Padmini Somani, Salaam Bombay Foundation, on the importance of working on life skills for improved learning

Padmini Somani, Salaam Bombay Foundation, on the importance of working on life skills for improved learning

October 13, 2016

Padmini Somani is the Founder and Director of the Salaam Bombay Foundation. We spoke to Padmini to understand the gaps and opportunities in the Indian public education system and where CSRs in India can play a role. 

Download our booklet on ‘Every child in school and learning well: Innovation and Partnerships in Education CSR‘ for more interviews and case studies.

padmini somani interview on education CSR“Life skills or holistic development are an integral part of achieving regular education outcomes – these aren’t 2 separate conversations. Education today is skewed towards cognitive aspects, however, holistic education covering performing arts, sports and several other critical skills is as much a core part of educating a child as are subjects in the curriculum.

Today, there is a huge scarcity in number and quality of teachers overall and it finds its way into life skills as well. The highest increase in dropouts happens at the 7th, 8th and 9th grades, where both parents and children take a call on how valuable education has been to them. The child might be learning well yet parents may still weigh the idea of learning advanced concepts in geography or mathematics lesser in priority when compares to working on the ground, getting a real word experience and earning some money in the process.

Salaam Bombay Foundation and CSR in Education

Pic courtesy: Salaam Bombay Foundation

A whole group of secondary school children are graduating with poor learning outcomes in India while we still grapple with the problem of outcomes in primary school. And they cannot wait.

We still need to find a solution for them. Holistic education helps in all of the above – if a child is not able to read fluently, but if they are encouraged to express themselves in the language through storytelling, creativity, singing etc, they can then start picking up lessons. We have seen this transition happen – from a ‘struggling to read’ child to a child that is ‘enjoying reading’ because of a co-curricular intersection happening at that point.

Life skills education needs to be ‘allowed to happen’:

  • One does not need a very fancy art teacher or infrastructure to give children half an hour of art in school
  • You just need to give them the space to free their minds and get imaginative.

Structured play time can help adolescents overcome a lot of issues of negative body image.

Life skills to improve learning levels in India

At Salaam Bombay Foundation, we started with the intent to simply engage adolescents in a non-didactic way, and through experiences that let them have fun while giving them a lot of serious information. And that is why we began with theatre. If one has to change behaviour, one has to work consistently. We chose to work with the Government so that our programs can scale rapidly with the help of the Government’s network and presence.

Our performing arts program partnered with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation in reaching 27 districts, 50,000 schools and over a million children.

The 3 big ideas that serve as the underpinning to our holistic education programs are the following:

1.There needs to be value for learning beyond 7th grade.

2. The transition to higher education needs to happen organically, and it helps if the child is equipped with skills to earn their own money and pay their way through college.

3. We need to have a solution even for those average learners so that they don’t need to become exploited child labour.

Where Education CSRs can play a role in life skills

Corporate Social Responsibility can indeed help improve India’s education system by leaps and bounds. Fortunately, things are looking up as Education has attracted a lion’s share of CSR funding from Indian companies in FY15-16. CSRs who are working in the Indian Education system can have a huge multiplier effect in helping life skills programs scale across the country.”

We hope you enjoyed reading this interview. For more expert interviews and interesting insights about innovations and partnerships in Education CSR, you could download the entire publication on Education CSR here.


About the Author

Aarti Mohan
Aarti is a co-founder and heads the Knowledge practice at Sattva. She is also the editor of the online magazine on sustainability, The Alternative ( More here: