.5 lakhs. Money isn’t everything, but it is very important when it comes to fulfilling dreams.
Many talented individuals are forced to leave their studies and look for jobs at an early age to support their families, or just couldn’t study further because they do not have enough money for the fees. People who could have been at a prominent level in their field otherwise, have to do low-level jobs just for money.
This is a major problem. But, there does not exist a problem that doesn’t have a solution. Foundation For Excellence is an organization, which is working for such talented individuals. They fund the education of academically brilliant students and support them to study.
In this episode, we have the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Foundation For Excellence, Ram Kolavennu, with us.
Foundation For Excellence
Foundation For Excellence (FFE) is a 25-year-old social enterprise, which is determined to support financially weak academically brilliant students, primarily in the field of engineering, doctor, lawyer, etc., who have aspirations and want to continue their studies. FFE funds their education. They fund the annual fees of a student. Then the student has to renew the scholarship every year depending upon his results. Last year, FFE was able to fund the education of 7,500 students. They have a target of funding the education of 10,000 students this year.
Challenges and lessons
Discussing the challenges FFE faces Ram first talks about how the need is much larger than what they are actually able to deliver. Later in the conversation, Ram tells us that FFE gets twice and sometimes thrice as applications than what they actually are able to fund. Secondly, they feel that to bring in a transformational change, they need to identify the areas that they really need to focus on. Another challenge, Ram talks about is bringing sustainability to the organization.
Ram also tells us that there is a large donor base who is willing to work and spend for this cause. Through his journey in FFE, he has learned how to reach out to them and how to scale up.
Support provided by FFE
Apart from the financial support, FFE also supports the students in other ways. Ram tells us that about 5-6 years ago, they realized that the students coming from rural areas or semi-urban areas are academically brilliant, but lack other important things like English speaking skills, profession or industry knowledge. They organized training programs for them. They helped them understand the things they needed to. They were also provided mentors to help them during their journey.
What impact are the FFE alumni making on their homes?
On being asked about the impact FFE alumni are making on their homes, Ram tells us that they are making transformational changes. Many of their alumni are the first graduate in their families or sometimes the first graduate in their villages. In Ram’s words, “to go back and actually become a role model is something that they definitely do”. They energize the community and tell them that if one wants to do something there are options available out there.
Determining accountability on the recipients
FFE continuously monitors the progress of the students throughout their journey. The students need to come back every year to renew their scholarships, so when they come for renewal, the concerned team looks at their grades and performance. So if someone is not clearing even a single exam, they are penalized 50% of their scholarship next year. However, Ram tells us that fortunately, the failure rate is negligible.
Ram Kolavennu heads Foundation For Excellence(FFE), who are into transforming the lives of academically brilliant students coming from financially needy families – through scholarships and comprehensive skilling program. Prior to FFE, Ram had completed a very successful stint at LabourNet, India’s largest social enterprise in the Skilling & Livelihood space. An Engineering Graduate with a Masters in Business Administration, Ram brings over 23+ years of experience in the corporate and social enterprise space. Ram has been a part of the core group at LabourNet and was instrumental in growing the organization from a start-up to a 2000-member team in 6+ years, impacting 1 Million beneficiaries in enabling and enhancing their livelihood. A business-savvy leader, Ram has a strong inclination for creating a meaningful and sustainable impact on society.
Before joining LabourNet, Ram spent 16 years working in Leadership roles in global organizations including Unilever & Tesco with demonstrated capabilities and expertise in delivering large scale sustainable solutions and building high performing teams. ‘Scaling up a businesses’ has been his forte, be it a start-up like LabourNet in the social space or a billion-dollar corporation entering a new geography like Tesco in the US. Ram comes with a multi-dimensional leadership perspective, given his experience across multiple geographies and domains, anchored by his roles in solution engineering, delivery, and sales in his previous positions.
His key focus areas have been:
- Scaling up of business – be it a startup or new initiative in a large enterprise, Ram has been instrumental in taking it from infancy to scale
- Operational excellence through effective and efficient execution
- Creating a meaningful and sustainable impact on society through Public-Private Partnership
- Executing sustainable processes to nurture talent, create capability pools, and leveraging scale to maximize benefits
- Providing solutionsthrough a combination of business and technology understanding
A fitness and health freak – part of several 100 km walks and fitness runs, his age is anyone’s guess! His wife Usha works from home and for home while kids Manu and Dhruv are in 10th and 6th standards respectively.