Ekal’s New President Announcement: Pankaj Desai

Pankaj Desai

Pankaj Desai

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Ekal Vidyalaya’s Houston Chapter has a new President and he’s charged about his role to bring education to India’s remote and rural areas. Pankaj Desai has been prepping for this role as a volunteer for the last 10 years and served as Vice President in 2016. This year he takes over the mantle from Naren Chavda.

Ekal’s new President knows what it’s like to struggle for educational opportunities. Pankaj recalls studying in the park as the family lived in a one room house in Mumbai but says his mother’s “can-do attitude” probably rubbed off on him. This, coupled with a quick mind helped him secure several scholarships and graduate with an engineering degree from IIT, Mumbai.


Two other factors, Pankaj elaborates, shaped his thinking about the value of education. Reading biographies of great men brought him to the conclusion that “education is a must to bring about a difference in society.” The image of his father struggling to deliver heavy loads of merchandise to customers made this resolve only stronger.

Pankaj acquired a Masters from NC State University and worked with several multinational corporations stacking up over 30 years of consulting experience. He is presently with BP and is described by colleagues and superiors as “thorough,” “detail oriented” with “the ability to bring different personalities together.” They also highlight his excellent project management abilities – skills bound to come in handy in his new role.

Pankaj was introduced to Ekal’s cause by his neighbor, Prakash Shah. Initially wife, Urmi started volunteering with the organization but it wasn’t long before Pankaj was also drawn to the organization’s commitment and drive to educate India at the grass roots level. More importantly, he explains, joining Ekal was also an opportunity to give back to the community.

The husband wife duo served in multiple capacities from organizing events, spreading awareness, selling tickets to fundraising – even “cold calling” on occasion to get Houstonians to donate for this good cause. Every accomplishment, small or big, Pankaj reflects, made him realize he could make a difference and spurred him to work harder. He credits his wife for getting him involved and admits that “she keeps him on his toes to ensure Ekal’s work is done.”

Relating his interaction with the Ekal children in India, Pankaj says he was deeply moved at their aspirations for the future. Some wanted to be soldiers or doctors when they grow up while others wanted to become teachers and teach in the village. He was both amused and amazed to see the children familiar with India’s Prime Minister’s full name – Narendra Modi. The classes under the village tree were clearly working!

Ekal runs 54,000 schools in India touching 1.5 million children of which 17,000 schools are supported by US donations. Pankaj does acknowledge that the work of teaching India’s primarily rural population is a “slow process” tied to several socio economic factors but he is optimistic that rapid advances in technology are expediting the process.

As President, he would like to create more awareness about Ekal and work towards greater engagement between diverse groups in Houston. He has several ideas he is working on to get Houston’s young generation involved in the cause.

This year, Ekal hit on a novel idea to raise funds. Tribal artists from India are on a 4 month road trip to showcase their talent across the US. The shows have been spectacularly successful everywhere and will regale Houstonians on 7th May at Cullen Performance Hall.